Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland women sitting pretty with Chelsea Flower Show success

By Linda Stewart

It looks like a throne of flowers fit for a Titania but this spectacular Chelsea award-winning display was created from old pallets and chair spindles.

Ann Kirkwood (35), from Londonderry, won a bronze medal at the Chelsea Flower Show this week after creating this spectacular throne from reclaimed wood festooned with delphiniums, sweet pea and roses.

She won bronze in the Florist of the Year competition following success in the Northern Ireland-based heats at CAFRE Greenmount in February.

Earlier this week, her fellow CAFRE student Megan Ingram (18,) also won bronze in the Young Florist of the Year competition at Chelsea, while Claire McAuley (23) from CAFRE was also a finalist.

Ann, who is originally from Manchester, came here to study at Queen's, where she met her partner. It was while she was there that she began working at an events company and found she loved the creative side of event dressing.

"I decided to go back to college and retrain as a florist. I really enjoyed the large scale event dressing for weddings and large-scale settings, altars, pews, that kind of thing, rather than the shop floristry," she said.

When she moved to Londonderry, she went back to CAFRE Greenmount to study for her Level 3 in Floristry and lecturer Anne-Marie Grant suggested she put in an entry for the Chelsea Flower Show.

"She encouraged me to give Chelsea a go. I'd never been interested before but I thought why not - I was getting good support from college and it would be a great experience," Ann said.

"I found out I'd got through in March and that gave me a couple of months to get everything ready." Ann says she went for a gothic traditional look, repurposing scrap wood from reclamation yards to build a frame from chair spindles, pallets and old sideboards, stripped down and repainted.

She completed the arrangement with a mixture of delphiniums, sweet peas, chrysanthemum, orchid heads and roses.

"I used a lot of test tubes and moss - I was trying to keep as natural a look as possible, while not using too much floral foam. I was using test tubes and moss to try to keep everything alive," she said.

It was fantastic to win the medal, she said. "It was very nerve wracking. There was a lot of mixed emotions as I was up into the wee small hours of the night before," Ann said.

"There were lots of nerves but I was very pleased to come away with a medal."

Floristry lecturer Anne-Marie Grant described the piece as "very intricate and detailed with unusual techniques used throughout".

"It was very well made from repurposed scrap wood sourced over a number of weeks in reclamation yards and second-hand shops," she said.

"The arrangement was painted and distressed and formed into a throne, and included delphinium, dicentra, echinops, roses, amaranthus, chrysanthemums and phalaneopsis orchids. The seat is made from statchys leaves layered to form a cushion."

Now that the pressure is off, Ann is planning to push forward with her events-dressing floristry business, which is called The Woodshed Flowers.

Explaining the name, she says: "The old converted woodshed in my garden is now my workshop."

More of Ann's work can be seen on her Instagram account at @thewoodshedflowers

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