An insight into gold medal winning floristry school

PUBLISHED: 17:22 26 September 2016 | UPDATED: 17:22 26 September 2016

*Bridal flowers at Malvern Spring Flower Festiva

*Bridal flowers at Malvern Spring Flower Festiva


There’s a course for everyone at Devon’s Academy of Floral Art, writes Chris Smith

The Academy of Floral Art is a Royal Horticultural Society Gold medal winning floristry school based in a barn conversion just outside the pictureseque hamlet of Dunchideock near Exeter. It’s jointly run by Tina Parkes (Dutch Master) and Julie Collins (City & Guilds British Master) helped by two freelance floristry tutors, Amanda Randell, a Chelsea Gold medallist and Kathryn Delve. Tina and Julie, while working together teaching floristry at Bicton College in East Devon, had a vision on how they wanted to teach floristry for the future, which led to setting up the Academy nearly eight years ago. The Academy currently has about one hundred students, mostly from Devon and Cornwall, but others from right across the country. Julie says the majority of students are people wanting a career change and that part of the Academy’s attraction is that it runs its own flexible and practical qualifications that sit nicely with people’s life styles.

“We have designed our own beginners and advanced levels without all the written paperwork leaving students to concentrate on the practical. If students feel they want academic qualifications we can offer City and Guilds advanced levels four and five, which are equivalent to a post graduate degree level.” Tina explained there are up to a dozen students in a class and because they are an independent school they have the flexibility to run courses with lower numbers.

“The beginning professional levels are themed with wedding, funeral, hand tied and arrangement units, but we also offer weekly half day creative flower arranging classes and with the festive season not far away we’ve started taking bookings for our Christmas workshops.”

The Academy courses run all year, weekends and during the week, with prices from £767 per professional unit or from £25 for a morning workshop.

“We try and cater for everyone and at whatever level encourage people to build up their skills. They may come initially with an interest in a particular area such as weddings, but then go away and decide they want to develop other specialist skills. People can dip in and out as they require.”

Julie adds: “We also organise corporate events so if someone wants to come here with a group of people we can design a bespoke workshop for them. It’s a very creative and positive way of team building.”

I wondered if Tina and Julie could spot students who stood out, who might shine and go on to be award winners. Tins says: “I think as teachers we genuinely find something amazing in every person who comes through the door. We want to allow them to build their confidence, to blossom and to create.”

Tina and Julie are passionate about both ends of their business, not just the finished displays, and they try to use South West flowers where possible bought through wholesaler BJ Richards, a Cornish grower. Although their approach is different to what is normally on offer at floristry schools or colleges the Academy obviously works. Students go on to run successful businesses, teach at other colleges and win gold medals at shows such as Hampton Court and Chelsea, as well as recently being invited to decorate Number 10 Downing street and at the American Institute of floral designers’ prestigious symposium in Los Angeles. From a small barn in Devon the reputation of the Academy of Floral Art is spreading worldwide.

Learn more at or contact Julie Parks or Tina Collins on 01392 834893

Autumnal displayAutumnal display

Five tips for preparing cut flowers and foliage for the home.

(1) Always clean your vase or container before use, to stop bacteria entering the flower stems.

(2) Fill vase with warm water and flower food.

(3) Flower food helps keep the water fresh and replaces energy to the flower lost when cut and it’s important to use the correct proportion of water to food, otherwise this can harm the flowers.

(4) Re cut the stem at a sharp angle, this helps to increase the amount of food and water the stem can take up. It is best to cut the stem under water.

(5) Keep the water topped up and replace it every two to three days, repeating the above process to make sure your flowers last as long as possible.

The Academy of Floral Art Team - on the bottom step going up - Tina Parkes, Julie Collins, Kathryn Delve, Amanda RandellThe Academy of Floral Art Team - on the bottom step going up - Tina Parkes, Julie Collins, Kathryn Delve, Amanda Randell

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