Constance Spry | Part One

Constance Spry | Part One

March is Women's History Month, and what better way to celebrate than to honor and learn about the life & accomplishments of Constance Spry, a designer who has had a great impact on floral design over the last eighty years. Though David Dahlson wrote this series over a decade ago for his own blog, it is still an important series to put forth today as we should always be learning and reminded about the florists before us that paved the way for the modern floral industry.


In David's words:

Her ideas and techniques are more relevant today than ever, and either unwittingly or willfully, her designs are appearing in our modern world. However, in the headlong rush to always be on the forefront, to be part of the avant-garde, and to be new and “fresh”, Constance Spry has been largely forgotten. Yet in 1926, in London, she was part of the avant-garde, and her designs caused an absolute sensation, changing flower fashions forever.


So without further ado, and on International Women's Day no less, we give you Constance Spry: Part 1:





Constance Spry was an accomplished floral designer who lived from 1886-1960. I believe that she was a seminal figure in our industry. As a large part of her work was done before the advent of color photography, you will find by way of illustration many black and white photographs, of varying degrees of quality. We apologize for this, but believe that the benefit of visually seeing her work in some form is better than attempts at description.

In today’s world it is often hard to stop, and enjoy our lives. Many of us have forgotten the “joie de vivre”, and even fewer of us experience the Romance of Life. Yet it is all around us, if we should pause and consider what we can do with what we have. Flowers are one source of joy and a basis for romance, but too often we view flowers as just another commodity.


“Today there is a strong revival of interest in all forms of decoration, in houses, gardens, furniture, clothes, jewellery, in every form of beauty and adornment…But in this general trend towards a greater care and love of beauty and suitability, I think that flowers have lagged behind. There are still many people who regard flowers as necessities* and no more…They like flowers that last well, cost little and are easy to arrange.” How familiar this sounds, and yet it was written seventy years ago!


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The author was Constance Spry, an English “floral decorator” who came to prominence between the two world wars, and who worked up until 1960. She demonstrated the life, vitality and romance that flowers can provide in our surroundings and our lives. I believe as professionals in the flower industry that it is vital for all of us that, for our continued growth and success, we strive to focus on the romantic aspect that flowers provide and the feelings that they evoke. If you have never heard of Constance Spry, then I believe you will be stimulated to learn about her work, her life and her thoughts. Should you be familiar with this pioneer of our industry, then I hope that this will refresh your knowledge, and further contribute to your understanding of this fine designer.


This feature about Constance Spry is amply illustrated, and one of the things that is quite surprising is the incredible diversity of material that she used, which, even by today’s standards is impressive. Some of the arrangements look a little dated, mostly due to the containers that she used, but on the whole I think you will find inspiration in her designs.


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So what was it about her approach that was so remarkable?


Firstly, it was well-grounded in the understanding and nature of plants, derived from her gardening as well as the study of 18th and 19th century flower books, which tended to address concerns of habit and growth rather than actual arrangements. Secondly, she was enamored with 17th century Dutch flower paintings and used them as a starting point for her designs, but did not let historical correctness compromise the design. Thirdly, she kept the whole simple and strived to find the best way to express the intrinsic beauty of the flowers. Notwithstanding these parameters, Constance considered all organic materials to be eligible for use in her designs, which resulted in tomatoes, lichens, artichokes, all manner of fruits and berries, as well as vegetables, weeds and wildflowers along with the commercial offerings to be used in her work. Last, but not least, she placed utmost importance on an arrangement being congruent with its surroundings, that thought and consideration of the whole design necessarily involved the context in which it would be situated. As a result of these attributes she shows us the romance of flowers, how romantic they can be in small vases simply arranged, and the romanticism that is evoked in the larger, flamboyant pieces, derived from the Flemish masters, and distilled with contemporary flair.


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From an early age Constance Spry studied Art, and came to greatly appreciate the Dutch and Flemish masters who executed the magnificent and exquisitely detailed paintings of flowers. She professed that if one could share the same enthusiasm that those painters had for the curled leaf of a peony, or a stem of a poppy flower; if one could display the exuberance they expressed in a blown cabbage rose or a simple clove carnation, then an arrangement would not want for anything. By approaching flowers with truth and honesty, presenting them without contrivances and showing them to their best advantage, and all the while letting your imagination guide you; then the result can be nothing but romantic.

On a visit to Australia in 1959, on one of her last speaking tours and shortly before her death, she said; “Beware of stylizing. Accept no rules. Let the flowers remind you of how they looked when growing. You are not human unless you have a way of expressing yourself.”

* While many consumers would wish their flowers to “cost little” and last long, few today would see them as “necessities” as they were in upper social circles in Europe and the USA.

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I should like to thank Mr. Fred Wilkinson, and Mr. Bruce Frost, of Constance Spry Ltd for assistance, and also for permission to use the photographs, and quotes. I am extremely grateful to them as this article, in four parts, would not have been possible without their cooperation. Flower Decoration, and Garden Notebook, by Constance Spry, I can highly recommend.


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