On Sundays, the streets of Bethnal Green erupt in an impromptu parade of love in all its forms. On every road, couples, friends and families cling to bouquets of flowers. It’s something I’ve noticed many times, wondering where everyone gets their paper-wrapped wisteria from, but until last Sunday, I hadn’t made my way to the source.
After lazily driving around and checking my phone on Sunday morning, I saw a message from a friend: “Let’s go to the Columbia Road Flower Market.” The market is no big secret in London but for someone who grew up outside the city it was an eye opener. We took the bus to Barnet Grove and walked about ten minutes to the iconic road.
If you’re looking for the Columbia Road Flower Market and think you’re lost, you probably are. You’ll know if you’re in the right zone because everyone around you will be wearing a brown paper cone and looking pleased with themselves. The walk to the market is as beautiful as the market itself and great for people watching.
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A couple awkwardly tried to navigate holding hands and holding their clusters; two friends with matching electric orange hair snapped photos of each other jumping in the sun as they desperately clutched their hydrangeas; a woman seated on a bench was methodically arranging a bouquet to match the delicate blue of her dress.
I could have been in a Wes Anderson movie. Every person around me felt like a main character with their flowers. Taking my place on set, I made my way to the storefronts of stalls selling everything from potted lemon trees to dried “immortal” flowers.
The flowers were about the same price, if not a bit cheaper, than most supermarket flowers. Bouquets of ‘eternal flowers’ in pastel colors cost £7.50 each or three for £20. Bouquets of tulips poked their heads behind a £6 sign and massive sunflowers almost hid a £7.50 prize under their petals.
On either side of the street, shop owners left their doors open for shoppers wanting a brief respite from the crowds. Cafes opened their windows and encouraged passers-by to line up for everything from pistachio hot chocolate to crispy fried prawns. I had come with a purpose, however, and I couldn’t be distracted: I wasn’t going home without buying myself flowers.
Halfway down the road, I fell in love. Electric blue and pink chrysanthemums (obviously dyed but after the number of times I’ve dyed my hair I’m not judging), called me and I responded immediately handing over £10. When the woman behind the stand asked me if I wanted them wrapped, I said “definitely”. I wanted to fit in with the other market visitors, after all.
Once I got my flowers, I could step back and take it all in – The different types of buyers (obvious newbies like me, and experts who come in every week) and the different types of sellers (screaming showmen for customers and posed back-salespeople who had to be persuaded from their seat to make a sale). It was a scene full of character and color.
When I left, it was finally my turn to join the parade. I proudly held my brown paper wrapper, not even caring that it completely hid the flowers, and walked into the sun. I felt like a main character and everything was very romantic…until I realized I couldn’t carry the flowers in my hand all day and started using a Tesco bag as a carrier. Not as “Wes Anderson” as I would have liked.
Now my chrysanthemums stand proudly on my glass dining room table, adding life to my tower apartment. Every time I look at them, I smile. Every time my boyfriend looks at them, he sneezes – but frankly, that’s his problem. My rainbow flowers take center stage for as long as possible. A gift from me to myself.