Cultivate the floral design industry

Embracing the intersection of art and horticulture, the Benz School of Floral Design develops floral design enthusiasts throughout the state of Texas and beyond.

The Benz School’s multi-faceted floral design outreach includes college courses for Texas A&M University students, continuing education for professionals in the floral design industry, a certificate program at a satellite school in Korea and an accreditation for a high school floral design program.

In all of its classes, regardless of the age of the learner, the Benz School combines teaching design principles with as much hands-on experience as possible.

“Floral design is a blend of the sciences, humanities and arts,” said Bill McKinley, associate professor of education, endowed chair and director of the Benz School in the Department of Horticultural Sciences in the College of Agriculture and life sciences.

“To be successful, the designer must know how to combine design elements and principles with knowledge of plant material science – how they grow, change and are best used,” McKinley said.

A Generous Legacy for Floral Design Flourishes at Texas A&M

The Benz School’s namesake and founder, Mr. “Buddy” Benz ’32, has spent his career promoting and teaching design theory. He started a landscape and floral design business in Houston and, in 1946, founded a school of floral design there. A floral industry icon, Benz was known for his innovative style, McKinley said.

Benz left his estate to his alma mater for the permanent location of the Benz School of Floral Design and the Benz Gallery of Floral Art with over 1,200 artifacts from his art collection. After his death in 1980, the school and gallery were established at Texas A&M. His family created the Benz Endowed Chair, the only chair with floral designs in the world, to support the teaching activities of the Benz School.

Dedicated to carrying on the Benz legacy, McKinley teaches college courses for the Department of Horticultural Science and the Benz School. He also teaches continuing education classes at the Benz School.

Cultivating young florists through job-like training

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offers two academic tracks in floral design: a Bachelor of Arts in Horticulture with a major in floral design and a certificate program in floral design open to any Texas A&M student. Additionally, graduate-level academic courses in these programs are capped at 18 students, allowing instructors to give personalized attention to each student’s design projects.

McKinley said many of her students want to major in event planning rather than become traditional retail florists. To extend their experiential learning beyond theory and classroom experience, floral design students create arrangements and designs for campus events.

For the school’s floral designers-in-training, “the biggest clients are the Board of Regents, the Office of the President of Texas A&M University, the Office of the Chancellor, and the Texas A&M Foundation,” McKinley said. “We create designs for many functions, dinners, receptions and even their aftermaths at Kyle Field during football games.”

These events give students an internship-like experience. McKinley said when future employers see a student’s portfolio, they realize the student is experienced in more than floral design. They have hands-on experience working with an event venue, coordinating with caterers, and delivering safely.

“To be successful, the designer must know how to combine design elements and principles with knowledge of plant material science – how they grow, change and are best used.”

Student leadership and professional development

The Benz School promotes student leadership and professional development through the Forsythe Student Chapter of the American Institute of Floral Designers, SAIFD. It is one of 12 chapters in the United States sanctioned by the national professional floral design organization, the American Institute of Floral Designers, AIFD. Membership is open to all Texas A&M students. McKinley, the student group’s adviser, said half of the club’s members aren’t floral design majors but enjoy working with flowers.

Each year, SAIFD invites industry representatives to visit Texas A&M to demonstrate design and explain the floral industry. Student club members also participate in the National Student Design Competition at the American Institute of Floral Designers Symposium and network with designers across the country.

Alumni often credit their participation in SAIFD and hands-on design experience as factors in their success.

Hallie Morrison ’16 served as Vice President of SAIFD, won the SAIFD Student Competition Designer of the Year in her senior year, and was an AIFD Foundation Scholar.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in horticulture, Morrison worked at four flower retail stores, a wedding event business, and is now a wedding manager for a floral design retail store. In 2021, she won the Texas State Florists’ Association competition for Texas Floral Designer of the Year.

“Without the Benz School and SAIFD, I wouldn’t have the success I’ve had,” Morrison said. “It gave me the confidence to work with brides and market myself as a designer, so they trust me and know I’m going to take care of them.”

Lizzie Borchers ’08, floral manager of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, said she learned leadership skills as president of SAIFD at Texas A&M.

“If you want to grow in your career and lead a team, you have to be organized, communicate well with people and share your knowledge,” Borchers said.

She oversees two teams on the Biltmore Estate. Floral designs are created for weddings and events at 11 locations across the property. The other team decorates the Biltmore house for each season and specific events.

Borchers said working at a historic property requires another level of training to work with priceless collectibles, which she first experienced at the Benz School.

“I remember when Jim Johnson, the former principal of the school, allowed me to use a vase that was perfect for what I was designing,” Borchers said. “It was from the Benz collection and pretty priceless. It freaked me out a bit, but now at Biltmore I work around priceless items all the time.

Extend the educational reach of floral design to a wider audience

The Benz School offers certification courses to students off campus, fostering interest in floral design and strengthening the industry. Additionally, the certification helps professionals keep abreast of the latest trends in business design and management and prepares qualified candidates to pursue a career in the industry.

During the summer, the Benz School offers continuing education courses for floral design professionals, high school teachers and the public interested in entering the industry. Texas A&M students who wish to take the courses without academic credit are also eligible to participate. Each course is limited to 20 participants.

The Benz School Korea is a satellite program of the Benz School of Texas A&M. About 100 to 150 students per year attend the train-the-trainer program where Korean teachers learn the Benz school curriculum. McKinley reviews student portfolios to assess their level of design work.

The Benz School has collaborated with CEV Multimedia in Lubbock to produce the high school curriculum, certification in floral design principles, and provide certification testing. Currently, the program is offered in schools in Texas and 11 other states. The comprehensive course covers plant identification, floral business management, floral design basics, and flower buying and processing.

The tests and certification obtained at the end of the course verify with potential employers that the student has the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue a career in the floral industry.

Whether for the academic or continuing education of students or industry professionals, the philosophy of Benz School courses is the same – proven design elements and principles underpin all aesthetic design.

Through Benz’s vision and generous donations, the Benz School develops the art of floral design and the success of the floral industry worldwide. To find out how to make a bequest to Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, contact Brandy Kines at bkines@txamfoundation.com.

Abdul J. Gaspar