I’ve been going to New Covent Garden for years to buy flowers wholesale: my mother used to arrange flowers for weddings, and she would often drive down from Northamptonshire the night before to stay with me, so that I could give her a hand at 5am at the market.
We’d buy a carload of flowers, sundries and greenery before retiring to the (now sadly closed) cafe in a tiny room up on the gallery overlooking the halls for a full English and cups of tea so strong you could practically feel the hairs growing on your chest.
Now that I often have gigs that require me to provide and design the flowers, I frequently find myself there at 530am to choose the flowers I need. I’m based in Camden in North London, and the 6 mile journey to Nine Elms, in between Vauxhall and Battersea where the flower market moved to from Covent Garden in 1974, could take anything up to an hour in traffic, but takes a blissful twenty minutes tops first thing.
It costs £5 to enter the site, and you can park right next to the Flower Market. (Make sure you head to the flower market, and not the wholesale fruit and veg one on the same site.)
The Flower Market’s core trading hours are 04:00 – 10:00 Monday to Saturday, but do check if there is anyone specific you are heading to as not all wholesalers are open on Saturday. Although there are flowers as far as the eye can see, some of the more desirable or unusual flowers sell out quickly so it is worth getting there as early as you can face. Prices quoted are ex-VAT, which will be added when you pay, and flowers like tulips aren’t sold in bunches but in wraps of five bunches.
A couple of weeks back I went to buy the flowers for the Nespresso consumer press event at John Lewis that I designed. I bought these flowers above – a huge wrap of parrot tulips for another job, and the roses, spray roses, ranunculi and narcissi and, along with some veronica,
a huge bunch of rosemary and one of eucalyptus from the greenery wholesaler, turned them into the designs below.
Although in this case, I knew I had a grey tablecloth and red coffee machines, so was looking for reds, pinks, oranges, and creams, I haven’t always decided on my colour scheme before I arrive.
Although I have my favourite wholesaler from whom I generally buy nearly everything, I like to walk around the entire site to see if anyone has anything exciting, and often plan my designs on the hoof, depending on the colours and flowers that I see.
For the Nespresso event I hadn’t planned on making plate decorations, but came across the most beautiful long stemmed orange and red roses. I bought a dozen and bound a stem of rosemary to them with wired raffia (also bought from the market).
In the twenty or so years that I’ve been going there the market has changed dramatically. There are probably only 50% of the flower traders there – the huge Dutch wholesale vans that sell direct to florists have taken a lot of trade and vast amounts of space are now taken up by event supplies.
If you want a silver dinosaur table centre you will find one here.
There are also more sundries suppliers in the main hall, rather than tucked away under the galleries – these are where you buy everything floristry-related: the little notecards to slip into delivery arrangements, Oasis of every size and shape, thorn strippers, secateurs, wire, raffia, flower paper, glue guns, tissue paper and so on.
One of the great changes is that, thanks to florists like Vic Brotherson at Scarlet & Violet, you can now buy more long stem herbs, spray roses, and pretty English country garden flowers, along with the more traditional offerings.
Of course flowers from the market aren’t prepped in the way they are when you buy from a flower shop or stall. It takes a few hours to strip and cut all the stems, and remove thorns. (Below are the wonderful orange and red roses I bought for the plate decorations.)
Then it’s a good drink, plunged in flower buckets for at least 24hours, and preferably 48, to allow the flowers to open. (Especially if I am using anemones or ranunculi.)