(Note: This post is from Nov. 2015) Jet-lagged, I watched the clock roll from two to four in the morning. To rise or not to rise? At four, the Covent Garden Flower Market opens in London. Hopelessly awake at four-thirty, the promise of a 'bacon butty' got me into the shower. With no tube until five, I downloaded uber (feeling rather hip) and made it to the market before six.
For a new grower, markets present tremendous insight into the floral industry. Trucks dock at bays, product is standardized and packaged for ease of transport in plastic and cardboard. The building itself is chilled to keep the flowers fresh and many flowers are held out of water. Masses of blooms from all over the world aren't so much organized as presented, by wholesalers, many of whom carry similar stock. Commerce trumps beauty and consumption trumps all. Jetlag aside, it was hard not to feel a little sick.
In my little romantic world of floral design, I can walk outdoors to pick a plant, see how a flower grows and design with that in mind. At the market, most everything is viewed from above. You look down on blooms, at flowers lying on their sides, motionless. Plastic boxes of gerberas with penguins on their packages reminded me of climate change; roses from Ecuador I knew to have been air freighted in, stems stiff and over a metre long, lacked life; proteas, lilies, branches, peppers…xxxotics almost all.
Perhaps my politics blinded me to beauty. Sustainable, this industry is not.
But switch perspectives and be amazed: One could design almost anything. And in London florists do—giant installations for Saudi princes, arbors of roses for wealthy brides, towering urns for hotels, crazy orchid walls for Russian billionaires. And this too is what I love about London, it's opulence, its sense for fashion, art, patronage—its history of design.
Lately I have been thinking about choice as a luxury. How I want the people I love to have choices in life because I have had the luxury of choices in mine—not many choices, but some, and perhaps just enough.
You see, there is such a thing as too much choice. A flip side, the 'paradox of choice', how the freedom to choose leads to unhappiness. On a superficial level, this is the agony of shopping: overwhelmed by options we grow unhappy, can't decide. Imagine the paralytic ennui of the uber-affluent. Or a eutrophic pond. Constraint can lead to creativity. Too much can oddly never be enough.
And that's what the market represented to me, the luxury of London, its stratospheric wealth, and the options available to the creatives who serve that wealth. It's a weird world, that of using plants out of season, of having so much to choose from, and I'm thankful its not mine. Still, I feel lucky to have glimpsed it, backstage.
Anyone can attend the market, pay in cash for purchases, and the 'butties' alone are worth the trip. I couldn't carry much so my choices were limited, thankfully: I grabbed ten perfect bunches of Nerine from the UK's Isles of Scilly for ten pounds. I carried them home to my cousin on the tube. That was enough…for me, for now.