Wednesday, July 28, 2010


This is the last part of the Diary’s look at one of the seminal designers of the 20th century and indeed one of the pioneers of modern floristry as we know it today. I do hope that it was useful and that upon reflection it illustrates that in order to see our way forward we frequently need to look back.

Constance Spry in Her Own Words
Constance Spry wrote on every aspect of flower design, arrangements, décor, as well as flower care, and gardening. David’s Diary presents a selection of quotes:

I cannot think you can make rules about these things. One can only have an idea of what seems good and beautiful, and then use any means to achieve it.

When once you begin to think of flowers as decorative materials it is extraordinary how your vision is widened. You begin to see beauty in materials you had never considered before.

Half a dozen long stemmed peonies in a tall vase may look handsome, but a lower container filled with shorter-stemmed peonies will give you a better sense of the massive quality and richness of the flower.

Instead of adding leaves to our flower groups, we actually remove much of the foliage in order to allow the colour of the flower to predominate unmodified by the more subdued tone of the leaves – or we may remove the green leaves and add others which in themselves contribute to the colour effect we want.
Let us suppose we wish to get a strong white note in a room, or part of a room, and elect to use white lilac or syringa (Mock Orange). If we omit to take off the leaves we fail thereby to obtain the intense note required, for the green leaves detract from, and obscure the solid white quality of the flowers of lilac and syringa, in fact they break up the composition into a series of patches, whereas without the disturbance of the leaves the massed flowers will give us the desired effect.

Gypsophila paniculata is a delicate, fine, airy, graceful plant, far too often ruined in decoration by being broken up into small pieces and used to fill gaps in arrangements of other flowers. I had always found it a difficult subject to use indoors, until one day I found what I thought to be the right place for it…A very large fish-bowl (bubble bowl) filled with water, and in this a spreading, shapely arrangement of gypsophila, without the addition of any other flowers, found a setting which emphasized its special characteristics.

In addition to the general decorative flower arrangements in a room it is pleasant to find, in suitable places, what I may call intimate flowers. On a writing table or a low fireside table, the exquisiteness of one gardenia set in its leaves, a spray of stephanotis, or a white camellia is appreciated by discerning people.

It is a curious thing that, in spite of the superb examples set before us in the pictures of the great Flemish and Dutch painters, we are apt to neglect what I must call, for want of a better name, the mixed bunch.

Even in the most expensive restaurants there is still to be seen that irritating little vase which is just in the way on a small table, and one either pushes it aside or an observant and obliging waiter removes it. Even if it is not a positive nuisance it is rarely an actual pleasure…Why have flowers on the tables at all? Why not concentrate the supplies into one or two groups placed at vantage points?

One reads a good deal about the importance of proportion of flowers to vase, and though admittedly this is an important factor, I think it is good, sometimes, to treat the vase as entirely negligible, using it merely as a receptacle for water, and overpowering it if you will, so that the flowers absorb one’s whole attention and the vase is unobserved.

Long stemmed tulips are magnificent flowers to arrange, but I do not like to see the quality of their line and stem and the dignity of their form left unconsidered. For instance, if you take a bunch of tulips and stick them into a trumpet-shaped vase, you have done little or nothing to help them display their essential qualities.

I sometimes take a wide glass tank, anchor ferns to the bottom of it with lumps of crystal or white pebbles, and fill it with water. The ferns under water look cool and pretty. I do this rarely, because this sort of trick does not generally appeal to me and I definitely dislike seeing flowers submerged in water, probably because, although they may look pretty, I know they are beginning to soften and decay.

