People of the Flower Market – Review

After I had read Simon Lycett’s book, The Flower Market Year, earlier this year, charting 12 months in the life of the New Covent Garden Flower Market, I remember the feeling that I would love to know a little more about the characters who worked at the market.

Simon has conveniently obliged with his follow-up book ‘People of the Flower Market‘, a pictorial documentary of the characters working or associated with New Covent Garden. It is the perfect companion to the former title with excellent pictorial portraits by Michelle Garrett who brings to life in colour and black and white the Cockney wholesalers, the market gardeners and the Home Counties ladies, who bring life to this unique area of London every day.

Some of the images were taken on the last day that the old Covent Garden Market was open in March 2017 before moving to its new site. Simon points out in the Introduction that after 30 years of buying from the Flower Market, every bloom, plant, stick and stem of foliage that the team at Lycett Towers use daily has enabled them to create their floral fabulousness: “I’ve grown to know many of the suppliers and my fellow buyers too. From the initial greeting – a quick smile or a quiet, nodded ‘Good morning’ – to gradually knowing their names, firm and loyal friendships have developed.”

Characters such as Eddie and Sonny Martin, a father and son team; Young Ash (or Ashley) one of the newer generation of ‘gents’ working on one of the wholesale stands; Adil Boulahri, foliage salesman and even a pic of Carol Kirkwood, spotted early on St Valentine’s Day, broadcasting live among the red roses!

This is Simon’s seventh book and his passion for British floristry and seasonal flowers is well known. He devotes much of his time to raising their profile and its really uplifting to get a glimpse of these ‘background characters’.

There are quotes throughout the book from many of those pictured including Sonja Waites, a florist, who says: “Arriving at the Flower Market early in the morning is like entering a club. The people who work there make it a pleasure, always cheerful with a smile and a laugh.” Then there is Maurice Gilbey, market porter, who says that he loves the fact that he hasn’t thought about another job: ” … for like, 37 years! That’s a long time for me …. working in the Flower Market with its obvious vibrancy and wealth of eclectic characters was meant for me. I love it.”

The pictures tell the story and I’m sure this book will serve as a precious historical record of life in this special place. It certainly captures the essence of the market, the day-to-day vibrancy of its life and the people who go to make up its beating heart. As Simon points out in the Author’s Acknowledgements, the book is the sum of Michelle’s perfectly captured images – a simple garden-gathered bunch of colourful characters – with the unifying thread of a love of flowers binding them together.

People of the Flower Market‘ – The year at New Covent Garden Flower Market – by Simon Lycett with photography by Michelle Garrett, is in hard back at £16.99, published by Berry & Co (Publishing)