|Birth: ||Apr. 11, 1906, England|
|Death: ||Nov. 1, 2010, England|
Lady Seton, who died on November 1 aged 104, was – as Julia Clements – the high priestess of flower arranging, writing some 20 bestselling books on the subject and passing on her expertise as a teacher, lecturer and international judge.
It has been said that Julia Clements alone was responsible for introducing two million women worldwide to the art of flower arranging. The author Beverley Nichols once described her as "the head of a vast salvation army in which souls are saved through the medium of flowers".
She was born Gladys Agnes Clements in Kent on April 10 1906, the eldest child of a marine engineer whose work during the Great War took him to the Isle of Wight. His death in 1916, probably from overwork, left Gladys's mother with seven young children to bring up, and she started a small laundry business on the island to support the family.
After leaving her local school at 14, Gladys wanted to travel, and initially applied to P&O for a post on a ship going around the world. As the eldest child, however, her departure was discouraged – although her mother did allow her to go to Belgium, where she learned French at Zwicker College. She subsequently worked as secretary to the Waterloo golf club in Belgium and – after her mother moved the family to Beckenham – had jobs in London with Helena Rubinstein and Unilever.
Gladys Clements then turned her hand to freelance writing. In April 1931 she and a man called Richard Cole travelled in a small motor dinghy from Westminster Pier to Brussels and back – a 700-mile round trip, some of it by river and canal. "We found the Belgians very keen outboardists," she reported in a magazine article a few weeks later. "They were certainly amazed at the stability of our craft and the easy starting of the engine."
On the return journey, rough seas prevented the pair from leaving Calais for almost a week. Eventually, despite the continuing bad weather, they set off for Dover, completing the fastest Channel crossing to date by a B class craft. As they made their way back to London around the south-east coast they ran aground in dense fog in Pegwell Bay.
In the Second World War she worked for the Red Cross Agricultural Fund, and on the return of peace joined the staff of the pocket magazine My Garden. "I lived on a knife-edge financially," she later recalled. Neither was her personal life particularly happy at this time. Her first marriage, to Jimmy Sharp, broke down during the war years, and their only child had been stillborn.
Gladys Clements might have continued penning obscure magazine articles but for a sequence of events in 1947 that changed her life. It began when she was invited to America to address a luncheon at the International Flower Show in New York. Wearing a blouse she had created from some torn net curtains, she gave her talk – to an affluent, beautifully dressed audience of women who knew nothing of the constraints of rationing.
On her return to Britain she was asked to speak to the Kent Area Women's Institute about her trip to the United States, where she had given a number of other talks. As she surveyed the dowdily-attired audience in front of her, she tore up her prepared script and instead encouraged them to take up flower arranging. As she later explained, for seven years British women had had "no means to be creative with furnishings, their clothes, food or their homes".
She went on: "It was a burning desire to help war-weary women find themselves with something more positive, and flowers came to me as they were easily available and not on coupons." At the time she was a complete novice: "Although I had never arranged flowers before, I remembered the simple arrangements that I had seen in America, and, pillaging a bowl of flowers on the table for material, made a very simple 'one-two-three' arrangement – tall, medium and short on outline, focal interest and fill-in. I kept stressing to the women in the audience that they could do this themselves – even in winter with branch, leaves and cones – and I saw the light come into their eyes. Afterwards I was surrounded by women asking me to come and speak to their groups, and I knew this was what I was meant to do."
Julia Clements (the name she used professionally for the rest of her life) set about reading gardening magazines and books about colour and design; she visited the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gardens every weekend and attended its lectures at Wisley and in London: "Eventually, by trail and error, I formed a method for getting it across to others and created the terms which are still used today."
By the early 1950s Julia Clements was working 14 hours a day seven days a week, writing, lecturing and organising flower arranging festivals. She toured provincial towns and cities with the television presenter Katie Boyle in a show called How To Be a Good Hostess. At venues around the country, Julia Clements demonstrated flower arrangements while Marguerite Patten demonstrated cooking. At the end of each presentation, she encouraged the formation of a local flower club.
"I realised that I simply could not meet the demand by myself," she later said, "and so I organised a course at the RHS in London for 100 women whom I taught to teach others. I produced a leaflet called How to Form a Flower Club and set up a school for judges to set out guidelines for competitions."
Flower arranging clubs sprang up across the country, and in 1959 they were affiliated under the umbrella organisation NAFAS (National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies).
Julia Clements's influence was equally important internationally, where she became famous as a lecturer and as a judge of floral art. She travelled to the Paris and Ghent Floralies as well as to Italy, Monte Carlo (she was close friend of Princess Grace of Monaco), New York, Chicago, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Central America, Russia and India. In all these places clubs were established at her instigation.
She acted as a flower arrangement judge both for NAFAS and for the RHS, of which she was also a fellow. She had three roses named after her: the Julia Clements, Lady Seton and Julia's Rose – the last of which won the gold medal at the World Congress of Roses in 1983.
She was appointed OBE in 1989, and in 1974 received the RHS's highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour.
Julia Clements continued to contribute to a variety of publications, among them Popular Gardening, for which she wrote a column for 12 years, and Garden News. She also frequently appeared on radio and television.
Her publications, which have sold more than a million copies worldwide, include Fun with Flowers; Fun without Flowers; 101 Ideas for Flower Arrangement; Party Pieces; Flower Arranging for All Occasions; Flower Arrangements in Stately Homes; Julia Clements' Gift Book of Flower Arranging; Flowers in Praise; The Art of Arranging a Flower; and an autobiography, published in 1993, My Life with Flowers.
She was president of the London and Overseas Association of Flower Arrangement Societies, and life vice-president of NAFAS. In 2009, aged 103, she was guest of honour at the Festival of Flowers in Westminster Abbey to celebrate the 50th anniversary of NAFAS.
Julia Clements had no interest in money and never bought a property, living in the same rented flat in Chelsea for many years. Her favourite flower was the peony.
Her second husband, Sir Alexander Hay Seton, 10th Bt, whom she married in 1962, died the following year; there were no children.
Created by: K
Record added: Apr 13, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 88458925
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