FD = Taken from Flower Decoration, by Constance Spry, Dent, 1934

GN = Taken from Garden Notebook, by Constance Spry, Dent, 1940


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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF CONSTANCE SPRY                                                            Constance Spry, née Fletcher, was born in 1886 in Derby, England, but grew up in Ireland. Her father had ambitions to move up in the Civil Service and accepted a transfer there, where Constance was encouraged to study hard in school. After school she spent one year at college studying Nursing, including Physiology and Hygiene, and the became the first full-time paid lecturer of the Women’s National Health Association. In 1910 she married her first husband, James Heppell Marr. They moved to a remote house in the countryside of Ireland, at Coolbawn, but many miles from any village. It was here she started to garden, motivated by the need to grow produce due to the isolated nature of the house. She did develop an interest in growing flowers at this time, and developed a life-long passion for gardening. When WW1 broke out in 1914, Constance became secretary of the Dublin Red Cross. She gave birth to a son, Anthony Marr, but the marriage itself became increasingly unhappy, and the relationship deteriorated to a point whereby Constance felt she had no choice but to leave. In 1916 she moved to back to England with her son, joining the war effort, working as Director of Women’s Staff at the Aircraft Production Unit. It was at this time she came to know the department’s Head of Personnel, Henry “Shav” Spry, a man she was to later marry.
After the war, she returned to social and welfare work, and in 1921 she accepted an appointment to be headmistress at Homerton and South Hackney Continuation School. This school was located in a desperate and extremely poor part of East London, and provided an outreach program designed to give teenage females employed in factories a broader education in practical skills. Constance focused on skills such as cookery and dress-making, believing that an understanding of these disciplines would be useful if an individual endeavored to improve the quality of their life. She would bring flowers to school such as a posy of violets or a vase of peonies, no doubt to bring a little levity to the bleak environment. She noticed that her students derived an immense amount of pleasure from the flowers, and seizing on that observation, started to teach the girls that every single person could have their lives brightened and enriched by the presence of cut flowers, even in the poorest home.
At that time flowers, and flower arrangements, were only to be found in the homes of the wealthy, who could afford to buy cut-flowers, or in the homes of families with large gardens, generally out in the suburbs. She taught her students how to make arrangements, as well instructing them in flower care, and demonstrated that it was imagination, not money, that was the essential ingredient for making a floral design. For Constance too, flowers were an “antidote to…(the poverty) and the dreary surroundings” and on weekends she started foraging and gathering all manner of floral materials, and started experimenting with arrangements.
In 1926, Constance married her second husband, Mr. Henry Spry, who encouraged and supported her gardening and floral activities. Constance Spry started doing arrangements for other people, mostly arrangements for dinner parties, and décor for homes of her friends. Working out of her home, she secured a modest weekly order from Granada Cinemas, which was a chic destination in those days. At one such party she met a theatrical designer, Norman Wilkinson, who was designing a scent shop and who wanted it to be completely different from any other store. He insisted that she do the flowers and gave her the commission to do the windows at Atkinson’s.

Constance Spry writes of that moment; “Unconsciously, I think, I had struck a moment when people were getting tired of the conventional set pieces made by the professional florists and were not entirely satisfied with purely amateur arrangements. In any case requests for flower arrangements came in thick and fast, and I decided to embark on a small shop.”
It should also be pointed out that, up until this moment, floristry had been almost exclusively the domain of men, and I propose that part of the excitement caused by Constance was the fact that she was a woman challenging this male bastion. In fact Constance was to challenge many social barriers in her life, but always with a dignity and restraint that was the hallmark of her station and her generation.
Heeding the advice of Norman Wilkinson, and with the support of her husband, Constance Spry, resigned from teaching and opened her shop “Flower Decoration” in 1928. Afraid of risking much money on the venture, she took a small shop with inexpensive rent in a less popular part of London. She came to rue that decision later; “To intending shop-keepers I would say, never do this. Financially it is fatal. It was not until I was able to get into a good location that the shop itself was financially satisfactory.”
Indeed, in 1934 Constance opened up in Mayfair around the corner from Atkinson’s, and in the same year she published her first book, also named “Flower Decoration”.

