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Columbia Road Market 71

June 26, 2011
by the gentle author

Each year at this time, I buy some Pinks from Columbia Rd to add to my small collection of Dianthus, for just a couple of pounds each. And to better appreciate the detail and scent of my new prized acquisitions, I keep them on the dresser for a few weeks in some of my old pots that I have found in the market, before I plant them out at the edge of a dry border in the hope to see them bloom again next Summer. In fact, the luscious Whatfield Ruby that I bought last year at Columbia Rd for three pounds has just finished flowering in my garden.

These distinctive flowers have been in cultivation since the medieval period (Shakespeare calls them “gilliflowers”). And the verb “to pink” dating from the fourteenth century, meaning to perforate – as in “pinking shears” – may be the origin of the common name, referring to their denticulated petals. In turn, the word “pink” as a colour may originate from these flowers that come in such elegant variety, and I love the subtle range of tones from sugared almond to coral, perfectly complemented by their silvery, grey green stems and narrow leaves.

Pinks evoke memories of my mother and grandmother’s gardens, where both had a cherished corners for Dianthus, and I always love to see them in the wild too, in their spindly natural incarnation – whether in the Hebridean machair, upon the cliffs in Dorset or high on the Pyrenees. Rich in association of many times and places, it lifts my spirits to encounter their subtle clove-like scent when I walk into the room each morning. These Pinks have brightened my house through the dullest cloudiest days this June.

Whatfield Ruby

8 Responses leave one →
  1. June 26, 2011

    How pretty? I LOVE Columbia road haven’t been in ages :-(

  2. June 26, 2011

    in my single days, dianthus, whose small delicate flowers with their carnation scent and layered colours, were my personal favorite as pot plants; along with cyclamens and african violets, they are a friendly presence in the life of a solitary dweller

    now that i’m not single, dianthus still holds an element of privacy for me, as if it knows my secrets, which is probably why i dont keep it in the house – it also doesnt prefer company: it likes the attention of its master, and it doesnt seem to thrive if there are too many people surrounding it; maybe that’s why your ancestors had special corners devoted to its presence, as i would too, if i were once again to find myself single

  3. Ros permalink
    June 26, 2011

    So happy to find a flower post again today and feast on the lovely photos. I have missed them these past few months.

  4. Penny permalink
    June 27, 2011

    Once again you have lifted the spirits of a one time Londoner, living in a country with wet and dry seasons: where the flowers must be of rude health to survive our firey summers. I can smell your flowers. Thank you for your magical blog.

  5. jean permalink
    June 27, 2011

    Always wondered about gilly flowers. Now I know. Thanks.

  6. Christine permalink
    June 29, 2011

    Your pinks are very timely for me as I have been doing some research on them for a tour at the Johnston Collection in Melbourne, Australia. Your glorious photos and interesting information will be a great help.

  7. Pete Edwards permalink
    July 1, 2011

    Love your blog and I like this little story but found myself somewhat disappointed that you had not picked up an important dimension to the story of “pinks” and Columbia Road Market.
    On Hackney Road at its junction with the west end of Columbia Rd is a small park (next to Ye Olde Axe pub) formerly an extension to St.Leonard’s graveyard. Here you can find the grave of Thomas Fairchild (1667-1729) a Hoxton nurseryman and florist, who was the first man to produce an artificial hybrid plant – a cross between a sweet william and a carnation pink. This he called the “Fairchild Mule” – now known as Dianthus caryophyllus barbutus. Next to the park is a new building called Fairmule House (designed by Quay 2c architects) which has glazed panels and balustrades laminated with images of sweet williams and carnations. On the Waterson St. frontage is a plaque to Thomas Fairchild. There are several other interesting dimensions to Fairchild’s story which might be worth following up.

  8. Carole Williams permalink
    June 16, 2012

    One of my ancestors, John Sampson, b1699 Blickling in Norolk – d 1739 Hoxton, was apprenticed to Thomas Fairchild Gardner, Citizen & Clothworker of London for 7 years 1715-22 at Hoxton. Fairchild had half an acre of garden land at Hoxton and 2 acres of land over at the Dog House. Carole

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