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Growing a green thumb

Updated: 2021-05-06 09:44 ( China Daily )
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The Knowledge & Innovation Community Garden in Shanghai's Yangpu district is the flagship community garden built by the Clover Nature School.[Photo provided to China Daily]

A love for plants has been taking root in Shanghai, with more and more residents picking up gardening as community gardens sprout across the city

On the first day of the Chinese New Year in February, Fan Chunyan received a letter which notified her that her design had made it to the final of a gardening competition for the 10th China Flower Expo, which will take place from May 21 to July 2 on Shanghai's Chongming Island.

Named "Fly Back", her garden design had a white theme and revolved around the concept of sustainability.

The following month, the gardening enthusiast drove to all the big flower markets around Shanghai in search of plants with white flowers. She also traveled to several construction and renovation sites in search of discarded furniture and wood planks that she could use to build her garden.

Her mini garden made its debut along with those by 30 other contestants in the Dongping National Forest Park in Chongming on March 24. The final result will be announced during the flower expo.

Urban gardening, once a remote concept for Chinese, is taking root among city dwellers in the metropolis as more and more people become interested in connecting with nature.

Back at her home in Pudong, Fan has planted over 300 plants in her yard.

"Normally, I would go to the flower markets twice a month to buy flowers, fertilizers and soil," she said. "Each season features different flowers and plants, and an increasing number of new variations and species have been emerging in recent years."

Fan has also joined several online social groups for gardening enthusiasts where hundreds of people show off their flowers and source for gardening tips.

"In the past, flowers were regarded more like a decoration or a gift, but now it has become deeply intertwined with my life. I see more and more people are joining the crowd," she said. "With the rise of living standards, people are more willing to cultivate plants at home to satisfy their needs for nature as we live in a concrete forest."

But not everyone is as fortunate as Fan, who has a spacious 70-square-meter yard to do her gardening. As such, small potted plants and bonsai have been in greater demand, according to Li Cheng, president of China Horticultural Society, which has around 100 member companies and institutions in the industry.

Small-sized leafy plants that can grow in pots and be placed indoors or on balconies are more suitable for urban Chinese residents, said Li, who has been promoting the concept of a garden center in China over the past decade.

"The garden center is like a supermarket for plants, just like an Ikea store for furniture. It's very common in the West," he explained.

In Shanghai, old markets selling flowers, birds, fishes and insects used to be the go-to place for residents who wanted to buy plants. However, these facilities were shut down due to urban renovation projects in recent years.

"The source has been cut, but the demand is rising quickly. I see a lot of potential for smaller garden centers to fill the gap," said Li.

In Shanghai's downtown Xujiahui area, Li opened the latest version of his city mini garden center in 2019. Called Green Friday, the 300-square-meter store offers a wide range of plants such as flowers, shrubs, succulents, as well as gardening tools and equipment. It also has an outdoor dining area and a bar on the second floor.

"After the initial shock of the pandemic, sales have increased because many people want to add some greenery to their homes," he said.

According to the China Flower Association, the size of the retail market for flowers reached 187.6 billion yuan ($29 billion) in 2020, up 13 percent from the previous year.

Zhang Yueming, vice secretary-general of the association, said in a conference about national flower sales in March that the flower industry has entered a fast track as consumers from Generation Z have become a major consumption force.

"A green lifestyle will become fashionable, boosting the consumption of flower and plants all over the country," Zhang told China Flower&Gardening News. "Offline flower stores will have to provide unique experiences, such as food, courses and salons, to attract young consumers. The Internet will become a major channel for flower sales, too."

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