Where Floral Art & Horticulture Meet – Kitty Gallagher


By Kitty Gallagher, President of the World Association of Flower Arrangers (WAFA) and organiser of the World Flower Show, Dublin, 2014.

Floral art is one of the oldest methods of self-expression in human society. We have been arranging flowers as far back as the third millenium BC. There is historical evidence to suggest that ancient peoples from the Egyptians to the Greeks and Romans all arranged cut flowers and used them in ceremonial and religious rituals, as well as using flower extracts for medicinal purposes. Later on, as the Crusaders came back to Europe from the Middle East they brought new and interesting flowers and plants with them, and this fascination with exotic and special plants has never left us.

The fact that flowers continue to be arranged is a testament to the endurance of this art form. Styles, fashions and techniques have evolved over the centuries. So it is quite natural that flower arranging and horticulture should be closely intertwined. Floral art is inextricably linked to the horticulture industry: the floral artist is continually seeking out the unusual and elusive plant that will make their design unique. And it’s probably true to say that many floral artists came to this art form through their first love: gardening. So the fact that the World Flower Show is coming to Ireland this year will provide a unique opportunity to explore the links between floral art, flower arranging, and the horticulture scene in Ireland.

The Association of Irish Floral Artists (AOIFA) is the umbrella body for the floral art movement in Ireland and was a founder member of the world association in 1981. AOIFA secured the bid to host the World Flower Show in Ireland against strong contenders from Barbados, Peru and Russia. Among AOIFA’s aims are the bringing together of floral art and gardening clubs for cultural and educational purposes. We regularly organise educational programmes with these aims in mind. There is a strong emphasis on the study of design and horticulture. The association has grown to having approximately 90 clubs throughout the country who meet usually once a month hosting floral art demonstrations, gardening lectures, competitions, workshops and flower shows.

“Estimated spending on flowers alone will reach €80,000”

In a little over two months, from the 19th –22nd June, the Royal Dublin Society, RDS, will be transformed into a haven of beauty filled with spectacular competitive floral exhibits for the World Flower Show. Flowers, foliage, fruits, stems, roots, mosses and driftwood will be utilised to create innovative and compelling designs. The diverse variety of plant material that will be seen in the RDS in June should, we think, prompt a surge of requests to garden centres to supply many new varieties of plants. It is our hope that hosting the World Show in Ireland will increase the awareness of floral art in Ireland and beyond. With the formation of the world association, new ideas and trends can travel rapidly, which results in inspiration, increased awareness, new ideas, and innovation in design.

This prestigious show, a first for Ireland, is considered the Olympics of floral art. It is held only every three years, in one of the member countries of the World Association of Flower Arrangers (WAFA). Previous host countries have included USA, Japan, UK, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. WAFA is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organisation of floral art societies whose aims are to encourage the exchange of information concerning floral art and allied interests, and the care and conservation of natural resources and the environment.

Apart from this, the 11th World Flower Show is likely to have a significant impact on the Irish economy. Estimated spending on flowers alone will reach €80,000. Delegates from all member countries, Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay and Zimbabwe, are registered to attend. Based on figures from previous world shows, we expect visitors in the region of 20,000. The hotel and catering industries will benefit greatly from this influx of tourists. Delegates will spend a week in Dublin and many are expected to prolong their visit by at least an extra week.

Whether someone is plonking a bunch of daffodils in a simple glass vase or making an elaborate creation that will win an international floral art award, we hope that this event will help to encourage more meaningful intercommunication with horticulturalists, garden centres, academics, designers, and photographers. How do issues like floral fashions, trends, demand and supply, affect their work? We see in the history of painting the changing trends and styles in flower arranging, and how certain plants and flowers contained layers of meaning about status or politics or relationships for the owners or viewers of the paintings, but that may be lost to us now. How will the designs that our members are creating at the moment fit into a historical context or into the development of the market for plants and flowers in the future?

And what happens when it’s all over? We are already working on plans for an Advanced Floral Art course for people who wish to progress to disciplines such as teaching, demonstrating and judging. It has always been a priority of ours to invite lecturers from the UK, Europe and beyond to facilitate workshops in innovative new techniques and keep ups abreast of fresh worldwide trends.

So we hope to see plenty of horticulturalists, gardeners, designers, garden centre owners, florists and academics coming through the doors of the RDS in June. The show will be open to the public daily from 10:00 am. On view will be a host of competitive floral designs created by 600 leading floral artists from right around the world. There will be floral demonstrations by leading Irish and International demonstrators from Barbados, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, UK and USA; lectures by speakers who are authorities on topics as diverse as the Burren, Eileen Gray and Augustine Henry; tours to public and private gardens and a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues at the Preview Party and Gala Banquet.

We look forward to seeing you there.

2014 takes place at the Royal Dublin Society, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, from 18-22 June. Tickets from www.

FURTHER DETAILS from www.wafaireland.com


KITTY GALLAGHER was first introduced to floral art when she took a course in a local VEC college. Having joined a flower club, she further developed her interest in floral art through workshops and competitions. She went on to study AOIFA courses for teachers, demonstrators and judges. She also studied professional floristry and tutored in this for many years. Kitty served on the AOIFA Executive from 2002—2008 as Vice Chairman, Chairman and President. During her two years as Vice Chairman, she organised the training programme for over 80 prospective teachers of floral art. She continues to teach at Post Leaving Certificate level. As President of AOIFA, she was instrumental with Mary C O’Keeffe, then Chairman of AOIFA, in progressing the bid to bring the 11th World Flower Show to Ireland. For press queries, please contact Gráinne Killeen, Tel. 087 919 1557 or email grainne@killeencommunications.com