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Eastender – George Gladwell

Toby Harris

Eastender - George Gladwell

For many, George Gladwell is Columbia Road Flower Market. He tells E1 Life how he never gets despondent if he’s surrounded by his flowers and why you can’t beat a good old pansy

Columbia Road

You’ve been here for 70 years now. How did you first get into flowers?
A distant memory is when I was seven years old and my mother gave me a plot of land to grow something on. I grew pansies, dug them up when they were in flower, put them in a box and sold them for tuppence each on the side of the road.

What are the challenges of being a market trader?
Knowing how to speak to people, I think. I believe in never being neg-ative when dealing with customers. The more positive you are, the more we tend to get along with it. I think we’re quite popular actually.

Why are you so well loved?
Well, we have ways of speaking to people. We cross stories in the few seconds we have serving, we make a few jokes, or we’re humorous about plants. And we treat our plants as humans. We get some nice back chat – speaking with people keeps the job interesting and makes the days go quicker.

What is your favourite flower?
A pansy. I can look at a pansy and see every other flower in existence – the colours, the shape, the cheeki-ness of it and even the sadness of it. It’s the first flower I ever sold. That’s going back decades now.
You’ve described Columbia Road as a happy place to be. What makes it so?I think it’s happy because to sell plants and to garden are happy occupations, aren’t they? As far as the market is concerned, there are so many plants here, so many rare plants, that you can’t walk around looking miserable. We get a few moans and groans. I don’t like that quite a bit of swearing goes on. To me, that doesn’t go down well.

Has the gentrification of east London and the market’s growth as a tourist attraction helped or hindered?
It’s generally helped. I mean, what can be more beautiful than coming to a street and seeing it absolutely loaded with plants? Some of them are up to fifteen feet high, for 300 yards down the street. The colours are never the same week by week. Even if the traders have got the same plants, they’ll put them in different places, so it creates some-thing new all the time.

Is there a secret to managing the early mornings?
I don’t believe there’s a secret. It’s just a habit you have to get into. Various jobs I’ve had started early. I used to drive for a living and that started at two in the morning – or any time during the night.

What advice would you give an aspir-ing trader?
Never get despondent. If you can’t handle that, then don’t do the job but you can teach yourself not to get down. There are lots of things in life that are bright and happy and cheer-ful and one way of selling things is to communicate to the public that whatever they’re buying, they have to have it because it’s cheerful and happy, it’s bright, long lasting and, most of all, it’s value for money.


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