|Happy holiday: Flower growers in Sa Dec expect a bumper crop for Tet.
Sa Dec Town has specialised in flowers for more than a century. Today, Dutch knowhow is developing this longstanding tradition. Thien Ly reports.
"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us," wrote Iris Murdoch.
The aliens that Murdoch wrote about would go into a state of permanent delirium if they visited Sa Dec Town in the Mekong Delta at any time of the year, I thought as I walked about in the town, feeling a bit delirious myself at the sight of so many beautiful flowers.
Sa Dec is to the south of Viet Nam what Ha Noi is to the north, with its famous flower villages like Ngoc Ha, Nghi Tam, Quang Ba and Nhat Tan, and what Da Lat, the City of Flowers, is to the central region.
|Road of flowers:In Sa Dec, the biggest flower-growing area in the southwest, one can walk along roads whose sides are filled with flowers planted by nearby households. — VNS Photos Nhat Ha
While it might not be as much in the floral spotlight as its northern and central counterparts, Sa Dec's beauty had been recognised more than 100 years ago by the French who called it the "Le jardin de la Cochinchine" or "Garden in Cochinchina". Even then, locals grew mainly flowers and bonsais on the fertile soil.
And although the city, located near the Tien River, is considered the Delta's hidden gem, it draws thousands of visitors who are spellbound by the colourful spectacle that is accompanied by the scent of many species of flowers. The gorgeous flowers can be seen along highways, paths, in flooded fields and around people's houses. There are dahlias, hydrangeas, orchids, ornamental areca, wrightia religiosa, hibiskus rosa-sinensis and African marigold. Those who are partial to roses will enjoy the sheer variety that can be enjoyed here.
An added attraction in Sa Dec are the scarce bonsai that are hundreds of years old. Simple trees like the thistle, areca, benjamine fig, and ochna atropurpurea have become works of priceless art in the hands of skillful, industrious, talented artisans.
Unique growing style
Behind all the beauty that visitors to Sa Dec enjoy is a lot of hard work and planning.
The town is geographically positioned between the Tien and Hau rivers (the Mekong's two biggest tributaries that pass through southern Viet Nam), so receives fertile silt and is nourished by the southern sun.
|Busy bees:Tet is Sa Dec's peak flower season.
After Sa Dec County was formed in 1867, many different species of flowers from France and other countries made their way here, and over time, it has emerged as the largest supplier of flowers in the southwestern region with over 400 hectares on which about 2,000 different kinds of flowers and bonsais are cultivated.
The way flowers are grown in Sa Dec is quite different from other places in the country. Here, the flowers are not planted in beds but on a high platform (or shelves) with canals between them. Growers, therefore, have to row a boat to tend and harvest the flowers, creating picturesque scenes that would be difficult to find elsewhere.
However, if visitors want to buy flowers or visit flower gardens in the Sa Dec town, it would be advisable to rent a motorbike and go on lanes that are not accessible by cars.
Among all the flower gardens in Sa Dec, Tan Quy Dong Commune deserves special mention for its long horticulture history and striking beauty.
The fact that it is known as "the Village of Four Springs" hints at a forest of flowers that one can contemplate no matter when one visits it. Trees and flowers from around the world, and a rose garden with around 50 species of the flower are meticulously maintained by local artisans.
Authorities in Dong Thap Province recently decided that to fully tap Sa Dec's horticultural strengths, they will develop it into a "City of Flowers" in the southern region, emulating Da Lat.
According to Pham Thi Hoang Anh of the Sa Dec Economy and Rural Development Office, the city now has more than 2,000 households involved in horticulture who grow around 2,000 species of flowers and bonsai. Revenue from farming flowers and bonsai makes up 50 per cent of Sa Dec's annual agricultural production value.
|Shipments:Pots with beautiful flowers are ready to be transported to many parts of the country.
In 2014 alone, the city earned more than VND622 billion from flowers and bonsai. Its flower cultivation area is set to double to 800 hectares in the coming years,
Huynh Tri Cuong, vice chairman of the Sa Dec People's Committee, said that the aim of making it a "City of Flowers" did not mean that all its streets would be decorated with the blooms, but that it would specialise in farming flowers for commercial purposes, so that "flowers growers here will be able to live on it and get rich".