Her fame was growing, and her services much in demand. She was also becoming much sought after as a guest at all the fashionable parties in London, and an invitation to her home was most desirable as she was an intelligent and creative hostess. She became close friends with Syrie Maugham, a noted interior designer and former wife of Somerset Maugham, with King Edward VIII (Duke of Windsor) and Gluck, a female artist, known today notably for her paintings of flowers, particularly Calla Lilies.
In 1932 Constance became intimate friends with Hannah “Gluck” Gluckstein. She contributed greatly to the artist’s first exhibition at the Fine Arts Society in the same year, doing floral arrangements and interior décor. Gluck, as she insisted on being called, was a talented painter. Rather remarkable for the era, Gluck wore men’s clothes her entire adult life, and only dated other women. Nonetheless, from 1932 until 1936 Constance would stay three or four days per week at Gluck’s house in Hampstead.
Fred Wilkinson of Constance Spry Ltd. insists this was a purely platonic friendship, based on their mutual interests in many subjects, but particularly the arts and flowers. There is no evidence that would contradict Mr. Wilkinson’s statement, but even as a friend, Constance Spry was surely testing the limits of social acceptability through her close association with Gluck. Constance introduced the painter to many of her own clients, as well as to Elsa Schiaparelli, who designed male/female clothes for Gluck. It is more than likely that the relationship was terminated in 1936 by Constance Spry, because the liaison was becoming onerous on her reputation, and Gluck had worn out her welcome with Mrs. Spry’s clients.

In January of 1938 Constance was invited to give two talks at the annual benefit of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It was a popular choice, as by this time she was the florist for the British aristocracy, and had just done Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor’s wedding in France. She did meet some derision, however, for her use of vegetables, vegetable leaves and fruits in arrangements, as well as her antipathy towards the Japanese style of arranging that was prevalent in America. Her perception was that Ikebana, while an integral part of Japanese culture, looked contrived and out of place in American homes. Nonetheless, there were obviously people who agreed with her point of view as some of New York’s society hostesses bankrolled a shop in Manhattan, Constance Spry, Inc. Unfortunately, the outbreak of WWII curtailed any hope of regular visits to New York, and unable to return, the shop was eventually sold.
After the war ended, she started a residential school with her good friend Rosemary Hume, an accomplished cook in her own right, at Winkfield Place, near Windsor, England. The academy was quite large, and was situated on a large estate comprising 22 acres. This academy specialized in what was then termed “Domestic Science”, specializing in what was presumed to be legitimate pursuits for young women, cooking, gardening, interior design and flower decoration. Constance Spry had been teaching floral arrangement ever since she moved into the shop on South Audley St., but had done so reluctantly because, as she said, “I felt to do so might involve them in disappointment; opportunities for earning a suitable livelihood seemed extremely scarce.” However, and in large part due to her activities, by the time she opened the school in 1946, there were employment opportunities and liberated young women willing to learn a discipline. At Winkfield Place, along with school, there were 7 acres under intense cultivation, providing cut-flowers for the business, as well as fresh produce for the school. There were open pastures, woodland and wild areas, as well as 1200 rose bushes planted throughout the property that were also used for cut flower production. Constance was not particularly fond of the new hybrid tea roses, with their lack of fragrance and high-centered, “chocolate-boxy” appearance. She was captivated by old, scented roses and had always grown modest amounts at her house, but with the acquisition of Winkfield Place, she embarked on a comprehensive collection for her floral business.

Her love of old roses led her to friendships with many of the English rose breeders of the era, the up and coming David Austin amongst them. One of her enduring legacies is the namesake rose David Austin developed.
"Constance Spry” was a pivotal rose for David Austin, as it was the first of his now famous “old English” roses that he has developed, with the trademark myrrh scent. Unfortunately she did not witness it’s commercial introduction in 1961, although both Fred Wilkinson of Constance Spry Ltd., and Helen Caine of David Austin Roses, UK, suggest she undoubtedly saw it in trials.

