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Yak Throwback: Janice Lee Ripley

In this version of our Yak Throwback series we return to 2010 to revisit The Yak 25 and our interview with florist extraordinaire Janice Lee Ripley, the woman behind Bali flower outfit Bloomz.  Photo: Yaeko Masuda.

Janice, why flowers?
For the time being, there is no better way for me to integrate different ideas of cultural beauty and art, natural beauty and my creative sensibility. This has been a passion of mine for decades.

What’s your favourite?
I am fickle. I long for flowers which are not available at the moment…I miss the scents of paper whites or narcissists, the jumbo monster sunflowers of Northern California, long-stemmed French tulips and boughs of dogwood, quince and magnolias. Actually, I am completely content with the flowers that surround me here…the pink gingers, gardenia and branches of guava fruits. And my all-time favourite anywhere that is available here: the longiflorium lily. The trumpet-shaped flower gives off a perfume so sweet and divine. They are pure grace. And I love home-grown lilacs…

Where do your blooms come from?
I am committed to locally grown flowers. And foliage. So our first choice is flowers grown in Bali. They are brought in daily from Tabanan, Bedugul and Karangasem. Next are the farms in Java, East Java and Bandung…north of Jakarta. We import from Holland for special requests. The quality and variety of locally grown flowers has excelled dramatically since I first opened shop three years ago in Ubud.

Where do you come from? And how did you end up in Bali?
I’m a New Yorker. Migrated to California where I worked on a Master’s degree at the San Francisco Art Institute. During both undergraduate and graduate schools I worked in fabulous floral shops, a creative vortex of people, materials and challenges.

Should we call you a florist? It seems slightly insulting…
Sure, go ahead…while working with many talented designers over the years, we would always joke about this “florist” label. It can conjure up some pretty bad floral concepts. Bloomz’ customers and clients know the difference, when they walk through our doorways they experience another dimension, far from the conventional…

Flowers are attached to smells that evoke memories…what’s your earliest memory of flowers?
Ah, yes the olfactory sense…most potent for memories! Christmas, the pine needles…we had a huge tree, it would be dark and cold outside, a New York snowy winter and inside the smell of pine and warm lights. And in Summer I played with the lily of the valley stalks just outside our kitchen door.

Did you learn to love blooms from anyone in your family?
I loved playing with flowers from early on. Some of my friends got in trouble for jumping fences and getting soaked and muddy playing in the brook near our house…I got in trouble for picking all of our next door neighbour’s hydrangeas and rhododendrons. And my grandmother loved to arrange flowers for holiday dinners…but I really learned about love of flowers, which is a discipline really, from my mentors, co-workers and designers over the years. The care of these magical natural critters is an ongoing process of cutting stems, filling water buckets, removing leaves, giving them proper support and enough space to breathe…God, they sound like pets…the phrase ‘labour of love’ comes to mind…

What’s the most important part of your work?
Seeing, feeling the relationships among the blossoms, branches, vessels and environment they are ultimately to be placed in; creating the unexpected…that’s the poetic aspect. The practical aspect is important as well…logistics, logistics…how, when, where, how much.

Are all florists cut from the same jib?
No, essentially not. There seems to be two camps: inspired and industrial. Both are hardworking though and have dirt under their fingernails.

What’s the most elaborate design you have ever created?
Elaborate? Well! Do you want to know the most labour-intensive or most awe-inspiring? Because sometimes the most beautiful things are created in an inspired instant – which incidentally is why I refrained from working with flowers for 20 years. I needed to develop a creative maturity, which involved executing an idea, developing it, then making it concrete over time: the jewelry designing and fabrication was perfect for that. It can take months in collaboration with the smiths, carvers and beaders to get to a final work. It involves a kind of discipline, which flowers did not demand of me. I now have both modes of creativity at my disposal…got my legs, so to speak. So, the most awe-inspiring work comes in quiet moments and is then transported to a client’s dining table, awaiting guests to arrive at sunset. My shops are too elaborate, one friend admonished! Stop making art installations as gorgeous as they are and sell your jewelry in there darlin’! Something tourists and the non-flower people can take with them! So, now Ubud has both florals and gems…romance layered on romance. Soon to show up in Petitenget as well.

Do you have time for any other passions?
Absolutely. An ongoing pursuit of eastern philosophies, Sanskrit language studies, Chinese brush painting, cooking and my art studio has large charcoal drawings of nautilus shells in various stages of completion plastered on the walls…I love Bali dogs, travel…should I go on?

What’s your view of supermarket flowers?
They reflect the collective consciousness of the masses and the industrialisation of the flower. My work does not appeal to the masses.

What country does flowers best?
Each culture brings a different flavour of beauty to the craft. It’s not about the country of origin, but the interpretation of the essentials of design and soul being expressed by the floral artist. It takes a bit of genius to create fresh and original bouquets.

Do you ever say thank you to your flowers?
All the time! I am stunned mostly. Surrounded by these beauties and with the wonderful people who work with me. I could – would – never do this without the Balinese and Javanese people who staff my shops and bring us the flowers, through rain, heat, earthquakes. This is a great privilege.

Can you tell us something we don’t know about flowers?
They die so beautifully…we should all spend time seeing how the expire.


King of Quirk: Adimas Reynard