Entrances on : 53 Southwark Street,
64 Union Street,
85 Southwark Bridge Road, SE1 1RU
Open: Sunday 10am-5pm
Flat Iron Square Flea Market is a new addition to London's market scene having opened its doors to the public for the first time in the autumn of 2016. It may be a fresh faced arrival, but it has the feel of a market that has been here for years and is a real throw back to the kind of friendly, great value second-hand market that looked threatened by London's property boom.
Flea markets have always thrived in undeveloped land and Flat Iron is not exception, taking place on a rough square of land that during the week serves as a car park. It is here that about thirty traders set up, offering a mixed bag of vintage clothing, bric-a-brac, furniture and even a few designer makers selling things like unique cotton socks and toiletries.
One of the regulars here is Dinos, who has one of the largest pitches selling an assortment of renovated metal cabinets, second-hand clothing and other things for the home. He loves the market and was one of the first to start trading here:
Relaxing in his hanging wicker chair and sipping from a small glass of whiskey he's been given, it's obvious that Dinos is enjoying the experience.
Just a few pitches away from Dinos is Paul who is a natty model for his collection of retro men's clothing including some very fine tweed jackets for as little as £20, some great vintage cufflinks and even a number of old radios and record players.
Once you've had enough shopping, walk through to the railway arches where there are a number of permanent restaurants with outdoor seating as well as a few street food traders offering all kinds of delicious grub from fresh pizza to Thai curry.
Columbia Road east of Ravenscroft Street to Barnet Grove
Shops and a courtyard on Ezra Street E2 7RG
Tube: Old Street, Bethnal Green (then bus)
Open: Sunday 8am-2pm
This flower market is easy to find from which ever direction you approach it – just walk in the opposite direction of to those weighed down with bedding plants, cut flowers and large potted plants. On a busy Sunday morning the streets around the market can often resemble a scene from Day of the Triffids, with punters making slow progress as they shamble along, obscured by the massive array of flora they are trying to get home.
Columbia Road Flower Market is a real Sunday institution and has appeal that extends well beyond the green fingered listeners of Gardeners' Question Time, with great gift shops, cafés and eateries along the route and the added appeal of two courtyards on Ezra Street offering among other things food and bric-a-brac. Even on the wettest of days there are always a good few hardy buskers providing a musical accompaniment to the whole experience.
The stalls selling cheap cut flowers at the junction with Ravenscroft Street mark the start of the market and always have an enticing selection of flowers at well below the prices at your local florist. Here you can get a huge bouquet for around a tenner and there are plenty of other cut flower stalls along the route, so it's always a good idea to have a shop around before parting with your cash. The cut flowers remain a constant, but the rest of the market varies its stock depending on the season. In the spring it is awash with trays of bedding plants to brighten up a flower box for as little as £4 a tray and lots of larger plants that will give the urban gardener an instant splash of colour. As summer turns to autumn, evergreens begin to dominate with healthy looking shrubs for as little as £4 and plenty of large mature plants such as organe trees (bearing small fruit) for around £20. During the festive season Columbia Road is a great place to come for Christmas trees of all sizes as well as holly, ivy and other festive greenery. The market shops also open on selective evenings in the run up to Christmas for gift shopping, mulled wine and carols.
The central avenue of the market is always a scrum with hundreds of people pushing their way along, often carrying armfuls of plants. If you get tired of the crush, try weaving between the stalls onto the pavement and taking a look at some of the shops that now line the street. There are lots of good gift, furniture, toy and hat shops to check out and in the middle of the market is the excellent Lee’s Sea Food for a fishy treat. Towards the eastern end of the market are some of the best stalls for herbs with healthy looking pots of thyme, rosemary and sage all for around £1.50 a plant.
