Blooms For Spring

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 11, 2014. 

Days after green Christmas trees and red poinsettias were taken down at nurseries here, brightly coloured blooms and plants for the upcoming Chinese New Year have taken their place.

With less than three weeks to go before the Chinese usher in the Year of the Horse on Jan 31, nurseries have been kept busy the past few days.

For many of them here, first shipments of traditional favourites such as kumquats, kalanchoes and phalaenopsis have been arriving by the truckload this week. Some, such as Far East Flora in Thomson Road, started bringing in plants as early as Dec 13.

Nurseries anticipate that the crowds will swell this weekend, as people start decorating their homes with lucky blooms. But those looking for themed offerings might be hard-pressed to find horse-shaped plants at the five big nurseries that Life! visited.

Madam Sharon Goh, director of Candy Floriculture in Thomson Road, says:

"Unlike the Year of the Dragon, where there were so many designs, there are not many horse-style items this year. As long as the plants have auspicious connotations, people will buy them."

This is why nurseries are playing up auspicious-sounding names or using figurines to welcome the Year of the Horse.

Nyee Phoe Flower Garden in Neo Tiew Crescent has pots in the form of horse figurines as part of its Stable Series, while Far East Flora has put out a table garden series with golden horse figurines.

Going one step further, Sing See Soon Floral & Landscape in Punggol East has dressed up its plants with horse figurines which have gold coins on their backs.

Calling it Ma Shang You Qian, the term is a play on words. In Mandarin, "ma shang" can mean being on horseback or instantly, while "you qian" means to have money, so the auspicious name "summons instant riches" for the owner.

Mr Daniel Ee, Sing See Soon's nursery director, says: "There isn't a horse- themed plant per se, but we're dressing up the plants with these decorations so that they have wealth connotations."

Customers can also expect to fork out a little more than last year.

One nursery facing rising costs is World Farm in Bah Soon Pah Road, which is bringing in more than 200 types of plants for the festive season. Its assistant general manager Lee Meng Kwan says prices are up slightly for all plants - between 3 and 5 per cent - from last year.

The increases are due to various factors, including the recent Typhoon Haiyan, which affected the growth of kumquat plants in China.

Mr Lee adds: "Due to higher fuel prices, transportation costs also went up. This affects prices as well."

Over at Sing See Soon, prices have risen between 5 and 10 per cent for all plants, says Mr Ee. "The rainy weather has affected the growth of the oranges, as the rain may wash away the pesticide used. Extra effort has to be put in to make sure the plants are not attacked by bugs."

Nurseries say it is too early to say how plant sales will do this year, but they expect takings to be consistent with previous years. Plants are still being delivered to the nurseries and this is expected to continue up till Chinese New Year.

For delicate flowering plants such as kalanchoes and Camellia shrubs, nurseries advise home owners to start buying them at least 10 to 14 days before Chinese New Year so they can be kept in bloom throughout the celebrations.

Mr Peter Cheok, Far East Flora's sales and marketing director, says: "The common mistake people make when caring for these plants is that they give either too little or too much water. Also, the plants require different amounts of sunlight, so we hand out leaflets with care tips to guide buyers."

Early-bird shopper Katherine Tan was at World Farm on Thursday, picking out plants such as a dragonheart lime plant and kalanchoes. The 54-year-old housewife says: "I have to come early. If not, all the good plants will be gone. Plants are a must-have for the new year to give the home a festive feel."

natashaz@sph.com.sg