“This is my passion! The joy that flowers can give a client is wonderful.”
Antonietta Branham, owner of The Cottage Garden, is enthusiastic about the opportunity to provide flowers for events of all kinds and sizes. She has recently opened a shop at 6 Chambers Street, where customers will find a variety of flowers charmingly displayed.
“I always wanted to have a little spot for people to come in and see me,” says Ms. Branham, who has been furnishing flowers for events for the past 10 years.
A long-time Princeton resident — since 1955! — she has had a wide-ranging career, including in real estate. “No matter what I was doing professionally, I always had flowers and plants in my home and office. As a girl, I loved flowers and art, including bringing textiles home to sew a dress. And it was always in the back of my mind to provide flowers for events. I didn’t really want to have a florist shop. I felt I could be more creative doing event work.”
Starting by finding flowers for family and friends’ events, Ms. Branham became more and more involved in the process, and soon established her own business. “When Martha Stewart began to be popular, and a more natural way of arranging flowers was coming into focus, I felt it was the right time.”
Opportunities for events, such as weddings, corporate fund-raisers, campus events at Princeton University, as well as family birthday and anniversary parties, graduations, Mother’s Day, memorial services, etc., began to increase, and she found herself busy year-round.
“It kept growing, and I just love it! My mission is always about the clients. I like to meet them in their surroundings, and I listen carefully to what they want to achieve. Sometimes, they may have a theme in mind. The first thing you must do is to see that the flowers are appropriate for the site. This is a must.”
Color is major, she adds. “This is the biggest issue for me. It’s all about color! If the client loves red, then it’s red!”
Ms. Branham tries to obtain seasonal flowers when possible, she notes. “It can be very seasonal. Spring is the best time for flowers. There are more collections available then. I also like to keep it local when I can. Farmers in the area are growing a variety of flowers, including dahlias.”
Other popular flowers for Ms. Branham’s events include roses, of course — and in all colors — hydrangeas, tulips, calla lilies, lily of the valley, and forget-me-nots.
She gets selections from all over the world, including Holland, South America, France, Italy, and Israel as well as parts of the United States, and even her own garden!
Ms. Branham goes to the flower markets in New York City and northern New Jersey weekly to find exactly what she wants. “I have a long-standing relationship with people at the flower markets. They know the quality of the flowers I need.”
The type of event determines the choice of flowers, and Ms. Branham enjoys the diversity. For fund-raisers, I usually concentrate on centerpieces, and often something for the entry way. Sometimes, it can include little lights, which adds interest.”
In the case of weddings, she will provide the bride’s and bridesmaids’ bouquets, and flowers for the church and reception. “Some brides like something very simple, architectural,” she notes. “Others like a more traditional look, but with a modern take. Some tend toward vibrant color.”
Ms. Branham especially enjoys the challenge of finding something different. “I enjoy clients who come to me for something that seems so unusual and so impossible to find that I can’t wait to get started!”
The fragrance of flowers often evokes memories, she continues. “I remind a bride to choose a flower with a scent she loves, so she will always remember the day when she encounters that scent.”
Three months notice is typical for a wedding, but if her schedule permits, Ms. Branham can be flexible. “There can be unusual situations. In one case, I met a bride by chance on Monday, and the wedding was the next Sunday! We did 15 centerpieces and bouquets for the bride and bridesmaids, and it turned out fine.”
Clients are from Princeton and the area, and also from northern New Jersey, Connecticut, and Manhattan. Cost is determined by the choice of flowers and how many are needed.
I first ask the client to establish a budget,” explains Ms. Branham. “Then, we’ll go on from there. Usually, I’ll get a deposit in the beginning and then payment right before the event.”
“There is no question that Ms. Branham loves what she does. The shop is filled with roses, hydrangeas, gardenias, and in the window is a display of beautiful peonies in a most gorgeous shade of pink, with white orchids intermingled.
Whether you are planning a small gathering at home, a larger happening in a hotel, “high tea” in a tent or a picnic on the patio, Ms. Branham will find just the right accompaniment of flowers.
“This is truly my mission; I will find exactly what the client wants, and then see that the flowers arrive on time for the event, are the right color, and in perfect condition.”
She also provides flowers for home decor for private residences, and reminds people that many times, less is more. “Flowers are a luxury, after all. I recommend to people that a few lovely flowers are better than a bushel of typical, ordinary ones.
“I am so pleased and encouraged about my new location,” she says, with a smile. “I have great hope for it, and I look forward to being here a long time. I love to meet people who share the same passion for flowers, and I love to share information with them.”
The Cottage Garden is open Tuesday through Saturday, and by appointment Sunday and Monday. Call for specific hours. (609) 924-3446.