Columbia Road Market is not restricted to Columbia Road, but extends onto Ezra Street and the courtyards connected to it. The main courtyard is just off the junction and has several smart shops including Milagros selling a great selection of Mexican glassware, tiles and gifts. Further along to the left of the main junction is a courtyard dedicated to second-hand stalls with a good selection of books, clothing and bric-à-brac to sift through, as well as a stall dedicated to French cheese and cold meats and a great coffee stall with lots of accompanying treats. One of the stalwarts of this part of the market is the burly and bearded Shaun, who has been selling a well chosen selection of clothing, pictures, jewellery and objet d'art from here for years. He loves the market but is acutely aware of the changes to the area that have impacted the market:
But despite the gloomy account of things, Shaun is always cheerful and enjoys talking with passing friends and customers. His stall is one of the joys of Columbia Road and a place that has provided us with lots of treasures over the years.
Leather Lane, EC1N 7TS
Tube: Farringdon, Chancery Lane
Open: Monday-Friday 10.30am-2pm
For years Leather Lane stood as a fine example of a general weekday market providing groceries and household goods to the locals of Clerkenwell. There are still remnants of that old atmosphere and local charm, but recently many of the market's stalwarts have left, including the well known stall at the top of the market selling discounted magazines. In there place have arrived street food businesses offering food from all over the globe and drawing in a hungry lunch time crowd.
The range of food here and the number of food stalls is remarkable and includes Indian curry, Thai food provided by Yum Bowl (also on Whitecross Street). The Caribbean jerk chicken is another favourite with the local shop workers in search of some spicy protein on their lunch break. The Korean fast food stall has long queues and plenty of regulars coming back for more. Further along a stall specialising in vegan food makes delicious lentil wraps with salad. Of course before all the street food arrived there was always a much loved baked potato van and they are still here and still serving up their delicious slow baked potatoes with plenty of fillings to choose from.
The change in style has left some of the more traditional stalls a bit surprised. Lisa has been selling bags on the street for 27 years and wanders what's happened:
With a cheerful smile and a shrug she goes about her business, tidying her stock and waiting for some last minute trade before packing away.
The flower stall run by Louise and her partner is another established business offering great value cut flowers and a small selection of healthy looking pot plants. Her cucumber plants for just a few quid are proving really popular with the local Indian shoppers who love to grow and eat there own fresh vegetables. Further along is one of the few surviving fruit and veg stalls run by Michael, who explains that after university and an office job, he really liked helping his grandfather on the market and eventually decided to hang up the suit and take over the stall. After 15 years here he still enjoys it and even loves the street food and the new traders who regularly give him a free lunch, which is often rewarded with some veg on the house.
At the far end of the market is a small square where most of the clothing is now concentrated. The emphasis here is on cheap street fashion and there are plenty of good quality bargains to be found with few items over £10. Another regular at this part of the market is the cheap packaged food stall with lots of biscuits, sweets and tinned foods. It's a comfort to see a few of the old style stalls still selling their wares, lets hope they can continue.
Lottie’s entrée in to the world of cocktails came about more or less by accident, when she was asked by the Brunel Museum to devise a nocturnal event for Museums at Night. Lottie’s idea of botanical cocktails around the fire in the community garden was an instant hit. “It was at the time of the Olympics, and although pop-ups and cocktails were trendy, no-one was doing botanicals – now they’re all the rage!” says Lottie. Her new career was born, but being a cocktail gardener isn’t necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be, “I don’t actually drink that much” admits Lottie, “and when I’m designing new cocktails, I have to stay sober so I can remember the recipe, so I just have a few sips and then test drive them on friends.” Lucky friends, say we.
Drawing on a lifetime’s experience of foraging – her mother was an avid gardener and the family were practically self-sufficient in food – Lottie grew up with the knowledge that hedgerows are full of free food. In London one of her favourite foraging haunts is Walthamstow Marshes, which according to Lottie have an incredible array of food, from walnuts to wild fennel, and wild cherries. “Rich pickings!”
As a professional gardener (she was top of her year at Capel Manor when she studied there), Lottie is well placed to advise would-be cocktail gardeners on the best botanicals to grow in a small London garden. “I would suggest growing things you can’t easily buy – chocolate mint, things like jasmine and honeysuckle (which make beautiful syrups), blackcurrant sage and pineapple sage, and then I would grow masses of fennel, and structural plants such as rosemary and lavender. If you don’t mind a wilder look, I’d also recommend angelica, lovage and alexanders.”
