Columbia Road Market 61
This is Lyndon Osborn, a noble plantsman from New Zealand, who has been trading here for nine years – although he spent the first seven years nearby in Ezra St, while he worked his way up the waiting list for a pitch on Columbia Rd. “It’s only my third year in the firing line,” he declared with characteristic Antipodean bonhomie, “but I built up quite a big customer base round the corner – and now I’ve discovered many others who only walk along Columbia Rd.”
Nine years ago, I bought one of the tree ferns from Lyndon that he imports from New Zealand and which remain his speciality to this day. These extraordinary plants lie dormant, permitting the trunk alone to be transported, apparently a dried-out husk – until you add water and it regenerates, sprouting tendrils from the top and resuming vigorous life in a new continent. Over this time – just like his tree ferns – Lyndon himself has put down roots and shown dramatic growth too, establishing a nursery in High Barnet. And I have found that because Lyndon rears his seedlings in London, they are acclimatised to the conditions which improves their chances of thriving in my garden.
In particular, Lyndon has become famous for his spectacular pelargoniums, especially the deep crimson “Lord Bute,” which I have spied in many of the discerning gardens of the East End over recent Summers. The copyright that exists on more recent strains sent Lyndon back to propagate nineteenth century cultivars, also more hardy and pest resistant that their modern counterparts.
Starting from one trolley in Ezra St Market, Lyndon has now ascended to the lofty heights of plantsman appointed to Dunhill in Mayfair and Selfridges’ Shoe Shop. “Just as the nineteenth century aristocracy gave their gardeners free rein, these clients let me do what I want, and they love the idea of it being a small nursery, supplying plants grown up the road. I plant them up four times a year, and last time I was planting the Dunhill Shop, someone from Claridges came to speak to me…” confided Lyndon proudly, his green eyes shining in eager anticipation of what might follow. I thought of Lyndon when I visited the magnificent fern garden at Malplaquet House, so it was no surprise to discover that he supplied the ferns and is the principal plant supplier to Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, the landscape designer who lives there – collaborating on many of his projects including a forthcoming garden of tree ferns for the central atrium at the Royal College of Art.
Lyndon is a popular character in the market, renowned for his relaxed, droll humour and fascinating mixture of plants, always quick with a cheery greeting and eager to strike up a conversations with customers who share his horticultural enthusiasms. “It has re-ignited my interest in London. I don’t come here to make money, it’s a social event. I’ve gone from meeting people as customers, who have become acquaintances and then friends,” admitted Lyndon with a sentimental smile, expressing his affection for Columbia Rd, “From here, everything has snowballed and that’s why I have such high regard for the market.”
Lyndon Osborn’s pelargonium “Lord Bute,” photographed in my garden last Summer.
Portrait of Lyndon Osborn copyright © Jeremy Freedman