Why Are There 35,000 Tulips In Melbourne’s CBD?

Joost Bakker’s had a big morning. He and eight mates arrived with three trucks to Melbourne’s Hosier Lane at 4:00am. By 6:00am, they’d unloaded the 35,000 tulips that now line the city’s graffiti hotspot.

But why?

Melbourne woke to tonnes of tulips. They’re free to enjoy, pick and pass on, but the point of it all runs a bit deeper.

Environmental activist, zero-waste crusader and restaurateur Joost Bakkeris the early bird behind one epic flower delivery! After learning that his brother’s flower farm, Bakker & Co, had 35,000 tulips destined for a skip bin, he saw it as a prime opportunity to make a statement about our nonsensical waste, be that of flowers, food or any finite resource. This guerilla project also asks us to consider the import of unethical products (which cripples local, well-regulated industries), as well as the systems and legislation that perpetuate unsustainability across the entire country.

So, what’s wrong with the tulips? A newly trialled ‘Sunbelt’ variety, this batch is deformed. The flower heads were stuck in their leaves, meaning they could not be picked at the optimum time to be distributed and wouldn’t be accepted by florists in any case. However, outgrowing this deformation in soil and now blooming, they’re perfectly beautiful!

Being locally-grown in Silvan and not held-up deteriorating in transport and logistics, these flowers could last for up to two weeks in their new city locale, becoming bigger and brighter each day. Unless, of course, they’re picked… but that’s also very much encouraged!

A pair of garbos were some of the first people to arrive on the vibrant scene. ‘“Look at all these plastic tulips, what the hell?” they were saying to each other, until one guy pulled one out and couldn’t believe they were real,’ Joost tells. ‘When they realised I was doing it, he asked if he could take one for his wife, who loves them!’

A woman out walking her puppy was also thrilled to collect a bouquet and learn about the purpose behind the impromptu garden. Shortly after, another popped by to give Joost a coffee, apology and praise – living above the Lane, at 4:30am she’d inquired (a little curtly) as to what he was doing making all that racket! A follower on Instagram, when she later realised she was thrilled and in full support (even coming back a second time to collect her ceramic coffee cup!).

One more challenging convert was a man so appalled (!?) that he scuffed across the cobblestones ranting to himself. Curiosity soon got the better of Mr Confrontational, though, and he had to ask, ‘What’s all this about?’ Upon discovering, he instantly mellowed and backpedalled. When I passed Mr Enlightened five minutes later, he and Joost were still chatting, and I caught the end of an apology. ‘Sorry mate, I take back what I said. But maybe I can move these ones so graffiti artists can access that part of the wall… and so, what other types of flowers are coming from Africa dirt-cheap?” he asked. Joost gave him a hand, along with some stats.

‘The point is that most people don’t realise that a lot of flowers are imported – the National Farmers Federation estimates up to 70%. People just assume they are Australian grown, but there are no labels and no laws around the labelling. Nuts, right?’.

Joost is livid that unethically and unsustainably produced imports flood the Australian flower market. ‘Not only can locals not compete on price, but there’s no quality in the flowers, and it’s giving the whole industry a bad name as it turns people off buying them,’ he says. ‘And it’s not just about flowers, it’s also about food – it’s about everything!’

The installation will be on Hosier Lane, Melbourne, for as long as it lasts (dependant on the public and the authorities). Follow @joostbakkerto keep up with his activism and projects.

Make A Difference

1. Buy locally-grown – if it’s not labelled, ask or avoid.

2. Opt for organic, sustainably and ethically produced options.

3. Think, plan and act around seasonality – from your meal to your wedding date (for the flowers)!

This story was originally published on The Design Files, October 5th, 2018.

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