Ross Jenkins AKA Bloom Boy doesn’t do subtle. Most of his clients know better than to ask for the subdued or polite. Jenkins is the florist to go to if you want ’80s-prom-style kitsch or an industrial-cum-psychedelic twist – or if you’re after flowers erupting from your washing machine or another such spot you wouldn’t normally see a floral installation.
You might think Jenkins sounds like a one-off, and in lots of ways he is, but he is also part of a global trend away from the perfect-flowers-in-a-specific-vase-style floral arrangement towards more anarchic installations that challenge our perceptions of the desirable.
Some florists are breaking rules by using pest-eaten flowers, disease-ravaged stems or nasty weeds but Jenkins is bucking convention by highlighting artifice rather than the naturalistic. “Something that I do get from people a lot is, ‘are these flowers real?’ or ‘have they been dyed?’”
While Jenkins has been known to spray-paint the odd Monstera leaf, his flowers have always unfurled on real-life plants growing in real-life soils. It’s just that their colours and shapes test our perceptions of the natural. He likes waxy anthuriums, stiff gerberas and electric coloured carnations. He makes amaranth cascade like satin ribbon and stands leafless iris stems at sharp and precise angles. His carefully manicured arrangements rarely contain the softening effects of foliage, instead one brilliantly coloured flower buts up against another.
It’s not going to be for everyone. And just as all of us desire different things from a flower arrangement, Jenkins’ advice to those making them is to follow your own path. “There are no rules, just have fun. When you study floristry you are taught a certain way but you can take those skills and expand your mind and experiment a bit more.”
Welsh-born Jenkins studied fashion design in London and worked as a stylist before moving to Melbourne about 10 years ago and studying floristry at TAFE. While both his father and grandfather were keen gardeners he says gardening is not a key influence on his work. “I am more guided by concepts and feelings and maybe films, fashion and art. When I am designing I see colours and textures and I buy flowers that fit with them.”
His current display for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show has hi-vis gerberas (“they have a cartoon form, a fake look about them”) and apple-green blades of grass. With its rainbow-in-the-sky backdrop and lashings of plastic chain wound up into a three-dimensional version of the word “hope”, his exhibit prompts a reaction. Jenkins strives for that. “Before I started working with flowers, I never really thought about how they make people feel. But seeing people really react to flowers gives me a lot of fulfillment.”