Drifting around in a sea of fragrant flowers, watching florist slide trolleys of vibrant botanicals across the floor while they banter with traders in the early hours of the morning. It’s a true multi sensory overload – one that’s just a matter of course for Jan Claire, who runs regular tours of the flower market in Melbourne, with her business, C the Market.
I dragged myself out of bed at an unholy hour to catch up with with Jan to have a chat about her business, and to give you a glimpse into this crazy parallel universe of flowers that supplies all of your favourite florists.
Well before the sun came up, we jumped into Jan’s golf buggy to zip around for a turbo tour of Melbourne Wholesale Markets (which is also the fruit and veg hub of the city) before pulling into cavernous Flower Market. It’s brightly lit and reminiscent of an airport hangar, only housing something much more delicate and beautiful. (A note about Jan – she is way too peppy in the early hours of the morning than should be possible).
Melbourne Markets is a wholesale market, meaning the general public can’t access it without being on a tour with you – so you’re basically the gatekeeper! How long have you been doing these tours for?
Well I’ve been doing these tours for ten years now. I started out working for the previous tour operators and the owners decided to step out, so the opportunity came up to take over. I call it my sliding doors moment – you know Gwenyth Paltrow film? It was literally like that. I had no intentions of doing it, I had my own marketing business at the time, but I wanted to stay involved with the markets. I loved working here. This weekend is the 7-year anniversary of my business.
So, your tours start at about 5:30AM, right in the middle of the action at the markets. Doing that on the regular is pretty unfathomable for most people. How do you cope with the crazy early starts?
But I love the early starts. I love being on Melbourne’s roads when there’s no traffic. I love seeing the sun rise, we have some amazing sunrises on the eastern side of the market.
The people here are magical. You’re part of the community here, it’s really special. I’ve been coming here for 10 years now.
Everyone knows you and you don’t get that in a lot of workplaces. Even though everyone here works so hard and are really tired, they make an effort to say good morning. People here are lovely.
What would you say is the best time of the year to do a tour?
So for someone who is mad about flowers – why should they do a tour?
Well, let’s put it this way, this is the national flower centre, there are 30-40 traders in the market on any market day. All the growers in Victoria sell here, and it’s the main distribution centre for Victoria and services Tasmania as well. And it’s interesting for people just to see how it happens. All the top end florists, they come here because they will get the best quality of anything that’s available this week. It’s the best place if you want to get to the source and just want to see how it works. You get to see the traders and realise how hard they work for a living, to get flowers out to you.
When you come into the market you get to see that and be part of it all – the flurry around the Spring racing carnival, everyone buying pretty things for wedding season…
Let’s finish up with your favourite flower!
Oh it changes all the time [of course] but I find that because I’m around them all the time I really like the things I don’t usually see. You’ll think this is a weird one, but one of my favourite is the bearded iris. You don’t see them and they don’t last very long but they’re beautiful. And I love the waratahs that are available at the moment.