Constance Spry worked assiduously until her death in 1960, tending to her flower shop, teaching at the school, presenting lectures and was actively involved with the Chelsea Flower Show. In 1953 Constance was honored to be asked to do the flowers for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which was a huge undertaking, involving Westminster Abbey, the decoration with flowers of the entire processional route, as well as Buckingham Place. Between 1934 and 1959 she wrote eleven books in all, ten books on flowers, and one with Rosemary Hume called “The Constance Spry Cookery Book”. The books were published all over the world, and some continue in print to this day. In 1957 she wrote “Simple Flowers ‘A Millionaire for a Few Pence’”, in which she continued to emphasize that imagination was the key to improving quality of life, and she demonstrated that flowers could go a long way towards this end.

Almost twenty years earlier Constance Spry had written, in the last paragraph of the introduction to “Garden Notebook” some words that she lived by her whole life: “Perfection in living seems to me to consist not in the spending of large sums of money but in the exercise of a selective and discerning taste in the use of what we may possess, and flowers and plants can in their judicious use contribute in a high degree to the elegance and graciousness of life.”


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.

Monday, July 19, 2010


In 1999 the House of Delbard, rose breeders in France for several generations, introduced a red rose that was named "Red Intuition". When it finally became available at the beginning of the 21st century, the fabulous variegated streaks of dark burgundy on a scarlet field caused a minor sensation. However, for most rose aficionados the novelty was short lived because the bloom, which promised much, failed to open. Left to open on the plant, the rose was dynamic, but as a cut flower it simply sat there, revealing nothing. Probably ideal for supermarkets, whose insistence that buds be tight and peeled borders on perversion, as a cut flower for designers with a scintilla of appreciation for beauty, "Red Intuition" became sidelined enjoying modest popularity at Valentine's. Let's face it, almost anything red with a stem is popular at Valentine's Day!
Towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a sport of the Red Intuition was introduced, which was dark pink on a medium pink field and called., with a flair for the ironic; "Pink Intuition"! It was introduced with much fanfare at the Hollywood premiere of  the movie "Valentine's Day" a few days prior to Valentine's Day 2010. It is decidedly hard to know which is worse, the rose or the movie, although while the movie was DOA, at least the roses have some life left in them!
Again, the coloring is marvelous, the variegation rather beguiling, but like its parent, "Pink Intuition" also stubbornly refuses to yield the climax of a complete reflexing of the petals, or even to open partially. More's the pity, as it could be a stunning flower.
Now, another mutation of "Red Intuition" has appeared, which is a very provocative brilliant Reddish-Orange on a creamy-white field. This sport is the most vigorous and dynamic of all this series, and the variegation reminds one of the stunning breaks observed in such classic tulips as "Semper Augustus" or more recently in the French Tulips that are intentionally stricken with the virus that produces breaks such as Tulipa "King's Blood" Chined. Very attractive, the rose is still frustrating as it also does not open. I tried manipulating the petals with my fingers but could not get much development.
Clearly, these "Orange Intuition" roses are not for everyone, but given that one man's passion is another man's poison, we offer all the "Intuition" series for sale, as well as over 500 commercial cut roses, at all Mayesh locations and for shipping nationwide.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay Review

