“Three bunches for a tenner, come on darling, spring has come. Tulips three for a tenner,” sings a cockney holding out the custard yellow, red-veined flowers.
Climbers and ferns march down Columbia Road, East London’s Sunday flower market, carried by families and Shoreditch’s youth, and every so often a potted evergreen brushes against a face. Boxes of bulbs are lined up in rows waiting to be sold, with names like Dutch Iris, Peasant’s Eyes, Sir Winston Churchill and Lilac Wonder.
The smell of almond croissants and ground coffee from surrounding cafes, with the occasional hint of cigarette smoke, overpowers the scent of roses and chrysanthemums, while from the herb stall sage, mint, rosemary and oregano spice fragrant the cold January air. The trader has every type of thyme on offer, orange thyme, creeping red thyme, lemon thyme, Peter Davis thyme. “Yes, I make my own thyme,” he grins.
Burnt orange and lilac Birds of Paradise stand out among the many daffs and carnations filling the flower buckets. “Come on you greedy lot, wholesale price, two bunches for a fiver, two for a bluey,” a parrot-like voice shouts. Bicycle bells and motorcycle engines rev on nearby streets, and the faint sound of music from a group of Victorian themed buskers who are playing the harmonica, banjo and keyboard as they sing in a thick Essex dialect.
The crowd at the market speak in different tongues – French, Italian, Spanish and Chinese can be heard, a mix of cultural soil at the Sunday market. Traders list their encyclopaedic horticultural knowledge, “What are you looking for miss, Dendrobiums? Rhododendrons, Araucaria or Lupins? I have everything you need here.” Here are lilies ready to burst, there snake plants with waxy leaves that stand rigid, there furry Christmas cactus, cotton-bud pussy willow and sticks of chilli plants.
The market traders shout out the day’s football results to each other while wrapping the bunches in brown paper, and the sound of pulling sellotape and cashing change adds music to every sale made. East End trendies in fur jackets and flat caps poise their SLRs at stands spilling with Hollyhocks, bunches of lavender, hyacinths and amaryllis lying in boxes with stems four inches wide.
The air is bitter and still, with grey clouds covering the tops of the pitched market tents. Spilled soil colours the concrete road with dismembered twigs and leaves scattered on the ground. Metal stands wheeling across the emptying road clatter as unsold flowers make their way back to the vans. “The last of the tulips,” shouts a young, bright-eyed trader. “Yes, no? My last tulips for you.”
By Krystena Petrakas. Photo by kiwi vic under a CC licence