Get Creative

My First Flower Arrangement, A Homage To Constance Spry & Floral Crowns.

 

To cheer myself recently, I had a go at making a fresh flower arrangement. It was my first ever attempt. It cost me £1.80 for the oasis and all flowers sourced from my parents’ garden. Recent rain had well and truly battered my mother’s roses so it was a nice way to give those blossoms, which were on the cusp of being lost for another year, a second chance at life.

If you are having friends and family round for dinner, then a simple flower arrangement can make an attractive focal point on your dining or coffee table. A few flowers in a jam-jar brighten-up even the most sparse of interiors. My mother is excellent at flower-arranging but I have no clue whatsoever what I am doing. Here are few basic tips for anyone wanting to have a go  from both my local florist and mother:

  • Purchase some oasis. Most florists sell blocks to the public. You need oasis that can soak-up water (wet foam), the other type (a buff colour) is not suitable for water and is used for dry or synthetic flower arrangements.  Shop around for your oasis, I have since purchased another block of oasis from my local indoor market for £1. My arrangement pictured here used a whole block but if you want a smaller arrangement, each block should give you 3 smaller table arrangements;
  • Choose a suitable container. Anything will do, as long as it is waterproof. If you use a wicker basket or other natural materials, then you will need to double line the container with plastic;
  • Always leave at least 1 inch of the oasis block above the top edge of your container. Don’t be tempted to mould oasis flush to the outer rim. This tip came from my florist. She said it was a common mistake beginners make and end-up with a small piece of oasis, lots of flowers in it and wonder why it only lasts a few days;
  • Don’t be stingy when you add the water to your oasis. Add water to your oasis before you begin arranging. One block took several large jugs of water. You need to top-up the water in your oasis in subsequent days to keep your flowers etc fresh. Don’t over water though as any excess water not soaked-up into the oasis will go stagnant;
  • Start with your greenery. Build a base before putting in your first flowers;
  • Only puncture the oasis once with the stem. This is a useful tip that the florist told me. If you put a flower or greenery into the oasis and change your mind about its position, remove and make another hole close-by. If you don’t and reposition in the same hole, that hole can become stagnant and water-logged;
  • Don’t put flowers that have recently been rained upon immediately into your arrangement. Flowers are best picked when dry. However, our wet Summer at the moment may mean that you have no choice here. Therefore, tap excess water off of your cut flowers and leave to drain on kitchen paper for about 20 minutes. This is what I did. The florist told me that roses with water inside the heads will rot from the inside very quickly. I had a couple where I obviously didn’t manage to get all of the water out of and these died first.

  • British Pathé film, ‘Flowers For The Home’ (1955).

Domestic flower arranging or floral design as it is now more commonly referred to, has fallen in and out of fashion since World War Two. In the 1950s, arrangements were relatively conservative. I have a 1955 copy of Pins and Needles Treasure Book of Home-Making edited by Christine Veasey.

Veasey devotes an entire chapter to what she calls, ‘Indoor Gardening’ which is essentially decorating your home with flowering plants, flower arrangements, terrariums, miniature gardens and ferns. Popular indoor plants included hyacinths, narcissi, lily-of-the-valley, African violets, foliage plants, azalea, abutilon, cyclamen, clivia miniata, chrysanthemum and cineraria.

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Pins and Needles Treasure Book of Home-Making edited by Christine Veasey (1955)

 

On the subject of miniature gardens, Veasey suggests:

Dish gardens may be made in deep plates or shallow bowls of glass, porcelain, pottery, brass, or pewter; or in baking pans painted to harmonise with the furniture. Requiring no drainage, dish gardens can be kept on polished tables and window-sills….The simplest dish garden contains a single plant such as an aloe, Chinese evergreen sansevieria, or desert cactus. Fill dish partly with soil or fibre; set plant in it, spreading the roots as much as possible; and cover with enough soil or fibre to hold plant upright.

A slightly more elaborate garden-popular for breakfast and luncheon tables and desks-may contain several plants, perhaps a sansevieria, an aloe, and a Chinese rubber-plant-all very small plants. Miniature forests grown from seed of grapefruit, oranges, dates, from berries or juniper, or from seed shaken from the cones of the Christmas tree are lovely in dishes. (pp.155-6)

  • British Pathé film, ‘Flower Piece’ (1945), featuring Constance Spry.

