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Connect, learn, grow: SAF’s 135th Annual Convention kicks off in Florida

Hundreds of floral industry professionals and dozens of expert speakers are coming together for SAF Amelia Island 2019, the Society of American Florists’ 135th annual convention, Sept. 18-21 in Florida.

The event features a packed agenda of educational sessions and networking events along with beloved industry traditions, including the Outstanding Varieties Competition, Supplier Expo, the 51st annual Sylvia Cup Design Competition, New Products Showcase and more.

OV18 MishaParkMisha Park, a floral designer in Frederick, Maryland, takes notes on ‘Terra Bubblicious’ by Gerbera Green Valley Floral, a Red Ribbon winner in SAF’s 2018 Outstanding Varieties Competition. The convention’s Outstanding Varieties Competition is always a big draw. During the competition, growers and breeders from around the world put hundreds of their top new products on display — an exhibition Beverley Ireland of Jasmine Creek Florist in El Cajon, CA, called inspirational and educational. “The more I learn about our products and their origins, the better I can help my clients and customers make better choices for their needs,” Ireland said.

The knowledge she picks up from the competition — on new varieties, color and breeding trends and more — is information she can take back to her shop and share with her team, ensuring they are trained to provide superior service by having superior education, resources and products.

“This knowledge sets me apart from any other flower shop in the city,” added Ireland, “because I have seen the actual product, smelled its fragrance and touched the petals. I can translate my excitement about the new flowers to my customers easily.”

Karen Fountain, AAF, of Flowers ‘n’ Ferns in Burke, Virginia, said Outstanding Varieties helps her feel reinvigorated, from the moment she steps into the exhibition room.

“For most of us in the business, I think we’ve become immune to most fragrances on a regular basis,” she said. “When I walk into the Outstanding Varieties Competition room, all of my senses reawaken, and the amazing display opens feelings about the beauty and joy of what nature gives us to work with every day. In a way, we feel what our customers should feel when they see our flower shops and greenhouses.”

“I am still amazed at the beauty our growers provide our industry, even after attending the conventions for so many years,” Fountain added. “The room always takes my breath away.”

Those are feelings that Amber Ballance, shop manager at Fairfield Flowers in Virginia Beach, VA, said she shared directly with customers last year.

“As soon as you walk into the room you smell the amazing fragrances from all the blooms — it’s breathtaking,” Balance said. “[Last year], we had a great time exploring this room and even made a Facebook Live video for our audience.”

And selecting one bloom above the rest isn’t easy, either, said Fountain, who has served as a judge a number of times.

“Judging Outstanding Varieties is one of the hardest jobs I’ve had to do, but it’s also rewarding,” Fountain said. “The hardest part is to not compare the flowers against each other. Each variety is judged on its own merit.”

Sometimes the winner is clear, however, as another judge noted.

“It’s difficult to choose the best because I usually like them all,” said Rakini Chinery, AAF, AZMF, of Allan’s Flowers, in Prescott, AZ. “Last year was the first time I had a definite favorite and it ended up being the Best in Show.”

There’s still time to register for SAF Amelia Island 2019. For details, go to

Can’t make it? Follow the action on social media: #safconv.

Anne Holub is a contributing writer for the Society of American Florists.