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Above left, Candace Sweeny of Grosse Pointe Farms and Brody. Above right, Candace Sweeny of Grosse Pointe Farms created a whimsical, tropical style arrangement. photo by Ann L. Fouty.

July 31, 2014
In four hours Candace Sweeny had the task of creating an eye-catching, imaginative floral arrangement using an assortment of flowers, leaves and ferns.

She was competing against 33 floral designers from around the world in the World Association of Flower Arrangers World Flower Show 2014/A Floral Odyssey in Dublin, Ireland, in the Imposed Class No. 31.

Sweeny, a landscape architect by vocation and a flower lover since her youth, didn't win the competition. Yet, she did win.

"Sure, I didn't win," she said from her Grosse Pointe Farms home. "It was great to be there and see who got first, second and third place and commendation. Now I am branching out and learning. I'm becoming more creative, (learning to) take the risk to do something extra to make it extraordinary."

"Candy made the most of challenging materials," said Bliss Clark of Grosse Pointe Farms, who attended the show as the United States' delegate to WAFA. "Candy can see the excitement of flowers."

"It was wonderful," Sweeny said of the opportunity. "It was an amazing experience (to be) with so many talented, creative people. Everyone came out with 34 ideas. That's what's so amazing."

All arrangements were made on Wednesday and had to stay fresh the duration of the five-day flower show. Each morning Sweeny would return to check her arrangement, eventually replacing the lobster claws turning brown. That would be followed by wandering through the other exhibits or spending the afternoon with her husband, Don, as a way of observing their 39th anniversary, June 28.

Clark had encouraged Sweeny to attend because "she's so damn good. This is such an extraordinary experience."

Sweeny entered what Americans would call a "challenge," Clark explained. An additional 100 Euros is charged to enter the class in which all materials are furnished. Each entrant receives identical plant material, a single container and maximum dimensions.

"You come with clippers, with a smile, a good attitude and bravery," Clark said. "You have no idea what you will have as a container."

This was Sweeny's first venture into the global arena of floral design. The 11th annual competition, June 18 through 22, was represented by men and women from 31 countries who entered in 31 categories.

She, like her imposed-class competitors, received two floral foams, a three-piece plastic container, chartreuse midollino sticks, yellow twig dogwood, bear grass, foxtail fern, six red anthurium, five heliconia or orange lobster claws, areca palms, aspidistra leaves, green wire and floral tape.

Contestants were lined up on long tables and advised not to look at their neighbors' creations. Sweeny took to sitting on the floor to do a portion of her design so as not to be distracted.

She began with flexible lime green midollino sticks, 24-inches long.

"I was going to weave (the midollino) but it wouldn't hold up. I took the midollino sticks and tied three together and made three loops. I created movement in the design. It made it more whimsical," she said.

"I liked the lobster claw. I liked the tropical (look). I went with the red and orange and greens," she said.

Sweeny said she wanted to make a statement in the base of the see-through container and repeat the colors above. She began by covering the floral foam with the broad aspidistra leaf, and added an anthurium in the bottom of the vase. It was that portion of arrangement that took the longest, she said.

The lobster claws had to be positioned correctly the first time because of the diameter of the stem, Sweeny explained, because replacement floral foams were nonexistent. The lobster claws' stems would make a large hole in the foam, thus they could only be inserted once. She used more anthurium and foxtail fern in the top portion of the design, creating an arrangement that was tall, had visuals on the right, left and at the bottom.

"With the lobster claw and anthurium, I was able to do that," she said. "It was a little nerve wracking. I did the best I could. I was proud of what I did."

Sweeny's talents are shared with her church, Christ Church Grosse Pointe as the chairwoman of the church's altar guild. She is a member of the Junior League of Detroit's garden club and the Grosse Pointe Garden Club and attends flower arranging seminars and lectures provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts.

"I've gone to local shows. Now I'm branching out and learning," she said. "I'll become more creative, take the risk to do something extra and make it extraordinary."

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