Well, this time it was raining. Would it be empty? Would there be any stallholders? Each time we go we seem to have to park a little further away. Waterproofs. Shopping bags aplenty – Alec was needing a lot for some of the gardens he looks after. Feet soon wet. But we needn’t have worried. Looking for their own cars we soon saw folk sheltering under immense fuchsia bushes held over their heads or swaying sheaves of oriental poppy leaves sporting glistening flowers in plummy purples or gypsy-rose-lee red. We set off.
The narrow walkway between the stalls was a battleground of umbrellas, palm trees, paeonies, bellowing stall holders (‘Five pelargoniums for a fiver… Lovely pelargoniums. Your mum’ll love ’em!!), Chinese babies bawling, a wet young man with a damp harp, and all the gorgeous rest. And always the rain.
But… Though the shopping bags were soon full, and the filled bagels from the little shop just up and opposite the noisy and crowded pub were as needed and delicious as ever, we felt that the plant range wasn’t quite as interesting as when we were last there, and the prices higher… Those big poppies were a tenner a pot, and no punter seemed to be told that those brazen flowers, once finished, wouldn’t reappear until next June. Ah well… Still, one stall did have Vanda orchids tied to its tent poles, though the violet chequered flowers and brilliantly white aerial roots must have been pining for a tropical squall than the grey Britsh one they were in.
Still, great fun, noisy, frustrating, fruitful. And anyway, we were just off to something really astonishing.
Chilly-ish January day. Stall holders have been here since 7am. Punters start arriving about 9am; early birds get the most interesting plants. We arrived about 11am, and already folk laden with flowers, palm trees, orchids, cloud-pruned loniceras, mature plants of the gorgeously perfumed Edgeworthia, or just trays of brilliantly coloured polyanthus, are looking for their cars, find a bus empty enough to cope with them and their plants, or heading off up the windy roads to the tube station.
The market’s still developing; since I’ve been visiting over the last five so years, it’s expanded in adjoining yards, alleys. Arty object shops burgeon.. . A fantastic garage is filled with plasters casts – everything from repro 192o alsatians and their naked owners, to Michelangelo’s David’s privates. Oh, and some really nice faces to spout water into your tank.
Sometimes lots of serious connoisseurs’ plants, but today little. Or they’d already gone. But hordes of folk, sometimes a serious crush. Oriental ladies pushing prams, stylish bachelors with tiny dogs, artsy folk, folk from the sticks, but everyone entranced by plants…. And the traders shouting ‘Ere missus, three phormiums a fiver, lovely phormiums…’ Half the botanical world seems on sale for a fiver. Fabulous.
Lovely, lovely place. We emerged, whacked, a bag of Cyrtomium falcatum, an orchid for the supper table, and stuff not even yet unpacked… Oh, and there’s music too, though even that’s filled with flowers… Or such street signs, much adorned!