Flower markets that can lift the spirit

Let's visit four of Shanghai's major flower markets where vendors are enthusiastic about adding color to life.

People love flowers for their beauty, and they are a favourite subject for artists and poets. Monet’s water lilies, Van Gogh’s sunflowers and Wordsworth’s daffodils, for example.

In a busy city, flower markets can be places to calm the mind and raise our spirits. 

Let’s visit four of Shanghai’s major flower markets, sense the fragrance and meet the people working there.

Ti Gong

Wan Juan, a floral designer and teacher, arranges flowers at her studio in International Floricultural Times Plaza.

International Floricultural Times Plaza  国际花艺时代广场

The International Floricultural Times Plaza was transformed from the original Hongqiao Antique Center, a shikumen-style compound of around 100,000 square meters. Selling antiques alone brought few customers. The addition of flower stores increased the plaza's popularity.

“When I was a kid, a tour to the former Jiangyin Road Flower Market would keep me feeling delighted for several days. You know, it was the flower market that Bill Clinton and his family visited about two decades ago,” said Wang Yuanjing, a manager at the International Floricultural Times Plaza.

Song Yu, a 44-year-old flower merchant from Yancheng City in east China’s Jiangsu Province, inherited his parents’ business 20 years ago and now owns the Shanghai Songyu Flower Store at the plaza’s underground flower wholesale area.

“When I started my business two decades ago, the variety of flowers was limited. As people’s living conditions improved and their need for flowers grew, more and more kinds of flowers were imported from abroad,” said Song.

Wan Juan, a floral designer and teacher who owns Jane’s Floral Studio on the plaza’s first floor, used to be a tea specialist. At one tea ceremony performance when arranging flowers was also performed, Wan felt she was at her wits' end and decided to explore floral design.

“I am a follower of the Ohararyu ikebana. There are three schools of ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement: Ikenobo, Ohararyu and Sogetsu. Ikenobo emphasizes solemnity, Sogetsu has a tendency toward modernity, whereas Ohararyu falls in between,” said Wan, who has been invited by a Jing’an District community cultural activity center as its flower arranging teacher.

Zhang Hui and Yan Wei, a couple of the post-80s generation, run a FX Art Layout vase store on the plaza’s fourth floor. Zhang entered the floriculture industry in 2000 and Yan joined him after they got married.

“The difficulty of my work lies in good supply,” said Yan.

“She refers to the gap between our designers’ requirements and what the factories can actually produce,” said Zhang. “We as shop owners serve as the mediation and try to bridge the gap.”

Zhu Guangrong, art director of the Langtuo Visual Art Studio on the fourth floor of the plaza, runs a unique paper sculpture designing business focused on showroom design for department stores, galleries and household domestic decoration. In his youth, Zhu was a cloth designer who also liked painting in his spare time. He felt satisfied that he finally integrated his interest into his career.

A wedding props store named Xiyingmen can be found on the fifth floor. Wang Zhenyu, its owner, used to be a flower merchant.

“In weddings, artificial flowers replace true flowers in extremely complicated decorations. By doing wedding props selling and renting business, I can meet a variety of customers from all walks of life,” said Wang.

By October this year an online flower merchandising center affiliated to the International Floricultural Times Plaza will be set up, making purchasing from the plaza more convenient, according to Wang Yuanjing.

Address: 528 Jinhui Rd


Yang Yang / SHINE

Hongqiao Flower Market

Hongqiao Flower Market  虹桥花卉市场

Getting off the Longbai Xincun Subway Station on Line 10 and walking south along Hongjing Road for several blocks, you will find an ivory white archway supported by two roman columns with words “Hongqiao Flower Market” written at the top.

The market, which opened in 2001, occupies an area of about 20,000 square meters. It is more like a park bringing you closer to nature than an enclosed market built with steel and concrete.

A map on the wall in an alley leading toward the market shows its layout. After 18 years’ development, the market now has more than 130 stores. They are based in different shopping sections selling potted plants, courtyard plants, succulent plants, fresh-cut flowers, artificial flowers, handicrafts, birds and aquatic animals.

The market is not just popular with local people. 

“I have many overseas customers. This morning a group of children from a nearby international kindergarten visited the market with their teachers. They were attracted to my store and lingered around it for a while,” said Xu Koufeng, the 51-year-old owner of the Ming Feng Xuan bird and aquatic animal store.

Xu’s store has parrots, mynah birds, katydids, rabbits, turtles and fish of various species. They are like colorful or talkative companions surrounding Xu with their zest for life.

“The living condition of my childhood house was suitable for raising animals and my father raised small animals like ducks, gooses and rabbits. They were my dear friends throughout my childhood. After I grew up, my interest in animals developed into my career,” said Xu.

She is also familiar with the living habits of the aquatic animals at her store.