Finally, a few moments to knock out the promised review of "Gordon Ramsay"; the restaurant. It appears that Chef Ramsay has a few restaurants in London, but we decided to go to the one that bears his name. My girlfriend and I went restaurant 'Gordon Ramsay' a few days after the Chelsea Flower Show ended, ingress into the latter had been unceremoniously denied as we had not bought tickets in advance. Like months in advance! Who knew? I had rather imagined we would be able to waltz right on in. Wrong. So note to myself, next time secure tickets to the show, many moons in advance. With respect to Gordon Ramsay, aforesaid restaurant; I did make reservations months before, so that when we showed up at the appointed time on the appointed day in early June, we were expected and welcomed. This, in and of itself, is a wonderful feeling. Naturally, being fans of his shows, we arrived with Michelin scoring cards in hand and promptly started evaluating the experience. First off, the decor is really odd; maybe it was chic in Tehran in the sixties, but the odd glossy white panelling and mirrors and chintzy curtains threw me off. Most disturbing was a light fixture appended to a column that was comprised of steel rods capped with small perspex balls. Then, the tight fitting mess jackets cut at the waist that most of the waiters were attired in seemed also part of the sixties inspired chic; however these signature outfits looked as though they were formerly worn by LNER waiters in the First Class dining car aboard the Flying Scotsman in its steam locomotive heyday.
One aspect of the decor that was most tasteful, timeless really and as apropos today as in the sixties, were the extremely simple but elegant white vases filled with blooms of pure white roses similar to 'Iceberg'.
We ordered from the a la carte menu, although there is an option to order a tasting suite of dishes. I am glad that we did as the portions seemed small., or rather petite. I say that because the waiters all talked with French accents. This would be fine if they were from France but quite a few of them would occasionally lapse into guttural English, which stimulated visions that a Basil Fawlty was in the kitchen in charge of social graces and restaurant service.
So these are my initial impressions, prior to tasting and eating the food, which is after all why we had come to the restaurant.
Before the appetizers arrived we were surprised by an amuse-bouche, a rather delicious savory cornet, which was, I think stuffed with artichoke and crab, and rather delicious. Mine exploded when I ate one half,and it could potentially rather ruin someone's clothes if they were unlucky. By the time the first course arrived the scorecard was generously filled with question marks and exes.
As our waiter informed us in library-level french, we had selected two of Ramsay's classiques. I had ordered the Lobster Ravioli and my girlfriend had chosen the Scallops with Gnocchi. The ravioli, singular, was delicious; a light pasta pillow somehow stuffed to bursting point (but without a breach) with a generous portion of lobster accompanied with a creamy sauce. Pretty good; score 7 out of 10. My girlfriend's selection was impressive; the combination of flavors delighted the palate and the gnocchi were truly ambrosia, the lightest and best I have ever had. Score 9 out of 10.
Then something happened, and though I am not sure what, the change was almost one of alchemy, and my girlfriend and I enjoyed one of our most memorable evenings together in our relationship. The unrelenting attentive and knowledgeable service that was never intrusive, combined with really wonderful food allowed us to feel truly pampered. It was very weird, to say the least. We stopped scoring, and simply enjoyed our selves and savored the entire experience. Once in a while the French veneer of one or two of the waiters would crack and an English turn of phrase would be dropped, and for an instant there was fleeting thought that the whole operation was being run by a bunch of chancers, but I would chalk that up to my mild paranoia.
So was it the greatest food  that I have ever had? No - but ask me how was the experience; and I can definitively say that it was one the most enjoyable evenings that I have spent in a long time.    

Wednesday, July 14, 2010



It is hard to imagine that flower arrangements could make an impact on a cosmopolitan society such as London, let alone a whole generation, and that the influence would still echo today. But history teaches us that the most profound changes in the structure of society are heralded by new and seemingly outrageous events in the world of fashion. The Bikini, the Beatles hair-cut, Pop-Art, the Mini-Skirt, the Hippy hair-cuts, the Mohawk and Body-Piercing all seem tame in hindsight, yet they paved the way for society to accept new and broader horizons in all walks of life. This is precisely what Constance Spry’s flower decorations precipitated in London during the late spring of 1926.
To get a sense of the world at this time, I have made a thumbnail sketch of the era:
London was prospering, having recovered from the steep burden imposed by First World War, and citizens were enjoying renewed vigor and life. There had been a bitter labor dispute in the mines culminating in a General Strike. The government declared martial law and had put down the strike. While the coalminers had the sympathy of the people, but the nation could not accept a strike that was used as a means to grab power. That was tantamount to revolution, and that was unacceptable in the seat of democracy.
The advances of the industrial revolution in the last century were bearing spectacular fruits in this century: The year before, in 1925, the first “Double-Decker” bus, that has become synonymous with London, was introduced to the city streets, fast replacing the omnibus and the trolley car. Television had just been invented. In Italy Benito Mussolini had taken power, in Germany Hitler had published Mein Kampf” and in the USA, Calvin Coolidge had declared that “The business of America is Business!”
By early 1926 the first demonstrations of television were taking place in London, and in the USA sound was being introduced to movies, as well as the first color film. The first electric refrigerators became available, and radio as a medium for entertainment was gaining public popularity around the world. Amongst the movies produced for public consumption that year was “Ben Hur” starring Ramon Navarro, and “Metropolis” by Fritz Lang. Still showing in the cinemas were the original “Phantom of the Opera” starring Lon Chaney and Charlie Chaplin’s “Gold Rush”. A BBC radio play about a workers’ revolution caused mass panic amongst the citizens of London, much like Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” did a generation later.

