|Lost in thought: Gardener Phạm Văn Chi forgets himself in shaping a bonsai tree. VNS Photo Trương Vị|
By Minh Thu
Walking on the dyke, visitors can enjoy the picturesque landscape of Bách Thuận Commune. How peacefully houses stand under the shadow of trees, surrounded by serene ponds.
The villages are covered by green leaves which is why they are named the Bách Thuận Garden Villages. We visited the site one day after a heavy rain. The trees, houses, small paths and ponds look brighter, cleaner and shinier. The tranquillity and beauty of the villages really soothed our eyes.
At a distance of 10km from the heart of the northern province of Thái Bình, Bách Thuận Commune comprises 17 villages, all of which are rich in flowers and fruit.
From Hà Nội, visitors can follow the new National Highway 1A to reach Vũ Thư District. Passing Tân Đệ Bridge, the commune is on the right.
Villages at Bách Thuận are typical of those in the northern delta. There is an alluvial flat at the edge of the commune where mulberry trees (whose leaves are food for silkworms), bananas and sugarcanes are grown. Inside the villages, there are abundant fruit and bonsai gardens. Visiting commune, tourists may have a feeling that they are wallowing in a park and can enjoy the beautiful scenery by just walking around.
Nature has endowed Bách Thuận with favourable conditions for the development of traditional gardening, which is maintained and preserved, creating stable jobs and high incomes for local people.
There are plentiful seasonal fruits such as jujube, guava, plums, lemon, longan, orange, mandarin, banana and jackfruit.
Besides fruit gardens, visitors can also enjoy the bonsai gardens. Every kind of bonsai has a different shape and has its own name given by their owners.
|Life work: Phạm Thị Quyên has worked as a gardener for 14 years and always find inspiration in her work. VNS Photo Trương Vị|
Working with passion
Phạm Thị Quyên starts her day at 6am and ends when the sun sets. She has worked as a gardener for 14 years and always finds inspiration in her work.
On a one-hectare garden, she and her husband grow saplings and sell wholesale. Sometimes they receive an order to plant trees and design scenery for the gardens of schools, villas and tourist areas.
Her husband, Vũ Văn Giang, often goes to neighbouring provinces to carry out these orders. The trips may last up to a month as he sets up different kinds of plants such as shade trees, flowers and grass.
“Our income is more than VNĐ30 million (US$1,500) a month,” said Quyên.
“The trees sell best when it’s Tết (Lunar New Year) season, and people want to decorate their houses with ornamental trees and flowers.”
The couple grows different kinds of tress, from pre-bonsai (still rough before they are pruned) like banyan and ficus, to fruit trees like star fruit, grapefruit and guava.
From the pre-bonsai grown by Quyên, her husband continues to take care of the bonsai trees. It requires refined techniques like pruning and wiring to keep the trees miniaturised. A bonsai tree’s value increases after this process.
"People often choose ficus and camellia for indoor spaces, and juniper, cypress, banyan or elm for outdoor spaces," she said.
“Based on their different characteristics, some are grown from seed, and others from grafts,” said Quyên.
For example, star fruit and cluster fig trees are grown from seed.
“After many years working in this field, we have learned from experience how to grow them in the most effective ways.”
“Cluster fig trees are grown from seed. When the sapling is 30cm high, we separate it from the others and grow it in potting soil that’s specially made for growing seedlings.”
Quyên advised not to use soil from the garden or to re-use potting soil from other plants. Starting with a fresh, sterile mix will ensure healthy, disease-free seedlings. Protecting the plants from disease is required during the growing process.
When the tree reaches 1m in height, the gardeners begin creating their form and shape using aluminium wire. The popular styles include upright, slanting and cascade.
“Following orders, we also prune trees in the shape of umbrellas or animals,” Quyên said.
She stressed that to pursue the career of a gardener, "it requires patience, care, an aesthetic sense and above all, passion".
Nguyễn Đình Đăng, 53, has planted trees for 20 years. He’s professional in creating bonsai and pruning trees.
His garden is full of 2-3m high ficus trees. When ornamental trees are at a good price, he can sell a pair of 3m-high ficus trees for VNĐ800 million (US$34,000).
“However, the price has gone down since 2010 due to economic problems,” he said.
Everyday, he is still busy taking care of the trees even though he doesn’t know when he can sell them.
“Beside big trees, I also grow corn plants (Dracaena fragrans), sago palms (Cycas revoluta) and phoenix trees to sell the leaves used to arrange bouquets in flower shops,” he said.
“I loved nature and growing plants when I was young. Working in the garden brings me a most relaxing feeling.”
|Good jobs: The traditional gardening of Bách Thuận people creates stable jobs and a high income for local people. VNS Photo Trương Vị|
Beside planting ornamental trees, people in Bách Thuận Commune also grow hoa hòe (Sophora japonica, otherwise known as Japanese pagoda trees) trees to make medicine.
Of the 925ha area of the Commune, there is 525ha of farmland, according to Nguyễn Văn Mai, chairman of the communal People’s Committee.
Half of the area is for growing cây hoa hòe. The plant has a high value that helps improve the life of locals.
People also believe that growing hoa hòe in front of the house helps make its owner prosperous.
People collect its flowers during three seasons a year (January, June and October). Visiting Bách Thuận on this occasion, we can enjoy the beautiful sight of flowers in blossom and join the locals in harvesting them.
The flowers are not only beautiful, they are also very beneficial in making medicine. Hoa hòe has a documented history of being used to promote the optimal health of veins and is known as one of the fundamental herbs in traditional medicine.
The dried flowers and buds are used as a medicinal herb in China, Japan, Korea and Việt Nam to treat bleeding haemorrhoids and hematemesis.
“In the past, people in Bách Thuận grew mulberries and raised silk-worms to earn a living,” said Mai.
The dyke system was upgraded in 1997 preventing the villages from flood. Since then, villagers have begun growing ornamental and fruit trees that have a higher value.
Leaders of Bách Thuận Commune expect to develop the local economy by developing ecological tourism.
“Bách Thuận Commune is favoured with beautiful nature, a clean environment and convenient traffic,” said Mai. “That’s good conditions to develop local tourism.”
Mai suggested that tourists come join a tour around the villages to enjoy sight-seeing, learn how to grow and prune trees and buy dried hoa hòe flowers or plants when they go home.
Bách Thuận also houses the ancient pagodas of Bách Tính and Từ Vân, both recognised as national treasures.
For the villagers, gardening is a stable job that doesn’t just bring them a good income, but also a relaxed lifestyle.
The two sons of Quyên and Giang are at 14 and 8, and both have begun to learn gardening. They showed us that they can replant saplings into small pots.
It’s hard to say if they will follow their parents’ career or not. But they have grown up with trees in the garden and have a love of nature that has been nurtured during their childhood. Generation by generation, villagers are still working hard to keep the villages evergreen. — VNS
|Home hobby: Nguyễn Kim Sáu, vice chairman of Bách Thuận Commune People’s Committee, spends his free time taking care of his bonsai tree. VNS Photo Trương Vị|
|Versatile: A bonsai tree can go with stone, water and other decorative objects.|
|Keeping it small: After the pre-bonsai stage, bonsai tree growers continue pruning and wiring to keep the trees miniaturised.|