I have a thing for flowers. Of course, that is a pretty obvious phenomenon as women usually love their flowers but for me, I connect with flowers on a “Soul” level if that term can every be associated in such a manner.
The bright colours, the cheery innocence lying behind every flower, the subtle aromas, the soft feel of the petals stir an emotion that does not really have a word for me. The immediate calm upon touching a flower and the sudden happiness experienced is absolutely incomparable to anything else.
So, when I came across a note about a flower market in London in my Lonely Planet book, it seemed unforgivable to miss this out. Nestled away in a narrow lane in London is the Columbia Road flower market that regularly pops up only on Sundays during the summers.
Armed with my trusted travel book, my camera and a friend on hand who shared my enthusiasm for hunting down a flower market, we set out on an otherwise relaxed Sunday to track the place down during my last visit to London. A couple of train changes and about a couple of kilometres spent walking from the station – mostly because we got lost around the area, we came to a sign that finally pointed to Columbia road lane. My friend did suggest using maps on her phone but I sort of bullied her into finding the route the traditional way and asking people and looking around on our own instead of depending on technology. After all, that’s where the adventure is of travelling.
Once on track, we trudged in the direction of the market hoping that the experience is worth the few kilometres we had trekked to reach there.
Stepping foot into the market, it was chaos…Chaos of the most wonderful kind I could ever have imagined. The sights, the smells and the aura completely took over my mind leaving absolutely no space for any further thoughts. To my right, I saw buckets of tulips in hues of pink, red and yellows. To my left, masses of roses in pale romantic shades of baby pink, powder yellow and pure white. I felt like a kid loose in a candy store for a day!
Moving further down the market lane, focus set in. It was time to get down to business. Of course it was pointless purchasing anything as I was scheduled to return back on the same day but it was an exercise in testing my will-power. Cheery Geraniums became visible from the first few stores in varieties of colors such as magenta, coral and white followed by a vendor marketing tall spikes of Delphiniums in the trademarked colors of purple and white.
Another personal favourite – the Lupins were seen in pots for sale. The bright pinks and lavender hues of the flowers merged beautifully with their bottle green leaves that were an absolute delight.
Another surprising addition to the list of plants found there were the Fuschias – better known locally as the “earring plant” (as they resemble earrings). These are traditionally found only in tropical climatic zones but I guess there are takers for these wonderful creepers in the summer months in the UK.
Hydrangeas were seen in plenty in the market. These are not a personal favourite but then again – they survive well in the climate there and possibly are a local favourite with many residents there.
Orchids were very few in variants with only the common varieties of Phalaenopsis were seen. I would have loved for some more exotic ones to be present for sale in the market but with the difficulties in maintaining and propagating orchids, I guess it possibly would not have been a viable option there.
Some of the more interesting and unexpected varieties of plants up for sale were the Allium species – better known as Onion and Garlic plants in their full flowering state. Believe me, these are beautiful and are also used in lots of cuisines for their subtle sulfury taste. In fact, I have been growing them in my windowsill garden with decent success.
Another unexpected species that caught immediate attention were the poppies. Not the actual flowers but the buds. It is extremely rare to find poppy plants where I come from but these were fantastic. The closed buds resembling something out of a fairy tale garden were an absolute stunner.
Amidst all the bursts of colours, something soft caught my eye lying on the bottommost racks in one of the shops. Soft pastel hues of lavender, powder pink and white peeked out from amidst small planters. These were the beautiful soft sweet pea flowers – one of the softest looking flowers present in the flower kingdom.
Apart from all the flower species being marketed, herbs such as Tarragon, basil, chives, mint, bay leaves and many more and small vegetable plants such as tomatoes and chillies were available as well. I did spot someone selling Jalapeno plants too.
The most heartbreaking part was visiting such a beautiful market and not being able to buy anything. I was scheduled to return on a flight back in the evening on the same day and it would have been impossible to take back the plants back home. It was almost like heartache – falling in love with these beautiful things and leaving all of them behind and going back. However, the comforting fact was that my friend who had accompanied me did went overboard buying all the wonderful stuff there with a little bit of persuasion from me. I was really happy I could at least buy something – if not for me but for my friend who was equally overjoyed with her picks for the day.
Bargaining was pointless for plants or flowers in the early part of the day just when the market was starting business. However, as we came to the end of the market, we saw almost every plant up for auction as the only aim at the end of the day for these people was ensuring all their produce got sold.
We were an absolute sight leaving the market. My friend and me were literally dragging all the bags filled with the wonderful stuff and wondering how would we ever make it back to her place with these goodies. But where there’s a will, there is a way. We managed to get everything to the station where she was to part ways with me and from there on, she got another friend to help her with the stuff.
The experience of looking out for such markets, hunting them down and the journey of exploring these locations are self-enriching ones. These experiences throw light on how people work, their trade, their life and most important, the local culture of the place. While some may be good ones, a few experiences may not be so fruitful but then again, every journey teaches something.