Have you had the pleasure of meeting Katherine yet? You may know her friendly face from your trips to any one of our three locations as she makes guest appearances in all of our shops. Or, maybe you know her because she takes care of marketing at Brown’s The Florist. We are excited to re-introduce her as Katherine Olmstead, IMF (International Master Florist)… One of the youngest internationally, and the only Canadian!

Katherine’s IMF journey starts about this time last year when she, along with Courtney Hawkins (Westshore Manager) joined designer Andrea Strachan AIFD EMC in Las Vegas at the AIFD ROOTS Symposium. Andrea earned her AIFD credentials a few years back (a huge accomplishment itself!) and has been helping behind-the-scenes at AIFD Symposium for years now. Having a couple of our team members tag along with her to help in the background was not only a fantastic opportunity, but amazing exposure to a variety of influential designers’ work close up as well. 

A chance meeting at Symposium with Mike Boerma of the Boerma Institute in Holland was one of those ‘right place, right time’ moments for Katherine. Mike happened to be putting his cameraman skills to use when Katherine was put in a backstage role for one of the demonstrations at Symposium at the last minute (or, in Katherine’s words, “the person who made sure the designers got on and off the stage when they were supposed to.”) During a brief conversation with Mike, Katherine was informed about the process for getting into the program. He encouraged her to look into the International Master Florist program (rather than the pre-requisite design programs available at Boerma), which she could qualify for with an exemplary portfolio and CV to maintain a spot of less than 20 available for the program. She felt underqualified in her young years as a floral designer, but hoped to be able to translate some of her unique experiences from having been a horticulturalist before becoming a florist. 

Katherine loves an adventure, so the idea, while a bit intimidating, was truly thrilling to her. She came home from Vegas ready to revamp her floral portfolio and complete the process that would kick start the education of a lifetime.

Being accepted to this esteemed program meant traveling to The Netherlands twice (in November and again in March), long days that were jam packed with learning, as well as assignments and virtual classes in between modules at home. The zoom meetings occurred in the very early hours of the morning due to the different time zones. All the while Katherine worked full-time in our shops over major floral holidays like Christmas and Valentine‘s Day. During this time she also battled some very challenging health issues. Her determination and hard work paid off when she passed her final exams this past April, which comprised of thorough testing on design capabilities, application of eco-conscious techniques, as well as botanical identification. Thus becoming not only one of the youngest International Master Florists in the world, but also the only Canadian International Master Florist!

So….What is an International Master Florist anyway and how do you become one? 

We wanted to give Katherine the opportunity to use her own words to talk a bit about this experience:

Congratulations on becoming a certified International Master Florist! How does it feel to be not only the only Canadian, but also one of the youngest people in the world to achieve this level of validation?

Thank you! It feels like a bit of a fever dream now to have been able to study in Alsmeer, Netherlands amongst a group of amazing international talents at the Boerma Institute. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to be a sponge, soaking up information from mentors who have a real genuine spark for nature and who have humbly invested so much of their time and hard work in learning and innovating within this industry.

I was especially appreciative of comments on my designs pertaining to their “Canadianness”… I felt proud to be able to translate the magic of our woodland landscapes, flowery meadows, and the lush abundance of our forests from the East to the West Coast through them. It was a special way to remain grounded every time I got to tackle trying new mechanics and styles.

Can you tell us what being an International Master Florist means?

An International Master Florist demonstrates skills and abilities that go beyond the bounds of traditional floral design with a deepened understanding of elements, culture, and botanical knowledge.

The International Master Florist Education is the highest level of education offered at Boerma. It is a unique opportunity to learn from the Master of Master’s himself, Gregor Lersch! Gregor is a world-renowned teacher and mentor from Germany who has been generous with his teachings, botanical artworks, sketches, and mechanical techniques for decades. 

*Keep reading for more info on Gregor Lersch!

What other kinds of higher level education exist for florists?

Floral education comes in all sorts of unique forms. There are online tutorials, in-person workshops, independent schools, master classes, and post-secondary diplomas. The AIFD (American Institute of Floral Designers) and EMC (European Masters Certification) are well-known, well-earned credentials, and are often a prerequisite for further opportunities, as well as, or sometimes just a design portfolio. In Canada, training is commonly obtainable at a retail level, passed down by senior designers.

