The Beat Goes On with the WFC in Kenya

                                                                                                            Holly Haveman

                                                                                                            Holly Haveman

By: Holly Haveman

Take a moment, and let your imagination wander to Africa. What comes to mind? Chances are you're picturing wild, exotic animals roaming the jungles and the plains; tribal people dressed in colorful beads and clothes, dancing to rhythms that make you want to get up and move; and perhaps you're even thinking of some iconic wonders of the world, like the great pyramids of Egypt, the magnificent Nile River or even the massive Mount Kilimanjaro. If you’re a flower lover, your thoughts may go directly to the gorgeous Kenyan roses that have become a favorite among florists around the world.

It is indeed these roses that summoned the World Flower Council to hold it’s 33rd annual international summit in Nairobi, Kenya. The summit ran from September 1-4, and partnered with the Kenya Flower Council to put on an inspirational event which brought to life all the wonders of Africa.

World Flower Council (WFC) member Susan Murethi, of Suera Flowers Ltd, acted as the Summit Hostess and donor sponsor from Kenya, and supplied more than 2,500 roses from her farm in Baraka, Kenya. The day before the summit began, early arrivers had the opportunity to take a bus ride out to visit Susan's rose farm and to learn more about the unique community she helped to create back in 1996. A farm that had started with only 2 hectares of land has since grown to 38 hectares, and now includes housing for employees, a primary school, a church, a hospital, a restaurant, and even a gas station.  

WFC Visitors were led through the rose growth process, from propagation, where two types of rose stems were joined via a tight plastic tube, to the greenhouses, where the roses began to take root, and on to the "hardy" houses, where new plants were prepared to be transplanted to the outdoor growing spaces. Throughout the tour, the happiness of the workers was evident, as was their knowledge of their work, and the flower industry. "Baraka" means "blessing" in Swahili, and there is no doubt that many workers feel blessed to be part of the community Susan has helped to create. 

The summit commenced with a welcome dinner at the Norfolk Hotel on Thursday September 1st, where the already-beautiful backyard gardens were enhanced with statement-sized gorgeous green arrangements, and attendees were welcomed by Chairman Lynn Hoffman, Chairman Emeritus Dean White, and Kenyan representative, Susan Murethi. It was a night full of festive conversation, and a mix of reunions between old friends, and meetings of new friends. 

The first full summit day kicked off with a lively tour around Nairobi, giving attendees a taste of the flora, fauna, and friendliness that Africa has to offer. The first stop was a tour around the Winchester Farm of Mzurrie Farms, where visitors learned about how roses are propagated, planted, picked and packaged to be shipped around the world. The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage was the second stop and a true treat for all those who visited. The rescue center shared the stories of orphaned baby elephants while allowing visitors to get up close and personal with the young elephants as they came to the viewing area to be bottle-fed. The final stop of the tour was the beautiful Hemingway Hotel for a delicious courtyard lunch, where members could indulge in delicious African dishes while simultaneously enjoying the opportunity to mingle with other WFC members. 

Upon returning to the Norfolk Hotel, some summit-goers had the pleasure to attend a design workshop by former AIFD President and renowned designer, Tim Farrell, where he delved into the theme of "Tension in Design". Tim started off by introducing himself and sharing the story of his humble beginnings in the flower world which have led him to where he is today. He utilized a PowerPoint presentation full of AIFD design definitions and floral pictures which connected the words with images, and he brought it all to life with active design demonstrations and real-world examples which the audience could relate to.

One example of this is when he explained the term "radial" and showed a stunning picture of a design that started from the center and moved outwards, then he related this to fireworks, and the bright point of light that everything comes out of. He concluded this example by demonstrating to the audience how to achieve a beautifully curved calla lily through gently shaping the stem with your thumb and forefinger. His design workshop was full of useful tips, and it ended with a one-hour "assignment" to create a design that depicted "wind" as the chosen force acting upon the floral arrangement, and encouraged the group to challenge themselves by trying things they had never done before. 

The second day of the summit was full of floral excitement, starting with the Kenya Floral Arrangement Club's demonstration "Dreaming of Africa", continuing on with the crowd-favorite "My Country Design" demonstrations, and finishing with a design workshop by Anson Low, AIFD, of Singapore. 

"Dreaming of Africa" was a lovely tour through Africa via floral demonstrations depicting many of the wonders of Africa. It started with Mount Kenya and continued on to the pyramids of Egypt and the world's longest river, the Nile. This was followed by a trip across the Indian Ocean, where the artist brought the voyage to life through stories of the spice trade, slavery, and the collection of precious gems.  

