My journey to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017,

by Tina Parkes MDPF, AIFD, Dutch Master

Academy of Floral art Tina Parkes Chelsea Gold“Imagination is the highest kite one can fly” Lauren Bacall

This quote became an integral part of my floral kite at the Chelsea flower show and this is my story of how this kite came to be.

The Brief

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 brief dropped through my letterbox in late April, and after my successful regional heat, I was hopeful that the marks earned in the heat had been high enough for me to be included as one of the prestigious top sixteen Chelsea Florist of the year competitors. This year I was going all out for the gold medal that had eluded me on my first attempt.

Our theme this year was “Summer Skies”, and we were invited to create a kite from flowers and plants. We had a weight restriction of 10kg and space to display the kite in of 80cm by 80cm by 160cm.


If you haven’t competed at Chelsea, there is a fair amount of paperwork to complete and returned by specific deadlines, and although most are fairly straight forward, there were some requirements that nearly prevented me from meeting the requires time frames. I have to say its all a bit of a blur at the beginning, and I found it useful to book a morning out of my diary to go through all the emails that had been sent and process each request one at a time.

Academy of Floral art Tina Parkes Chelsea GoldStarting points for research

My initial investigation started with the kite form for which I set up a Pinterest page to collate a range of kite images. This research enabled me to get a feel for styles and designs in general and not just what was in my head. I found it crucial to go back to the brief regularly as the research can lead you too far away from the original concept.

I also investigated the construction of kites to help me understand how they are made and become aerodynamic.  During this stage, I found myself drawn to a dragon design and a beautiful dragonfly kite as I loved the colour possibilities associated with these creatures. But I ruled them out once I received the space dimensions as I felt it wouldn’t allow for the wings to be in proportion. Repetition creates a clear defined feeling with a design, so this led me to narrow my focus to either a traditional kite shape or a box kite shape.

Then I needed reasons for my choice, so historical research was my next step, this allowed me to open up the direction of the design to new concept and to give me a new path to follow. During my historical research, I found that Mozi and LY Ban, two Chinese philosophers invented the first kites over 2800 years ago. At that time China was composed of many warring states, so Kites played a role in providing military intelligence including measuring land distances, wind speeds and sending messages down ranks of soldiers.

Sending a message resonated as a potential idea, to have my kite convey a message to the viewer felt exciting. Further research identified that the first kites are thought to have been made from wood and were possibly flat not bowed, later paper became popular, and then the kites became lighter using ribs, paper, silk and bamboo.

Kites were also said to drive off bad luck and ensure good luck and good health. Later lights were added for show and reeds attached to create musical sounds when flown. So from this research, I took the message idea, and the use of a flat wood board and the lights for my kite.

Next, it was onto colour research, and as I had decided on the origin and message idea from the Chinese history, I began my research into colours with the meaning of colours in China. I selected red as it was often used on kites because of its association of good luck, fortune and joy. Also yellow was considered to be one of the most important colours symbolising hero’s,  good luck and freedom from worldly cares which seemed perfect harmony with time spent flying a kite.

With a nod to China, I also decided to include flora that had a definite meaning in the Chinese culture.  Chrysanthemum flowers are symbolic of good luck, and strong life force (personal connection) and orchids, which symbolise scholarly pursuits and higher growth (which also fit my personal beliefs of education and development) added reasons for these flowers to be included in the design.


Academy of Floral art Tina Parkes Chelsea GoldThe flat wood base idea taken from my research allowed stability and two surfaces which I hoped would enable me to focus on a perfect finish. By adding the lights, I wanted to create a feeling of sunlight glinting through the kite.

 I decided on the traditional kite shape that we see drawn in children’s books or cartoons today.  I needed to add movement because the kite is a symmetrical shape and although the symmetry in a kite is reduced to having one axis line over three for the rectangle, it is still quite static. So to make it more dynamic, I had the idea to make it A-symmetric and to add more movement with a curving line. This increased the implied visual speed of the lower part of the kite and in turn created a more dynamic overall shape but didn’t stray too far from the recognisable kite form.

