|Valuable vines: The garden contains more than 300 species of orchids, including many rare varieties that cost up to US$100 per basket.
by Lan Anh & Ha Nguyen
People call Tran Tuan Anh "the King of Orchids" because he owns two large gardens measuring more than 4,000 square metres in Ha Noi and Bac Ninh.
Everyone is mesmerised by the fragrance and colour of Anh's orchid garden in Ha Noi's My Dinh area.
He invited us to enter his 15-square metre wooden hut in the middle of his orchid farm, where we could enjoy the beauty of the flowers and the different birds' singing in the fresh air.
"Oh, it's wonderful and comfortable because I have never seen such beauty in orchids as I have here," a friend, Viet Lan, said.
Anh said that there are more than 300 species of orchids in this garden including many rare and precious orchids such as Dai Chau (Rhynchostylis gigantea - Lindl), Hai (Cypripedioideae), and Dia (Orchidaceae) that cost up to US$100 per basket.
Tour guide Nguyen Thanh Dong, who is also an orchid lover in Ha Noi, said Tuan's garden is a must-see site for tourists, researchers and orchid lovers inside the country and abroad.
Dong noted that many of his travellers from Japan, France and the Netherlands have expressed great interest in Anh's orchids.
Anh recalled that he has loved orchids from the age of 11 but had no opportunity to invest in them until 1983, after he joined the army and was stationed at the northern mountainous border.
"When I was young, I'd heard about the charming wild orchids. I had thought about them time and again, but I was really bewitched by the colourful wild orchids when I saw them for the first time in a remote forest in Cao Bang Province's Nguyen Binh District.
"I knew clearly that my life had changed," said Anh.
|Prize possession: Tuan Anh shows a basket of his flowers. — VNS Photos Lan Anh
After returning from the army, Anh worked at the Sao Vang Rubber Co for several years. Despite earning a low salary, he still spent almost all of his money buying orchids.
"My passion for the flower had become so great that I gave up working in the company to devote all of my time to growing orchids," Anh said.
He travelled to high mountains and forests across Viet Nam and some countries in southeasten and northern Asia to collect and gain more knowledge about orchids. During those early days without any guidance, Anh had to buy books to research the flowers.
"When I had money, I spent it all on orchids, which made my wife so angry that she asked for a divorce. She left me and our two-year-old son soon after," he said.
Despite all this, in 1998, he set up his company called Lan Trantuan.co with his first investment of more than 300 species that he had collected and bought more than 10 years ago.
"Seeing my large collection of orchids, people, particularly orchid lovers, began to call me "Orchid King", although I still do not have a spacious house of my own. It is because all my money is invested in orchids," Anh explained.
Chairman of the Ha Noi Orchids Association Duong Xuan Trinh said Viet Nam has more than 700 species of orchids, but Anh owns half of those.
"Anh's knowledge of orchids is excellent. Many of us could learn a lot from him about the techniques of growing and tending orchids," Trinh remarked.
He recalled that last year, a Chinese delegation that included orchid experts had asked him to lead them to Anh's garden.
They were very surprised with Anh's collection of rare orchids. They said the flowers are of value to them in their research, Trinh noted.
Apart from being an outstanding orchid collector, Anh is a living dictionary on the flowers for many students and plant researchers inside and outside the country. He can tell them about the history and give details of each variety of orchid.
"It's very hard work to search uphill and downhill, for orchids and then take years to research, recognise and understand them," Anh pointed out, adding that he had made many trips to Thailand to learn modern techniques and how to improve his land to grow orchids.
Anh's orchids have been sold widely in Ha Noi and other cities and regions across Viet Nam, as well as to collectors in Japan and South Korea.
He recalled how a friend once phoned to tell him that he had discovered a strange orchid in a remote village of Ta Phin in the northern province of Ha Giang.
"It was raining heavily, and despite the stormy weather, I left my house on my motorcycle bound for that village. On the way, I prayed for luck because my friend had told me that I should come there as soon as possible; otherwise, the owner of the orchid would sell it to someone else," said Anh.
His second wife, who is also an orchid lover, said it was quite normal for her husband to travel to the northwestern region five to six times per month to look for orchids.
Thanks to those trips, Anh has discovered many rare and special orchids. They include Denbrobium trantuanii, Vandatuananhii, Panphiopediulum trantuanii and Denbrobium vietnamica.
These orchids have been named by experts from the Academies of Russia and the US, Anh noted, adding that the Orchid Magazine in Germany had printed an article about his orchids.
Anh, who is now deputy chairman of the Ha Noi Orchid Association, said that apart from continuing to collect, research and write books on orchids, he planned to build the third orchid garden in Noi Bai, covering 1 hectare of space, and was preparing to build an orchid museum in the capital. — VNS