My personal opinion on floral education: You can only benefit from diversifying your learning environments. You can add value to your mechanical tool belt, to your local industry, to what your customers are paying for, and to the kinds of opportunities you want to see come up for yourself in general. What’s that saying…? “Diamonds are created under pressure”?

Tell us more about your journey with Boerma, how did you get accepted, how long did the program take, what made you choose the Boerma Institute?

I chose Boerma after meeting Mike Boerma at ROOTS AIFD Symposium in Las Vegas last summer when I had the chance to volunteer behind-the-scenes with Brown’s The Florist colleagues Courtney Hawkins and Andrea Strachan AIFD EMC. Andrea exposed Courtney and I to this event through the investment of her own education, and we were excited about the chance to help. Florists typically wear many hats – Mike was wearing his cameraman hat at the time he told me about the program backstage. He is one of Boerma’s worldly teachers and a son to the Director of the school, Jacqueline Boerma. The course sounded like an incredible opportunity and I was honoured to be able to attend. Not to mention – The Boerma Institute is located in the flower capital of the world next to the Alsmeer Flower Auction (the largest flower auction in the world). If that isn’t reason enough to want to be there, there was also the one-of-a-kind Dutch hospitality, the small class sizes, and the high standard for quality which translates into other international markets as well.

I was notified of my acceptance before the end of August upon submitting a design portfolio and CV. I then eagerly awaited my trip to The Netherlands in November for the first module!

What kinds of testing and examination are done in the IMF program?

The IMF program began in November in Alsmeer, NS with 10 packed days of learning over a two-week stay, followed by homework assignments and Zoom meetings about the work from home. The program resumed in-person in March until building up to the final exam in April which was judged by highly qualified Master Florists. A well-researched and designed book was also included in the exam marks. Naturally, I wrote about “Keepers of the Fire ” with a focus on the importance of indigenous practices for maintaining the land and flower growing. I spoke about the sacred imminence in all things – something that can easily be observed with gratitude while working so closely with nature.

What did you find to be the most challenging part of your schooling?

It was challenging to cover each topic in just a day… I wanted the days to be longer and for there to be more of them.

If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would happily do it all over again. That’s it. I would just do it again.

What is the most important quality to hone in on as a young designer?

Humility. Being able to recognize your strengths and limitations as well as being open to learn and unlearn, over and over again. Acknowledging that you can always improve and meet yourself humbly in your progress.

How does the future look for you now that you are an International Master Florist? Where do you see this taking you?

In a typical florist fashion, I will continue to wear different hats with different responsibilities. Whether it be connecting with customers and colleagues over the kinds of stories that inspire florists to create beautiful artworks, or with local businesses through marketing and communications. I look forward to the daily work, the passion projects, and to getting my hands in the dirt a bit more too. Ultimately, I see this taking me down the road of becoming an educator and a mentor who is also generous with my findings.

Katherine’s achievements and hard work that went into them are hard to describe in a manner that does justice to this accomplishment. During her time studying with the Boerma Institute, Katherine learned theory on different aspects of floral design and the use of materials. She also spoke about sketching being a requirement of the program, which became an integral piece of the puzzle for her when she went through her testing. The testing that she went through was rigorous in nature and was judged by Gregor Lersch along with other International Master Florists.

Speaking of Gregor Lersch, we haven’t yet tackled the topic of who he is and what an honour it was for Katherine to learn directly from him. Gregor is known as the Master of Masters because most of the competitive and highly regarded florists in the world have trained with Mr Lersch. Being born into a family of florists and horticulturists, Gregor’s wisdom is steeped in generations of knowledge. He has won countless awards and competitions, he travels the world teaching, and has written several books on floral design. To put it in perspective, Google the phrase “Who is the most successful florist in the world?” or, “Who is the most famous florist in the world” and see who comes up in your search. He said to her that a florist who can sketch has an advantage in communicating, with their clients and with themselves. 

We couldn’t be more proud of Katherine and her hard work, determination, and talent. We are proud to say that one of our team members is an International Master Florist, and we are excited to see how Katherine’s path unfolds. Congratulations to our very own Master!

Written by Amanda Vallis