My recent styling projects and workshops have meant that i've been at New Covent Garden flower market fairly regularly and I wanted to write down my tips. This market is one of the cheapest places in London and possibly the South East to buy flowers. I expected the cheaper flowers, but I did not expect the huge bargain house plant section, which may or may not have prompted a little squeal from me when I first saw it. I reckon this is the cheapest place for miles around to buy plants, even gorgeous massive mature ones.
*Update Dec 2018*The market has moved to a new site just round the corner. You no longer need £5 to park, it has parking machines.
Shopping tips for New Covent Garden Flower Market:
It's in Vauxhall.
I know, I know, a little bit confusing. It used to be in Covent Garden but it moved to Vauxhall a few years ago. Make sure you're going to the right place!
Make a list before you go.
Make sure you make a list of exactly what you want/need before you go, remembering greenery. it can be a bit overwhelming when you get in there if you don't know what you want!
You used to need a fiver to park, and not all sellers used to accept card but i think they all do now.
Get there between 8-9 if you are casually browsing.
It's open from midnight until 10am. The serious traders are there really early and things start packing up at 9. I recemtly went at 5am because i needed specific sthings. but i have been at 8.30 before and got what i needed for a smaller event. 8.30 is a good time to arrive and doesn't feel toooo antisocial. If you know you need very specific blooms, then get there even earlier.
When you're totting up your flowers, the cost doesn't include VAT. I've been a wee bit stung by that one in the past. Use your phone's calculator.
The traders are pretty much all really friendly and helpful. They've given me advice for plants and flowers that need to serve a specific purpose, conditioning etc. I often ask for a tally mid way through to check i’m on budget.
You will need greenery.
About 2/3rd of most bouquets is made up of greenery. Don't forget it! walk round first before buying to make sure you’ve seen everything on offer.
Don't buy the first lovely flowers you see. Visit all the traders and ask for prices to compare. I keep a note on my phone to remember the prices.
You can't buy individual stems.
This market is for buying a lot of flowers- it's rare to be able to buy individual stems. That said it would still be a nice place to visit if you wanted a largish bunch of flowers for your house (plus perhaps a bouquet for a friend or something). Eg, I like buying a large bunch of eucalyptus for my house when I'm there, for the princely sum of £3 per big bunch!
It's not very pretty.
It is nowhere near as pretty as shopping on Columbia rd market- and doesn't have the fancy coffee shops either, but it's still enjoyable; it involves plants and flowers!
It's great for parties or weddings.
This is the perfect place to buy flowers for a wedding, event or party (I have used it for this purposes on many occasions). The price is much cheaper and you generally buy in bulk; the price is for a bunch of stems normally. You kinda need to know what you're doing with flowers though- or have a friend who does.
Bring or borrow a car or hire a taxi.
Especially if you want plants. Armfuls of flowers can end up being surprisingly heavy. If you can't get a car then forget about the plants, but do bring some Ikea bags. They are really useful for carrying large bunches of flowers. The stems aren't trimmed so are often quite long- you could bring snips to make the stems shorter.
Try bargaining, but don't rely on it.
In my experience, the traders aren't always that up for haggling on price, especially if you're just buying one bunch of stems from them. The prices are already pretty good. But if you're buying a lot from one trader, try asking for a deal if you buy it all. They are more receptive toward the end of the morning- around 9.30/10am. I sometimes get a bit of money off by doing this. Maybe if you're more hard nosed than I you'll have better luck, I dunno!
You'll need to condition the flowers.
Flowers from a florist come conditioned; stems trimmed, lower foliage below water level stripped etc. This ensures they stay at their best so don't forget to do this yourself when you arrive at your destination.
Give the flowers time to open before your event
You're buying them at their freshest which sometimes mean the flower heads can be tightly closed. I mostly work around this and avoid the flowers with closed heads, but if you know you need roses, peonies etc to be open then you'll need to go 3 or so days before the event and be able to store them in a cool room. (I turn the radiator off in my utility room and crack open the window.
What to buy apart from flowers:
Oh the plaaaaants! Arnott Mason have a great selection of houseplants for amazing prices. The lady who runs this (I forgot her name, sorry!) is really friendly and told me that a prominent British online plant seller currently has a waiting list for Ficus plants of over 100 people! Arnott Mason had tons for £12! Some other examples: a mature String of Pearls hanging plant for £25 (in shops they can go for over £80), and a mature Rhipsalis hanging plant for £35. The prices vary according to what they have and how big the plants are, and they are good quality too. The sellers can give tips on positioning and sunlight etc.
Pots and props and sundries.
This is also a great place to buy cheap pots if you need them. I got 4 large grey concrete looking pots for a total of about £40. They also sell loads of candle holders and vases for much cheaper than the high street. You can also buy floral wire, snips, secateurs, candles etc at wholesale prices.
For smaller events or bouquets for friends then try to support florists who use local growers, or The Great British Florist as they are grown here in Britain and more ethical than the stuff shipped in from abroad. But for larger events, or if you're on a budget then the wholesale market is probably your best option. So, if you love a good house plant, or have an event, wedding, dinner party or party to decorate for, or just fancy a wonder around an enormous warehouse full of plants and flowers, give it a visit!