She wasn’t allowed to wear pants or play with boys, and trips into the lush and visually tempting rainforest were strictly prohibited. Some of those rules she could abide by, and others she broke, propelled by an unexplainable passion for beauty.
“I would take secret journeys into the rainforest,” says Excelsior’s Talmatie Cheryl Janousek, remembering how she’d feast her eyes on flocks of bird of paradise flowers and delicate groupings of orchids.
As the granddaughter of Indian grandparents who were brought to Trinidad as indentured servants, Janousek was raised in a paradoxical pull between her Indian heritage and an island nation that offered a natural playground, begging to be discovered through the eyes of a free-spirited child.
“I’d get into trouble with my parents,” Janousek remembers. “I’d delay chores and go into the forest.” Even during walks to and from school, she’d take side trips to waiting ponds, where she’d pick water lilies, tucking them close for the journey home.
As Janousek grew, so did her love of flowers. She created her own garden by planting patches of hibiscus, orchids and roses. The outdoors became her spiritual home, filled with color, texture and fragrance.
But despite growing up in a tropical paradise, Janousek’s life wasn’t always idyllic. She was raised alongside five older siblings in a dirt-floor home. Finances were tight, so much so that the children went shoeless. Water wasn’t readily available, yet Janousek walked miles to gather buckets of water to sprinkle over her beloved garden.
After graduating from high school, Janousek moved to Champlin, Minn., to live with an older sister. She attended Minneapolis Technical and Community College and Metro State University, where she received her degree in nursing. While working in the intensive care unit at Hennepin County Medical Center, Janousek’s coworkers soon discovered her talent for floral arranging and encouraged her to open a flower business, so she enrolled at Koehler and Dramm’s Institute of Floristry.
In addition to classroom work, the program enabled Janousek to travel to Holland and Japan to learn florist techniques, including Ikebana, the Japanese art of floral arrangement. “You feel like a kid in a candy store,” she says of the educational travel experiences.
Her determination led her from a tiny childhood garden in Trinidad to her home along St. Albans Bay, where she tends to several gardens, teeming with hydrangeas, peonies, Russian sage, sedum, yellow and coral roses, boxwood, hostas, ornamental pines and wintergreens, and in 2012, Janousek opened Bella di Fiore, her home-based, on-the-side floral business. “I love what I do as a nurse,” she says of her current full-time work at a neurology clinic. “At the same time, working with flowers brings me back [to the rainforest].”
Janousek says she enjoys balancing her role as a mother (to daughters, Ruth, 12, and Lily, 11), wife (to Steve, a physician) and businesswoman, and she hopes to bring Bella di Fiore into a full-time career. She’s already impressed and wowed clients around the metro.
“It’s like a piece of art,” says Excelsior’s Christine Myers, for whom Janousek provided floral décor for an awards banquet. “When I walked in, they were breathtaking,” she says. “I was so taken aback by what she did. She’s the best floral designer I’ve ever seen.” That’s high praise considering Myers used to be a floral designer herself. Myers adds that Janousek’s arrangement methods are very original in concept, recalling a design that featured 200 roses, of various sizes and colors, meticulously tiered to give each bloom its due.
Janousek has done smaller events too, like birthday celebrations. She imported flowers from South America to dress 10 arrangements for Priya Singh of Blaine. “I’ve never had anything like that,” Singh says, calling Janousek’s design aesthetic “unique and modern.” Singh said the arrangements, while distinctive in the use of natural elements, also feature interesting uses of iron and glass.
While she finds Janousek’s designs striking, Myers says her work is purely a reflection of her spirit. “She really is a giving, kind person,” she notes. “You couldn’t find a more beautiful person.”