In the time it takes to drive to the Sydney Flower Markets at Flemington, as you coast down Parramatta Road and dip under the old Anzac Biscuits-branded crossway, you’ll have time to sip a coffee and really wake up. It pays to be early. If you’re a little green and you’ve never ventured to a commercial flower market before, we can assure you it will feel a little like you’ve wandered in on a huge secret.
Trucks loiter near the entrance, their doors flung open to reveal bunches of David Austin roses and the last ranunculus of the season, their soft-petalled heads lolling about in feigned exhaustion. It’s a riot of sunset pinks, fresh milk creams and sweet corn yellows. All the prettiness is a little overwhelming at first and it’s hard to know where to begin.
Luckily, we’re here with Holly Hipwell, a completely self-taught florist from the Northern Beaches. Hipwell burst onto the Sydney flower stage about two years ago, touting vivid puffs of carnations strung together into spheres – flower bombs – which soon became her calling card. She waltzes through the market with a bushel of fragrant boronias in the crook of her arm. We tag along behind and it’s hard to ignore the eyes that follow her. She’s wearing a skirt the colour of a light New Zealand jade, her hair is a dusty terracotta and she’s got a smile for everyone. “Everything I know about flowers, I learnt from the people here,” she says.
All the growers and sellers address her by name and with a mischievous smile. They show her only the freshest tulips and hold up a bucket of anemones for her to inspect. This is Hipwell’s biggest tip, if you’re starting out in the flower industry or just want to buy your blooms from the right source, is to get to know the growers. They’re the ones who are going to help you the most, and a little friendly conversation goes a long way. Also, don’t jump right in. Take the time to wander between the stalls, taking a good look at everything before you buy.
We’re introduced to Dominic, who is perched on a stool between two huge bunches of blossoms. One cherry, one apple. At his feet is a snowfall of petals and he’s cradling a coffee. Dominic keeps 10 acres out in Kenthurst, about 40 kilometres from the city. He’s been selling here since 1977 and arrived at 1am this morning to sell his produce to the florists that show up around 5am. On his property, August through December brings freesias, poppies, anemones, lisianthus and blossoms, one of the most popular blooms of the year for him, their delicacy ensuring that they can’t be imported.
We ask Hipwell what she looks forward to the most, to which she replies, “I love everything that smells good!” It’s a good tune to march to, but apparently carnations (the backbone of the flower bomb) have made a huge comeback in the last year, as have white sprays of baby’s breath.
From his stool, Dominic glances over at the rows of plastic-wrapped orchids that are increasingly crowding the aisles. They’ve been flown over from various Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia. In another corner, tightly bound roses have been cut from fields in Kenya. Twenty-four hours after cutting, they’re here at the Australian markets, which is great for year-round roses, but isn’t so eco-conscious.
Even though this influx of imported flowers is a little worrying, Hipwell is adamant about the quality of the Sydney market. “The price, the quality, the variety, it’s all the best here. It’s the biggest flower market in Australia,” she says, explaining that she mostly sticks to the local growers when she can.
You don’t have to be a registered florist to purchase your flowers at Flemington. Buyers of any ilk are welcome from Monday to Saturday from 5am (for an $8 entry fee). According to Hipwell, Fridays are the main buying day for florists, as Saturday is their busiest day. So get in early if you’re planning on arriving at a similar time, as stalls usually shut up shop around 10am.
Saturdays are usually kept for the “tourists” (there’s no entry fee on Saturdays), but some growers don’t bother to turn up if they’ve sold-out of their stock on Friday.
If you’re planning on buying flowers for an occasion or event, prices are close to half the price of a reseller or an inner city florist and the variety is unmatched. And there’s always the pleasure of driving back down toward the city, your backseat filled with braches of blossoms, cherry-sweet and shedding all over your car. Perhaps a florist’s life is for us after all.
Sydney Flower Market
250–318 Parramatta Road, Flemington
Holly Hipwell’s signature flower bombs and other blooms can be delivered to your shop, restaurant or home weekly.
Floral installations start from $40 including delivery and vase hire. To find out more, visit the Flower Drum at The Sugarmill in Narrabeen every Saturday or find our more online.