A Floral Challenge – Working Outside your Comfort Zone

Love a design challenge? Enjoy connecting with floral designers who are equally passionate about learning new techniques?

Patience Pickner AIFD, PFCI, SDCF and Ace Berry AIFD, PFCI not only love a design challenge, they love challenging other designers.

The two floral friends joined forces to create ‘Inspired Design’ retreats. The focus of the retreats will vary … basic design, sympathy, wedding, advanced design, etc.

The purpose is to challenge designers to work outside their comfort zones.

Online learning is currently popular and a convenient way to pick up new design techniques. But, it doesn’t offer the same inspiring feel and fragrance that designing with fresh flowers does.

For an inspirational learning experience - there’s nothing like the challenge of sharing ideas and working hands-on in a group of like-minded designers.

Ace offers this advice – “Go in with an open mind and absorb ideas from other designers, for super unexpected results.”

Inspired Design Event

The first Inspired Design event took place in August, 2019. Participating designers gathered at The Green Palace, in Chamberlain South Dakota.

Hands-on design inspiration. Collaborative work. Tabletop design. Locally-sourced Field to Table dinner. Floral Couture runway show. It was three jam-packed days of hands-on floral education.

The entrance fee included all flowers, hardgoods, lunches, dinners, and the services of three professional photographers, models, hair and makeup specialists, designer headshots, a river cruise with tons of fun included for free.

In the design above, an IGLU was glued atop a candleholder, and surrounded by floral mesh. Beautiful locally-grown delphinium were added, then accented with bead wire. A variety of design colors and styles were mixed throughout the barn.

Working with new products

Participating designers had the opportunity to work with American-grown and locally-grown flowers from sponsors CalFlowers, Len Busch Roses, Artic Alaskan Peonies, and Floral Greens Farmers of Florida.

They experimented with new products provided by Oasis Floral Products, Design Master, and Accent Décor. Floral mesh highlighted both tabletop centerpieces and botanical couture as designs were prepared for photography.

Down by the river

The first photo shoot took place on the banks of the Missouri River.

Designers were given free rein with collaborative designs. Floral accessories were staged, models posed, and photographs taken at the discretion of the designers.

 “The river shoot was so fun!” says Patience. “The models were incredible and up for anything.  One lady was completely smeared with mud but just smiled through the whole mud bath.”

The headpieces were all glued together with floral adhesive which held up perfectly while the models posed in the river. 

An experimental environment

Designers were eager to try new products and ideas in a safe experimental environment rather than while filling orders in their shop. This process allowed them to accept the imperfection of their designs and learn from it.

“The round and square European holders were a huge hit” says Ace “although a lot of people were intimidated by them to start with.” One attendee used his round holder as the center of a floral dragonfly. The wings were made of bark, etched, and mega wires and Midollino.

Another attendee used beaded wire and bullion to create an umbrella.    

Centerpiece containers were laced with bead wire, mega bead and jewels. UGLU was invaluable for adding ornamentation. Aluminum and flat wires added strength and color to a variety of designs.

An opportunity to grow

“How many opportunities do you have to design for yourself?” asks Patience.

The retreat was hosted from a unique perspective that focused on two main goals.

  1. Encourage the growth of the designer by asking participants to:
    • Focus on designs that made their soul happy
    • Create designs that stretched their current level of skill
    • Moved them out of their comfort zones
  2. Create beautiful and exciting content for social media

Sixteen designers participated in the event. Their design experience varied from two to thirty years creating a mix level of design skill.

To showcase the results of the hands-on design class, a Field to Table dinner and a Floral Couture runway show were featured.  The event was open to the public and promoted via website, social media, the local Chamber of Commerce and newspaper. 150 tickets were sold for the evening at a cost of $50 - $75.

Each individual designer was responsible for at least one bridal bouquet, an additional runway design, and an eight-top table design for final night.

 “While the runway show was a lot of work, it was absolutely worth the efforts,” confides Patience.

The event featured 18 models, 40+ looks, a live DJ for the cocktail and social hour, VIP seating, and an amazing caterer who prepared a wonderful locally-sourced meal.

“The response was 100% positive!” says Patience enthusiastically.

