Wednesday, 27 May 2015

What Constance Spry said about flowers in 1934 still works

Spring fever has got the better of me and I have been Druid like in my reverence of all the blooms that herald my new favorite season.

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Simply said, I have gotten the garden bug but without the garden.
 But I am fortunate because I still have the lackadaisical bug as well so am doing a lot of backseat gardening and buying flowers as those who see my Instagram feed are well aware.

Long time readers may remember I collect vintage books so this afternoon
I chose to read this edition of Constance Spry. ( click on link for more info)

For those who are not familiar with her, the only facile example of her modern day counterpart would be a mix of Carolyne Roehm and Martha Stewart - 
she was a florist /floral decorator/ designer / teacher.  
Via
She had some famous commissions such as doing the flowers for the coronation of our present queen but also got to do the flowers for the Duke of Windsor's wedding.

She also has a rose named after her.
Via



The edition I have of this book must be at least from 1936 
but one of the earlier trustees of this book marked 
their custodianship with the year 1938.

I must confess that I originally bought this book in my twenties and the main draw was the author herself and the patina of the book.
( as shown in the first picture )


Today was the second time I read this book and with all things I appreciate aspects of this that passed me by when I first got it.
I love the categories of the books.
The chapter I found a bit boring was the yellow, gold, cream and brown one because those colors in flowers apart from yellow remind me of disease.

This as you will see was a book to be read and not viewed and flipped through.

At first it seems stern until one realizes that printing pictures was a difficult process and that Madame Spry does show a sense of humour and is not at all strict in her views.


What surprised me is that she had no pretensions and was inclusive in this art of floral design because she didn't include expensive or fiddly flowers or rather accentuate the importance of them.


She was quite an egalitarian florist and not at all a snob even though
she was considered THE society florist.
Via
Via
Lady Montagu Scott's wedding to Duke of Gloucester Via

Below was one of my favorite paragraphs of the whole book and 
in fact I read this several times because this is how I feel when 
I write but just not about flowers.


There were snippets that made me laugh 
due to its anachronistic nature.


And then other points on cultural floral design were so avant-garde and showed critical thinking which 
showed how she set her mark in this niche world.


So much of what she wrote about floral design could have been applied to any category of design be it furniture or architecture.

There are stereotypes and prejudices I had to fight when reading her words because I kept thinking she would be so conservative 
but she showed her sense of humour.
In the chapter about table decorations, 
she says that perhaps one should break the rule of low decoration in certain family gatherings!


There were times when an explanation of every flower of a bouquet she once did was not successful for many reasons: 
my lack of knowledge of flowers and visualization.


And yet sometimes she would be succinct and state her point.
Luncheon tables should have blue flowers.
Don't stress, just go blue.


In modern gardening and flower books, 
most of the editorial layout are pictures and yet here all the pictures were grouped at the back for reference.


Frankly, this looks like a bad Instagram filter but 
am sure this was much appreciated and peered over by 
most British people who bought the book.


I must say that one type of vase that I still have strong opinions are about mixed bunches and
I prefer them in Dutch still lifes and in real life tend to go purist with a few exceptions.


They look black but the caption says red so just go with it.

I liked what she said about red flowers and while I did say 
I don't like mixed bunches, if it is a lack of options then 
I also don't think green should be a supporting act in a bouquet of red otherwise it ends up being too Christmas-y.


A true testament to a classic book is when the writer captures an age old problem -
the little vase with one weak stem on a restaurant table!


I agree with her and would concentrate the flower in one area rather than a feeble flower on every single table only to be removed.

I leave you with some more pictures for you to enjoy and now am off to reread one of her old cookbooks I have of hers!


Here are some more examples of her work.






The caption got cut - it is camellias.

This Christmas tree is one of the oddest ones I have seen.

Have a lovely weekend!