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  • British floral expert Constance Spry creates a centrepiece for her home, 1953. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

The Queen of post-war flower-arranging was society florist, Constance Spry (1886-1960). Often ridiculed now on account of her rather prissy and straight-laced floral designs. However, to write Spry off in this way is to completely misunderstand her design style. Although hugely influential in 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, many of her arrangements were cutting edge.

Her designs have influenced generations of professional and amateur flower arrangers. In many respects she was ahead of her time. For example, Spry often used a single flower in a vase or fruit, vegetables (including rhubarb leaves) in her arrangements. We now think of these design choices as a modern invention but no, it was Spry who first suggested their use.

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  • Spry with some sewing, 1953. Published in Housewife magazine – October 1961. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Despite a prim and proper appearance, the married Spry, had a lifelong companion, the cross-dressing lesbian artist, Hannah ‘Gluck’ Gluckstein (1895-1978). Gluck was known for her floral paintings and enjoyed many commissions from Spry’s society friends. Spry also helped to re-style Gluck, transforming her rather androgynous look into a couture-wearing (Stribel, Shciaparelli) glamour puss. Spry ended their relationship in 1936.

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  • Shop assistants at Constance Spry Ltd, a flower shop at 64, South Audley Street, London, June 1947.

Spry was a brilliant businesswoman who also wrote many cookery books with business partner, Rosemary Hume (1907-1984). Hume is credited with inventing the iconic Coronation chicken in 1953. The original recipe appeared in Hume and Spry’s The Constance Spry Cookery Book. In 1934, Spry opened her famous shop, Flower Decorations, in South Audley St, Mayfair, London. An English Heritage blue plaque marks the shop’s location.

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  • Constance Spry Ltd, a flower shop at 64, South Audley Street, London, June 1947. (Photo by George Konig/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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  • Spry wraps a bouquet in her flower shop, June 1947. (Photo by George Konig/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A few fun flower-arranging facts:

  • Oasis was invented by V.L. Smithers in 1954. In the same year, Smithers founded his company, Smithers-Oasis, to specialise in creating and selling floristry products. Smithers-Oasis are located in Kent, Ohio.
  • Floral tape was invented during World War One.
  • The National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies was formed in Britain in 1959 and now has a membership of approximately 72,000.
  • The world’s largest flower arrangement was created in January 2014 in Tangshan China. The arrangement at Tangshan Sihai Culture Communications Co., Ltd measured 7.16 x 10.65 x 1.41 metres;
  • The most expensive rose is the Juliet Rose, first introduced to the world at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2006 by rose breeder David Austin. The Juliet Rose took 15 years to create and more than £3 million to produce. Bouquets containing the rose start from around £90.

  • A 1960s housewife creates an abstract flower arrangements for her suburban home. British Pathé film ‘Flower Sculpture’ (1969).

As the above film demonstrates, 1960s domestic flower arrangements become more abstract, minimalist and broke-free from formal design constraints popular in the 1950s. The 1960s was all about expressing one’s individuality and containers were less traditional, leaving the arranger to be inventive. Local florists offered a limited range of flowers, unlike today. Carnations, chrysanthemums, daisies, lilies, gladiolas and roses as well as blossoms sourced from the garden, were all popular choices.

  • Plenty of ‘flower power’ at this 1967 love-in at Woburn Park, Bedfordshire.

As you might imagine, in a decade that introduced the world to ‘flower power’ and hippies, 1960’s youth culture created a whole new language of flowers. The colour palate of domestic floral arrangements moved away from earthy tones, bright yellow, burnt orange and browns to hot pinks, electric blue and vibrant greens.

The 1970s also witnessed a decline in the use of freshly cut flowers. Instead, artificial flower arrangements became popular, a trend that continued well into the 1980s. I remember my own mother going crazy for silk flowers. On every windowsill and bedroom in our house, there was a faux-flower arrangement.

Flower-arranging is no longer associated with the twin-set and pearls brigade of 1950’s middle England. Millennials are also enjoying getting creative with fresh flowers. Floral crowns are a sought after accessory on the festival scene. Influential Vlogger, Sprinkle of Glitter (AKA Louise Pentland) recently posted a floral crown tutorial on her main You Tube Channel. Since May, the video has received over 120K views.

If you are looking for a fun, easy and cheap hobby this Summer, then have a go making an arrangement. Get creative and let your imagination run wild.

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