A rose by any other name: East London is the best place to buy a happy Valentine this February

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Despite the recession, this February Londoners will spend £12 million expressing their love, and flowers are still the nation’s favourite mode of romancing. East London is home to the capital’s most famous flower market and for the local traders Valentine’s weekend is the most important of the year.

Every Sunday Columbia Road transforms from a normal east London street to a medley of local flowers and exotic plants. This weekend the narrow road has become a manic obstacle course for desperate husbands and part-time boyfriends. Valentine’s Day is looming and nothing says “I love you” more than a bunch of extortionately priced imported roses.

Jasper Scully, 28, has run a flower stall on Columbia Road for 3 years, he used to have a small spot in Kentish Town but “business is much better in East London”. Most roses sold in the UK florists have been imported from Holland or Italy, but supermarkets often bulk-buy inferior crops from countries such as India or Kenya. “Competition is bad with the supermarkets because they sell imported roses from Bangalore for really cheap prices. But they’re not as good as the ones we sell here – they don’t smell right”, said Mr Scully.

‘Rebel Rebel ‘ on Broadway Market is one of London’s most high profile independent florists, they supply custom made arrangements for events at the Tate galleries and the BAFTAs. On an ordinary day they make around £500, but this Saturday the takings were closer to £10,000. Gus Cavanagh, 26, has worked at the shop for five years and has noticed a change in Valentine’s purchases. “People around here don’t buy roses as much as they used to,” he said. “They seem to find them a bit corny; we do still sell a lot at Valentine’s but there is a big demand with the local community for mixed bunches of lush red and purple flowers. We also sell a lot of fresh spring coloured bouquets – kind of an antidote to the typical Valentine’s colours.”

As the romantic holiday approaches flower suppliers raise the price of a single rose from 80p to £2, and the average Valentine’s bouquet from a local florist costs £40. Despite cheaper prices in supermarkets Gus is confident that the flowers sold in boutique florists are more likely to ignite the romantic spark. “The roses from major superstores are really small and look a bit anaemic – our flowers smell beautiful and they change colour as they age, which gives them a really personal touch All our bouquets are individually made, and at Valentine’s you can design a bunch that will most suit your loved one .”

Last year Rebel Rebel over- estimated the amount of roses that they would sell and were left with a surplus of flowers. “But that was alright,” Gus explains, “because a lot of men forget about Valentine’s and panic-buy flowers the week after to make up for it.” The majority of Valentine’s customers are men buying for their wives or girlfriends, but last week a generous boss came in and bought 30 red roses – one for each member of his staff.

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