Against this backdrop, in the fashionable thoroughfare of Mayfair, London, it could be said that, despite the rumblings in the provinces, nothing really was amiss, the advances in technology were welcome and for the High Society everything was in its proper place. That is, until Constance Spry’s window display at Atkinson’s, a new perfume store on Old Bond Street, was revealed to the public that early June morning in 1926.

The display caused an absolute sensation amongst fashionable society, and almost overnight Constance Spry became a “cause célèbre”, the talk of the town, and shortly thereafter her services became a “must-have” item in upper circles.

Elizabeth Coxhead, Constance Spry’s biographer, writes firsthand of the occasion:
“No one going up and down Bond Street could possibly miss Atkinson’s, and the flower arrangements were spotlit at night. They stood as if on the stage of a theatre…And people did notice, did stop and stare. Those great groups, majestic yet ethereal, were totally unlike anything that had been seen before, different in colouring, in blending of materials, above all in line.”
Constance Spry’s arrangements of so-called “hedgerow” flowers rocked the world of Mayfair’s elite, but it was a welcome change to the stale designs with their Victorian and Edwardian legacy. She broke rank with the florists and their traditional “florist” flowers, that displayed little or no art, and no consideration for form, line, color or context. It was “The Shock of the New” and London was ready for it.

As I have said before, this is a business of fashion, and what Constance Spry created in 1926 was not really new, although extremely novel. Her work involved using elements from previous eras and combining them with a contemporary perspective. Her talent was derived from her substantial knowledge of plants and floriculture, her perceptive sensibilities, her intuitive artistry, and most of all her unbridled passion for flowers. Her genius lay in the ability to seamlessly unify all these assets. Her legacy is that flowers evoke one of the most ephemeral of human qualities; Romance, and that through the honest expression of the individual, Romance may endure.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Garden Rose Defaults

