Sharon McGukin

Smithers-Oasis North America Design Director Sharon McGukin, AIFD, AAF, PFCI enjoys sharing floral tips and techniques for celebrating life with flowers.

Dr. James Del Prince loves sharing petals with people. Jim taught floral design to Mississippi State University students in Starkville, MS for 23 years. He now teaches a consumer-based Master Floral Designer program for MSU Extension in Biloxi, MS.

Jim designed the MFD program with the goal of building consumer confidence in floral design skills. During each course Master Floral Designers learn:

• Floral design basics
• Fresh flower care and handling
• Floral mechanics and techniques
• Dried flower design
• And more

A Hybrid Program

Dr. Jim DelPrince - Mississippi State University Extension

The program combines a hybrid of video and face-to-face formats for optimal learning in three phases.

• Phase I – Online. A semester long online course.
• Phase II – In-person. Four-day training event of hands-on learning.
• Phase III – Volunteering. 40 hours of floral volunteer work requested

During Phase I, every week a new module within the learning program opens up so you're not bombarded with a lot of information. “If you fall behind, those previous weeks are still there,” says Jim.
The four-day Phase II hands-on portions are offered once a semester. Fall. Summer. Spring. Tuesday - Friday. “Covering everything from how to work with ribbon to a creative final project,” Jim explains.

Phase III is very much in the realm of Extension - the volunteering phase. “Just like Master Gardner, we ask our Master Floral Designers to put in 40 hours of practice in floral design,” Jim explains. “So much of the work that we do in Extension involves people working with others. That's a big part of Extension … community building.”
This consumer program offers opportunities to a diverse group of floral designers.

• Beginners looking to learn a new skill
• Individuals wanting to polish their skills
• Individuals interested in non-credit floral design education.
• Educational opportunities for garden club members, groups, and judges
• Church flower guilds
• Hobbyists decorating their homes or home pilgrimages
Participants range from all ages, 18 and up. “Floral design is a great skill to learn no matter when you pick it up in your lifetime – you have it for a lifetime. Using classes, books, YouTube, and other resources - you can design by yourself or with others for purpose or pleasure,” Jim suggests.

The largest MFD demographic tends to be a retired or semi-retired woman, around 60. She’s lived a life in service of others and career. Now, she wants to spend some time for herself, diving more deeply into flowers.

A New Take on Education

Jim notes that in Northern Europe, horticulture is taught in elementary schools. Extension is now implementing school gardens in Mississippi. There’s also a yearly program each June called Kids Camp and Floral Design. “It’s a half-day program for students ages 8 to 12, or thereabouts. If they're a little younger, a little older, we don't care,” shrugs Jim.

“We do floral design projects with them. And I'll tell you, the younger they are the less inhibitions they have. You show them an idea and they just zoom with it. Sometimes, I would put their design up against any randomly selected retail florist in the US!” Kids leave with a tote bag full of projects and samples.

If you have an educational need, odds are that Extension has something available to you, whether it's locally, statewide, nationally, or internationally. “What’s the message,” asks Jim? "Find the need. Fill the need.”
Extension’s mission is to answer the needs of the learning community. Other interesting Master programs in the Extension service include:

• Master Gardener
• Master Naturalist
• Coastal Clean-up, Gulf Coast
• Wildlife and Fisheries
• Farmer/Grower/Producer
• Farmer Florist - How to Grow/How to arrange what you grow
• Seasonal events like holiday wreath, garland, or centerpiece making

A Certification-Based Program

After completing Phases I, II, and III participants receive a certificate from Mississippi State University Extension. MFD is anchored with the annual March 8th International Women's Day. February 8th is the deadline for Master Floral Designers to turn in volunteer hours.
The first year we require 40 hours of volunteering - just like Master Gardner. It sounds like a lot, but it's basically two events. For instance, MFDs in garden clubs can organize a workshop, deliver the workshop, and dismantle it. That takes about 20 hours.
Once certified, MFDs stay active with the program by volunteering 20 hours per year with floral design or continuing education.
• Attend more classes
• Organize or lead a class
• Create or follow an online program
• Share flowers with their community
“MFDs do like to stay active, learn more, and they want more education,” says Jim. “In working with extension learners, some people linger, others come and go or get what they need and leave. Everyone fits our programs to their needs.”

The program was new online in 2019. “That year our small number of volunteers logged about 950 volunteer hours!” Jim proudly shares. Even during the pandemic shutdown, volunteers delivered flowers as a message of hope.

• Flowers went to shut-ins.
• Arrangements for churches.
• Sympathy flowers.
• Designs for lonely individuals.

“That's the beauty of flowers and what a great way to share it,” adds Jim.

Garden Club Opportunities

MFD offers educational opportunities for Garden Club members, groups, and judges. People who are already in love with flowers, enjoying their passion, and wanting to refine their skills.
“Working with Garden Club Judges is like working with graduate students. They're so devoted and knowledgeable,” says Jim. “Garden Club Judges participating in the program have connected me with garden club judging and higher-level exhibitions, which is really fun for me.”
“At Extension, we’re always interested in educational goals.” An individual or group may identify educational needs. The wrong way to use Extension is to call a county office in your state and say “We need a speaker.” A better way would be to say “We need some educational information about X.” Jim explains. “It's so much more enriching than if you just get a speaker that may really miss the mark of what is needed.”
Due to the pandemic, we relearned how to make-adjustments in the way we use flowers or floral materials. People often didn't have the resources to get everything new they wanted. We were back to the “How can I make this work?” stage of generations past. What was once considered common sense - reusing materials, minimalism, an eco-friendly lifestyle became an on-trend sustainability movement.
“One of our garden clubs here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is very much into floral design,” says Jim. I would say that half of the group are better designers than I'll ever hope to be. Born with wonderful talent, that just needs the honing of technical knowledge and skill, and they would be on a national level I'm convinced.” They requested a program on sustainability.”
“As Gulf Coast Garden Clubs know - microplastics end up in the ocean. Here's a coastal group of people who love nature and live right on the Gulf of Mexico.” Jim tailored their program with sustainable ideas they can use for their floral design exhibitions.
• New products that are sustainable
• Different kinds of mechanics
• New floral techniques
• Sustainable Floral Designs
Every course is consistently improved thorough the evaluation of every aspect of the learning process. “A lot of our garden clubs have really improved their floral designing overall because of Extension’s presence in their lives,” adds Jim.

For More Information

Visit their website for more details about Mississippi State University Extension. Be sure to include Extension. While Mississippi State University and Mississippi State University Extension work together, they are two separate entities due to funding. The University gets federal, state, local, and tuition. Extension is a cost recovery program. Its funding comes from state appropriations. When you take an Extension course, you're paying for materials, tools, and tangibles, not salaries. The government pays the salaries and administration of Extension.
Jim adds, “People love flowers. Sometimes consumers want to buy flowers minus the services. The more we enable people to live with flowers the stronger we make our industry.” Smithers-Oasis understands this. When looking for products offering the right look or proper longevity, consumers can order products from OASIS Floral Products. You no longer have to be a professional to access those materials. Now anyone can buy Oasis products.
Jim’s parting word of advice? “Feed your passion. You have one person to please – yourself.”