Iconic Lilies of the Incas—Beautiful and Long Lasting
by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography by Christian Lee
I visited these two lovely Southern ladies who happen to be mother and daughter. We met at Jenny Green’s beautiful waterfront condo on a Sunday afternoon. She is “91 and a half,” she admits, but you’d never know it. In just a few minutes, her daughter, Loretta “Bitty” Brant, let herself in and joined our conversation. Bitty looks so much like her high school graduation picture, which her mom has proudly displayed on a side table. She is a gorgeous blonde, with pretty eyes and a quick smile.
For 58 years Bitty’s Flower Shop was the only place people in Beaufort went for their wedding and funeral arrangements, and of course, everything in between. The two ladies created countless prom corsages, or “wearable flowers,” wrist corsages for proms and Marine Corps Balls. They provided the traditional red carnation corsages on Mother’s Day if your mother was still living, and the white ones if she had passed away. Churches would order trays of them.
Husbands knew that a dozen roses from Bitty’s was the perfect anniversary gift. And of course, Easter and Christmas were very busy times. Many homes, businesses, and especially churches in Beaufort, were filled with floral arrangements from Bitty’s.
Jenny started her first shop on Bay Street in 1957, renting the store (now known as Yo Yo’s Yogurt) from Bart Fordham. She called it Bitty’s Flower and Disc Den, selling vinyl records, record players, musical instruments, small appliances, Western Union and notary services, and of course, flowers. I can recall the first record I bought there—a 45 rpm, Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”
Jenny said she did fine selling records until the PX (the Marine Corps Exchange store) started carrying them. Eventually flowers took over the store, and all of her time, as well. She travelled for two straight weeks to Savannah to attend the Gertrude Hall School of Floral Design, learning the basics, but she already had the talent. “I just grew up with flowers,” she said modestly.
The name of the store has caused the two ladies to be confused for one another at times. When Bitty was just a baby, her father called her his “little bitty girl,” and the nickname stuck. When it came time for a store name, Bitty, at age 7, announced she wanted it to be name after her: “Bitty’s.” Jenny recalled, “Of course we did, she was my baby!” But many customers assumed that the mother running the store was Bitty herself.
When I mentioned the theme for the month is “Let’s Decorate” both Bitty and Jenny were excited. They both love to decorate and recalled years of turning some of Beaufort’s finest homes into works of art at Christmas. Jenny admitted it was her favorite holiday, “After all, it’s our Lord’s birthday, and we should decorate for that!”
Bitty had a decorating disaster story to tell about Christmas decorating, however. She and an assistant went to a client’s large country house in Grays, alone, to decorate five trees, many rooms, the front of a barn and a big front porch. They started early in the morning and were finishing up late in the afternoon on a huge 13-foot live tree in the den. There were at least 2500 lights that had to be attached, and boxes and boxes of rustic style ornaments. The husband, who was in the timber business, had set up the tree. Bitty and her helper had to actually push a ladder inside the branches in order to attach all the ornaments, and were literally “in the tree” when it started to go down. She recalls the feeling of seeing it all come down on top of them in slow motion. They were not hurt, but managed to crawl out under all that weight of the tree, stand, lights and ornaments without breaking anything. She called for help on the phone and soon was able to have it back upright with the use of nylon cords tying it to the balcony spindles above it. Even today, however, she avoids large Christmas trees because she has the feeling they can easily come down.
Jenny had several wedding tales to relate, as she not only did the flowers, but also as a notary, officiated in many ceremonies. She’s performed weddings at sunrise at Hunting Island State Park and even in a rowboat. Once she was asked to do a “waterfoot” wedding—that’s not a typo, not a “waterfront”, but a “waterfoot”—in which the bridal party stood in the Beaufort River at the Port Royal Sands. She agreed to officiate, but informed them she’d be on the dry sand. In another wedding, occurring during a busy Mother’s Day weekend, the couple got into a fight during the rehearsal, and unbeknownst to Jenny, called off the wedding. She showed up with all the corsages, boutonnieres, bouquets and church decorations and was told the wedding was off. She can laugh about it now, saying, “I had lots more good times than bad, though.”
Looking back over the many years of being a part of Beaufort families, both Bitty and Jenny are thankful for the friendships they have had. One of their favorite events was “Good Neighbor Day,” when customers could pick up free red roses to give to their neighbors and friends. “My mother never missed that event, and opened early because there would always be a long line out the door,” said Bitty.
Jenny and Bitty are iconic businesswomen who have spread love, happiness and comfort to so many through God’s most beautiful and colorful gifts—flowers. Jenny, one of the first women business owners in Beaufort sums it up, “I’m glad I came along when I did, because I knew everyone in town.” And we all knew her and still love her, too!
Jenny’s favorite flower? Alstroemeria
Why? “It’s beautiful and it lasts a long time.
The flowers and leaves kind of grow upside down,
and when you turn them over, they are just beautiful.”
According to Teleflora.com, it is often called the Peruvian Lily, or Lily of the Incas. “Symbolizing friendship and devotion, the Alstroemeria’s leaves grow upside down, with the leaf twisting as it grows out from the stem, so that the bottom is facing upwards—much like the twists, turns and growth of our friendships.” Perfect for Jenny and Bitty’s Flower Shop.