by Trung Hieu & Tuan Duong
"Have you ever visited the 'royal gardens' in Quang Ba near the West Lake?" Truong Kim Trang, a young student in Ha Noi, asked her classmates.
The "royal gardens", "valley of flowers" or "ecological gardens" have increasingly become a common phenomenon in the village of Sen Tay Ho, the peach-tree growing villages of Nhat Tan, Tu Lien and in Quang Ba in Ha Noi's Tay Ho District.
The local farmers are following each other's example in replacing their orchards of peaches and kumquat with "royal gardens as beautiful as those in Korean dramas" to meet the people's demand for taking photos, entertainment and sight-seeing.
The Quang Ba Pine Tree Hill "royal garden" always receives hordes of young people who come to visit and take photos. The garden, spread over more than 3,000 square metres, has a spectacular design which includes ponds, swimming pools, flower gardens, ancient trees, a small pine tree forest and artificial mountains.
Pham Sy Thanh, 46, a farmer in Quang Ba Village with more than 20 years' experience in growing kumquat and peach trees, explained why he decided to destroy his garden of traditional crops that he had planted over many years, and switched to creating the special garden.
"It was very hard to grow kumquat and peach trees as we had to care for them the whole year. Sometimes a heavy rain or frost could wipe out our labour. So we want to do things which are more appropriate to the public's tastes, and can also bring high profits," he said.
His family has invested more than VND1 billion, or US$46,500, to set up the new garden.
"The sum was invested primarily in hiring an architect, buying flowers and fancy ornamental trees, setting up swings and benches, building a swimming pool and hiring staff," he said.
Thanh said the garden is primarily meant for sight-seeing and taking photos, so it has to look beautiful and romantic.
He also revealed that the income he makes from admission tickets is much higher than growing kumquat and peach plants, with the highest number of visitors coming during summer, autumn and the New Year holidays.
At the end of Nhat Chieu Road, near the West Lake Water Park, the "West Lake Flower Valley" also attracts a lot of visitors who buy tickets to take photos.
The flower valley, spread over 5.5ha, has daisies, cherry blossoms, hydrangeas, lotus and other kinds of flowers, all of which bloom throughout the year.
The highlights in the valley are the exquisite windmills and the small rural-Dutch style houses, which recreate a peaceful scene.
According to the valley's managers, they had to invest billions to create such a gorgeous valley of flowers.
The valley has between 30 and 50 employees who are always there to clean, prune leaves and change the flowers frequently. It also has a car park and houses on stilts for the visitors to rest.
The trend to build gardens offering opportunities for photography has become so popular that many farmers are abandoning the traditional gardens. In addition to the farmers in Nhat Tan and Quang Ba, farmers in other areas too, such as in Long Bien and Vinh Tuy, have borrowed billions of dong to invest in gardens with the hope of making long-term profits.
"After seeing the people flock to Nhat Tan and Quang Ba to take pictures among the peach and kumquat gardens, the local farmers came up with the idea of designing a beautiful garden which would have wedding and other memorable photo services, along with sightseeing and relaxation," said local resident Nguyen Mai Vinh.
Initially, only a few households got involved on a small scale, using mainly the peach trees in their gardens, he said.
"Later, we saw that with more and more visitors coming in, the money earned from selling tickets was much higher than the income that came from the hard work of planting peach trees around the year. Sometimes we also lost the crops due to unfavourable weather."
The fee to enter the Quang Ba Pine Tree Hill is VND20,000, but students can get a discount.
Those who want to take wedding photos in the garden have to pay between VND200,000 and 300,000 for each turn.
In addition to the ticket sales, the managers also collect money from parking of motorbikes and the tea shops. It is estimated that the Pine Tree Hill receives nearly 700 people on peak days and 100 on average on other days.
"Most clients come in the autumn and summer time, New Year's Day, holidays and weekends of good weather when it's nice to take pictures," Thanh said.
The Valley of Flowers' admission price is VND50,000 per person while groups wanting to take wedding photos pay between VND200,000 and 500,000 each. The Valley is always crowded, especially during summer when the guests, mostly young people, come to watch lotus flowers, take photos and sip lotus scented tea in the cool breeze.
At some other places such as the Bach Nhat flower garden, the Vinh Tuy longan garden and the Long Bien mustard green garden, the tickets are more affordable, priced between VND10,000 and 20,000 per person, and between VND50,000 and 100,000 for each group.
But some other gardens do charge higher, ranging between VND200,000 and 300,000 per hour per person.
"With such prices, the garden owners could earn three or four times more than the income they got from planting flowers in the past," said Vinh.
Student Trang, who was there to take photos with her friends, said the other side of the coin is the risk of losing the Nhat Tan peach gardens.
"But because of the higher profits, the farmers are increasingly abandoning traditional crops to follow the new demands of the society, so they can get rich with their quick and creative minds," she said. — VNS