The kites message

20170521-1081.HIGHSelecting the wording for the message was an easy one for me as I use this quote from Lauren Bacall when teaching to inspire my students.  For me, the meaning relates to both the kite and the challenge of competition. But how to add the message was my next challenge. A Perspex window became my ideal option, allowing the message to be seen and creating a lighter feel visually and actually (always one eye on the weight restrictions). I had measured the Perspex to be larger so that it overlapped the kite and would allow me to create a higher level on which I could have place materials to give depth. This is always a challenge that faces the designer to give flat glued designs a feeling of recession and depth within them. Unfortunately, the Perspex panel was not cut to size I wanted and so a note to my future self that if you aren’t happy with some thing in the planning stage, it is worth getting it changed as this will always niggle at you. I was pleased with the finished design, but I think it would have looked better with a wider panel which would have given the top level of flowers more room and the potential for the grouped positioning that I had originally planned. Also, I matched the writing colour to the gold ribbon used to edge the kite, but the words could have started a little higher up on the Perspex. I had tried to envision where they needed to be when the kite was suspended at the angle the viewer would see it from but after hanging it, the space is a little too dominant above the first word.

Sample flowers and foliage

Academy of Floral art Tina Parkes Chelsea GoldMy next focus became testing out the endurance of floral materials I wanted to use in the design. This is such a crucial decision because if the material doesn’t stay looking good, the quality of the design is severely compromised. With the weight restriction, my fear was that water holding materials could I use, e.g., floral foam or test tubes with both adding too much extra weight. So I decided to use glue as the medium, but if I could add a water source to add extra hydration for the plant materials, this would be hugely beneficial. The design would potentially be subject to extreme temperature fluctuations and high transpiration rates due to the open nature of the marquee. I experimented with materials by attaching the flowers to sample fabric strips to test longevity. After a few days of pondering this challenge, I had an idea to use capillary matting. This matting is used under plant pots to allow them to absorb water without the pot sitting in water.

I bought some matting and tested it out; the results were it would give the floral materials two to three days of dampness depending on the conditions. This doesn’t sound much, but it would aid the lasting quality of the floral materials, but the down side was it added thickness which was not so good when I was aiming to create the feeling of lightness.  This then led me to think about felt fabric which has a similar texture (good for gripping the glued flower material) but thinner. The felt held the water as long as the capillary matting, but the bonus of the felt was that it was much slimmer.

The floral materials

Academy of Floral art Tina Parkes Chelsea GoldI knew that to earn more points, I needed to include something a little more unusual or very every day but used differently.  One of the new materials that I experimented with was Baptisia Australis, which looks like a black large Genistia flower. It was interesting to use to create a darker line to add depth to the flat surface. I also took the Nutans apart to use their impressive structure to create a ripple effect over the surface of the kite and break the hard edges. I used three different coloured Nutans including Scarlet Ribbon, Soleil and Tango Ex. I also tried using food dye to colour Agapanthus flowers with yellow, but the colour stayed in the veins to give a stripe effect which meant the white was to dominant. I did love the yellow Ornithogalum’s which I had not used in this colour before (excellent lasting quality).

I turned to art and in particular paintings to explore the ideas an artist uses to create depth on a flat surface. I needed a range of tones of both of my key colours to create shading and depth. My plan was to grade the colours in shade patterns to fade lighter to the edge and darker and richer in the centre. The almost black Baptisia was going to work well in allowing me to draw shaded lines to help emphasise the outline curves.

I needed to decide the proportion of the two dominant colours which are both being used at the full hue and are primary colours which creates too much contrast. For this scheme to work, I needed to make one of the colours more dominant, and I did that by using  percentages, e.g., 65{6a105620b5334e7fcf5ec9a99cbc8c1b69dc96883fcaa28b7cdd12c7fe4a345b} reds and 25{6a105620b5334e7fcf5ec9a99cbc8c1b69dc96883fcaa28b7cdd12c7fe4a345b} yellows and 10{6a105620b5334e7fcf5ec9a99cbc8c1b69dc96883fcaa28b7cdd12c7fe4a345b} gold.