Although many botanicals are Mediterranean plants, with a corresponding love of sunshine and lots of drainage, Londoners who have shady gardens and heavy soil don’t have to miss out. For these situations, Lottie has found that “all the different kinds of mints, lemon verbena and lemon balm are quite happy in semi-shade, while Alpine strawberries and sweet woodruff are lovely to look at and really like the shade.” Oh, and they make a pretty mean cocktail ingredient too…
The Brunel Museum
Brunel Engine House, Railway Avenue, SE16 4LF
For some it’s the first cuckoo, for others it’s the evenings drawing out but for many the real harbinger of summer is the Chelsea Flower Show. Every May this well-heeled corner of London goes gardening mad as the RHS’s premier show takes over the grounds of the Royal Hospital, transforming them beyond recognition with stunning ‘instant’ gardens, floral marquees and retail opportunities by the barrow load. Even the shops on Sloane Street and the King’s Road get into the spirit of things with extravagant floral themed store fronts .
The show gardens and the famous Floral Pavilion are the big crowd pleasers here, showcasing the skills of designers and plantspeople from Britain and around the world. The horticultural equivalent of an haute couture catwalk, Chelsea is the place to spot the hottest trends, from eco-chic to vertical planting, before they filter down to the mass market.
The show gardens are the work of some of the biggest names in international garden design and the mega-bucks fantasy gardens they create for Chelsea seem to spring up as if from nowhere, belying months, if not years, of preparation. Incredibly, most of them look as if they’ve been in-situ forever. Newly introduced in 2012, the Fresh show garden category replaced the Urban Gardens of previous years and promises innovative, cutting-edge gardens, with designers being freed from some of Chelsea’s usual judging restrictions. By contrast, the Artisan Garden category puts the emphasis on natural, sustainably sourced materials and traditional craftsmanship.
Whatever the category of show garden (and these are subject to change from time to time), the free planting plans that are dished out at every turn are worth picking up for their take-home design ideas and plant lists. And for those whose idea of gardening is more spectator than contact sport, there are always of plenty of inviting ‘garden structures’, from humble shed to trendy ‘pod’.
Heavily covered on television by the BBC, Chelsea is insanely popular – be prepared to wade your way through heavy crowds with a holiday atmosphere. Some 157,000 visitors come to the CFS every year, so expect to queue, or stand on tip-toe, to see some exhibits. Like the Wimbledon tennis tournament, you probably actually get to see more of the show gardens on the box than you do in real life, but it’s a different story inside the Great Pavilion. This wonderfully scented arena is the place to admire expertly staged plants at close quarters, many of them blooming unseasonably early, and to meet some of the nurserymen and women who coax perfection from flora as various as pelargoniums, dahlias, sweet peas and roses. Some well-known nurseries such as Kelways, Notcutts and Avon Bulbs have been coming to Chelsea for years and the floral pavilion is a testament to their horticultural prowess. Exhibitors are usually very approachable and happy to answer questions. The talent is not all home-grown, and displays from further afield – the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, South Africa – overflow with exotic plants. Here, as with the show gardens, exhibitors vie with each other for a coveted RHS medal (either bronze, silver, silver-gilt or gold), awarded by a panel of eagle-eyed judges.
Although on a smaller scale to the Great Pavilion, the Floral Design Marquee can be an equally intense experience. Over 150 NAFAS (National Association of Flower Arranging Societies), individuals and groups compete to create the ultimate floral arrangement. The resulting inventive, intricate floral creations are always worth seeing, as the queues suggest, and are likely to make those whose normal approach to floristry is plonking a bunch of blooms in a vase of water feel rather inadequate.
Retail opportunities, needless to say, are never far away. If you haven’t blown the budget on a Pimms and a sandwich (quite possible at Chelsea), then head for the stalls ranged in the shade of the London plane trees on Eastern Avenue. This is your opportunity to stock up on all manner of goodies, from upmarket gardening attire to the latest pruning gizmo or all-singing-and-dancing water features, or even a work of art. The legendary plant sell-off at the end of the last day has something of the Harrods’ sale about it, but there are some amazing specimens to be had if you can beat off the competition and find a way to transport your prize home safely.
