Gary Marshall, Managing Director of Bevington Salads and Chairman of the Covent Garden Tenants Association, and Bryan Porter, Managing Director of Porters Foliage and the leading voice of the Flower Market, have both been heralded as Heroes of the Dawn in the last few days.
Heroes of the Dawn is a 7.25 slot on the BBC Radio London breakfast show, which recognises the people who have been hard at work while the rest of the capital sleeps. Bryan and Gary both spoke to host Salma El-Wardany about life at the country’s leading wholesale market.
Gary told Salma he “was just finishing up for the morning”, adding: “The market opens up at 9pm when we start receiving fresh produce from around the world…but I’m a bit lazy, I don’t get here til 10!”
He described the market and explained the unique dynamics of working through the night at New Covent Garden Market. “We’re never grumpy. We can’t pretend that we stand around singing and dancing and telling jokes all night – but we try to,” Gary joked.
“New Covent Garden is renowned as the market with the best quality and continuity,” he said. “We sell the best fruit, vegetables and salads to schools, hospitals, office buildings, the catering and hospitality trades and some fantastic independent retailers.”
Salma asked what is in season now. “We’re just coming into the beautiful Spanish citrus and new crop apples,” answered Gary, pictured above with the winners of the Market's Independent Retailer competition. “The berry season is coming to the end, but we’re still getting a bit of lovely English raspberry and strawberry until we move on to Spain again. We’re also getting some incredible grape from Italy at the moment. The English broccoli season has just finished so we’re working Spanish now, but we’re still getting some great English cauliflower and there’s lots of good spring green and cabbage.
“We’ve got to remember how spoilt we are in this country – we get asparagus, cherries, strawberries 12 months a year and we’re so very fortunate to get the produce we get.”
Salma wanted to know whether there is anywhere to get coffee at 3am in the market. “We’re not quite cavemen here,” Gary laughed, “we’ve got three nice cafs, so not only can you get a nice cup of tea or coffee, but you can have a lovely sandwich as well. “And when you’ve been to the fruit and vegetable market, I’ll take you over to the biggest flower market in the country and that is just another world of vibrant colours and smells.”
Which brings us on to Bryan, who had woken at 12.30am on the morning he spoke on the show. His fresh foliage business “sells anything you would get in a bouquet that’s not a flower”, he explained. Bryan’s family has been in the market for more than 100 years; he’s fourth generation and with a nephew and son also involved in the business, the potential line into the fifth generation is established.
Salma asked Bryan whether he had always known his destiny was with the business or had he felt the pressure of family expectation. “The answer to that is actually the reverse,” Bryan said. “We were encouraged not to come into the family business because my mother knew how hard and challenging a life it is. So I went off and did something else and have that experience of working for someone else and I think that’s important. But it was in my heart and in my bones – I’ve been in the market as boy and as a man and I’ve loved the experience.”
Bryan, pictured above with Josh and Sam, explained the hours of the business and said that he would finish early afternoon and then was asked the age-old question of when he gets time to sleep. “That’s a very good question,” he said. “If I was to exist on constantly getting a clear five hours every night, I think that’s the magic number. Unfortunately we don’t always get that. We’re coming into a very busy time for us – the next eight weeks are our busiest time of the year, so we’ll be here at 11pm and we’ll still be working ‘til mid afternoon. It gets a bit crazy, but it’s a two-month spell that’s vital to surviving the rest of the year.
“It’s the seasonal Christmas splurge, so anything that’s painted trailing, all the wreathes and the garlands for the hotels, who start early and need replenishing every week or two, then later on the retail and the products for people’s homes.”
Signing off, Bryan gave a message to London customers and consumers listening to the programme. “I think with flowers and the flower market, it’s all about inspiring people. If anyone comes on to our stand and they’re not inspired, we’ve failed. We supply the creatives – all the designers and creative people – and they need inspiring, so we have to do our job, so they can go and do theirs.
“All I would say to the public listening is support your local florist and local businesses – it’s vitally important to do that.”
Both Gary and Bryan extended an invitation to Salma to visit the market, join the Heroes of the Dawn gang and broadcast her show from the site – watch this space!