Constance Spry: cow parsley & kale

Let me introduce you to one of my heroines – Constance Spry. If you did not know her already, you’re in for a treat.

Spry (December 5, 1886 – January 3, 1960) lived many lives in her 74 years. She was a teacher, headmistress, publisher, cook, author and, of course, florist, and did them all brilliantly.

After a WWI Red Cross wartime stint and successful career as a teacher during the first decades of the last century, Spry decided to open her first shop, Flower Decoration, in 1929.

Spry was famous for using odds and ends, unusual vessels and the lesser-thought-of flowers (favourites were pussy willow, weeds and grasses and ornamental kale). She once filled a church with huge vases of cow parsley for a high society wedding. She loved and used all plants and for that she was truly original.

As Wiki tells us: ‘When WWII began in 1939, Spry resumed her teaching career and lectured to women all over Britain. In 1942, she published Come Into The Garden, Cook, hoping to help the war effort by encouraging the British to grow and eat their own food.’ Stephanie Alexander, anyone? Off the back of this career change was the publication of the Constance Spry Cookery Book.

Her contribution to floristry has been dismissed by people such as Terence Conran as ‘high society mimsiness” (Terence! The shame!) So it’s wonderful to note the Guardian journalist James Fenton’s response: ‘the decorative tricks found in every Conran store – a bundle of twigs in a glass vase, say, or an amusing confection of ornamental cabbages – were all first found in Spry’s work.’ (Robert O’Byrne, Irish Times). Hah!

Connie, I love you. A new biography by Sue Shepherd is out now – can’t wait to read it. HF.

“One arranges flowers as the spirit moves you; to obey some inner prompting to put this colour with that, to have brilliance here, line there, a sense of opulence in this place or sparseness in that; to suit your surroundings, your mood, the weather, the occasion. In a word, to do as you please, just as, if you could, you might paint a picture.”- Constance Spry


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