34 comments:

  1. Great post, I did not know Constance did the flowers for Wallis and Edward's wedding! I have flowers on the brain too. See my latest post when you get a second--it's Japanese wisteria, azaleas and tulips now, and will be peonies soon once I upload the pics! All from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden--did you ever visit when you lived here? Or maybe the NY Botanical Garden in the Bronx? xx

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    1. Hi Jill - I did in fact and was going to comment later as it has been a lovely day today and decided to top up my vitamin D stores - I thought it was lovely and no I didn't and regret I didn't go but will make a point of it next time I am in town because your pics looked lovely and it seems we all have spring fever! xx

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  2. "Simply said, I have gotten the garden bug but without the garden.
    But I am fortunate because I still have the lackadaisical bug as well so am doing a lot of backseat gardening and buying flowers as those who see my Instagram feed are well aware."

    Corker - that's me all over, though i have got the garden, but I only direct. Funnily enough i do like weeding, but otherwise i don't have that green thumb needed

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    1. Also love Constance's lace frill in the front.
      Plus don't the Duke and Duchess looked pained on their wedding day? I can see why for her - Her dress is very clingy and she must not have eaten for days.

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    2. Mr CSW and I have planted and bought a few plants - more buying from me and surprisingly he is trying to grow things from seed! Plus he believes that talking to plants helps...The Duchess was not a fan of eating and even with that fabric which is known to add layers she still manages to look so thin!

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  3. Fascinating post. So interesting to learn more about her and the changing fashions in floral art. That's a corker of a bunch Lady Montagu Scott is holding. They used to say that such huge bouquets were often designed to hide a little slip. But it's so big it almost resembles an old time Mafia funeral wreath (just the wrong shape).
    Nancy Mitford wrote about floral art fashions in 'Don't Tell Alfred'. When Fanny was early on in her career as British ambassadress in Paris she decided she didn't like the fashion for vegetables and dead foxes in flower arrangements and just used simple carnations. I love that book, it's the fourth in the 'Love in a Cold Climate' series. You can understand why the Duke and Duchess might look a bit down in the mouth - she'd hoped she might be Queen one day and he'd given up the throne for her. They deserved each other. Enjoy reading about them - but definitely not a fan of either. Pammie xxx

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    1. I wonder what the fashion was like beforehand and would have liked to see it visually but of course there are few examples except for in oil paintings. Some of those wreaths are so old fashioned that they are almost cutting edge actually. The Duke and Duchess did have their faults - the duke more so than the duchess IMHO but while the Queen mother's immediate descendants are alive I doubt there will be true redemption for the couple. But I think if they had children the enigma would have been different and of course the present day supposed Duke would either be a society figure or a lone figure in the shires somewhere! xx

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  4. Ms Constance Spry looks like she's just been told: "GSL is here....and he's been drinking...."

    My dear Naomi, I know what a stickler you are for spelling minutiae so it's "Constance" not "Constrance".

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  5. So interesting especially considering I knew so little about her! She also wrote a cookbook? Let us know how you like it please.
    Love the photos, truly from a different age. xo

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    1. I first bought her cook book and bought the floral book! I liked her cookbook but truth be told I haven't opened the book in about 5 years so will have a reread because I remember it was quite the popular reference book here! xx

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  6. So funny, I've always loved blue flowers and in my first house had a cutting garden of nothing but -- only for some reason I put them in bowls and vases, but never on a dinner table. Madame Spry has now explained why!

    Heading for Alibris to look for more of her, thank you again, Naomi.

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    1. Yes - the vase normally always gets removed unless it's a wedding or the table is humungous! It never sat right with me about that lone flower in a small vase that constantly got moved around like musical chairs! I think you wiill enjoy reading and learning more about her WFF

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  7. With everything so lush and green it is hard not to have the bug. I also hate the little flower vase on the restaurant table. not a fan of the little candle either but it comes in handy when they serve rock hard butter.

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    1. Don't you just hate rock hard butter but then again I don't like soft butter either. There is a sweet point.