The tail

The tail proved challenging, I knew I wanted to continue the flowing line created in the base board of the kite but how to get the ribbon to stay put but look like it was being blown by the wind. After much trailing I experimented with sandwiching wire in between the ribbon and after lots of trials discovered flat aluminium wire worked best with iron on webbing to hold it in place. Then the ribbons could be bent but would still be able to hold their shape. To integrate the ribbon into the design, I decide to use it to edge the main body of the kite. This idea seemed like a good,  but it took me a whole afternoon to get the ribbon on with no creases or edges showing. Patience is definitely a virtue in this case. I did try adding further details to the ribbons including floral materials but felt that it made the tails too fussy and also became problematic with the weight, so I decided to keep them clean and simple and not to draw attention from the main kite.

Hanging the design

Academy of Floral art Tina Parkes Chelsea GoldI decided on using fishing wire but needed specialist advice as to which thickness I would need to ensure the kite would stay safely flying. A specialist fishing shop in Exeter guided me on the best line for the job. I also wanted to keep the lines as neat as possible so after exploring my local sewing shop, came up with the idea of threading the line through wide buttons which would go under the kite frame and spread the weight against the frame. Then the line could go up to the lighting rig, wrap around four times and tie together in a knot. To hide this part of the mechanics, I slide a large bead onto the line so I could push this back up to not only cover the knot but also pull the two lines tight together for a neater finish.

The final day of construction

I had planned out a time scale for the day which included breaks and varying the tasks. I stuck to it pretty well allowing myself enough time to finish the design to the perfect standard required at this level of competition. I also wanted to capture the process for our students and this blog, so we had a photographer with me for the morning which in the end didn’t add to much pressure as he just took shots of the design and me while I was working so I could just get on with the job. 

With the colours, I did get some shading and the darker lines in place but more really needed a little more time to enabled me to create stronger gradings of colour and a few more shades of materials. The red also seemed a lot darker in the marque. This is partly the juxtaposition of colours, e.g., the influence of one colour on another and the effect of the lighting which can alter our perception of colours.

Setting up at Chelsea

It is a requirement to wear high vis jackets, covered shoes, layers of clothes (the temperature did drop as it got dark) and your paperwork and you need to be on time. Take a torch as it starts to get dark while we were putting up the kites and became hard to see the detail (for me glue trails). Also, cut the time you think you have there to allow for logistics (in our case the raising up of the lighting rig so we could finish our tails) and other mishaps or nerves. It took me longer to hang the kite than I thought.

A little note on initial planning

Organisation was crucial for me, along with a realistic allocation of time for work on the research, planning and creating a mock up, testing flower longevity, flower ordering, conditioning etc. and space to work and booking accommodation and travel.

Awards day

Academy of Floral art Tina Parkes Chelsea GoldWhat can I say, I was overwhelmed, over tired and cried ……. I had earned that gold medal…. it was all worth it.

Press day

The bonus experience for competing was a gorgeous day spent wandering around the site talking to the garden designers about their gardens, mixing with the celebs and enjoying the very relaxed chilled out vibe.


I loved working on this design, and although there are improvements that I would change if  I created it again, I was pleased with my final piece. I felt it was a recognisable kite, evolved from an original shape. It connected with the history and included the message. My kite included over 80{6a105620b5334e7fcf5ec9a99cbc8c1b69dc96883fcaa28b7cdd12c7fe4a345b} floral materials, including some I had not seen used before, it had movement and was well within the weight and size guidelines.

Inspiration- First driver was Cultural (historical, cultural form and symbolic colours and shape, then technical- working out mechanics and techniques that I wanted to use, then thirdly botanical – floral materials were chosen for there longevity.

Flower list for the design

Baptisia autrailis

Chrysanthemum santini Aaa Doria Cherry

Chrysanthemum santini Cal Salmon

Hypericum Magical Mocca

Kalenchoe Warm Yellow Meadow

Leucadendron Safari Goldst

Leucadendron Safari Sunset

Nutan Scarlet Ribbon

Nutan Soleil

Nutan Tango Ex

Ornithogalum Yellow Star

Rosa spray Dynasty Sensation

Rosa spray Ruby Bijoux

Rosa spray Yellow Babe

Vanda Su Lava

Plus cut foliage’s and succulents form my garden and many friends gardens

Pot plants

Kalenchoe various colours

Begonia rex

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