Constance Spry

Who were David Austin's favourite women?

The recent death of one of the world's greatest rosarians, David Austin, has made many people think about which is their favourite David Austin rose. Because if you have roses in your garden, the likelihood is that at least one of them is an Austin rose. He changed rose breeding forever always looking for the very best qualities of 'old' and 'new' roses. And it's no surprise that two favourites were named for two female gardeners who were great rose lovers themselves - Gertrude Jekyll and Constance Spry.

Rosa 'Constance Spry' was the first rose that Austin launched commercially in 1961. It was a fitting name to choose. In the interwar years, Spry had rescued many 'old' roses from extinction as the modern Hybrid Teas and Floribundas became so popular. Austin was always searching for the Holy Grail of rose breeding: an 'old' rose look with the long flowering season and disease resistance of modern roses - and, of course, a heavenly scent! With this rose, he was nearly there except it flowers just once - but oh, when it does, it's magnificent!

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5 Constance Spry (Ausfirst) C

It wasn't long before Austin launched other roses that met his criteria, many of them named after Shakespearean women and quite a few gardeners as well. One of his most popular is Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll' (below)  It has deservedly been loaded with awards. He called this new family of roses 'English' roses to distinguish them from other Modern Shrub roses but they are still widely known as David Austin roses. 

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5_Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll'_15A4575_editPhotographs courtesy of David Austin Roses 

No wonder! It ticks all the boxes.

If you're confused about the differences between 'old', 'modern' and English roses, then you'll find it all explained in my latest book, ROSE (Reaktion, 2018).  (Click here for more details.) It's full of many more stories about the history and origins of many of the world's most famous roses including how Cleopatra welcomed Mark Antony in a barge filled with rose petals and why Empress Josephine vowed to collect every known rose and then got her English rose supplier through the French blockades thanks to her sometimes understanding husband, Napoleon. 

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The Story behind those Valentine's Day flowers

Getting very excited about the opening later this week of the new exhibition at The Garden Museum,  Floriculture: Flowers, Love and Money. It's about time that the story of floristry, the 'Cinderella' trade of the horticultural industry, was told.  It opens, naturally, on Thursday 14 February, the biggest day of the year for the trade, and runs until 28 April 2013.

Here's what they say we can expect:

"Next Valentine's Day the Garden Museum will open the first exhibition to tell the story of the cut flower trade from the 17th century until today. The exhibition will also explore the inspiration of cut flowers to painters, and to the art of floristry, and their symbolism in rites of passage such as marriage, funerals, and memory.

The exhibition begins in 17th century Covent Garden: the square built by The Earl of Bedford contained a market for fruit and vegetables. Covent Garden continues to be the heart of the flower trade, whether represented by the Floral Hall, illustrations by Edward Bawden, or iconic films such as Lindsey Anderson's Everyday Excerpt Christmas, from the 1950's. The stall-holders, in their current location in Nine Elms, will be the subject of an artist's commission as we seek to record their stories of life at the Flower Market.

Until the 19th century, the wholesale trade in flowers was local, small in scale, and existed alongside allotments and Head Gardeners' cutting gardens and displays in the great house. This slowly evolved, with, in the 1880s growers of snowdrops and daffodils in Spalding, Lincolnshire, racing to supply London markets by train; by 1929 this had increased to 20 tonnes a day. In 1940, 4 million bulbs were shipped to America as payment for arms. 

The world's flower trade has increased from £1.8 billion in the 1950s to in excess of £64 billion today. After trains came planes: in 1969 the first air freighted flowers flew to the United States from Colombia. However, the globalised trade has attracted increasing controversy over its environmental impact, and allegations of exploitation of vulnerable workforces.


The exhibition will explain each side of the debate – including the new movement for "Fair Trade in flowers" – but will also be a celebration of the domestic growers, an industry which has all but vanished but may be revived by a new generation of eco -aware, creative growers.
 
The exhibition will follow the growth of the retail industry, from florists' shops to supermarkets; in 1979 Marks and Spencer– which had sold plants since the 1920s – first experimented with the sale of cut flowers and quickly grew to be a significant
force in the modern marketplace. 

Earlier in the century, Gertrude Jekyll and Constance Spry established floristry as an art form and a profession. The exhibition will pick out iconic weddings which have transformed taste, such as the 1961 marriage of The Duke and Duchess of Kent in York Minster or that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2012 – masterminded by Shane Connolly, whose ideas in floral design the show will explore. 

The exhibition will look at the relationship between artists and cut flowers, through works by artists such as Stanley Spencer's view of his cutting garden at Cookham, Duncan Grant's still-lives and glimpses of the garden path at Charleston, and Cedric
Morris's masterful studies of irises. The paintings selected will capture the fragile beauty of flowers from their gardens.

Finally, we shall explore the place the beauty and quick mortality of cut flowers play in rites of life and death: marriage, funerals, and memorial shrines."

 


Cross with the RHS? You bet I am

Rumour has it that the RHS are desperate to find ways of encouraging women, particularly younger women, to attend the RHS shows held at the London headquarters in Vincent Square. So it's a brilliant idea for the RHS to stage an exhibition from their archives of women's achievements in horticulture. But what do they do? Run it for just two days this weekend, 19-20 March, at the less well attended RHS London Orchid and Botanical Art Show. What a missed opportunity! Other exhibitions in the Lindley Library run for considerably longer - why stage this important show for just 48 hours?

Here is the RHS's press release to tempt you if you are able to go, or show you what you'll be missing from the RHS's rich archive if you can't. And if you feel like complaining to the RHS, please do! You can, of course, always read about these women in Gardening Women.

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For the first time in the Royal Horticultural Society’s history, two women, Elizabeth Banks and Sue Biggs, hold the most senior positions in the Society - President and Director General.

But women have played an important part in horticulture for many years. At the RHS London Orchid and Botanical Art Show over 19-20 March, the RHS Lindley Library will host a display to highlight the life and works of a number of women who have been extremely influential in horticulture over the last century.

On display will be photographs, books, archives and artworks to celebrate the lives of:

Gertrude Jekyll was a garden designer and one of only two women among the first recipients of the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1897.

Ellen Willmott, a horticulturist, was the other woman among the first recipients of the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1897.

Marion Cran was the first gardening radio broadcaster.

Dorothy Martin, a botanical artist. Her 300 original watercolours are housed in the RHS Lindley Library. Two of these will be on display.

Constance Spry, society flower arranger and social reformer.

Lilian Snelling, botanical artist. The RHS holds an extensive collection of her works. Three of her watercolours will be on display.

Margery Fish was a horticultural journalist famous for popularising gardening for the masses after the war.

Vera Higgins was another botanical artist.

Beatrix Havergal, a horticulturist who was a member of the RHS Examinations Board for over 20 years. She started the Waterperry School of Horticulture for Women.

Margaret Mee, a conservationist and botanical artist famous for her trips to the Amazon rainforest.

Valerie Finnis, a plantswoman, alpine gardener and photographer.

Joyce Stewart who worked as a botanist in Africa, she was the first Sainsbury Orchid Fellow at Kew and went on to be Director of Horticulture at the RHS.

RHS Art Librarian, Charlotte Brooks, says: ‘These women are represented within the library collections by books, archives, original photographs and artworks, many received as valuable donations. We will be exhibiting 13 original items, including a wall paper design by Gertrude Jekyll and an unfinished field sketch from the Amazon by Margaret Mee.’