This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Many horticulturists will now be wending their way towards the great metropolis, and those who have not already done so should avail themselves of the first opportunity to inspect the great fruit and vegetable market of Covent Garden. Here the garden and its produce may be studied from either a cultural or commercial point of view; and though I often visit "the market," I never do so without adding some amount of knowledge to former experience. A stranger cannot but be surprised at the immense quantity of fresh produce brought from around London to this central depot every morning. Huge waggon-loads of Cabbages, Cauliflowers, and Turnips, together with van-loads of decorative plants, come in every night, or early in the morning, from the market-growers: while, during the autumn months, fruits such as Apples, Pears, Plums, Gooseberries, and Currants are brought in by the ton ! Fruit is carefully packed in punnets, sieves, boxes, or hampers, and generally reaches here in good condition, some of it being of the very finest quality.
Here, in the "Grand Row," may be seen Pines, Grapes, Peaches, Figs, and Melons, of superlative excellence, fit to grace the dining-halls of royalty: rare exotics from every clime, either loose or tastefully arranged in bouquets, perfume the atmosphere, and enliven the stands of the florists. Orchids, Roses, and other flowers - the choicest productions of a thousand gardens - here find a ready sale. Fruit and flowers of the very best description may be readily disposed of in Covent Garden at first-class prices; but mediocrity does not pay so well, being more largely represented. Many gardeners who live at a distance have been disappointed at the prices realised by their agent in London; but I have invariably found that really fine fruit or flowers fetch remunerative prices, if sent early in the season, and carefully packed. The florists and fruiterers allow a better price for a regular summer and winter supply than for occasional samples; and in forwarding to market, care should be taken, in the first instance, to secure the services of a respectable agent or salesman. The demand for fruit, vegetables, and cut-flowers is pretty regular throughout the whole season, but prices vary greatly in proportion to the supply.
Among the "stuff" at present in the market, we may notice some extra fine Tomatoes, and Asparagus of good quality. Decorative plants in pots are here by the thousand, forming, as they do, a distinct and rapidly increasing branch of the florist's business. They consist for the most part of Fuchsias, Pelargoniums, Ericas, Carnations, Heliotropes, and Spiraeas. British Ferns also figure largely at this season of the year. Pot-plants are grown to great perfection by the market-growers near London, and are brought to Covent Garden in fine condition, packed in light spring-vans. The plants are arranged in tiers, one above another, and rarely suffer injury during transit. One notable feature about the decorative plants brought to the London market is their being grown in such small pots. Nice, bushy little plants, in large 60's or 48's, profusely covered with blossoms and unopened buds, are very readily sold, either by wholesale to the decorators, or retail to private customers. The finest fruit and flowers are in the handsome shops of the Central Avenue, and here the connoisseur with the most epicurean proclivities may obtain satisfaction in the way of choice fruit and vegetables in season.
The bouquet department is always attractive, especially to fair visitors; and the most consummate taste and skill is evinced in the making-up of these fragrant souvenirs. Any one with taste in this direction may here study from the best of models; and all of us who are in any way engaged in the decoration of conservatories or apartments may gain much valuable information. The demand for choice cut-flowers seems rapidly increasing, not only in the great metropolis, but also in other large towns. The great and increasing interest taken in choice flowers is a tolerably correct index of public taste and refinement; while the humanising employment afforded to hundreds by this increased appreciation of the pure and beautiful in nature, cannot but operate beneficially on the world at large. Here are bridal bouquets, tastefully formed of the most snow-like blossoms, that nestle lovingly among fresh ferns and mosses, and diffuse their delicate fragrance around us. Here are also Immortelles and wreaths for the decoration of graves and tombs, that remind us of friends "not lost, but gone before." We are right glad to notice this growing taste for beautiful flowers, since they appeal to the better feelings of all classes alike, and diffuse brightness and fragrance in many a happy home.
It is also quite evident that a regular current of public opinion has set in in favour of herbaceous and other outdoor flowering-plants. Perhaps the coal question may have something to do with the increasing taste in this direction, but at all events it is quite certain that many hardy plants are now becoming sought after with avidity, that were but a year or two ago nearly lost to cultivators. One shop in the Grand Row makes a specialty of succulent plants in small pots, and very pretty objects they are for window-culture or for the Wardian case. These plants are specially adapted for the decoration of windows, since they succeed without the constant care and attention required by most other plants. Young plants of Kleinea, Pachyphytum, Echinocactus, Mammillaria, and Cereus are easily obtained, and soon make effective objects for any dry situation, either in the greenhouse, or apartment where other plants do not thrive. In conclusion, I earnestly advise all horticulturists interested in the commercial aspect of gardening to visit Covent Garden Market, and there see for themselves the varied produce of hundreds of the market-gardens scattered around the great metropolis.