“Shallow water turtles live both in water and on land, and the water they live in must be very clear. Whereas deep water turtles are more tolerant toward their living condition,” she said.

Address: 718 Hongjing Rd


Yang Yang / SHINE

A flower store at Shuangji Flower and Horticultural Market

Shuangji Flower and Horticultural Market  双季花市

At the Shuangji Flower and Horticultural Market, two entrances face each other. The one on the right leads to a fresh flower market and the left leads to a more diversified market selling plants, artificial flowers, aquatic animals and providing courtyard decoration services.

As a new semester had begun and Teachers’ Day was approaching, flesh flower vendors in the right block were busy wrapping bouquets with flowers of matched colors for parents and students to present to teachers. Apart from greeting customers, the vendors talked little as they worked. Some didn’t take a break until supper time.

Shopkeepers in the left market, that mainly comprises green plant stores, had more time to relax.

If there was a “Most Relaxing Store” award it would go to Zhang Li’s Lindian bonsai store. At the front of the store, turtles in a jar stretched their limbs while a shishi-odoshi broke the quietness of the front garden with the sound of a bamboo rocker arm hitting a rock.

Zhang, a 48-year-old Shanghai local, became a bonsai trader 20 years ago. He opened his first bonsai store in a fit of pique toward his elder sister.

“My sister owned a green plant store and I was a helper for her now and then. She quit the trade later and it was I who persisted till now,” said Zhang.

Once Zhang borrowed 700 yuan (US$177) from his sister and bought a pot of high-quality bonsai. A new hand having yet to master the art, the bonsai died soon after.

“I looked helplessly at the pot of bonsai as it gradually withered and lost life, but I could do nothing,” said Zhang. “My sister blamed me. I felt hurt and rebellious and opened my own green plant store, right next to my sister’s store.”

Quitting his job as a snow loader manufacturing worker, Zhang began devoting himself to bonsai store management. He learned the basics of bonsai planting from his neighbors or by himself. He planted some of the bonsai and imported others from Japan.

“Bonsai trading is not a profitable job. Some people may exclaim I can sell a pot of bonsai at tens of thousands of yuan. But they had better take into consideration the many years I spent on caring for those bonsai. A bonsai trader will soon quit the job if he or she doesn’t like bonsai itself,” said Zhang.

“The Japanese have a craftsmanship spirit in bonsai planting, which many of us may lack. Kunio Kobayashi, the world-renowned Japanese bonsai master, would hold a funeral and have all his employees attend if one of his bonsai died,” said Zhang.

Compared to tycoons who are able to buy a pot of bonsai costing 200,000 yuan, but let it perish in two months as their enthusiasm fades, Zhang prefers customers who can really take care of his bonsai.

“There was once a retired worker whose monthly pension was 5,000 yuan. He saved money for three months and bought a pot of bonsai at 10,000 yuan from me. And he was the kind of person who would really grow bonsai well,” said Zhang.

Zhang now sits appreciatively among his hundreds of bonsai at his store with background music of classic Chinese tunes.

“My biggest wish now is to have a house with a big garden and fill it with tens of pots of bonsai which I like best. I will stay with them and take care of them. That is my dream retirement life,” said Zhang.

Address: 620 Pujian Rd


Ti Gong

The Vine Co artificial flower store owned by Ma Canjun at Hengsheng International Horticultural and Decoration Center

Hengsheng International Horticultural and Decoration Center  恒盛国际花艺家饰博览中心

Hengsheng International Horticultural and Decoration Center excels in its location in the traffic hub of Putuo District where Hujia, Hurong and Jinghu expressways intersect, the center attracts customers for its convenient transport.

The five-story flower center, the basement floor included, sells fresh-cut flowers, green plants, aquatic animals, artificial flowers, vases, handicrafts, wedding props and provides decoration services.

Ma Canjun, a flower trader who has a fresh-cut flower store on the first floor and an artificial flower store on the second, moved to the center after the Caojiadu flower market in the downtown area closed at the end of 2017.

“The traffic is convenient. What’s more, many local flower farmers would sell their flowers with distinctive local features near the center, which attracted customers and traders, and further boosted business,” said Ma, a 30-year-old married man.

Ma became a fresh-cut flower trader six years ago and an artificial flower trader two years ago.

“Because of storage, artificial flower trading costs more, whereas the fresh-cut flower trading is a fast retailing business,” said Ma. “As to the art of flower arranging, fresh-cut flowers form best when most revealing their natural features, whereas artificial flowers present more colors and combinations.”

When Ma and his employees provide services for a wedding ceremony, they often have a busy and hasty working schedule.

And after many years’ working in the flower trading industry, Ma has knew people’s preference for different flowers in different seasons.

“In summer, people prefer light colors like white, green, lavender or pink, whereas in winter, they will choose flowers with bold colors like red and dark purple,” said Ma.

Address: 1500 Jinding Rd


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