Chelsea Flower Show Royal Hospital Road, SW3
Berwick Street from Broadwick Street Peter Street
Tube: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus and Tottenham Court Road
Open: Monday-Saturday 8am-5pm
Berwick Street Market is one of London's oldest, dating it's origins back to a charter granted by James II over three hundred years ago. The market has faced many ups and downs since that time and its focus on fresh fruit and veg has been lost with just a few of the traditional traders still selling their great value produce. Jim's Fruit & Veg stall is still trading from their usual pitch although not crying out the latest offerings as they did in former times.
Ronnie's Flowers is another stalwart of the market, still going strong after 56 years of trading and now run by Ronnie's daughter. There is another flower stall at the Broadwick Street end of the market which is also worth having a look at for cut flowers and also a few cheap potted herbs and flowering plants.
The stall that is not to be missed is the Soho Dairy run by the ebullient Robin and selling unpasteurised cheese and milk and fresh eggs. He has taken on a good deal of the battle with Westminster Council, who for over ten years refused to issue permanent licenses to trade. The battle has now been won, and not only has the street been pedestrianised making it a much nice place to shop and stroll, but permanent licences have been granted to sixteen traders securing Berwick Street's future.
The real pull for this market these days are the street food takeaways which are buzzing with hungry workers looking to enjoy a good value alfresco lunch. In this small stretch you can find food from around the world including Indian, Greek, middle-eastern and Thai with one stall calling itself Savage Salads doing a roaring lunchtime trade. The falafel stall is also popular and offers some of the freshest and most delicious of these middle eastern delicacies to be found in the capital.
Berwick Street is now one of the last remaining central London markets and one well worth exploring if you're in Soho. From Wednesday to Friday it is complemented by Rupert Street Market just the other side of Shaftesbury Avenue (see page xxx) which also now specialises in street food.
There are lots of street food stalls here, but if your fancy a sit down, My Place (21 Berwick Street) and Flat White (17 Berwick Street) are great places to relax, grab a bite and both serve great coffee.
Among the attractions of Berwick Street is Reign Vintage at number 12 which is great for unique vintage fashion and those with a love of comics and graphic books should look out for Gosh Comic on the corner with Peter Street.
Cloistered away next to the historic Priory Church of St John, this fragrant garden is part of the Museum of the Order of St John, which tells the 900 year-old story of the Knights of St John. As members of an Order of the church, the Knights also had medical and military roles, setting up hospitals in the Holy Land and Europe, while fighting in defence of Christendom. Today, the modern Order of St John is best known for establishing the St John Ambulance.
The garden’s planting scheme was devised by London-based designer Alison Wear, to fit in around the existing hard-landscaping, and is packed with references to the Order’s long peregrination around Europe, with silver-leaved Mediterranean sun-seekers like Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem sage) and medicinal herbs such as Hypericum calycinum (St John’s Wort), Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese or Jerusalem cross), and a white rose, Rosa ‘St John’. Aromatic herbs such as wormwood, thyme, oregano, fennel and lavender, further recall the Knights' medical endeavours, while creating a soothingly aromatic environment for the visitor.
Working within the constraints of the layout, Alison designed for colour and texture rather than harmony or sophistication, using citrus and olive trees in strategically placed tubs to break up the formal setting. Winter interest is provided by aromatic evergreens such as Daphne odora, bay and box. When it came to planting in April 2011, Alison found that the soil was "nothing but dust", so an ‘enormous amount’ of compost and manure was applied to the narrow beds. The strategy is working and with museum staff undertaking to water the fledgling plants in the absence of an irrigation system, the garden already appears remarkably well-established.
Museum of the Order of St John
St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, EC1M 4DA
www.museumstjohn.org.uk T: 020 7324 4005
Admission free (small donation suggested for tours)
Alison Wear Garden Design