A large collaborative installation was designed as a backdrop for the stage. Students attached florist netting over Midnight floral foam to the back wall of the runway.

The 28-foot garland was filled with drought resistant greenery inserted into the holes in the netting. Fresh flowers were inserted into the wet foam. Water tubes tucked securely into the wire grids held flowers outside the foam. 

The biggest challenge?

“The runway show was definitely most challenging,” shares Patience. There were so many moving parts - designers with their designs, hair, makeup and dresses for the models, music, timing, etc. Ace agrees.

 “The audience was incredibly impressed. Some designers experienced goosebumps, others cried, all were smiling ear to ear as their designs went down the runway.” 

 “We learned that the public is absolutely fascinated by what we do,”  says Patience.

 “Learning how to market the event was also a challenge,” replies Ace.

Lessons learned?

“From the attendee evaluations, we learned the designers really loved the collaborative designs and group discussions most,” answers Patience. In the future, they plan to offer more time for discussions.

What other suggestions can they offer educators contemplating retreats? “Rethink it!” laughs Ace.

More seriously, he suggests that planners give themselves plenty of time to think through all the possibilities of what can go wrong and make alternate plans.

Things go wrong?

Ace and Patience planned to instruct the event together. Due to a family emergency, Ace missed the first day with Sandy Schroeck AIFD, PFCI filling in for him.

Their event took place on a stormy weekend, with thunderstorms two of the three nights. The second night, Patience hosted a cookout at her house - on a hill overlooking the river. 

“A huge storm of incredible winds and torrential rains rolled in. Tornado sirens were going off. It didn’t dampen this party! “Everyone just rolled with it and kept having fun,” laughs Patience. 

Another challenge met!

Are you ready for a design challenge? Patience and Ace are already planning a spring ‘Inspired Design’ – March 30 – April 1, 2020 at the beautiful Highpointe Estate in Austin, Texas. A fall retreat in Minneapolis is tentatively planned.

How can you challenge yourself to work outside your comfort zone?

Contributing Photographers:  Angi Hanzlik Hanzlik Studio - @angihanzlik, Bricks Photography - Kristen Heismeyer @bricks_photography, Sandra Nichols - Indigo Blue Photography @indigoblue_photography.


The NE region of AIFD just hosted a 2 day floral retreat last weekend! Attendees worked individually and in teams to create magical floral designs! We are planning to host another in the spring. I’ll send in the photos when we get them back from the photographer!

Theresa Colucci December 18, 2019

Can’t wait to see the photos, Theresa Colucci!!

Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019

How can I get in on the Austin retreat? Would love to be part of the experience!

Becky December 18, 2019

You can reach out to Patience Pickner Aifd Pfci or Ace Berry Aifd Pfci on FaceBook or the Inspired Design page:
If you have trouble reaching them, let me know.

Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019

Sharon… March will be nice… I’ would like to blocked the days to be in… send me the information of how to be part of this great experience

Varito Vasquez Aifd December 18, 2019

Great idea. This would be wonderful here in Georgia. Proud of you both with this program.

Angie Head, Aifd,Gmf December 18, 2019

Varito, as Patience suggested to a reader in another comment – “Follow our Inspired Design page on Facebook for details.”

Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019

We love sharing stories and products that you love!! Thanks for letting us know we are on target!!

Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019

I’ll look for design workshops to share in the east and northeast for you. Readers? Any suggestions?

Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019

That’s a fantastic idea. We will definitely give it so.e thought! Follow our Inspired Design page on Facebook for details, if we decide to do something like this. Thanks for the input!

Patience December 18, 2019

Patience (PatiencePicknerAifdPfci), Ace (aceberryaifdpfci) – any plan for offering sweepstakes or a contest before next year’s event?

Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019

I absolutely loved reading all of this. I have always loved design challenges! I feel like this sparks even more creativity . Every part of these stories would be fun to try in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Thank you so much! I love and can’t live without the new black oasis, cold glue, and wires!

Julianne Wilske December 18, 2019

How about east coast?

Heather December 18, 2019

How about over in the NorthEast?

Heather T December 18, 2019

This sounds like a great time! I live in California and am a floral design student. Would love an opportunity to win tickets in a sweepstakes or contest for next years events! Please consider putting something together.

Julie Evans December 18, 2019

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