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FLORAL ARTISTS: Above, Caroline Nolan of the South Dublin Flower Club, in her garden in Monkstown, Co Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

FLORAL ARTISTS: Above, Caroline Nolan of the South Dublin Flower Club, in her garden in Monkstown, Co Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

IF THE HAT FITS: Above, trailblazing florist Constance Spry

IF THE HAT FITS: Above, trailblazing florist Constance Spry

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FLORAL ARTISTS: Above, Caroline Nolan of the South Dublin Flower Club, in her garden in Monkstown, Co Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Flower arranging was once considered the suitable pastime of genteel upper-class ladies who oversaw their staff in entertaining and the running of the home for their wealthy husbands.

Indeed it is rather amusing to read in The Woman's Book, a 1935 household management guide for ladies, that "a florist's business is one admirably suitable for women of taste and refinement".

Even more amusingly, The Woman's Book advocates beekeeping as "an occupation which may be taken up by women of all classes and all ages ... who must bring their share of grist, however small, to the family mill".

One such lady of the time – who opened her first shop, Flower Decoration, in 1929 – was Constance Spry, who went on to become one of the best known names in the world of flower arranging.

Spry, it appears, was quite a gal and really way ahead of her time, and indeed there was a play in the West End last year based on her tempestuous life story.

With two husbands, a spell in Ireland in her earlier life, and a lesbian affair with the artist Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein), there was certainly plenty of material for a melodrama.

She totally upended the floral arranging rules from previously stiff formats to a wild artful world and was more likely to create table arrangements from rhubarb leaves or seed heads than traditional twee flowers. Doesn't that remind you of what we are seeing now as 'new' ideas?!

Spry also did the flowers for a number of royal weddings, including that of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1937. She later opened the Constance Spry Flower School, de rigueur for debutantes and young ladies of class to be 'finished off' with – not only a cordon bleu cookery course, but also one in flower arranging, so that they might make suitable wives and hostesses. This also led to the opening of Winkfield, a renowned domestic science school which she established with her friend Rosemary Hume.

Hume devised the popular coronation chicken recipe first prepared for the silver jubilee of George V in 1935.

The essence and beauty of flowers pervades and illuminates all of our lives and resonates in our being. Perhaps your first encounter with flowers was as a tiny flower girl clutching a posy behind the bride, or more simply threading daisies on your back lawn.

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Do you remember your first corsage going to a formal dance, or the first time a lover sent you red roses?

We cannot look at red poppies but think of the dead of the Great War, or of Princess Diana when we see white lilies.

We use flowers for saying we love or appreciate someone, for expressing our sympathy, for saying we are sorry, or just simply to brighten up our homes.

I am of the type to go out into the garden and pull off huge colourful foliage and stick it in anything I can find – which would probably give flower arrangers a heart attack, but thankfully not everyone is like me.

Caroline Nolan is a member of the South Dublin Flower Club, which has over 100 members. Her interest in flower arranging started over 20 years ago.

"I am a gardener anyway, so I enjoy that aspect of things," she says. "I went to a lady who was doing a floral arranging class and I decided this was for me.

"I then went to Carol Bone, in Bray, who is a wonderful floral teacher and arranger. She decorates Farmleigh before Christmas and she also did Dublin Castle last year. It was just fascinating to see how good she is – and she is a great, great teacher.

"At that point, I then joined the South Dublin Flower Club, which is magnificent. There are several flower clubs around Ireland, with a huge number in Dublin. We compete in competitions once a month. If you want to go further, you can sit exams to become a demonstrator or judge."

Caroline says her preference is for the traditional form of flower arranging.

"I like to decorate my house in traditional style because my house lends itself to that, but contemporary is also beautiful. Ikebana [the art of Japanese flower arranging] is gorgeous as well."

Caroline says a lot of people in the flower clubs have travelled abroad to visit exhibitions. She herself went with the club to Holland and Belgium.

"A few years ago we went to Bruges, which was a sight to behold. The floral artistry event there is held in the winter. The snow was deep outside. I would recommend anybody to go and see it, it's incredible," she says.

This week is going to be incredibly busy for Caroline as she will be giving all of her time to the upcoming World Flower Show 2014, which takes place from June 18-22 at the RDS, Dublin. This is being organised by the World Association of Flower Arrangers (WAFA), a not-for-profit organisation.

President Michael D Higgins will perform the official opening in the presence of ambassadors of many of the participating countries.

This is the first time Ireland has hosted this spectacular event, which is expected to draw 20,000 people and generate €10m for the local economy.

The World Flower Show is held every three years in one of the member countries of the WAFA.

Over the four days, 600 leading floral artists from all 31 member countries will compete at the highest level. Delegates are expected from as far afield as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Uruguay and Pakistan, as well as Northern Ireland and the UK.

The packed programme includes floral demonstrations by leading Irish and international specialists, including Jane Godshalk, faculty member of Longwood Gardens, one of the finest botanical gardens in the US.

There are many Irish demonstrators displaying their skills including Joan Lockhart, Olive O'Shea, Brid Coonan, Diane Gallagher, James Burnside and Una Fleming, and also many international demonstrators including the likes of Francine Thomas from New Zealand, David Yearwood from Barbados, Les Brent from South Africa, Magda Trucchi from Italy and Jonathan Mosely from the UK.

There are many fascinating lectures to hear, including that of Seamus O'Brien on the famous Irish plantsman Augustine Henry.

Geologist Professor George Sevastopulo will talk about the Burren, while Dr Jennifer Goff, curator of the Eileen Gray collection at the National Museum of Ireland, will talk on Eileen Gray, the great Irish modernist designer, focusing on her work – including her lacquer ware, furniture design and architectural projects.

There will also be lectures on the trees and landscapes of the Phoenix Park by John McCullen PhD, former chief park superintendent with the Office of Public Works, as well as a talk on Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone, 'Free Spirits in Irish Art', by Dr Sighle Breathnach-Lynch, art historian and writer.

The RDS Industries Hall will host trade stands of Irish and international exhibitors ranging from floral art accessories and jewellery to Irish crafts and foods.

There will be a lot to see, do and learn, at the World Flower Show.

This a great meeting of nations, all with a love for floral artistry, who will also be coming together to break bread at their Gala Banquet, which takes place on Saturday next, June 21, at the Burlington Hotel on Upper Leeson Street.

Bring flowers of the rarest, bring blossoms the fairest ...

www.wafaireland.com


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