Ask The Experts: The Petal Pusher

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you need to go carnation crazy. Hire a florist who knows her ifs, ands, and buds.


Photograph by jÖrg Meyer

Before starting her Marblehead-based company, Flores Mantilla, Nancy Mantilla was the floral designer and pastry chef at Boston’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, where her exquisite décor and confections earned her the nickname “the Queen of Tea.” Since then she has reigned over the city’s flower scene, creating arrangements for visiting celebs, local pols, and lots of brides through her business. Not surprisingly, she’s a pro at navigating floral quandaries.

[sidebar]How was working at the Ritz?
Awesome. I baked all the petit fours, tea breads, and cookies; decorated cakes for weddings; and created floral arrangements for dignitaries like Henry Kissinger and the Kennedys. The Ritz taught me a tremendous amount about service, management, and privacy.

You’ve met some very interesting people. What has been your biggest challenge?
When President Clinton came to town for the Democratic National Convention, we created arrangements for his hotel suite. Because he’s allergic to flowers, we had to get creative. We decided to work with succulents (a nonflowering plant), along with citrus fruits and grapes, to create light green and deep purple centerpieces.

That sounds beautiful—and tasty. Did anyone nosh on your arrangements?
I don’t know. I wasn’t around for that!

What colors always work?
I love green. You can mix it with anything, and stems and leaves come in so many different shapes and textures. Still, I suggest that brides coordinate their flowers with hues in their reception area so the décor doesn’t clash.

Speaking of green, how do you stay eco-friendly?
We try to use as much of the plant as possible, including the foliage. Our containers are reusable, mostly glass, and we use natural materials like moss, twigs, and branches. We never use any chemicals. And we also recycle all the cardboard that comes with the packaging; leftover plant materials are always composted.

How about new floral-design trends?
Brides are putting flowers in their hair, especially orchids. They don’t wilt, and they are very easy to pin on. I usually bring them to the salon or wherever the bride is having her hair done. Lately people are having pets take part in their ceremonies, so I design a little bandana with flowers around the neckline for dogs to wear down the aisle.

Any advice for the frugal bride?
Choose flowers that are in season. Between spring and summer, it’s easy to find bulb flowers like tulips, anemones, daffodils, hyacinths, and freesias. Peonies and lilacs are available in May and June. Hydrangeas, roses, and calla lilies are in season year round. These days you can get orchids all year, too; they can be pricier than other flowers, but they last a long time, and you can use just one plant as a centerpiece.


Photograph by jÖrg Meyer

That’s a lot of flowers. Any other tricks to help a bride stay on budget?
A wedding only comes once in a lifetime, and flowers are celebratory. So if you really have to watch your wallet, be very selective about whom you invite instead of throwing a big wedding and skimping on everything. Quality is most important, so keep it intimate without compromises.

Which flowers will send your spending through the roof?
Anything that has a short season can be very expensive. Lily of the valley, for example, is only available two or three weeks out of the year, which raises the cost.

What’s been your favorite job?
Last August I did an event at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich. The location was perfect for a wedding, and the gardens were beautiful. Every room in the estate had a different theme, and the landscaping was absolutely gorgeous. [After some digging, we uncovered that she’s talking about Danny and Melinda’s wedding from MTV’s The Real World: Austin. —Eds.]

Flores Mantilla, 164 Washington St., Marblehead, 781-631-9483,