An Inspiring Story: Constance Spry
The next time you admire an artfully arranged floral bouquet, you should thank Constance Spry – who shaped modern florist design almost 100 years ago! Her life story is a salute to creativity and the beauty of natural effects, and she’s had a lasting influence on the kitchen arts, as well. Let’s talk a bit about the reason she’s still relevant and famous, even now.
A fresh approach
When Spry was first working as a florist in 1920s London, the popular style for arrangements was stiff – literally so. Stems were wired into place, the look was quite formal, and the overall effect was mannerly. Spry wasn’t afraid to try new materials, use common flowers, and shake things up.
She caused a sensation with some of her early window displays. Roses tumbled loosely from their containers, while she mixed high and low elements with an eye only towards design. Flowering branches, kale leaves, simple flowers gathered out on the roadside – all were fair game. None of this seems unusual now, but her use of unconventional containers, mixed materials, and eclectic arrangements was downright controversial in her time. One of her first arrangements in an upscale perfumery window caused an actual traffic jam, as people thronged the sidewalk in front.
Spry’s signature touches included lots of greenery and a belief that simple items could make floral design accessible to all. She was always on the lookout for unconventional containers to use in lieu of traditional vases, and was not above pulling out items from her client’s attics or cupboards.
Successful Boss Lady
As her flower shop grew and prospered, Constance Spry felt that making the beauty of flower arrangements available to anyone was important. She opened her own flower arranging academy in her building, even while her own star was on the rise. Her clients were big, prestigious, and even royal: The Royal Family commissioned her for more than one event, including Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.
Impressively, Spry didn’t begin her floral design career until she was in her 40s. Her shop, “Flower Decoration” eventually grew into an entire “domestic science school”, and her authorship of books on plants and flowers expanded into cookbooks. She eventually wrote 12 different titles. Although her clients were from the highest reaches of society, she continued to educate and encourage women of all backgrounds on creating the most beautiful arrangements with the simplest elements.
Today, Constance Spry still influences us. Her 1956 cookbook with Rosemary Hume, The Constance Spry Cookery Book is still popular. Her recipe for “Coronation Chicken”, which was commissioned for guests at the named event is still iconic. Yes – she really did design both the flowers for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation processional, and contribute her talents to the following dinner! In her later years, she became a dedicated preservationist for antique roses, and was involved in keeping alive many varieties that are still enjoyed in today’s gardens. David Austin, who brought back the traditional “English Rose” in his modern breeding program, named his first introduction for Spry – and the myrrh-like scents of this double-flowered variety still delight us even now.
Above all, her influence on florist artists today is strong and direct, with any number of designers citing her as inspiration. Her love of educating beginners of all ages has provided multiple generations of florists who carry on what they learned at her school’s workbenches. For a look at her life, enjoy Sue Shepherd’s The Surprising Life of Constance Spry, and check out any of Spry’s own books, like the Cookery Book, which has been reprinted and is available via Kindle.
Pairing her biography with a floral gift that evokes her style would be a lovely way to celebrate any woman who shares Constance Spry’s mix of talent and generosity!