This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Being long anxious to visit this world-renowned place for a display of vegetables, I accordingly paid it a visit one Saturday morning, in January last. With the produce which the market gardens around London brought to this market I was astonished at its excellence; but with the place they have for selling it in I was disappointed. It is far too small for the immense traffic, and, together with the narrowness of the streets leading into it, make it altogether a very mean place for the purpose. The business is mostly done in the morning between 6 and 9 o'clock, when but little traffic of any other kind is being carried on, especially during winter; but, at the same time, the large wagons used for conveying the produce are so closely packed together it is1 very difficult for those on foot to push their way through; and very disagreeable for those having the work to do, getting their vegetables off the wagons, and properly disposed of.
The flower market is much superior to the vegetable department. It is a large building so arranged that one can move about and examine the plants and flowers with a good deal more comfort than in the vegetable market, and, undoubtedly, with a good deal less of rebuff to the stranger than in the latter place. The buyers and sellers appear to think they have an exclusive right during the early hours of the morning, and that strangers should stand outside and under no pretense whatever ask any questions about what they see, except the prices of the different vegetables. In the flower department every one appeared very anxious to inform us what we asked them.
Upon the whole, I really think London - the Empire City of the world - should possess a vegetable market something in keeping with her great size and immense wealth. For the benefit of the readers of the Monthly, I shall give a list and the prices of some of the principal vegetables, plants, and cut flowers which were in the market at the time of my visit.
Turnips were in large quantities and of good quality, but not very large in size; they sold for 4d. per bunch. Carrots were splendid, not extra large, but clean and free from canker; 6d. per bunch. Rhubarb, at 1s. 6d. per bundle, was finely colored, although forced, which is what is not always seen, and what many gardeners do not deem requisite to have in forced rhubarb, but what is not well colored is not well flavored. Plenty of air and light are necessary in obtaining color. Green peas, at 1s. 6d. per lb., were not very plentiful. Considerable quantities of new potatoes were in the market, and for about 1s. 6d. per small basket. A good many tomatoes I saw, but of a quality which would not be much relished by Americans, who are so much accustomed to such fine fruit at home; they brought from 1s. to 2s. per dozen. Seakale was in splendid condition, thoroughly blanched and, therefore, very tender; sold for about 2s. per punnet. Asparagus was plentiful, and of excellent quality; home-grown brought from 8s. to 10s. per bundle There were also cucumbers, onions in large quantities, leeks, celery (mostly red varieties), lettuce, endive, cabbage, Brussel-sprouts, and cauliflower which all sold at good, fair prices.
Taken altogether, the vegetables were the best and in larger quantities than I had previously seen anywhere.
The fruit was also very good and in large quantities; some excellent grapes of Lady Downe's and Black Alicante varieties. These are the two best kinds we have for hanging late, but it appears to me the true Alicante is not always seen bearing the name. It is a fine keeping and good looking, but not an extra flavored grape. They ranged in price from 2s. to 6s. per lb). Plenty of foreign grapes at much lower prices.
There were some good specimens of Ne Plus Meuris, Easter Beurre and Beurre Rance, pears, large lots of American apples, plenty of oranges, figs, nuts, melons and pine-apples. The plants were mostly growing in six-inch pots, but were well grown and free from insects; those in flower appeared as if their blooms had just opened, so as to be in their best that very day. The plants of Azaleas were grown mostly as standards, and the smallest of the plants full of blossoms, both single and double varieties; they sold for from £2 to £3 per dozen.
Bouvardias were not in such good condition as I have often seen some of the American gardeners having them; they sold for about 12s. per dozen. When visiting the large plant establishment of Messrs. Hugh Low & Co. I saw a great quantity of the different varieties of bouvardia growing in pots flowering very freely, but what drew my attention most was the large size of trusses they had. Primula sinensis astonished me to see the excellent strains of some of the lots exposed for sale here. It is very strange some of the enthusiastic florists throughout the United States have not got into the cultivation of some good strain of Primula and raise seed for home demands. As it is, gardeners in want of fine kinds have to import from England, and although the highest price is paid for it, far superior strains are seen for sale in Covent Garden than any I have ever seen raised from any of our "imported " seed.
The plants have foliage of fine substance, the flowers, which are very large, are produced in large trusses, and raise above the leaves just high enough to make them look well. The fine strains brought 12s. per dozen.
Poinsettia pulcherrima is grown in six-inch pots. The plants are very dwarf, and the bracts very large. Some of the white one - alba - are for sale, but not nearly so abundant as the red one; they brought about £1 per dozen. Tulips were in variety and very fine. They are planted five bulbs in a pot, and sell from 9s. to 18s. per dozen. Hyacinths are grown singly in pots, and bring about the same price; except Roman Hyacinths, which sell for as much as 30s. per dozen. There was a great show of the different colors of Cyclamen, selling for from 12s. to 18s. per dozen.
Besides the above, there were large lots of Heaths in variety, Begonias, Echeveria retusa floribunda, Cyperus alternifolius, Epiphyllums, Dracaenas, Mignonette, Pelargoniums, and Ficus elastica. Cut flowers were not so plentiful as are seen in the florists' establishments in the United States. I have seen in a single establishment there more flowers at one time than there were in all Covent Garden Market. Some of the principal were Carnations, 12 blooms, 2s. to 4s.; Gardenias, 12 bl., 12s. to 18s.; Eucharis, 12 bl., 6s. to 18s.; Stepbanotis, 12 sprays, 9s. to 18s.; Tuberoses, per dozen, 4s. to 9s. Such kinds as Cylca-men, Heliotropes, Mignonette, Pelargoniums, Primula, Spirea, Violets, and Roses sold a good deal cheaper.