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TThe flower sellers of Adderley Street are as much a part of Cape Town as Table Mountain, good wine and fresh fish – for more than 150 years they have been selling their flowers from Trafalgar Place.
If you want to get an oral history of Cape Town, as well as the locals' views on current events, then a visit to the Adderley Street flower market is the thing to do.
For more than 150 years, flowers have been sold from Trafalgar Place, a covered alley where brightly coloured flowers, from fynbos to exotic blooms, are on display. You will know you've reached your destination when you hear calls of, 'R30 (thirty rand) a bunch, only R30.'
The flower sellers' busiest day of the year is without a doubt Valentine's Day, when Trafalgar Place is filled with bunches of roses – red, pink, yellow and even blue. On that day, carnations, proteas, tulips, poppies and sweet peas take a back seat.
But the flower sellers do far more than just sell bunches of flowers – they will regale you with stories of today and yesteryear; stories that have been handed down through the generations.
Most of the flower sellers are women, coloured (a South African term for people of mixed race) and of slave descent. Their grandmothers and great-grandmothers were allowed to ply their trade here for many decades, even under the notorious Group Areas Act. They were allowed to stay because their clientele were white women who adorned their homes with the freshest-cut flowers they could find.
Strawberry Lane in Constantia will be spoken about wistfully. Or ask them about forced removals, about Bonteheuwel, Lavender Hill and Hanover Park.
Coloured people lived in Strawberry Lane in Constantia for many generations. Most of them worked on nearby farms, but they also farmed their own land, rearing animals and growing fruit, vegetables and flowers, which would then be sold. Strawberry Lane residents were forced off their land during the 1960s under South Africa's Group Areas Act.
Coloured and black people from Strawberry Lane were forcibly moved to areas specifically set aside for them, on the windy, barren and sandy Cape Flats, where it took a miracle for anything to take root. These areas were soulless and tore apart family and friends. They were dumped in Lavender Hill (where no lavender grew), Steenberg and Hanover Park.
Today there is no sign that a thriving, happy community once lived around Strawberry Lane, and Constantia is one of the most expensive suburbs in Cape Town.
Memories of that terrible time are still vivid for many of the flower sellers. But they are a tough group of people – even though they still bear the psychological scars of being uprooted, they continue to ply their trade.
And selling flowers here is a serious business – stalls are handed down from mother to daughter to carry on the tradition of selling flowers, charming customers and absorbing and spreading stories about the past and the present.
Take some time to chat with them; their laughter is infectious, and visitors will take a chunk of oral history with them.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Cape Town Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)86 132 2223
How to get here
The flower sellers are next to the Golden Acre shopping mall in Adderley Street, between Strand and Darling streets.
Best time to visit
The flower sellers set up shop at sunrise and are there until sunset. The best time to catch them is mid-morning and after lunchtime, when they are more likely to have time for a chat
Things to do
For greater context, visit the significant historical Slave Lodge Museum, St Georges Cathedral and the City Hall.
What will it cost?
The prices for bunches of flowers varies according to seasonality and size but set aside at least R100 for a small bunch.
You can attempt to haggle over a bunch of flowers, especially if it is late afternoon when sales are generally harder to get.