Monday 10 December 2012

Christmas at Columbia Road Market

Yvonne Harnett and her trees.

"A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together."
from Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories by Garrison Keillor

Yesterday we got up very early to go to Columbia Road Flower Market. We go every Sunday, but this week we were under strict instructions from stallholder Yvonne Harnett not to slope up at our usual, slothful 10ish if we wanted a really big Christmas tree. And we always want a really big Christmas tree. Yvonne’s husband Shane is a fourth generation nurseryman and his family have sold Christmas trees on this corner of Columbia Road and Ravenscroft Street for over a hundred years, so I’m inclined to do as she says.

We reported for tree-purchasing duty at an eye-blinkingly early 8.30am, fortified ourselves with coffee and excellent sausage rolls from the Lily Vanilli Bakery and picked out a fine 10-foot Nordman Fir from Yvonne and Shane’s stall. Then we loaded ourselves up with other Christmas essentials: some scarlet poinsettias, a tray of miniature cyclamen, a bag of fir cones and a couple of Turkish fruit wreaths which I’ll use to decorate our table with the addition of some fat church candles. Next week, I’ll stock up on holly, ivy and mistletoe to drape along mantles and banisters and hang from chandeliers. I am a maximalist.

Urban forest.

Stuart with his poinsettias. Every week he makes me laugh with his cheeky sales pitches.

Mick and Sylvia Grover. During the summer, they sell all kinds of culinary and medicinal herbs but at this time of year, their stall is piled high with wreaths and garlands which they make themselves. They give our dog Barney a Christmas present every year and are two of the kindest people you could ever meet. It shows in their faces, don’t you think?


Mick and Sylvia’s wreaths.


Turkish fruit and berry wreaths. I bought two of these for the Christmas table, so pretty with a fat church candle in the middle.


Sean, whose bric-a-brac and book stall is a great favourite of mine. I think he would make a very good Father Christmas.


Fortifying sausage roll from Lily Vanilli Bakery


Festive decorations around the door of this café.

Jones the Baker gets into the Christmas spirit.

Dazzling proteas.

Sparkly branches.

Ilex berries.

Fat amaryllis buds, one of my favourite winter flowers.

Mountains of holly and mistletoe.

Birdfeed baskets.

Christmas planters.

Crates of pine cones.

Pots of hyacinths. Do what I do - transplant these into pretty bowls and pretend you’ve grown them yourself.


  1. I love seeing all the photos! puts me in the holiday mood. Marty x

  2. I am so envious of your regular trips to the market. It's a place I've always wanted to visit. It's easy to see how lovely the environment must be by the expressions on the traders'faces. I can only dream of having access to all those lovely natural Christmas decorations! As for the Garrison Keilor quote, now you are tugging on an old Yank's heart strings! ; )

  3. Marty, How lovely to see a comment from you. Hope all's well with your brood. X
    Debs, if you're ever here do give me a shout and we can meet for a stroll around the market - I'm sure you would love it. I've always loved GK too, such a wonderful storyteller.

  4. Columbia Road at Christmas - you're making me miss London! I've never read any Garrison Keilor, but my father used to listen to his audiotapes all the time - always had such a rich, soothing voice.

  5. Deborah! So lovely to see your blog - it's brilliant and your photographs are stunning!! I could pick some holly & mistletoe from the woods outside but your fantastic blog makes me feel like a very early trip into the market this Sunday - from Purley!! I definitely feel a Columbia Road book coming on?!? Happy Christmas to you and Sean! Sara x

  6. Katy, Well, we have to lure you back somehow. I love GK and find his voice mesmerising.X
    Sara, Thank you so much for your lovely comment and do make a trip to the market if you can. It never fails to make me feel Christmassy. X

  7. Dearest D
    What a lovely post with such lovely people. Every face tells its own benevolent Christmas story. No Columbia Road here so will have to pick holly and ivy but will be casting around for mistletoe.
    I am hoping you will like the effect.


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