With the coronation of King Charles III fast approaching, we thought we would answer the question that you’ve probably never asked (but which is very timely): what connects flowers, a famous sandwich filling and a coronation? The answer – and a handy bit of knowledge for all pub quiz fans – is high society florist Constance Spry.
After moving to London and discovering a flair for floristry, Constance very quickly became recognised as a game-changer. Following her mantra of ‘Do what you please, follow your own star; be original if you want to be’, she quickly broke from the traditional yet dated flower displays of the day, marrying a horticulturist’s knowledge of plants with an artist’s flair for decoration.
Having opened an independent florist shop in London in 1929, Constance’s flair for flowers led to her becoming the florist of choice for the elite, including numerous members of the Royal Family. Stock from her own garden was supplemented by flowers from Covent Garden, and a dedicated team of artists – thought to be where the term floral artist was first coined – was recruited to cope with the increasing volume of orders.
In 1952 Constance received the most important commission of her career, to oversee the floral decorations at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II the following year. This meant not only decorating Westminster Abbey but also the ceremonial route from Buckingham Palace, for which crates of flowers from across the Commonwealth were requested.
Chrysanthemums to chickens
Before the second world war, Constance had been famous for her flower-arranging courses and Rosemary Hume for her cooking school, attached to her restaurant, Au Petit Cordon Bleu. After the war, they joined forces to open the Cordon Bleu school in London and Berkshire (which taught flower-arranging as well as cooking).
Never one to turn down a challenge, Constance and Rosemary volunteered to cook lunch at the coronation! And, as you’ve probably guessed, this is where Constance’s most famous design – Coronation Chicken – was developed. Otherwise known as Chicken Elizabeth, the dish was invented to feed the 300 dignitaries entertained at the Queen’s coronation.
Back to flowers for the coronation
In 1953, for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, Constance and her team used over 10,000 flowers to decorate the altar, the choir stalls, the nave, and other parts of Westminster Abbey, featuring roses, carnations and chrysanthemums, among many others. The coronation bouquet was made up of white orchids and lilies of the valley – flowers that may well feature in the coronation of King Charles on May 6th – although the actual details of the flowers to be used will be closely guarded until the big day.
If you’re looking to decorate your home for a coronation party or explore gifting options for your host over the long weekend, Direct2florist has loads of flower arrangements fit for royalty! Click here to find a florist near you.
Constance Spry's Original Coronation Chicken Recipe
Invented by high society florist, Constance Spry, and her business associate Rosemary Hume, this ‘Chicken Elizabeth’ recipe is much tastier than the bog-standard everyday chicken, mayonnaise and curry powder versions you will have come across – and could make the perfect dish for a coronation feast.
Ingredients (Serves 8):
1) Skin the chicken and cut into small pieces and grill it until cooked.
2) In a small saucepan, heat the oil, add the onion and cook for about three minutes, until softened.
3) Add the curry paste, tomato purée, wine, bay leaf and lemon juice.
4) Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes until well reduced.
5) Strain and leave to cool.
6) Purée the chopped apricot halves in a blender or food processor or through a sieve.
7) Beat the cooled sauce into the mayonnaise with the apricot purée.
8) Whip the cream to stiff peaks and fold into the mixture.
9) Season, adding a little extra lemon juice if necessary.
10) Fold in the chicken pieces, garnish with watercress and serve.
By Austin Clark 25 April 2023