“The Art of Arranging Flowers” by Constance Spry
“ Constance Spry” by Elizabeth Crawford, 1976
“The Secret Life of Constance Spry” by Sue Shepard 2012
Constance Spry (1886-1960) dramatically changed flower arrangement. She was the first to use vegetables, gnarly branches from hedgerows, seed pods, and withering leaves to create designs of great beauty, thus utterly changing a formal, limited and structured art form. Spry was a great character and spent many years as a social-reformer, before venturing into the world of floristry. The descriptions of designs in any of these books will be sure to inspire. On the right, Constance’s ‘Secret Life’ was the subject of a play in London’s West End last autumn.
“In Search of Lost Roses”, which came out in 1989, has created a whole posse of rose sleuths who save old rose varieties from extinction. Tom Christopher is an entertaining and informing author. Lose yourself in the fascinating histories of these luscious flowers, many of which were discovered in old cemeteries. His descriptions of the Texas Rose Wrestlers will make you smile and cheer.
Mary Delaney (1700-1788), the heroine of “The Paper Garden” by Molly Peacock, flourished 200 years before Mrs. Spry. Mary was a very late bloomer, achieving her life’s work at the age of 72, with the creation of her ‘paper-mosiacks’ which are now in the British Museum. She was a close friend of Dowager Duchess of Portand who shared her botanical interests. Mary’s intricate paper collages with their botanical accuracy would be astonishing in any age, but in the age of candlelight, these are nothing short of a miracle.
Two books – several generations of plantsmen over two hundred years – spanning two sides of the Atlantic Ocean are at the heart of both of these books. Philippa Gregory is known for her well-researched novels of females at the English Court. Loaned to me by The Pinkster, “Earthly Joys” is a work of historical fiction of the life of John Tradescant, the Elder (1570-1638), Keeper of His Majesty’s Gardens at Oatlands palace. A second volume, “Virgin Earth”, follows with his son, John Tradescant, the Younger (1606-1662) who spends some utterly disastrous time in early colonial Virginia. These stories are filled with all sorts of fascinating details of gardening in the grandest manner and the lowliest survival in the colonies. Their naturalist collection formed the basis for the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.The Tradescants are buried in their London churchyard, St.Mary-at-Lambeth, now the home of the Museum of Gardening. Two hundred years later in the early 18C, “The Brother Gardeners” by Andrea Wulf, follows the beginnings of modern botany with Philadelphia’s John Bartram, Sweden’s Carl Linnaeus, Joseph Banks and Peter Collinson.
“Flower Confidential” by Amy Stewart was published in 2007. Ms. Stewart is like John McPhee, able to write about almost anything with great skill, charm and erudition. This book has become very influential in a move to source flowers within 25 miles of the bouquet. Stacey Stolie wrote about it in the New York Times, “Farm to Centerpiece Movement”: “ One factor in the revival of local flower farms has been the influence of the investigative reporter Amy Stewart’s 2007 book, “Flower Confidential”, which is to many flower lovers what “Fast Food Nation” was to budding foodies”.
Check out: http://theseasonalbouquetproject.com/ for more information on a year of beautiful seasonal flowers sourced close to home.
Any and all of these will while away a dark afternoon and teach as well. Happy reading. Cheers!