Flowers are quite literally everywhere in the garden of Petrina Burrill, aka Petrina Blooms, in Ivanhoe, Melbourne. Bursting in magnificent clouds, sprouting up as though trying to touch the sky. And then there is Petrina, whose middle name, Joy, has surely never been better suited to another person.
Petrina’s earliest memories are in the garden of her great grandmother. She was sixteen when she went on work experience with a local florist, which turned into her first job, and when she started uni she got a break at one of Melbourne’s best florists. Since then Petrina has always worked casually as a floral designer, careful to keep the professional element somewhat on the side, to preserve her love for the craft. ‘I saw a side to the job that no one sees’, she says. ‘The lack of sleep, 40-degree days for weddings, long hard hours; I so admire all florists. I’ve always said that I never wanted to curse a flower and for this reason I’ve never had my own shop’.
Years later, Petrina went from one extreme to the other, becoming a flight attendant and living in Dubai with Emirates, where she flew with the Sheikh and saw the life of billionaires. During layovers she would find gardens and florists in each city. ‘I became known as the “Flower Girl” with the customs officers back in UAE because I always returned home to Dubai with flowers flowing out of my bag’, she recalls.
Nowadays, Petrina’s life is a lot closer to the ground. She’s been growing her garden for the last 10 years, and during lockdown last year she started making bouquets for a few friends. Now people can order their own via DM through her Instagram account.
Here, Petrina takes us on a tour of her magical garden!
Hey Petrina! Tell us about your history with gardening. What are your early memories of gardens?
My first memory of a garden is being 4 years old and walking through my great grandmother’s garden beds of larkspur, delphinium, columbines. I remember so clearly peering up to the sky with flowers all around me. There were butterflies, the scent of garden roses… I thought I’d entered a magical land. Her son went on maintain the Shire gardens in Mathoura in country NSW, who in turn passed the love of gardening on to my mum. There was always a small vase of flowers on the table for each meal. Mum taught us to love nature from a very young age. In my grade 6 diary I wrote’ When I grow up, I want to be a florist or a gardener.’
How would you describe your Ivanhoe garden?
A hidden, floral oasis in inner-Melbourne that bursts with colour and joy. Each Autumn I plant around 8,000 bulbs and corms. I have a fifty-year-old wisteria outdoor room that I use for my floral workshop. It shares the pergola with a Virginia creeper; they get on really well. I love collecting roses, especially David Austins. I have more than 120 rose bushes; friends often enquire how Flemington Racecourse is going. The boundary is surrounded with established trees, my favourite being a 30-year-old Gleditsia Sunburst. Her branches gracefully fall to meet the ground. Pull them back and you enter another green room. I used to love visiting Japan to see the cherry blossoms and maples. And so I have ten in the back garden, taking it in turn to flower.
My garden is dreamy; it takes people away. I think too, because it’s so unexpected it gives you a jolt. People’s jaws literally drop. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the joy my garden brings. Dreamy, uplifting, ethereal; it’s a place where time stops and daydreaming begins. As a traveler I’ve spent most of my life dreaming of faraway places. As a gardener I’ve created a space that lets me and others go back to those faraway places through flowers.
How long have you been here? Did you always have a vision for it as an abundant flower garden?
We bought the home for the garden; it’s a 700sqm block, It had the bones with established trees on the boundary. As years have gone by, I’ve added more flowers, slowly digging up the lawn. I never imagined I’d have an abundant flower garden of this scale. I always thought I’d travel forever but the reality of little kids changed that. It seems the more I couldn’t travel and take to the skies, the more I’d go down into the earth and make magic.
Beyond the aesthetic beauty, what power do you think flowers hold?
Gardens have the ability to transport you. The evening scent of jasmine, the sounds of cicadas. Everyone has their own garden story and memories. They are also healing places. My younger sister has brain damage from a car accident we were in when we were kids, and my older brother is a recluse who lives with schizophrenia. For me, the garden has always been a place to go into where you can lose yourself, only to come out feeling much better.
Gardens are beautiful metaphors for life. Everything must come and go, everything has its time, place and purpose. I love that they are universal and date back thousands of years. They remind us that tomorrow is never promised to us. Flowers and gardens show me how to live in the present and be grateful. They also hold and release memories; they hold time. Lily of the Valley takes me back to being five in my great nan’s garden on a warm Spring day. A fragrant flower is a thing of intense, almost overwhelming beauty.
How do you go about creating a bouquet? Is it a completely intuitive and creative process, or do you sort of know what you’re going to do before you do it?
Each bouquet is unique. I never know where the process will go. I don’t start out with an idea in my head. The only thing I know is that I like to work with a bed of flowers and build from there. If I find myself in the pastels and I see a real beauty then she will define where my work will go. Each flower needs space to breath and move – just as you’d find in a garden. My bouquets are an extension of this. I aim to bring garden joy into the home through flowers. Real flowers with bendy stems and roses with watermarked petals and all; the way nature intended them to be.
I am very slow when making my bouquets. I definitely belong to the slow flower movement. I handpick each flower and really put my love into each one. I’ve watched my flowers grow from babies. I treat them so gently. I’m in no hurry. They are my art and passion and they need to be considered.
Although some won’t last as long as the ones grown in hothouses and treated with chemicals, my bouquets will come with perfume, ladybugs and flowers you can’t find in stores.
In order to keep the balance, I now make around four bouquets a day. This way I can keep the joy and balance in my work.
How do you approach planting your garden?
I treat my bulbs like annuals, this way I’m always guaranteed a show of flowers because the goodness comes in the bulb direct from the farm. My roses I train and feed. I also have perennials like Columbines and Delphiniums. I grow a lot of my flowers from seed like Foxgloves, Love in the Mist, Cosmos and Pincushions. I love scattering seeds. I often plant my tulips and flowers for friends. If a friend is going through a tough time I plant a hundred tulips in the ground for them, one by one saying their name as I send them to sleep, almost like a prayer. Months later I show them what their worries have become and give them a big bunch. I do it for strangers too.
I know this is a BIG question – but what do you feel is special about your garden?
I love that my garden is exactly how I see the world. A colourful explosion of love, happiness, mystery and madness, all wrapped into a space that aims to bring joy and life to those who visit. If someone opened up my brain for science my garden is exactly what they’d see. Plus, I’m a bit wacky. There is no order in my brain or garden. The flowers find their place alongside the weeds and insects. I often refer to my garden as my beautiful mess.
You can order a bouquet from Petrina Blooms via DM and follow her on Instagram here!
Petrina Burrill calls this grand fifty-year old wisteria her outdoor room that she uses as a floral workshop. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Ranunculus in the early morning light. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Petrina in her abundant field of ranunculous. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Looking out over the back garden, which is constantly evolving. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Every Autumn Petrina plants around 8,000 bulbs. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Delphinium. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
A field of ranunculus. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Petrina considers herself a ‘slow’ florist, making up to four bouquets a day from her abundant flower garden. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Some of the spring spoils ready to be made into a bouquet. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Preparing bouquets from the garden. Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Photo – Caitlin Mills.
Looking into the front garden of Petrina’s beautiful home in Ivanhoe. Photo – Caitlin Mills.