Of course a journey to Africa wouldn't be complete without a visit to the tribal villages, and also a run through the massive agricultural sector of Africa's produce and flowers. The club president wrapped up the demonstrations by sharing a gorgeous representation of an African sunset, and the DJ brought the event to a close by playing Shakira's 2010 World Cup song “This Time for Africa" as the crowd climbed to their feet and applauded all the designers who came together one last time on stage. All creations were stunning and, as a result of the artists' commentary, the crowd learned a lot about Africa in the process. 

The multi-cultural "My Country Design" demonstrations kicked off the afternoon and transported the audience around the world as the artists came to the stage to share a bit about their homeland with the audience through a floral design representing their country. This year there were four sets of four countries, and the commentators were Els Hazenberg of the Netherlands and Poo Chesdmedthee of Thailand. The designs varied wildly, from Chinese lanterns to a Thai elephant to a massive fountain of hope from the islands of St Kits and beyond. The commentary and artists' explanation was just as entertaining as watching them complete their designs of floral art on stage. 

The day rounded out with a design workshop by Anson Low, where he shared his secrets on how to twist wires into exquisite sculptures and creations which could be used to hold flowers and accent arrangements. He playfully teased the crowd and patiently taught and re-taught the simple twisting patterns which he had actually used to create the very structure that he shared as part of his “My Country Design” piece. The crowd loved the class, and did their best not to poke their neighbors as they manipulated their wires to form mini-masterpieces.

The final day of the summit was truly spectacular and completely embraced the theme of “Fascinating Flora, Fauna and Friends”.  The morning kicked off with a fantastic floral demonstration on “Rhythm in Design” by Tim Farrell, and the afternoon was full of fun, first with the “Swinging Safari” floral fashion show and then with the “Floral Olympics”. The summit came to an end with the closing ceremony, and heartfelt farewells between friends from around the world.

The morning’s floral demonstration, “Rhythm in Design”, was the type of presentation that captured everyone’s full attention. Tim Farrell and his assistant Patricia Patrick, AIFD, utilized music and songs to demonstrate how the rhythm of life can be felt in each individual design. Tim tapped on the fact that every person has unique experiences in their life, so designs can evoke different perceptions from different people. Using the floral designs and the accompanying songs, he led the audience from birth, to childhood and teenage years, on to love and loss, and even touched on disease and death and overcoming it all. As Tim designed on stage, he shared tips and tricks, as well as stories. He ended by taking a flower from each of his creations and placing it in an intricate African sculpture which he had borrowed from the hotel’s front lobby and it depicted many people coming together to create something beautiful, just like everyone in the World Flower Council.

The afternoon’s “Swinging Safari” floral fashion show was an absolute treat for everyone involved. Over a dozen different exotic animals were brought to life through floral fashion and fabulous body paint, and they wowed the crowd as they strutted, slithered, or scurried across the stage. After all animals had made their way down the catwalk, they came back to the stage for an encore round to show off their designers, and afterwards everyone went outside to enjoy the sunshine of the gardens and take photos with their favorite creative creatures. Also in the garden was the friendly Floral Olympics competition, where participants were given a design assignment and a limited time to complete the arrangement, and after multiple rounds a winner emerged.

The summit’s closing ceremony started with a social cocktail hour that began in the garden and moved onto the ballroom. Chairman Emeritus Dean White thanked all attendees for coming, and for helping to continue the World Flower Council’s mission of World Peace through the beauty of flowers. He was then presented the Floral Laureate Award of Distinction, WFC’s highest honor. This award has only been given three times in the World Flower Council’s 33 year history, and it is intended to honor an exemplary person who has dedicated fifty years of their life to the flower industry. The award was to recognize Dean’s role as an eminent philanthropist, contributor and donor in the floral industry. All members were happy to celebrate the beloved Chairman Emeritus for his efforts over the years.

As the closing ceremony continued, WFC Members, decked out in their finest floral fashion, stood to applause their fellow designers as certificates of recognition were handed out to floral demonstration participants. Before the crowd took to eating dinner and dancing the night away, Chairman Lynn Hoffman and Kenyan Summit Hostess Susan Murethi officially handed off the WFC flag to Su Li Si of the Guandong China WFC Chapter. Overall, the 2016 summit in Nairobi was a smashing success. All attendees left the event enthusiastically looking forward to their reunion next year in Guangzhou, China, where the World Flower Council will hold its 34th international summit.