In full bloomMonica Newlands started Quality Flowers with her partner Daphne St John, who has since retired from the business. (Rawle Culbard)
By SHERIE HOLDER-OLUTAYO | Sun, April 22, 2012 - 12:00 AM
There’s lot to be said for DNA, which accounts for so many of our hereditary and genetic attributes.
It’s more than how we look or how tall we’ll be; our likes, dislikes and personality traits are all wrapped up in that genetic coding.
Frankly our DNA determines a lot. Take Monica Newlands, who attributes her love of gardening, flowers and the outdoors, even her decision to go into education, to her mother. It seems like these things were written in her DNA.
“It seemed to have come with my mother’s milk,” Monica said, laughing, about her love of flowers.
“My mother was a homemaker and a gardener. She had been a teacher but back in those days when you got married, you had to quit.
“Her life was in the garden and she always had flowers in the home. So being a little girl and wanting to do what your mum does, I would put flowers in my room.
“When I grew up and got married, I always had flowers in my home and then somebody would say ‘Monica, I’m having a party. Would you do the flowers for me?’ So I would do the flowers for parties; it was just love work.”
So it seemed like a natural progression that Monica would end up in the floral business as the owner of Quality Flowers.
“After I got divorced from my first husband, I was a teacher at the time and my children were at university and I realized that I could charge money for doing what I do,” she said.
“But I didn’t want to charge money unless I had some credentials. So that’s why I went to the school of floristry in England.”
Going to that school ended up teaching Monica a whole lot more about flowers than she anticipated.
“As a result of going to the school I got to realize that not everybody has a talent for flowers,” she said.
“At the school we had people from all over the world. We had a lady who had a first aid shop in England and a pharmacy moved into the mall and she had to close her business, so she thought she would come to floristry school.
“I don’t know what became of her but I hope she managed the business and hired a florist – she couldn’t get it to save her life. But she was well motivated.
“That was the first time I realized not everyone has the talent for it.”
Monica not only had a talent for floristry, she also had a love for writing and books, something she also attributed to her mother, who taught her from the youngest of ages.
“My mother was a teacher so by the time I popped out, she started to teach me,” Monica said.
“As a result of that foundation from my mum, I was always in a class above my age.”
That love of books and writing would eventually serve Monica well in her married life as she travelled around the world.
“When I was living in the Arctic, it was a very unusual experience and, as a result, I kept a diary every night before I went to bed,” she said.
“I had a little old typewriter and I would type what happened that day, it was mostly the weather. Then I realized that this was something I needed to chronicle.
“[Living in] Africa, when the children went to school and my husband went to work, I went to my desk every day of my life and I turned my diary into a book.”
After travelling Monica actually wrote a couple of books, Beyond The Trees: An Arctic Experience, and Awakening To A Dream.
“Having my daughter kept me sane when I was in the Arctic,” she said. She was nine months old at the time and I had her to focus on. Otherwise, I would have felt like I was in prison.”
“Recently, I wrote another book, Restoration Of The Quaker Burial Ground,” she said.
Writing for Monica was more than a way to chronicle her journey; it became an extension of herself. Now that’s she’s working, she doesn’t have as much time as she would like.
“I write between five and seven in the morning,” she said, “but that means I have to be dedicated.” Along with being a dedicated writer, Monica has been a dedicated mother too. In fact it was because of her daughter that she was determined to open up a flower shop.
“The same daughter that was a baby in the Arctic, she died at 27. She was a beautiful girl and had become a teacher too.
“But she had a whirlwind cancer. She went for a hysterectomy. They were hoping that she could hang on to her uterus until she had a baby because she had been engaged to be married,” Monica recalled.
“But then she decided this had to go. When they opened her up for the hysterectomy, the cancer had spread everywhere. It was the kind of cancer that runs on the lining and it was just everywhere. So between the surgery and her dying, it was six weeks.”
At that time Monica was head of the Biology And Home Economics Department at Combermere.
“I was going to go up to Toronto, Canada, and spend three weeks with her before she had the surgery. She had surgery on Wednesday and I was leaving on Friday. But then Thursday, her friend Jenny phoned me and told me that Sandy had cancer but she thought she would let me know today and deal with it rather than come tomorrow and be faced with it.
“That was my worst day, I couldn’t speak. But then I thought she’d get a little chemo and be good as new.”
Monica went along with that thought to give her strength. But when she arrived at the hospital she was faced with a different reality.
“I had thought I would live until I’m old and she would look after me, but it didn’t work out that way,” Monica said.
“Then I realized you could die at any age. That’s when I said to myself I’m not going to stay at school until I retire.
I thought I’d take early retirement, have more flexibility, and have more time for the flower business. At that time I used to work with Daphne, a teacher as well, who had a rose garden. So when people would call her for flowers, she would call me. She had the roses and I had the talent.”
After Monica retired from school, they started the business.
For Monica, her life has come full circle. Today she is living with her second husband in her parents’ home, tending the gardens she grew up watching her mother tend.
“I call it divine guidance,” she says, laughing.
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