London Garden Club members celebrate pandemic flower show successes

Greg Stevens

When neurologist Irina Code immigrated to Canada from Ukraine 26 years ago, she went looking for a new beginning, a new career.

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When neurologist Irina Code immigrated to Canada from Ukraine 26 years ago, she went looking for a new beginning, a new career.

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But it wasn’t in the medical sciences where she found her passion; it was in the arts, specifically, floral art.

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Today, more than two decades later, Code is an award-winning floral designer and leading member of the Garden Club of London, whose members have been winning awards around the globe during the last two years despite a pandemic that’s kept them home.

During the last two years, members of the club have won 32 awards for their designs, led by Code who took a top award for her creation, Synaesthesia, at the South African Flower Union’s Floral Art Re-Imagined virtual flower show last summer where the theme was a blurring of floral art and music based on the song Sandstorm by Finnish DJ Darude.

This year, Code also was runner-up for best of show at the International Friends of Floral Art and Design in Britain.

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“When I came to Canada (in the mid-1990s), I was too old for a new beginning,” said Code, 77, who married Western University urban geography professor William Code.

“It would have taken five years to get my licence here (in neurology) and it came down to career or family and it was easy, family. So, I was looking for something and I heard about the Garden Club of London and signed up for a class.”

Monday, members of the club will gather at the London Civic Garden Complex on Springbank Drive for a slide show celebration of their winning work.

“We have such an amazing, talented group of floral artists,” club president Pam Sabourin said.

“They have gone on to compete, get qualified as judges and they come back and share their knowledge and talent with the rest of the club. And when we meet Monday, it will be a chance for all of us to see the things our people have been doing during the pandemic.”

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The Garden Club often is mistaken for a group of people sharing ideas about their home gardens. In fact, club members are involved in many pursuits, including their on-going Carolinian forest project not far from the Guy Lombardo Bridge on Wonderland Road, floral design, crafting and community outreach, such as preparing floral arrangements for other organizations (Ronald McDonald House, Eldon House) and community celebrations, or helping promote good environmental practices.

“There are a lot of reasons to join the club,” Sabourin said.

“It’s really a wonderful way to be creative and to give back to your community.”

For Code, floral art feeds her soul.

“I cannot live without floral art,” said Code, whose specialty is the collage style of floral art. “It’s a way of self-expression and a way to show people how beautiful things can be made from plants and natural things. I think the collage (style) is the most interesting way to interpret themes . . . It is an abstract design.”

Code said the talent of her fellow club members is “just amazing.”

“We had more than two very difficult years of pandemic and I found unbelievable relief and purpose with floral art,” said Code, who was first taught floral design by the late Mary Kernahan, a London master gardener and floral art judge and educator who died earlier this year.

“I signed up for her class and I remember her telling us that if you don’t feel the passion for it, you should find something else to do. I felt it immediately.”

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