For the longest time, Constance Spry was “only” a rose to me, albeit my favorite rose. I know growers name their roses after family members and famous people, but I never really wondered if Constance was the former or the latter. I just knew I loved her. I don’t remember why I fell in love with her, but I can tell you I’ve yet to fall out of love with her. I first planted Constance when I was a young — in my mid-20s — inexperienced gardener figuring out my first landscape design; all I really knew about gardening back then was what my Dad had taught me. And he was an expert vegetable gardener!
Well, Constance Spry is renowned grower David Austin’s very first (1961) cultivated English rose. I probably read that in a Wayside Gardens catalog, one of the few catalogs way back then that offered exquisite photos and detailed information on plants it had on offer; I learned a ton about plants from reading the Wayside catalog. What I don’t think I read is that Mr. Austin named his rose after a renowned English floral designer who came into her own in her 40s (more on that later)!
Constance Spry the rose is pink and ruffled, kinda like a peony bloom; when she’s in bloom she releases a strong myrrh scent that makes me swoon-y when I walk by! Now Constance blooms only once during the growing season (typically in June in Northern New Jersey). But for those few short weeks when she is in bloom no other rose can compare, at least in my opinion. If I had more fenceline available, I’d plant another Constance Spry. Fall is coming and it’s the best time (at least in my area) to plant bare-root roses (the only kind I plant) for a great bloom the following summer. If you’re looking for a sprawl-y strongly scented rose to grace your fenceline, please consider her!
When we moved I had to leave Constance behind. I swear she lifted her lanky limbs in a final salute as I drove away. And why not? We had the perfect relationship: In exchange for me keeping her relatively neatly contained and her roots shaded and well fed, Constance bloomed reliably and non-stop for weeks, all the while graciously masking about 20′ of an ugly 6′ tall stockade fence. I swore I would buy and plant another Constance Spry at our new home. And I did.
Stay with me here, okay?
About a year ago, Ree Drummond, aka Pioneer Woman, recommended a magazine to her readers who are interested in floral design; I’d never heard of Flower before, but as a floral designer and all-around flower person, I decided to take Ree’s advice and subscribe. The magazine is gorgeous — it includes lush floral designs, interesting articles, pretty (yes, pretty) ads and is printed on high-quality paper. I love to flip through back issues right before my Garden Club floral competitions; the pages are a source of inspiration.
As I was reading through the Spring 2012 issue I saw an article on Constance Spry. So yes, Mr. Austin named his first cultivated English rose after a legendary 20th century floral designer. Constance, the woman, revolutionized floral design when she mixed humble stripped-down branches and “common” foliage like hops and wild clematis with exotics of the day like orchids. An amateur floral designer at first, Constance introduced a modern approach to design that focused on the simple beauty of nature. Constance went on to found a floral design school and author books on the subject. Two of her most memorable commissions were the flowers for the marriage of commoner Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor in 1937 and the flowers for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The article mentioned a 2010 biography written by Sue Shepherd about Constance Spry. I plan to purchase it and learn more about the woman behind my favorite rose!
Do you have a favorite rose? A must-have in your garden? Is it named after someone famous? Let me know!