Things don’t just happen. Gardens do not just magic themselves into being. Good ideas do just not become successful companies in a single day. Everything has a story behind it. How you got out of bed in the morning. How a house came to be painted. How a picture was taken.
Sometimes the stories are simple, like fairy tales, everything works out as it should. The protagonist gets rewarded with fortune beyond all human understanding, happily ever after. And other times, the stories are harrowing accounts of perseverance under excruciating conditions, hard, painful,and ultimately heartbreaking. But all these stories, no matter how different, share a common beginning. There’s always a mother. Without exception, her story, her history, is where your story starts.
The story of Omar Gardens begins with my mother, Ibilola Femi-Pearse. She loved flowers. There was always a floral arrangement in a well-appointed vase somewhere in the house. She liked to buy them, but they weren’t always readily available. Sometimes you had to wait for a week or two before the flowers came back in stock. Her need for flowers grew into a passion for gardening, necessity had become the mother of invention.
My parents believed that togetherness was the very meaning of family. They absolutely refused to do anything in isolation. Every individual project became a family mission. My mother wanted a garden to support her flower habit. She wanted to grow her favourites, roses and anthuriums, and I had to oblige her. It wasn’t my favourite thing in the world to do. All I wanted to do with gardens at the time was play in them and eat the fruits that grew there, like I did at my grandmother’s garden. My grandmother, Elsie Femi-Pearse, had a beautiful tropical garden on Herbert Macaulay Street in Yaba, Lagos. The main attraction of this garden was an apple tree at the back. In fruiting season, it produced loads of fruits. My siblings and I would happily visit grandma to spend time with her plucking fruits. My mother’s garden was not the same.
My mother’s garden was a stream of endless tasks that required me getting my hands dirty. I could be found mulching, treating diseases, removing dead branches, applying manure and raking dead leaves. The anthuriums were easier to tend than the roses were. They gleamed with health and flowered beautifully without much labour. The same was not true of the roses. Till this day, I cringe a little, whenever a client tells me they want roses in their garden.
When I wasn’t working on the garden, especially in the summer holidays, I would be sent to the house of my Aunt and Godmother, Mrs. Obafunke Akinkugbe, in Ile-Ife, to continue my gardening education. She was a diligent mistress. My siblings and I spent our days outdoors, listening to my aunt’s lessons about garden maintenance, pests, plant diseases and we’d be given homework: learning plant names, tracing leaves, flowers and stems, and pressing flowers on paper. Our efforts produced brilliant results. Our large garden on the University of Lagos campus bloomed. Every available corner was filled with drums and drums of flowers, our very own tropical paradise. It was a sight to behold. My mother was thrilled. She never had to go even a day without her beloved flowers.
My real experience with gardening came about when my Mom was posted to San Francisco on a two week on and off schedule. This super woman also held down a corporate job. I was studying Insurance at the University of Lagos at the time and since we lived on Campus, I was tasked with the responsibility of tending the garden while she was away. We struck a deal. Imagine me in Uni with an endless need of clothes and my Mom having the opportunity to buy these clothes from America. I promised her that she would always have a perfect garden in exchange for said clothes. I worked hard on the garden. My hatred of growing roses in Lagos started from there. They were so much work. But the flowers were very rewarding.
My Mom returned to Nigeria and things settled into their normal routine. My Mom however noticed that her roses were dwindling and wondered who was responsible. We caught the culprit. My sister, Omolara, had seen the business opportunity and had started selling my Mom’s roses for extra pocket money. It was a real aha moment for my Mom. She had found her retirement business. She attended the Moyes Stevens school of floristry and she Lara and Yinka (my other sister) visited Covent Garden many times for her endless floral projects.
The name Omar was coined from Omalara’s name as she was the initiator of the idea.
Omar Gardens Floral Company was birthed and started operations from my Mom’s residence in Parkview estate, Ikoyi in 1990.