Tet comes to Vietnam delta in all colors

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All flower gardens in Sa Dec District, the Mekong Delta’s famous flower supply in Dong Thap Province, have been open to visitors for free over the past month.

The farmers are busy pruning, potting and loading plants on boats while visitors are noting down suppliers' phone numbers to place orders.

The delta flower villages have been getting ready for big sales in Ho Chi Minh City for the Lunar New Year festival that peaks January 31.

Nguyen Phuoc Loc, chairman of the Sa Dec Ornamental Plant and Animal Association, said around 1,500 families planted flowers in 2013, raising the cultivation area from 300 hectares the previous year to more than 350 hectares. 

Those families supply around 12 million pots of flowers and plants to Ho Chi Minh City and other provinces for the country’s biggest festival, better known as Tet.

Around 65 hectares are exclusively for planting Tet flowers, including roses, chrysanthemums, marigolds and bluebells.

Ba Nho, an experienced farmer, said Sa Dec has been a large supplier for more than 100 years and becomes a hotspot at this time every year.

Tran Thi Muoi and his wife Dang Thi Mong Tuyen from nearby Vinh Long Province live on a boat as their job is transporting Sa Dec flowers to the city.

Each trip takes around one day and night, but it feels like forever as they need to make sure each single leaf is not damaged, the couple said.

They stop at each wharf for around two hours.

A large number of flowers are brought to Binh Dong wharf at District 8 on the city's outskirts every year.

Leafy ornamentals and bonsai are usually delivered first, around a month before the festival peaks, while flowers come later.

Nam Phung, a farmer who has been selling at Binh Dong wharf for more than 30 years, said watering the plants has become easier over the past two years thanks to renovations that have made the wharf a much cleaner place.

“It was a hard job to have clean water. We even had to stop ourselves from brushing teeth and washing faces to save water for the plants,” Phung said.

Her son Nguyen Van Duy said their job was like taking care of babies, to protect them from rain so that the roots don’t get flooded and water them with clean water so they don’t lose leaves. Plants that flower too early have to be sold at reduced prices.

Farmers with deep pockets can afford to care less about their sales, coming back home early to prepare for the festival and saving unsold plants for next year.

But most farmers need cash to clear loans and have to stay until the day before the new lunar year.

Many would thus be on the bus home or on their boat on New Year’s Eve. Or they have to leave their plants at familiar shops in the city to come home earlier.

Many poor farmers share a boat to bring their supplies to the city, like Nguyen Van Thanh and his wife Pham Thi Doi, both in their 60s, from Ben Tre Province.

They share a 5-ton boat with two other families to deliver nearly 600 plants worth more than VND20 million (US$950) to the city. Their flowers come first with the boat and they catch a bus to follow.

Thanh said they don’t own a field but receive cheap bank loans given to poor families to rent a piece of land and grow flowers.

They’ve been joining the Tet trade for six years now.

“If we sell well, we’d profit VND5-7 million, and VND2-3 million for a slow sale, not to mention bus fares and food expenses for a month in the city,” Thanh said.

They'd try to bring the unsold plants home and take care of them until the next year.

The couple said the business does not sound good but traveling to the city for sale has become routine and part of their festival celebration.

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