One of the most significant advances in floral decoration of late, especially in the development of new varieties of roses, is that of fragrance. In some ways it is not so much an advance, as a return to one of the most valued characteristics of old roses, namely their delicious perfumes. For this admirer of flowers, the idea of fragrance, perfumes and scents represents the holy grail of commercial cut flowers. In the past, to be able to supply scented blooms to satisfy our clients' needs and desires we  had to use so-called "Garden Roses". This has meant resorting to specimens which, while they are delightful assets in the garden, have neither the vigor to endure once cut nor the resistance to airborne pathogens, attributes which their commercial cousins do exhibit.  Another feature much valued in garden roses is found in varieties that have fully double rosettes that are reminiscent of "Belle Epoque" paintings, and often referred to as 'Cabbage Roses'. Garden roses are products designed specifically to be beautiful in the garden, and were never intended for use as cut flowers. However, fashion has dictated that the use of these type of blooms is highly desirable, especially as romance is once again in vogue. Rose breeders today are very progressive and producing  varieties developed specifically for the cut flower market that feature delicious perfumes, are also hardy and have a good vase life. They are also developing roses that feature the ruffled double rosettes reminiscent of old bourbon roses. The very best today combine both elements.
When ordering roses, I find many floral designers forgoing high performance in favor of a dubious provenance of such-and-such a variety being a 'Garden Rose'. I am of the opinion that the very best products should be used, and when selecting a rose for a defined task the performance of that flower ought to be evaluated carefully.
1. If a garden rose has no fragrance, don't buy it. There is no point in buying a product whose performance standards are already compromised and whose vase life is short. Generally speaking you will be able to find a superior substitute from the massive selection of commercial cut roses available today. Take the example of the garden rose "Pierre de Ronsard" (aka 'Eden'). It is very attractive, especially full blown on the bush. However, this garden rose is usually harvested quite tight and never develops properly as a cut flower. A superior bloom is that of "Esperance", which opens fully to reveal a wonderful cup-shaped display of petals. And the performance is guaranteed.
2. Even if a garden rose has fragrance, check and see if there is a superior commercial cut variety available. "Fair Bianca" is a wonderful garden rose developed by David Austin and which we used to sell thousands of in the nineties. However, it is not very strong and is somewhat prone to downy mildew. David Austin has developed a superior product for the cut flower market called "Patience" which in my opinion is a masterpiece. White cupped guard petals clasp a fully quartered rosette that is a rich creamy color, sometimes even a buttery yellow and has notes of oak, vanilla and lavender in the perfume. Even stronger in both performance and fragrance is the high centered hybrid tea rose "Vitality" developed by breeder De Ruiters. It is a delicious French Vanilla color, with an intoxicating aroma of vanilla and citrus.
3. If a garden rose has no fragrance and also does not have the romantic forms of Old Garden Roses definitely don't buy it. You will certainly find a substitute for a high centered garden tea rose within the ranks of the commercial hybrids. 
4. If you have a garden rose in mind that has intoxicating fragrance and a wonderful form and petal disposition, no obvious commercial counterpart; then revel in it's beauty, get drunk on its perfume and use it over and over!! For my money, "Yves Piaget" by Meilland is one of the all-time great garden roses that is spectacular in cut flower arrangements and wedding bouquets as well. It has a peony type petal structure, a deep mauve-magenta color and a deep, rich perfume.
When you are able, keep focused on the task the rose needs to accomplish, and order accordingly. For instance you may be doing a wedding that calls for predominatly white flowers with accents of pink. The wedding will be outdoors in the summer. The bride has expressed a desire for a loose, romantic, 'gardeney' feel, with fragrance. In this hypothetical situation you could select one of the all time great garden roses "Double Delight", with its sparkling fruity fragrance. It is a white with blotched red to pink guard petals. After removing guard petals it is predominatly white with hints of pink on the petal margins. However, while this will be OK in water, it won't make the trip in the bouquet. You could use a garden rose called "Nostalgia", that has a similar appearance but no fragrance. Although stronger than the "Double Delight", it still has endurance issues on a hot summer's day. You could elect to go with a recent introduction such as "Sweetness". This rose will develop properly after harvest, will open fully and is predictable. The blooms will last all day in a bouquet, provided it has been properly hydrated. A subtle combination of all three in situations that have a water supply would be very attractive, but for the bouquets the commercial hybrid tea would be the best choice. Fragrance could be introduced by herbs and scented foliages.

Best Scented Roses
Patience; Yves Piaget (G); Vitality; O'Hara; Goethe(G);  Miranda; Toulouse-Lautrec(G); Juliet Drouet(G)
Best Non-Scented Romantic Roses
Juliet; Capriccio; Romantic Antike (G); Free Spirit
             (G) = garden rose
Please note: Garden roses are developed for the garden; commercial hybrid teas are developed for cutting. Recently there has been nuch obfuscation of which is which to cash in on the trend. Most of the breeders are now pursuing roses with fragrance, but which will  maintain good vase life. These are not garden roses, and fragrance does not necessarily imply that the roses were bred for the garden. In fact the introduction of perfume in modern commercial cutting roses is the greatest breakthrough in rose hybridization that has occurred in my lifetime.