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  8. LOVED THIS...........I think I need to add her THE ROSE to my garden its pink correct?If I recall correctly it has a wonderful fragrance!Do a re-cap on the cookbook too!I just did a POST on RAGU.............hope you enjoy!

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    1. I think the rose symbolizes her very well. and yes it is a rich shade of pink without being dark. so muchpigment. I will head on over Contessa!

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  9. I freaking LUFF CS and used to grow the rose in my 1st garden. She invented coronation chicken and I luff her to bits and want the huge Montagu bouquet to carry to hide my stomach so I don't have to hold it in xxx

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    1. I knew she did society stuff but didn't realize she did the windsor's wedding - i thought there would be a conflict with her clients but i suppose everyone was too polite to stop her! You need no hiding FF! xx

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  10. I would love to get my nose stuck in this book. I know nothing of Ms. Spry, outside of the rose named for her, and enjoyed he snippets you provided in this post. The Christmas tree design looks something akin to a May Pole designed to be danced around. Structured and stiff arrangements make me nervous (as in some of the examples you show towards the end of your post). Lady Montagu Scott's bouquet is gorgeous but is ready to swallow her whole.

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    1. I think you would adore her - she was the best home maker and yet such a modern woman and quite frankly the benchmark for women all around. I am now nosying around her cookbook again and I love her writing and lack of pretense. Hope to pick out some good bits and share soon.

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  11. Constance Spry is a very excellent name.
    That is all.

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    1. It's a name tailor made for stardom really!

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  12. I love this post and Constance Spry sounds like a woman who would be a true friend and confidant! Must read this book and order her rose!!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena
    Coco Chanel

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  13. I think CS's views about flowers at balls might be followed today. This weekend at a debutante ball, debutantes (including our gorgeous 15 &1/2 year old goddaughter) will be receiving a bouquet and I'm sure some will be wearing a tiara. hope they have a good time. Den xxx
    Ps as godparents have been invited to the ball, but dear husband refuses to wear penguin suit. Did my head in until I decided relax, at least he's coming & is otherwise supportive.

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    1. Formal occasions are tough on men and yet they get an easy ride bc they have the tux to fall back on and the ladies have to think about what to wear!! xx

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  14. Definitely an icon! I love her big, loose arrangements incorporating veggies and fruit. And the containers she often chose were just as striking as the flowers. Great post.

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    1. Yes it must have been groundbreaking to use shells but the odd thing is that people don't really do that anymore except for big functions. I do think I might take a class in vase arranging just for fun one time.

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  15. I've never read her books, but have seen photos of her flower arrangements so many times I feel like I have! She has certainly been very influential on the current crop of florists.
    Love that sheaf of flowers for Lady Montague Scott's wedding… it's hiding her dress nicely (was that the intention I wonder?!). Funny to think how things have changed so much in such a short space of time - it was expected that you'd do your own flower arranging in the house to a very high standard back then, hence the importance of how - to books like hers. Not quite like it is today where most of us have neither the skill or time (more likely skill) and in my case it's generally a single flower arrangement (tulips in a vase are not tricky at all). xx

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    1. The Japanese and Koreans are still into flower arranging - Japanese a bit more because it is a form of meditation in certain branches of buddhism. For some it is a performance art in fact and i sat through one myself in Kyoto where it is de rigeur to know this skill otherwise you are just some ignoramus! I might do a class and see what I get out of it thougjh! xx

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  16. okay I'll be showing my ignorance here, I'd never heard of this lady. Interestingly I wasn't a fan of flowers and flower arrangements but then when I got my own place I got the fascination and buy flowers every week now. I haven't developed the gardening bug yet but fortunately my mum loves being in hers and mine! have a great week xx

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  17. How fascinating. Thank you for sharing her with us!

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  18. Constance, from the little bits and pieces I have read about her, was a fascinating person. Her cookbook is a classic, I believe, and still requested on wedding registries. Would be fun to hear what you think about the cookbook.

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