How Constance Spry turned flower arrangement into an art form


Tomorrow, a new exhibition opens at Garden museum in London. Its title is Constance Spry and flower fashion and I am the proud guest curator of the exhibition. I should immediately put my cards on the table and admit that this is the first exhibition I have ever organized in my life.

In the real world, I’m a florist, or a floral decorator as Spry would have said. In fact, until about two years ago, I couldn’t have told you what the office actually involved. Although I certainly can now.

An exhibition celebrating Constance Spry was designed by the director of the Garden Museum, Christopher Woodward. He mentioned Spry as a potential subject several years ago, after a talk I had given about him at the museum, and I immediately grabbed the idea. Like most floral people, I have long been a follower of the inspiring Mrs. Spry.

Spry has actually seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years. Her distinctive approach, with her celebration of place and season, sets standards and inspires many 21st century florists looking for more sustainable ways to use flowers or grow them commercially.

And her work to advance the education and independence of women also deserves greater recognition. Not to mention her recent fame as an LGBT icon, after her four-year affair with artist Gluck (née Hannah Gluckstein) was revealed in Sue Shephard’s 2010 biography, The surprising life of Constance Spry.

So reality began to set in: how to breathe life into the extraordinary story of his life? How could I fit it into a defined space in a museum? How do you find the right items and write the right words to do it justice?

Spry described sleepless nights, filled with gnawing self-doubt, before the Queen’s coronation, which she performed backstage. I shared those same thrilling nights of doubt.

Fortunately, the Garden Museum has a full-time curator, Emma House. Unlike me, she’s done this stuff before. Many times. And has been the most wonderful, calm and patient mentor and guide. So we sat down, about two years ago, and started planning.

We knew we couldn’t do a show full of flower arrangements for the four-month duration of the show – and the plastic flowers would be an insult to anything Spry believed in. We also risked caricaturing his work, with bad imitations removed from time and context.

So I came to the conclusion that I needed to find people who had actually known her and hear their thoughts before I could plan the exhibit.

As Mrs. Spry passed away in 1960, it was no easy task. Those who knew her best had already joined her in the big flower shop in Heaven. But I have found wonderful ancient pillars of the Spry Empire, as well as the sons and daughters of his huge group of friends and colleagues.


Rosalie M. Dehner