The Constance Spry Exhibition at the Garden Museum London-
I have long been a fan of Constance Spry since i worked on her biography, The Surprising Life of Constance Spry, back in my Publishing days.
She was such an extraordinary and amazing woman but with my growing passion for floral arrangements and my new-found obsession for mantle vases, I was beyond excited to visit The Garden Museum and their recent exhibition on her. Sadly it has finished now but it was lovely and so inspiring.
If you have never heard of her then I guess she was possibly the first famous florist. Although she didn’t open her first floristry shop till she was 43 years old she quickly became the florist to use for society events - she created the flowers for the wedding of the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson and oversaw the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The designs she created were extraordinary and in the time she was working, she was one of the first arrangers to mix flowers with flora foraged from her own gardens. Once she decorated an entire country church with cow parsley for a big society wedding - all frothy and ethereal. Can you imagine how delicate and beautiful that must have looked?
Constance was remarkable. Passionate about old roses and by the time of her death had amassed one of Europe’s most important old rose collections with over 70 species many of which would have fallen extinct without her interest and care. Not to mention her vegetable gardening especially around World War Two. I just don’t know how she even had the time. She strikes me as bustler - someone who never sat still, never tired just kept on going. In the exhibition they had squares of a needlepoint carpet she was working on in the evenings. No slumping in front of a Netflix boxset of an evening for Constance! Not to mention all the cook books she produced as well - you have her to thank for Coronation Chicken! I mean, what a woman!
There were two main lessons I took away from the exhibition on the day, aside from just marvelling at her creations. She was very much a lady who went with her gut instinct and belief. Some of those she began working with at the start had no floral training when she took them on, but she knew they would form some part of her company.
And the second and to me, most important, was her passionate belief that anyone can and should transform their world with flowers. She grew uncomfortable with her profile as a society florist because she did so much work in her early years with people who had nothing, who struggled daily and she’d seen the benefit, their joy in having something of beauty in their home. Only got an old jam jar or a chipped china cup to use as a vase? Perfect! Don’t have much of a garden but can forage a sprig of ivy and some holly from a hedgerow - brilliant. Sometimes that is all you need. Put it somewhere you will see it every day, like your bedside or by the kitchen sink and feel momentary joy and happiness at bringing that pop of nature inside your home.
Also as an aside The Garden Museum was lovely too - it was my first visit and it was a fabulous museum with two of my favourite things - a great shop and a superb cafe! And if you can stomach the narrow windy, long staircase up the tower to the roof, then the views over London are beautiful.