There is a really lovely podcast from a couple of years ago on The Flower Podcast, where host Scott interviewed London florist Shane Connolly, all about Constance Spry.
OMG what an amazing woman - if you ever needed someone to inspire you that you can do whatever you set your mind to - at any age - Constance is your girl!
Here is a very basic summary of Constance's floristry career, but if you are interested, I really recommend you listed to the Flower Podcast (link above) - it's one of the best podcasts I've listened to in a while!
Constance was born in England, but grew up Ireland when she eventually got married, had a son, and worked as a nurse. Way before her time though, Spry travelled around the countryside, promoting healthy living, educating women of the benefits of fresh air and more nutritious food.
During WWI, Constance moved back to England to escape a violent marriage, and as a single divorced mother, so uncommon at the time, established a new life, eventually becoming a headmistress of a school teaching home sciences. During this time she met her partner Shav Spry, and while according to Connolly, although they never actually married, she took his name.
Fast forward 7 years, Constance's dab hand at flower arranging was discovered by a friend whose connections led her to create a unique flower arrangement in the window of a Bond Street perfumery called "Atkinsons". Forced to improvise, as it was in the middle of winter, and not great time of year for flowers, she used a huge array of flowers and foliage that she foraged from gardens around her, including wild clematis and blackberry. The display became so famous that people literally lined up for miles to see it through the window, and police were required to control the crowds! Spry became quite a sensation.
Pink Shell with Tulips, Constance Spry in Flower Decoration, 1934
It was during this success that Spry opened her first shop called "Flower Decoration" in 1929, at the age of 43. Not wanting to be known as a florist, Spry invented the term “floral design”.
5 years later, Spry opened a larger shop in Mayfair, employing 70 people (florists - can you imagine managing 70 people??), and also opened a shop in New York, commuting between the two by weeks at sea!! Makes life seem easy these days doesn't it!
Constance Spry with fashion designer Hardy Amies in 1960
Spry really re-invented floristry in England, and the world, through the use of so many different elements that had not been considered before - vegetables, foraged foliages, nothing was off limits, and she encouraged all to dare to be individual.
Spry's style was relaxed and organic, and was a complete juxtaposition to the contrived Victorian style of floristry Brits were used to, allowing the beholder to appreciate the flowers and foliage in their natural beauty. And people loved it. Spry famously did the flowers for the wedding of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, and the Queen's coronation.
After WWII Spry bought a property in Berkshire with friend, and renowned cook Rosemary Hume, and established a very successful domestic science school.
Recently discovered image of an urn at Lancaster House designed by Spry for The Queen’s Coronation Luncheon in 1953 c/o Garden Museum
Spry died in 1960, leaving a legacy of inspiration for women all over the world.
'Do whatever you please. Follow your own star: be original if you want to be and don't if you don't want to be. Just be natural and gay and light-hearted and pretty and simple and overflowing and general and baroque and bare and austere and stylized and wild and daring and conservative. And learn and learn and learn. Open your mind to every form of beauty.'