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Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road Flower Market is a unique London experience. It treats your nose with a smell of tulips and hyacinths and your ears with the loud chanting of "Everythin' a fiver!" from tough flower salesmen.

On Sunday, Columbia Road Flower Market occupies the small Columbia Road in the east end, sitting on the edge of the city with Shoreditch to the west and Brick Lane and Spitalfields nearby. It starts at 8am and closes around 3pm. 

As you walk along the lazy, sleepy streets from Bethnal Green or Old Street, you would never guess the liveliness that awaits you around the corner.

Columbia Road is incredibly busy with people enjoying lovely sunny mornings, sipping coffee from Italian delis (including coffee from East London Gwilym Davies, UK barista champion of 2009), stopping by garden and antique shops before joining the crowd to make their way between the rows of flower stalls. (Check out some market tips from Time Out.)

 

Hardy flower salesmen

Smells of lavender and rosemary overcome you, along with the bright tulips and a wall of shining fragile orchids. Standing behind it all is a hardy, bald salesman, who looks like he should be trading meat. He holds his orchids gently, along with the confident knowledge that the tiny branches will never break in his hands.

Barrow boys here use the oldest way of advertising by shouting and chanting with various British accents: "Everythin' a fiver" and “50 Tulips 10 pounds! Lovely tulip!”

Some even become creative: “We sell quality, look we have a queue here, because we’ve not stolen from Marks and Spencers. That is quality!”

Some of the salesmen have been here for more than 20 years, hidden behind lovely barricades of flowers in their Barbour jackets.

 

Flowering business

Columbia Flower Market has a rich history dating back a couple of centuries. The flower market began as a Saturday trading market, but as the Jewish population grew, a Sunday market was established.

The Saturday market lapsed, but the flower market evolved, serving the needs of the local population, many of whom live in houses with small gardens.
Surviving the period of the district decline, the flower market started growing again in the 1980s and now attracts not only locals, but also a great number of London visitors from all around the world. 

Coming back to smell, Columbia Road flower market enables you to breathe in the great British passion for gardening. Hundreds of flower scents merge gently and you can intuitively feel them in the air on a bright morning poured with sunlight. Then all the scents come together to form the smell of spring.

Words and images by Anastasiia Fedorova

Visit Columbia Road Flower Market, Columbia Road, London, E2 7RG (020 7364 1717). Open Sundays from 8am – 3pm.
http://columbiaroad.info/
Nearest tube stations: Shoreditch High Street (London Overground) and Bethnal Green (Central line).

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