Constance Spry & The Fashion for Flowers is the name of a new exhibition which opened this week at the Garden Museum in London. Guest curated by floral designer and writer Shane Connolly, this new exhibition explores Spry’s exceptional life, achievements and legacy, with exclusive access to her archive at the RHS Lindley Library.
Spry’s popularity has seen a huge resurgence in recent years as a new generation of floral designers rediscovers her ground-breaking approach to the art of flowers: seasonal, natural, yet unconfined by tradition and rules.
Her Floral Journey
Born Constance Fletcher in Derby in 1886, before discovering her calling in flowers Spry had a varied career working in nursing, as secretary of the Dublin Red Cross. She also worked in the civil service as head of women’s staff at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In 1921 she was appointed headmistress of the Homerton and South Hackney Day Continuation School in east London. There she instructed teenage factory workers in cookery, dressmaking, and flower arranging.
Aged 43, Spry gave up teaching to open her first flower shop, ‘Flower Decoration’, in London in 1929. Her revolutionary approach to floristry garnered widespread interest in high society, while also democratising the form. Unconfined by traditional floristry training, Spry married classic flowers of choice with ‘unusual’ and uncelebrated plant material like kale and pussy willow. She also used unconventional offerings from hedgerows and scoured Covent Garden Flower Market for statement flowers.
For more than three decades, she provided inspirational flowers for society weddings, fashion shows and the wedding of Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson. Plus the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Spry also opened a floristry school, a domestic science school with her friend, the cook Rosemary Hume. And she published thirteen books.
Visiting the Exhibition
On Tuesday, I ventured into London to visit the exhibition. Entering through the door below, it really felt like I was going back in time. Scroll down for a snapshot of just some of the many exhibits that you’ll find in each of the five rooms.
Displayed in glass cabinets are a wonderful collection of vases by Fulham Pottery, with names such as Crown, Lion, Datura, Roman and Fern-Handled Mantel. Plus you’ll also find Coronation window boxes and a platter.
I loved the ceramic flowers and brambles which are also on display, see below. They were created by ceramist, Kaori Tatebayashi.
In a passage off Room 1, you’ll discover framed Flemish pictures featuring faux flowers made using paper, hand painted and dipped in wax.
Photos and newspaper cuttings from several weddings, including HRH The Duke of Gloucester & The Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott 1935 and The Duke of Norfolk & Miss Lavinia Strutt 1937, which Spry created the flowers for are on display in this room.
Spry’s furniture and items from her home Winkworth Place, near Windsor are on display, accompanied by a recording of Spry speaking. You’ll find her portrait, lamps, a needlepoint rug, carpet and light fittings.
In the final room, you’ll find examples of some of the books which Spry wrote together with photographs and letters, plus vintage films playing. I love this quote from Spry, which I discovered in one of the glass cabinets:
I cannot think you can make rules about these things. One can only have an idea of what seems good and beautiful, and then use any means to achieve it.Constance Spry
So I hope you’ve enjoyed my round-up of just some of my favourite finds at the exhibition. Huge congratulations Shane on creating such an incredibly evocative insight into Constance and her career! If you’d like to discover more about the exhibition, head to Shane’s Instagram account. And to book your tickets, visit the Garden Museum website.
Constance Spry and the Fashion for Flowers
17 May – 26 September 2021
P.S. If you’d like to hear my recent interview with Shane on my podcast, My Small Business & Me, simply click here. And from 20mins 35 secs into our conversation, we concentrate on this exhibition.
(Images : Rona Wheeldon | Flowerona)