The following is an extract from The Flower Market Year by Simon Lycett. Simon recently gave an online talk at the Garden Museum sharing his stories and memories of the legendary and historic Covent Garden Flower Market. A film of the event is available to watch online: watch the film
I wander around the market feeling rather smug during the ‘Valentine’ season. Having no retail outlet at Simon Lycett Ltd, we are able to escape the high-street demands for single red roses, bunches of ‘anything as long as it’s red’ and bouquets smothered with acres of kiss-covered cellophane and yards of plastic ribbon curls. For weeks before the main event, the market stands slowly turn redder and redder, as Valentine-themed products and packaging, designed to melt even the hardest of hearts, take over – almost more so than at Christmas, which at least is alleviated by a bit of glittery sparkle and green spruce. Papery hyacinth bulbs, sending up chunky green nipples of flower-filled buds, pert ‘Tête-à-Tête’ narcissus and even elegant bobble-ended muscari all come with huge helpings of schmaltz. Crimson pots with ‘love’ scrawled upon them in seven European languages now hold green helxines which two weeks earlier looked far more enticing and comfortable in their homely brown plastic pots. Sticks with fuzzy-flocked hearts on the ends are stabbed into the most savage of cacti or the ugliest of succulents.
I often wonder who buys them, and what the reaction is of their recipient. No manner of red tissue and nylon lace would ever make me feel any more amorous towards someone who presented me with a spiteful, ugly and phallic cactus plant. Give me a pot of miniature cyclamens, or a glossy-leaved gardenia all a-glow with lime-green spiralled buds and I will love you forever! And, please, never send me a bunch of red roses on Valentine’s Day! Almost any other time of the year they are fine, and often very beautiful too – an excellent demonstration not only of perfect love but of the nurseryman’s art and skill in achieving 3ft/1m of perfect thornless stem topped by vast cabbage-like heads of deep and velvety petals. However, with heightened demand, many have been stockpiled for several weeks in cold storage by less scrupulous growers and dealers, so it is often hard to tell just how old they really are.
I always advise the half-dozen or so of our clients for whom we send Valentine’s arrangements that there are masses of flowers far more beautiful than roses to be given. Fragrant narcissus from the Isles of Scilly, flamboyant parrot tulips, decadent lilac, and plump ranunculus are at their finest in early spring, so let’s save roses for the summertime. My own Valentine received from me a simple tied posy of lilac-shaded hyacinths and short citrussy green guelder rose, with a heart that I had woven from red dogwood stems stuck into it. No gift wrap, no ribbons – just lovely fresh flowers, simply presented.