Joost Bakker – The one that envisions the future of nature

The designer, floral artist and zero waste activist on reimagining our ecosystems and urban spaces.

For anyone remotely interested in the future of sustainable development and urban planning, Joost Bakker is a household name. In 2015, The New York Times called Bakker “the poster boy of zero-waste living”, and his creative yet realistic approach to tackling urban sustainability, as well as opening the world’s first zero-waste restaurant (and several pop-ups since then) has further reinforced that reputation. “Everyone’s aware that we can’t just have a linear system; that we need a circular system,” Bakker says.

“People are hungry for change.” Bakker’s outlook – brought about by childhood experiences – is an instinctive one. “My parents made me really aware of nature. I also had a teacher in grade one who suggested that I spend time with artists,” he recalls of growing up in the Netherlands. “My mum approached a local landscape artist, and from the ages of five to nine, I spent Wednesday afternoons learning about shadow, charcoal, observing the light and seeing how it changed depending on the time of year. It was a great way to see the natural world through an artist’s eyes.”

Bakker’s family immigrated to Australia when he was nine, further opening his eyes to nature. “I grew up on a flower farm in Monbulk, in the Dandenong Ranges; I saw forests that are 300 million years old – true wilderness,” he remembers. “I was in awe and I still am.” His parents’ flower farm inspired Bakker’s early work as a floral installation artist in the 1990s, allowing him to see beauty that others didn’t.

“I did things like use rubbish bins as vases, and worked with electrical cables and different elements, combining them with something really beautiful like a flower.”

This personal history has made his current project – David Jones’ Melbourne Flower Show activations – particularly poignant. Ultimately, Bakker seems to notice things that most of us don’t and finds joy in showing them to the world. “People think about going to exotic places to try to see beauty, but I’ve always gotten quite excited by what surrounds me,” he says. “We’re obsessed with getting to Mars but we know so little about what’s under our feet.”

The easiest way to start do so, in his view, is by growing something – anything: a pot of parsley, even. “Things that we buy are quite easy to grow,” he explains, “and once we know or see that it is the right time of year to harvest something, you automatically become connected with the environment.” A shift in mindset seems to be key to not taking our natural resources for granted.

“My philosophy is that in the last 100 years, we’ve done everything to remove ourselves from nature and, really, we need to be surrounded by it; to be connected.”

“There’s a real opportunity to reduce the requirement of using so much land for crops. Using our built environment as purely shelter needs to end; it just requires us to think differently.” This connection to nature and call to preserve it underpins Bakker’s perspective, and starts by recognising that we can do so much more with nature with so much less. And Bakker is optimistic: “I’m a big believer in how resilient nature is.”

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Melbourne Flower Show

On the 10th October, our iconic Spring Flower Show will return to Melbourne for the first time in 23 years. This year, we’ve partnered with Joost Bakker, activist, floral artist and world-renowned champion of zero-waste living, to transform our Bourke Street flagship into a bio-diverse, living world of floral wonder. Joost, whose family proudly supplied flowers for our annual show in the late 80’s, has dedicated over a year to designing our floral installation of the future; an immersive, zero-waste ecosystem, comprised of hundreds of species of local florals and living fauna. We visited Joost’s farm in Monbulk, Victoria to discuss his inspiration.