Meet the Trader: A life and a family dedicated to the Columbia Road Flower market 

Denise Fleming at her plant store, JD Succulents and Cacti. Pic: Lucy Snell

As spring arrives and the gardening season gets going, hundreds of people congregate at Columbia Road Flower Market on Sunday morning. Amidst the many stalls, you will find trader Denise Fleming, who is there all year round selling an array of plants for inside and outside your home. 

Denise has been at the market in Hoxton every Sunday without fail for the past 30 years. She told Eastlondonlines she would only not be there if Sunday fell on “Christmas Day and that’s only because of the licence”.

Owner of JD Succulents and Cacti is as exuberant as her storefront, which is filled with shrubs, potted flowers, houseplants, and every herb you could ever imagine. Her enthusiasm for her work shone through as we spoke about her time at the market and she picked out a pink cyclamen for me to take home.  

Denise first visited the market with her late father as a child, they would travel down from Edmonton, on the weekends. Now, practically “half of the market” is owned by her family, all her brothers work there selling different versions of plants. After dedicating her whole life to the trade, she told ELL: “I don’t know anything different, plants are all I know”. 

House plants on show at her stall. Pic: Lucy Snell

“A lot of this market is my family. Brothers, cousins, uncles.’ Both her sons, Peter and John, are also traders. ” My eldest son is up [the road] with the flowers at GSE, the big flower shop.”

She started her shop over 30 years ago with her mother, Josephine, as the first shop that sold cacti and succulents on the market. It now specialises in both house plants and gardening, which she sources from wholesalers at Crews Hill in Enfield. 

“I’ve been running the store with my mum for over 30 years. My mum’s retired now, but she’s still very much part of the store, even though she’s not here in person.  Her husband, Nick, to whom she has been married for 43 years also helps and deals with the gardening side of the business. Unfortunately, he is currently unwell and her mother is getting on, so Denise is a one-woman team. 

Columbia Road Flower Market has been popular with the local community since it opened in 1869. It first began as a Saturday market, but as another Sunday market was established due to a large Jewish population, the Saturday market lapsed, and the flower market evolved. In the 1970s the whole area was threatened with demolition due to economic decline, but the locals fought back, and the market was saved. Since then, the market has developed into a local phenomenon with international repute. 

Like many other traders, Denise drives herself into east London from Harlow at four am every Sunday. Despite this, she doesn’t feel alone there. She told ELL: “All 52 traders are very good friends, even though we’ve got to compete.”

In addition to her rapport with traders, she has cultivated bonds with her customers. “There’s a lot of lovely locals who come see you week after week to buy a little plant. But also, when it’s the summer season, there are a lot of people who come from all over London to spend their money. A lot of proper gardeners come in who want to do the gardening shows, and they spend a lot of money.”

A busy Sunday morning on Columbia Road. Pic: Lucy Snell

Denise said it’s important to save the money she earns in the summer, whilst demand is high because “in the winter, it gets hard”.  “But it’s not all about the money, I live, and I breathe [the trade], this is my life.”

One Response

  1. Livvy Richardson March 21, 2024

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