'Fireworks' - Photo Courtesy Betsy Hansen http://betsyhansen.com

Imagine spending two days in a ballroom perfumed with lilies and garden roses, surrounded by rows upon rows of vases filled with different types of flowers — alstroemeria, dahlias, gerberas, hydrangeas, orchids, just to name a few.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Trust me, it is. This is part of my job, reporting on the Outstanding Varieties Competition, an annual contest the Society of American Florists holds to recognize the absolute best flowers in the market. Flowers arrive from growers all across the country and around the globe for the competition.

Fortunately, it’s not up to me to pick the winner, as all 262 of the entries this year looked pretty outstanding to me. Rather, my role is to interview the judges (nine esteemed members of the floral industry) to find out why they gave certain varieties high marks. What I learned: it’s not all about aesthetics.

Sure, the winners were all gorgeous. But another trait judges evaluated was versatility. And here’s where my job gets really fun: asking professional florists how they would use flowers. They get very animated and spout out ideas in a seemingly limitless stream of creativity. My response after every design they mentioned: “Oh, I want that!” My suggestion: Next time you order flowers, ask your florist what’s in the cooler and what their dream designs with those flowers would be. You’ll be astounded with the range of stylish, customized creations they can propose.

'Rialto' - Photo Courtesy Betsy Hansen http://betsyhansen.com

The top honor for 2012 — Best in Show — went to ‘Fireworks’, a peppermint-colored hot pink and white spray rose. Like a black sheath dress that can work for nearly any occasion (workday, happy hour, funeral, wedding), ‘Fireworks’ has a heck of a lot of applications in the floral world, which the judges happily rattled off for me.

Demure, yet statement making, it would look fabulous on my cousin’s wrist for her junior prom this spring. Paired with red carnations and evergreen in a gold or silver container, it’d be an updated look for Christmas decor. Speaking of a break from the traditional: Wouldn’t you love to receive this for Valentine’s Day — mixed with some red roses and ‘Stargazer’ lilies (a huge, hot pink variety)? (I would!) I could imagine some of my trendy friends carrying ‘Fireworks’ in their bridal bouquets, paired with white hydrangeas or peonies. And when I’m feeling under the weather, I would really appreciate receiving a small vase filled with ‘Fireworks’ and red alstroemeria or tulips.

'Moody Blues' - Photo Courtesy Betsy Hansen http://betsyhansen.com

Nine other flowers earned the second highest honor in the Outstanding Varieties Competition, a Best in Class ribbon. Here are a few of the Best in Class winners that spoke to me:

‘Rialto’
Nothing freshens up my apartment like a vase filled with Oriental lilies. This pure white lily would look great in an arrangement on my kitchen table, on top of my blue and yellow Provençal tablecloth. It’d be such a “clean” look that would instantly make my home look more pulled together. One of the judges said she’d style ‘Rialto’ in a topiary arrangement, with white spray roses at the base of the container — très chic!

'Pop Music' - Photo Courtesy Betsy Hansen http://betsyhansen.com

‘Moody Blues’
This one will have English rock fans singing, “I love you, yes I love you, oh how I love you” from the band of the same name’s hit song, “Nights in White Satin.” Yes, I too adore this rose, which looks like a blend of lavender and raspberry. It’s almost exactly the shade as the dress I wore in my brother’s wedding last year, which was extremely flattering against a range of hair colors and skin tones. One of the judges suggested pairing it with wine-colored callas and chartreuse-colored chrysanthemums and hypericum berries for a twist on the typical fall arrangement.

‘Pop Music’
What a fun carnation! I used to marbleize paper during arts and crafts at summer camp, and this flower looks like it’s received the same treatment. It’s very intriguing. Judges agreed. One said she’d recommend it for fathers buying Valentine’s flowers for their young daughters. Wouldn’t that be cute? Another suggested pairing it with tropical flowers, such as birds of paradise or leucadendron. (Aha—now I have a floral idea for my brother, lover of tropical plants.)

Which of these outstanding varieties is your favorite?