"We expect Sa Dec to become a satellite of the global flower market in the future," he stressed.
To realise these targets, Sa Dec has come up with a VND100 billion (US$4.7 million) plan, of which 60 per cent ($2.82 million) will be raised from local enterprises and individuals.
Under this scheme, last June, the Sa Dec People's Committee and the Viet Nam International Trade Centre in the Netherlands signed a co-operation agreement with Demokwekerij Westland to develop the local horticultural industry using a Dutch model.
Demokweherij Westland is the leading innovation centre for greenhouse horticulture technology in the Westland region of the Netherlands.
To date, it has already helped build a centre for hi-tech agriculture applications in Dong Thap, opened professional training courses for farmers in Sa Dec, transferred horticultural techniques and set up a logistics system that will serve flower production and trading in the city.
The committee has also called on Netherland businesses to invest in Sa Dec's trade and tourism areas.
Thanks to the Netherland's support, Sa Dec City has carried out six projects so far and expects to complete by the end of this year the construction and upgrading of transport infrastructure, and the arrangement of flower streets, flower gardens, flower villages and flower markets for tourism purposes.
"We will co-operate with the Netherland locality to build a Sa Dec flower garden according to the Netherlands' Keukenhof Garden model. Now, Sa Dec has a 30-hectare plot with facilities to build a modern flower garden," Cuong said.
Pham Huu Phuoc, director of the Center for Hi-tech Application in Agriculture, said that the city sent six technicians to learn how to build net houses and greenhouses for growing flowers, packaging and transporting flowers. They will also learn financial management and marketing.
"Specialists from the Netherlands have also come to Sa Dec to help local horticulturists use advanced farming techniques and develop new species of flowers with high quality and high value for exports," Phuoc said.
Pham Van Ben, chairman of the Hoa Sa Dec Joint Stock Company, said, "In addition to supporting the city authorities realise the plan to build Sa Dec into the City of Flowers we are making preparations for exporting local flowers grown with technical assistance from Dutch experts."
"We'll apply a model that is being used in the Netherlands. In particular, farmers will grow flowers and the company will be responsible for selling them," Bien said.
Vo Van Sang of Tan Quy Dong Commune's Sa Nhien Hamlet welcomed the moves. "Many flower growers like me were very happy when we heard that the city decided to build Sa Dec into "a City of Flowers". My street will become a flower road and it will attract many visitors.
"With this change, I hope our income from horticulture will improve significantly."
Flowers for Tet
Like many other flower villages around the country, Sa Dec now is experiencing its peak season as the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday nears.
Sa Dec has 2,000 farming households with over 85ha of land that are growing flowers for Tet season.
|Festive blooms: Sa Dec flower village features a typical southwestern region flower festival during spring.
Flower gardens in the city are full of marigolds, chrysanthemums morifolium, and roses of all kinds, not to mention exotic flowers like lisianthus, Salvia and petunia.
In Tan Quy Dong Commune, the land used for growing flowers for Tet has further expanded. In addition to traditional ones, local farmers have already imported between 24 and 25 new kinds of flowers.
Nguyen Hoang Vo Mong Kha, one of the veteran flower farmers in the commune, said, "For this Tet season, my family has invested VND300 million to grow 10,000 flower and bonsai products. We expect to make a good profit. All our chrysanthemum morifolium flowers have already been ordered by traders.
"Our 2,000 square metre garden is now covered with hundreds of flower pots, mainly chrysanthemums morifolium, peace lily and lisianthus, all of which are prepared for Tet," said Nguyen Van Nghia of Tan Hiep Hamlet.
"We have received orders from Ha Noi, HCM City and other cities. This business is profitable, but also hard. To meet the Tet demand, we have to work constantly from dusk to dawn," Nghia said.
A few weeks prior to the holidays, Sa Dec is bustling. Everyday, it is crowded with lorries queuing up for flowers and plants, and more people are flocking to the city to enjoy the fresh air, the fragrance and the colourful activities of harvesting flowers.
As I left I myself decided to take a Chinese proverb to heart: "When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other." — VNS