Posted on 4 April 2023
Open Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga graduate Jessica Cooper has not only turned a hobby of picking and wrapping flowers into a career, but recently she attended the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show which ran from 29 March to 2 April 2023.
The opportunity arose for Jessica to take the trip to the popular Melbourne event, after finishing runner-up in the New Zealand Professional Florists (NZPF) competition, ahead of more experienced florists.
It was the first time Jessica had entered a floral competition, and the “opportunity of a lifetime”, saw her receive flights, accommodation, entry to the show and the chance to demonstrate on stage for 30 minutes on the opening day.
She attended with the Level 4 winner Nimrekha Collins and NZPF President Megan Parker.
Jessica is relatively new to the industry, which made her achievement that much more remarkable.
She completed her New Zealand Certificate in Floristry (Level 2) at Open Polytechnic in 2020, the same year that she joined NZPF, the industry standard setting body for florists.
On the stage in Melbourne, Jessica participated in the designing and showcasing of a 3x3 metre wedding installation, presented a design on stage as part of a demonstration and helped with the flower market that was set up as part of the show each day. This allowed the public the opportunity to purchase fresh, beautifully designed flowers, by experienced florists.
“I found it slightly overwhelming, since I am still relatively new to the industry, but I was ecstatic to be immersed in the floral world at such an early stage,” she said.
“It was another experience to confirm that this is where my passion and career lies. I was absolutely honoured to be given this opportunity not only to represent NZPF but to be able to engage in this industry on a wider scale.”
Jessica was pleased to make the most of the networking opportunities provided by the event, which had more than 100,000 attendees and 100 floral displays, allowing her to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s best floral designers.
“I was excited to participate, represent New Zealand and put my skills and knowledge to the test,” Jessica said.
“I was also thrilled just to be able to observe everything and everyone, to soak in all it had to offer and be ultimately inspired.”
According to Megan, who is also the Team Lead and one of the facilitators for the Open Polytechnic floristry programme, Jessica was one of those students that radiated the desire to learn.
“I knew from the beginning Jessica was going to be a fabulous asset in the flower world,” Megan said.
“I was very excited that our Level 2 programme was able to provide her with the opportunity to become emersed in flowers.”
Jessica left high school at the age of 16 to work in hospitality, but it wasn’t until she had her daughter, while in her twenties, that she developed a new sense of purpose in life.
“This adventure of a new life opened my eyes to the values and passions I had, and during maternity leave I vowed I would not return to a job unless I felt complete passion for it,” she said.
Jessica stayed at home raising her daughter as well as making and selling crafts, which rekindled her passion for flowers.
“My crafts started to involve dried flowers and I was taken back to when I was younger where I would pick and wrap flowers for family members’ birthdays,” she said.
“One day I came across an online ad for a floristry certificate through Open Polytechnic, and it was fees free!”
“I thought I would give it a shot and as I went through the courses, I found I had so much interest in the design and biology of plants and flowers.”
Studying through Open Polytechnic was ideal for Jessica as she could complete her qualification online, while still looking after her daughter.
Completing the New Zealand Certificate in Floristry was a huge achievement for Jessica as it gave her a formal qualification.
“It gave me confidence and I was able to recognise that I could really make something of myself,” she said.
Jessica knew the course required some work experience, so she kept an eye out for businesses she could complete this at and came across a job advertisement at Palmerston North-based Floral Collaborative.
She was hired in November 2020 and still enjoys working there as a Junior Florist.
“I have never loved my job as much as this one,” she said.
“I am grateful to the owner, Cheryl, for giving me the opportunity; working here has helped steer me through this industry and my studies.”
Jessica recently completed the New Zealand Certificate in Floristry (Level 3) through NZPF. She received the Ethel Black Award, which exemplifies diligence and outstanding achievement across both written and practical exams within New Zealand, by gaining the highest marks. Jessica also received two scholarships towards her Level 4 exams. After Level 4, she aims to attain her New Zealand Diploma and continue to grow her skills and knowledge to see where this industry takes her.
“Looking back a few years from when I came across the New Zealand Certificate in Floristry (Level 2) at Open Polytechnic, I am very pleased I took the opportunity,” she said.
“One day I might run my own florist studio, become a teacher, build a flower farm or compete in international competitions, the opportunities are endless.”