|Romantic symbol:Da Lat's flowers attract millions of tourists to the Central Highlands city. — VNS File Photos
by Nhat Ha
In Viet Nam, even with its nationwide tradition of horticulture, if you play a word-place association game and mention "flowers", you know what the place is going to be.
Ten times out of 10, the place will be Da Lat.
In last days of the year, Da Lat wears an even more romantic look than usual.
As the soft, yellow sunlight, the gentle breeze that softens the chilly air and yes, yes, the ubiquitous flowers, as all these induce a mellowness inside you, you notice that the residents themselves are not relaxing.
Indeed, they are bustling about, making hectic, last minute preparations to make sure that the premier event of the Central Highlands resort city, the biennial Flower Festival – the city's pride and joy – is even more spectacular than the last edition.
The festival kicks off on New Year's Eve, adding further zest to the proceedings. One can see that the city is going to be ablaze with colours very soon.
|Petal presentation:The Da Lat Flower Festival showcases many floral offerings, with flowers from around the nation as well as neighbouring countries.
Located on the Lam Vien (Langbian) Plateau (1,500 metres above the sea level) with the year-round cool and fresh weather, Da Lat keeps collecting titles as though it is its entitlement.
It is the City of Flowers, the City of Pines and the City of Love - and because of the mist that covers its valley almost throughout the year, it is also the City of Eternal Spring.
To get down and dirty about its beauty, Da Lat's soil and average temperatures of 18 degrees Celcius have been fertile ground for its flower industry, which grows more than 400 species that flourish in tropical and temperate climates.
The twisting roads that wind their way through the city's hilly terrain only add the Da Lat's numerous charms.
As I have mentioned in these spaces before, the flowers that are the city's crowning glory are not just found in gardens and nurseries, they grow wild on roadsides, in window sills, from cracks in the walls, and every patch of land that is available.
While tulips, dahlias, orchids and chrysanthemums are typical commercial crops, there are others, like the mai anh dao (Prunus cesacoides), phuong tim (Jacaradanda), yellow mimosa (Silver Wattle) and ban trang (Bauthinia Variegata), that brighten up the city at different times of the year.
|Green thumb:Farmer Ha Van Dong tends his anthurium farm, flowers from which will be on show at the upcoming festival.
Then there are the cam tu cau (Hotensia), cuc (daisy), do quyen (Water-rail) and rose, adornments that the city decorates itself with from time to time.
The Da Lat Flower Festival, which draws thousands of domestic and international visitors to the city every year, honours both the profession of horticulture and the horticulturists - the farmers and artisans - who have made it one of two largest floral shows in Asia alongside a similar event in Hong Kong.
Nguyen Xuan Tien, chairman of the Lam Dong Province People's Committee, said: "Flowers and flower-growers have always been close to Da Lat's entire development process. They have provided all kinds of flowers to the city, which now has thousands of species with origins elsewhere in the country as well as many other countries in the world.
"They are making important contributions to the province's socio-economic development, and enabling the Da Lat Flower brand become famous at home and abroad."
This year's flower festival, the fifth, is expected to be the biggest one to date as it greets several other important events - both national and pertaining to Da Lat City in particular. These include the first Viet Nam-Asia Heritage Festival, the launch of the National Tourism Year and the Celebration of the 120th year of Founding and Development of Da Lat.
Of course, farmers in the city are kept the busiest of all by the flower festival.
In Thai Phien Village which is a traditional daisy planting community, farmers are busy taking care of more than 30 hectares of daisy, lily and carnation fields so as to have the flowers ready for display at the event.
Ho Ngoc Dinh, president of the local farmers' association, said the village will also welcome tourists who want to visit it and learn more about its vocational and other traditions.
Farmers in Van Thanh Village, meanwhile, plan to create a 120m long "rose road" to greet the festival. The road will be arranged with several parterres at which the village's typical species of roses including velvety, pink and white roses will be planted.
