Transformations on instanced geometry

I have modeled a petal and used an array modifier to replicate it.

I am trying to model a lotus flower, which has multiple layers of petals rotated (and curved) upwards by different degrees. My first thought was to create a linked duplicate of the base mesh, transform it and then apply a new array modifier. The array modifier requires the transform to be applied, however, which I cannot do without breaking the link.

Is Blender flexible enough to model such an object with a single instance of the original mesh? I come from a game engine background in which this is quite easy (instanced geometry with a set of arbitrary transforms).

Yes it is.

Modeled one with a particle system and particle instance modifier.

The term instance is used loosely here. In Blender, shared mesh means linked object data either by linking them for two objects, or creating a new one with linked data (linked duplicate). An instance is a complete reference to an object, or multiple objects at once, and instancing options are: procedural duplication, particle system duplication options, and linked libraries. Particle instance modifier doesn’t use actual instancing despite its name and despite making use of particle system, it’s just a way to distribute and deform object data.