People love flowers. They brighten up the places where we live and work, help us appreciate nature, provide the sort of aromas that air fresheners simply can’t, and lift our moods. Humanity’s appreciation of flowers is nearly universal, and China is no exception. One Chinese proverb, in fact, recommends that if you find yourself left with two pennies to your name, you should buy a loaf of bread with one and a lily with the other.
Finding places to buy flowers in Hangzhou is relatively easy. Walk down almost any major street long enough and you’ll stumble across a hole in the wall selling them. And if you happen to see something you like at one of these establishments, then by all means, go for it. But, if you want to be really Chinese in your floral purchases, here is a basic guide to traditional seasonal flowers. The prices provided are averages from vendors in Wushan Square’s Bird and Flower Market, so remember that you can probably find cheaper prices if you look around enough.
Delivery can sometimes be an issue. Even if the particular vendor you’re buying from does not deliver, chances are that they can help set you up with someone who will. Prices depend on distance, and go up quickly. If you live south of the river and are buying from a market near downtown, for instance, expect to pay up to 150 RMB. If that sounds too steep, try taking your purchase in the taxi with you.
There are a number of big flower markets located throughout the city. The major one downtown is the Bird and Flower Market by Wushan Square. There’s also the Hangzhou Chengxi Bird and Flower Market behind the Huangshang Supermarket, Qianjiang Flower Market in the west of the city and Fengqi Flower Market. (For addresses, see the details at the end of this article.) While Qianjiang Flower Market is a bit of a journey, it’s renowned for being cheaper than some of the others. And remember, the prices in this article are just a reference guide. You can almost always get the price down on something in a market.
Let’s start with autumn. Autumn is the season of the mid-Autumn festival (which occurs in late September or early October). Assuming you’ve been in China around this time, you’ve probably noticed the exchange of moon cakes that marks the season. What you may not have noticed are the purple orchids often given as gifts around this time. These are called phalaenopsis orchids, or in Chinese, 蝴蝶兰 hu die lan.
The value of hu die lan is determined by the amount of flowers present on the plant and the shape of its leaves. Plants with three or four flowers are considered B level and normally sell for 5 RMB per stalk. Those with five or six flowers are considered A level, and go for around 9 RMB. The most expensive flowers, those with 9 or more flowers, can fetch up to 50 RMB. This price does not include the pot, which will add another 10 RMB to the cost.
These plants are normally given away as a gift, and while they come in many colours, white and purple are by far the most popular. Traditionally, the purple ones are given away as gifts, while people keep the white ones for themselves. Vendors will tell you to water hu die lan about once a week and to give it lots of sunshine. Don’t expect them to last long. Once winter sets in, hu die lan die quickly. After about three months, most people throw them away because the flowers die off. If you do want to make your plant last longer, you’ll need to keep it in some sort of planting room at a constant temperature around 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). Since most of us foreigners lack access to a planting room, I’d suggest taking the ‘when in Hangzhou’ route and tossing them once they reach their expiration date.
Winter is the best season for plant sellers, with people flocking to the plant markets to add a bit of colour to their homes when the weather outside is cold and dreary. And the flower of winter is 梅花 mei hua, or plum blossom. As mei hua are large trees (up to 32 feet or 10 meters tall), people don’t buy the entire plant but rather branches with flowers on them. These are kept for a few days then thrown away. One branch generally costs around 10 RMB, and you’ll see the mei hua sellers come out in full force around December. While other plants die during winter, mei hua begins blooming in December. The most popular colours are red, yellow, and white. An added bonus is that mei hua produces a pleasant aroma. These plants have a special meaning for Chinese people, as they are considered a symbol of lasting friendship, along with water pine and bamboo (the three “best friends” of the traditional plant world). By springtime, the flowers will die off.
Just as mid-Autumn festival helps define autumn, China’s spring festival celebrates the coming of springtime. Which for flower vendors means it’s time to stock up on red palm, or 红掌 hong zhang. The name comes from the fact that the leaves of the plant resemble a human palm. The waxy red flowers of this plant are associated with the red on China’s flag, and giving hong zhang to a friend or colleague could be seen as a display of patriotism (especially if given in correlation with the spring festival).
These plants generally go for around 60 RMB. For around 120 RMB, however, you can buy a pink variety of the flower (colloquially referred to as moon boat). This plant is much hardier than the hu die lan, and if you maintain it properly, it can live up to two years. Your vendor will tell you to water it every 7 to 10 days, and put it outside for extra sunshine once a week in the spring and summer. Interestingly enough, there is not a flower associated with summer time in Hangzhou. Maybe that’s a good thing, as you’re unlikely to offend anyone with a flower that’s “out of season”. And if you’re unsure, red heart or 红心 hong xin is a popular gift for pretty much every festival. And at around 240 RMB a plant, it’s also one of the most profitable flowers plant vendors in Hangzhou sell.
Major Plant Markets in Hangzhou:
Bird and Flower Market, Wushan Square 吴山花鸟城 View In Map
Add: 1 Huangung Lu, Shangcheng District, Hangzhou
Getting there: Take bus No. 9, 35, 60, K25, K187, K404, K800 and get off at Wushan Square
Hangzhou Chengxi Bird and Flower Market 杭州城西花鸟市场 View In Map
Add: 89 Gucuilu, Hangzhou (Beside Shijihualian Super Market)
Getting there: Take bus No. 25 and get off at Cuiyuan Wuqu
Qintiang Flower Market钱江花鸟市场 View In Map
Add: 500 Shangtang Lu, Hangzhou
Getting there: Take Bus No. 3, 12, 26, 33, 34, 36, 58, 321, 503, 816, 843 and get off at Daguanxi Liuyuan
Fengqi Flower and Bird Market 凤起花鸟城 View In Map
Add: 198 Kaixuan Lu, Hangzhou 杭州凯旋路198号
Getting there: Take bus No. 21, 35, 40, 44, 87, 101, 201, 528 and get off at Shuang Ling Lu Beikou
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