As a toddler, Guiliana Cox would follow her mother gardening and admire the flowers she thought looked like faces. As a young woman, she studied horticulture.
And as an adult, she spent so much money on flowers that her husband urged her to work at a flower shop.
So she did, turning a lifelong hobby into a full-time job. Cox started with a position at The Mall in Columbia and then bought Ellicott City's Wessel's Florist with her husband in 1996.
She made the business blossom into a place where brides from near and far find colorful and exotic flowers for their wedding day.
"What I love about it is being surrounded by beautiful things and making people happy," she said, "especially on their wedding day."
Cox fills her showroom with sweet aroma from buckets of white and lavender freesia, purple delphinium and yellow daisies. She has created all sorts of adornments, from gigantic, traditional arrangements to unusual ornaments for theme weddings - to last-minute quick-fixes.
"I've had people come in there walking up to the courthouse to get married and they just want a bouquet," she said.
Now, instead of spending money on flowers, she's earning money from them, with sales reaching $425,000 last year, 77 percent more than when she and her husband, Allen, bought the store Dec. 28, 1996.
Back then, only one wedding was booked for 1997. Last year, Wessel's decorated 141 weddings, and the shop has about 100 weddings on the schedule this year.
"I've taken up to eight on a weekend," Cox said.
So she never gets a weekend off. Her husband pitches in, setting up and delivering flowers for weddings. But with a 50- to 60-hour work week during the prime wedding season (from April to October), Cox is so busy that she can't find time to tend to her flower garden at home. "It's such a big part of the most important day of their life," she said. "I know that if we didn't do a good job, it wouldn't be a perfect day."
And how much does the perfect day cost? The average couple spends between $2,000 and $3,000 at Cox's business. They can, however, spend as little as $150 for a wedding with just bouquets or as much as $10,000 for a more elaborate event. What they get is Cox and her employees (she has three full-time and three part-time workers and contracts out with free-lancers to help with events) to take a room and dress its tables with blooming centerpieces and make its columns drip with flowers.
Ray Persinger, a wedding photographer who has worked at several of the same events as Cox, recalled one Baltimore wedding where floral arrangements were brightened with spotlights, and "when you walked in the room, you just went, 'Wow.'"
The weddings range from more traditional receptions to more unusual parties, such as a Jimmy Buffett-themed soiree where tables were decorated with goldfish in fishbowls surrounded by a garland of tropical flowers.
Though weddings are about 40 percent of Cox's business, she also works on corporate events, bar and bat mitzvahs, and selling bouquets from the shop, where she is surrounded by flowers just as when she was a child following her mother in the garden.
"I remember just scooting along the sidewalk, talking to all the pansies," she said. "I've just always loved flowers."