Cressida Bonas

The joy of defying convention

The joy of defying convention
(Photo: Getty)
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I have a new love in my life; Budgie, a miniature dachshund. After collecting our little friend from Kent, she has taken over the house. I am preoccupied with how to keep her entertained. I talk about her as if she were my child. My google search history includes “tips for surviving the first 30 days with a new puppy, bonding with my pooch and how do I know if I’m becoming a dog bore?” We go out to dinner for the first time in months. Our conversation centres around how soft Budgie’s ears are and how many poos she has done that day. The topic changes course when the fastidious looking couple sitting at the next-door table roll their eyes.

The lockdown puppy craze has given rise to the latest breed of organised crime. I meet a lady in the park who tells me that a man leapt out from behind a bush, snatched her poodle and went off in a waiting van leaving her devastated. I now walk in the park looking out for shifty people lurking behind trees. No wonder we are dodging dognappers when the price of puppies has more than doubled during lockdown. 'Per square centimetre sausage dogs are currently the most expensive pieces of livestock in the country' my dad unhelpfully jokes. 'How to avoid the puppy mafia?' – Google search.

In an attempt to escape ‘puppyland,’ I deliver Budgie to my delighted nieces for the morning and head off into the world of Constance Spry - the new exhibition at The Garden Museum celebrating the 20th century’s most influential floral decorator. I am fortunate to have a guided tour with the curator – floral designer and writer, Shane Connolly. Spry was a passionate advocate for British grown, seasonal flowers. She radicalised the art of floristry which she discovered through her love of gardening. Never confined by tradition and rules, she defied convention in all areas of her life (she turned to floristry professionally in her 40’s – a brave move for a single woman living at that time).

She broke moulds by seeing the beauty in overlooked plants such as weeds and turning them into arrangements that were far from ordinary. Being inspired by the imperfect, she taught people how to cultivate beauty in all its forms. It takes me back to our lockdown wedding where we chose cow parsley and field flowers to surround the altar, rather than the all too familiar traditional blooms.

This treasure of an exhibition gives an intimate insight into her extraordinary life through access to her personal archives. Spry worked hard and refused to be defined in a time where women’s lives were often marked out for them. She taught women about floristry and cooking, not to confine them to the home but to liberate them. She was a very modern woman. Understanding Constance Spry has shown me how much strength and dynamism can come from having mastered a gentle art. Her work is timeless. I hope many more people will head to the Garden Museum.

I listen to Emma Barnett, another inspirational woman, every morning on radio 4. She recently came on my podcast, Fear Itself, to talk about her new book, Period. It’s About Bloody Time. It’s funny, moving and timely now that the subject is being spoken about. It seems that from shame women have avoided talking about what is just simply natural. Barnett’s stories of excruciating menstrual cramps, the lonely journey around trying for a baby and IVF hurdles will undoubtably help other women feel less alone. Perhaps we don’t have to hide tampons behind our backs and whisper period chat as if it’s a dark secret. I can’t help but draw a correlation between what Emma talks about and how Constance Spry lived. This week both of these women have helped me consider the importance of embracing all these feminine attributes.

Listen to Cressida Bonas's podcast Fear Itself here