Kendall’s ‘Mary Poppins’ Makes Magic: First Place and Forbes Writeup Students beat 10 professional teams to win Chicago Flower and Garden Show's crowd favorite award

When five Kendall College at National Louis University students started brainstorming how to create a tablescape/landscape display for the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, the magic started early in the process and kept on going.

Their “Mary Poppins”-themed display won first place in the Flower Show’s Text to Vote competition, becoming the crowd favorite of the 40,000 attendees. It beat 11 other contestants–including 10 professional companies which design weddings and corporate events. It also enchanted Chicago writer Megy Karedes, who included it in her Forbes magazine column about the creativity of the tablescapes.

“I loved the details, including the umbrella propped up against the pretty Monet-styled setting,” Karedes wrote in Forbes. “While I was at the show, one woman brought along a chair and her artist easel and decided to paint the setting on a small canvas.”

Beloved children’s stories

This year’s Chicago Flower and Garden Show, “Flowertales,” had a theme of children’s literature. The Kendall students, who are taking an Advanced Practicum class in the Hospitality Management program, unanimously picked the theme of Mary Poppins, said Paul Romer, assistant professor at Kendall.

The students–Lauren McRoy, Sofia Karpova, Madina Malibekova, Giuliana Bucheli Bornemisza and Nicholas Maggio–looked to the children’s book and the 1964 Disney movie for inspiration, not the recently-released sequel. They had to translate their ideas into physical form in an 8-foot by 8-foot space in the Flower Show, which was held at Chicago’s Navy Pier from March 20-24.

“When they thought about designing it, they wanted to engage the audience with the story and bring it to life,” Romer said. “Using a combination of props and flowers, they wanted to have the attendees visualize and remember the Mary Poppins story.”

The famous nanny’s magical carpetbag, coat rack and parrot-handled umbrella are all there in the tablescape scene.  And if you watch the Disney movie, you’ll see Bert dance with animated penguins to entertain Mary, who is seated at a lovely wrought-iron patio table in a garden bower that looks almost exactly like the tablescape.

Weeks of prep work

The students put a great deal of work into getting the details right. They spent hours roaming Kennicott’s, a flower wholesaler,  to pick out the right flowers. They settled on a backdrop of a weeping willow tree and decided to make it more charming by adding tiny white lights.

Shortly before showtime, they received the digitally-printed backdrop from the printer, discovered it was wrong, and convinced the printer to do a rush job to correct it.

Finally, March 18 arrived, and the students and Romer put in seven hours of physical labor and creativity to install everything–table, chairs, flowers, props and more–into the space at Navy Pier and give it just the right finishing touches.

To complete the tea party effect, Heidi Hedeker of Kendall College at NLU’s Culinary Arts program and her team baked colorful macarons that echoed the floral colors. The five students displayed them on a triple-tiered cookie tray, then arranged lush flowers in the teacups and teapot.

Charming a crowd

The students and Romer attended the pre-show charity event on March 19, the night before the show officially opened, and were thrilled to see guests lining up to take selfies in front of the fanciful Mary Poppins scene.

The fandom and photo-taking continued throughout the show’s five days, and the students had to water and refresh the live flowers each day. On Friday of the show’s run, an artist set up her easel and chair to paint a watercolor of the scene.

“She thought it was the best booth, and she wanted to paint it just for herself so she could remember it,” Romer explained. “It was the ultimate compliment.”

See the Forbes magazine column featuring the Mary Poppins tablescape.

Learn about Hospitality Management at Kendall College at National Louis University.