Images (top to bottom)
1. Pierre de Ronsard (aka Eden) - Meilland
2. Esperance (aka Esperanza) - De Ruiters
3. Patience - David Austin
4. Vitality - De Ruiters
5. Double Delight - Swim (Guard petals on)
6. Sweetness - Rosen Tantau (Guard petals removed)
6. Nostalgia - Rosen Tantau (Guard petals removed)
7. Yves Piaget - Meilland

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spam,spam...spam, spam, wonderful spam - NOT!

Many apologies for blogger mayhem. It seems that the folks at Google/Blooger take their Spam as seriously as the folks on the big Island of Hawaii. Apparently my blog was flagged as a violator...see note from the folks at Google, but the Diary is back. I have started the feature on Constance Spry, and part two will be out on Wednesday July 14th.

We have received your appeal regarding your blog Upon further review we have determined that your blog was mistakenly marked as a TOS violator by our automated system and, as such, we have reinstated your blog. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused in the meantime and thank you for your patience as we completed our review process.

Thank you for for understanding.
Sincerely,The Blogger Team"

Notwithstanding the interruption the Diary will continue to present the news and views on all things floral and more on a regular basis,
PS -  I support the Blogger team, as Spam is not wonderful at all, and while the episode was frustrating, the intent is laudable.


David’s Diary will present an overview of the life and accomplishments of a designer who has had a great impact on floral design over the last eighty years. 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. AN INTRODUCTION TO CONSTANCE SPRY

“Constance Spry” will appear in four parts during the month of July, appearing each Wednesday.

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!
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.
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.
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.

Reprinted from a prior article on in 2008 with revisions.

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.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Rose breeders are forever casting their nets into the world of films, fashion and famous females...(OK supermodels, but I like the alliteration) for names of roses. Recently, a rose called "Gaga" has been introduced, which is the latest in a string of female celebs having their name attcahed to a rose. Most go down in the ignominious flames of the forgotten and formerly famous; witness the Roses "Claudia"; "Naomi" and "Barbara Bush". On the other hand some roses become incredibly popular for many years, indeed more famous than the person after whom the flower was named. For instance who can remember one of the very first super-models known simply as "Vendela" after whom the classic ivory rose is named. Hardly anyone, yet the rose endures on the merits of its classic shape color and reliable performance, not too mention the stunning productivity, making R. Vendela a hit with growers and florists alike. For that matter think of the Peony Sarah Bernhardt named after a turn of the century (19th century that is) French diva whose beauty was reputed to be beyond compare; her legacy endures well into a second century thanks to the breeder Victor Lemone who bestowed one of his greatest creations with her name.
Of course one of the more superficial flavors of the month seems to be Vampires and Werewolves. We already have R. Vampire and R. Dark Vampire from Schreurs, and just introduced is the new R. Twilight from Olij Rozen. In fact I received a sample of the first flush a couple of  days prior to the premier of the latest installment of the Twilight saga. It is an attractive spicy orange, somwhat similar to Free Spirit, but I believe that there are more than enough roses featuring this palette. Howver, one never knows with roses, so we shall have to see how and whether a market for this develops. For my taste it is a bit brash, reminding me not so much of Twilight, that special bewitched time in the evening, but more of a gaudy sunset, with brash gothic overtones a la Vincent Price...or, um, like the Stephanie Meyer's books! Hello?! OK, there is no accounting for taste, but my preference would be for something a little more edgy, along the lines of Nosferatu or  the original "Twilight" introduced by Jackson & perkins in 1955 with dusky mauve to carmine tones and a gray reverse on the petals is much more stimulating...and reputedly had a strong perfume as well.
This too seems to have disappeared into the mists of time...
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