“The earth laughs in flowers.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
London is absolutely crammed full of markets, and they are one of the major reasons the city retains so much of its history and character so well. Anyone can go to the store and by cheap bread in a plastic bag. But how much better is it (both in personal experience and to keep the arts involved alive) is it to go to the local market and for the same price – and often cheaper! – buy a loaf of freshly baked bread made from someone’s family recipe at a market that has been operating on that site since the Middle Ages?
And it isn’t just for food, there are markets for vintage goods, antiques, textiles, homeopathic creations, confections, odds and ends, baubles, homemade or craft items, and just about anything else under the sun. The city is a smorgasbord of Really Cool Stuff!
One of its market gems is the Columbia Road Flower Market, open only on Sundays. The name is a bit of a misnomer because you can also buy stationary, antiques, and artisan goods along the shops that line the road, but the street itself is utterly taken over by vegetation on Sundays and it’s worth the visit. Europeans have a love of fresh flowers that I don’t see a lot of Americans sharing. A once or twice weekly purchase of some blooms to brighten one’s house is simply built into most people’s shopping lists.
The word “flower” is also slightly misleading. Yes you can get cut flowers here, by the absolute barrel full, but you can also get potted plants, ferns, succulents, shrubs, and whole trees as well. We admired a palm tree with a trunk the width of a tire, but moved along. I’m currently flirting shamelessly with the idea of bringing a small lemon tree indoors to shrink our already small flat (inspiration here), but on Sunday I settled for a pretty orchid to bring something living into the place. Our flat, in true British fashion, was painted before we moved in – absolutely every surface was whitewashed to a blinding degree and I’m trying to think up ways to make it feel less like a hospital!
There is every species of flower imaginable there, and it’s giving me grand ideas for a balcony garden, but in the meantime we just admired the sights, sounds, and glorious smells.
Back in the 19th century, the area of the market had turned into a rather bad slum and a philanthropist bought the area and established a market that didn’t last too long, but trading in the area persisted and today Columbia Road is a popular and well-beloved stop for weekend shopping. You can always tell who has been by the streams of people wandering towards the Overground station with arms full of brown-paper wrapped blooms.