Columbia Road Flower Market is a rite of passage for Londoners, whether you grew up in the capital or have become an honorary Londoner like me.
Well into my sixth year living here, it shouldn’t have taken me so long to visit. But as with many things in our sprawling capital, you don’t often go there until it’s on your doorstep.
As I can now see the market from the window of my new apartment, it was finally time to visit it and see what it was all about.
I had been to independent high street shops since moving in, delighted to buy from a small cheese shop where they really care about what they sell, and have my reusable wine refilled at Borough Wines, for a great price like while being environmentally conscious.
Since non-essential stores were allowed to reopen on April 12, I had also enjoyed ‘In Bloom’ and its sister shop ‘In Habit’ – heavens for those looking for quirky homewares, multicolored candlesticks and a plethora pot plants.
So I was intrigued and a bit apprehensive about going to the market, knowing that what I would find would be miles away from the quiet, cobbled street I had come to know since arriving here.
The market reopened on Sunday April 18, but with the queue stretching into hundreds and hundreds of people, I was quickly on my way home.
This time, I decided to join him, hoping he would move on quickly.
I joined the queue around 1:30pm, thinking it would be gone by then, as it closes at 2pm.
I was wrong. It was still absolutely huge, but I was hoping it would go fast.
Ten minutes of waiting later, I was in.
Immediately, two things were clear.
First, there was no social distancing, despite a one-way system and restrictions on how many people could be in the market at the same time. Two, I was going to like it here.
The prices are very good. Three succulents for £12? Yes please.
As I walked down the famous road, enjoying the houseplants, flowers and bedding plants – I wish I had a garden and my boyfriend hadn’t already filled every shelf and mantel with plants.
There are so many choices and at such reasonable prices. Pampas, which sells online for £10 a stem, was on sale here at three stems for £10.
I decided to take this trip as a bit of recreation, taking everything into account, before returning next week with the knowledge to strike some good deals.
If a bargain is what you’re looking for, I think going late like I did is the way to go. Standing outside a flower stall at 1.50pm I saw someone buying a bouquet of beautiful pink roses for £10.
Within two minutes the price had been reduced, first to two for £15, then to five per bouquet.
You could easily make a beautiful gift bouquet, mixing three different types of flowers and foliage for £15 – much cheaper than what’s offered by somewhere like Bloom & Wild online, where you’ll get the same sort of thing for around £40.
Plus, it’s wrapped in the brand’s brown paper – eco-friendly and bold.
As an Essex-born woman whose family grew up in the East End, hearing the calls from market vendors “My grandmother grew them in her housing estate in Rainham” meant I felt right at home.
There were also plenty of dogs to see, enjoying the atmosphere, adding to the fun of the day.
Plus, with pastries and coffees as good as the Pavilions, it’s the perfect and quintessential day out in East London.
I would have liked to see more people wearing masks inside, or fewer people admitted at a time – but at least there was the benefit of fresh air.
Obviously my aforementioned plant-obsessed boyfriend couldn’t leave empty-handed, and we got this guy for our new ‘cactus shelf’ for just £8. It was originally on sale for £15 but was slightly damaged so the price has been nicely halved.
Warts and all, we think it’s beautiful.
To get to the market, head to Hoxton or Shoreditch High Street Station, Bethnal Green Underground or take the 26, 48 or 55 bus.
The Columbia Road Flower Market takes place every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.