Villagers will also prepare various types of floral products including dry flowers and flower paintings to serve visitors at the festival.
"We're doing lots of things to make Da Lat as pretty as possible," said a member of the Da Lat Flower Festival 2014 organising committee.
"We expect to mobilise at least 1.3 million flower farming units, including enterprises and household businesses, to participate in the festival. The figure is nearly three times more than in 2005," he said.
He said the city now has 3.5 million enterprises involved in producing and trading flowers and they are ready to supply products for the festival.
"However, we still encourage neighbouring provinces and foreign companies to bring their flower products to the event to increase everyone's enjoyment.
"To date, foreign flower companies mainly from Japan, the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand have accepted our invitation," he said.
The Da Lat urban works management company will be responsible for setting up large panels of flowers and floral towers in the city.
The Da Lat Flower Garden, where the international flower exhibition will take place, is being rearranged and parterres are being replanted to make sure that the flowers will bloom at festival time.
All households in Da Lat have been encouraged to grow flowers and apricot trees along the city's main streets are being cared for by horticulturists so they bloom just in time.
|Tech progress:Da Lat leads the country in applying technologies to grow flowers, leading to improvements in both quality and quantity.
Da Lat has six traditional flower villages -- Ha Dong, Thai Phien, Da Thien, An Son, Van Thanh and Xuan Tho - that grow similar varieties of flowers and specialise in a few others.
Pham Van An, director of Lam Dong Province's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that the flower cultivation area in the province, mainly Da Lat, had doubled from 1,731ha in 2003 to nearly 4,000 ha with an output of about 14 billion bunches of flowers at present. Of these, 52 million are exported for a turnover of US$25 million.
In addition to traditional markets such as Singapore, China and Japan, Da Lat's well-known flowers like roses, lilies, orchids and daisies have also been exported to Europe and North America, Aán said.
In December 2009, the Department of Intellectual Property under the Ministry of Science and Technology granted the "Hoa Da Lat" (Da Lat Flowers) brand to the Lam Dong People's Committee.
The Hoa Da Lat brand, deemed a common asset of the community of Da Lat producers and traders, is managed by the Da Lat People's Committee.
"In recent years, flower growers in the city have enhanced the application of advanced technology in farming, packaging and preservation, improving yield and quality as well as reducing post-harvest losses so that Da Lat flowers could gain international recognition," he said.
Nguyen Minh Tam, deputy director of the Lam Dong Department of Science and Technology, said that although Da Lat flowers are well-known in both domestic and overseas markets, building a strong Da Lat Flower brand is still a major task for local authorities and flower growers.
As a result, the Hoa Da Lat brand received the certificate by the Department of Intellectual Property under the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2012. It has since become a common asset of flower growers and other residents, and is managed by the People's Committee.
Recently, five more flower species widely grown in Da Lat - roses, chrysanthemum, bluebell, clove pink and sword lily - have been allowed to bear the Da Lat Flower brand name, said Duong Ngoc Duc, head of the economic bureau under the Da Lat People's Committee.
Forty-two individuals and facilities that grow the above flowers will now be allowed to use the brand on the packaging and promoting their products for three years.
Ha Van Dong, 62, one of several famous flower growers in Da Lat, said farmers in Ha Dong Village cultivate mostly chrysanthemums but have also reserved some land for lisianthus.
"My parents began growing flowers in the 1960s, but it only became a profitable business in 1996 when we decided to develop some new flower varieties and use greenhouses," he said.
This year, his family will show off 1,000 chrysanthemum and lisianthus flowers at Xuan Huong Lake, Dong said and adding, "We are working very hard to look after the flowers so that they bloom during the festival. It is very difficult but we have to try."
Nguyen Hung Vinh, a farmer from Da Thien 3 Village, said that up to 80 per cent of the village's households grow flowers, mostly rose, chrysanthemum, orchid, carnation and gerbera.
"We have prepared hard to display some ten varieties of flowers at the festival.
"We really want to make our city more beautiful than ever." — VNS