Out and about
Mong Kok's Flower Market Road lives up to its name; a wide variety of potted plants and colourful blooms sourced from all over the world can be found here. New Territories nurseries sell larger items from the back of trucks and some great bargains can be found. Many of the plants on offer are not suitable for Hong Kong's balconies but small, easy-to-grow specimens - as well as herbs used in western cuisine - are popular.
A row of attractive 1930s shop-house buildings just around the corner on Prince Edward Road West - which is dotted with flower and plant shops - has recently been slated for renovation and reuse. The group was built by Franco-Belgian construction firm Credit Foncierre, a company that was also active in pre-war Singapore. The shop-house buildings are among the few that have survived waves of destruction and redevelopment.
A burgeoning floriculture industry has developed in southwestern China, particularly Yunnan province, where the year-round temperate climate is ideal for roses and carnations. The combination of close proximity to Hong Kong - less than two hours by air from Kunming - and low labour costs makes mainland-grown flowers an inexpensive alternative to highland-grown flowers from Kenya, Malaysia and elsewhere.
Orchids are perennially popular. Graceful Phaelenopsis hybrids or wu deep laan ('moth orchids') have sadly become an interior design cliche in recent years - most up-scale restaurants, hotel foyers and magazine 'style' articles have at least a few specimens scattered throughout.
Hundreds of affordable, long-lasting orchid specimens can be found on Flower Market Road, most of which are grown in Hainan or Taiwan; colours range from the classic white to vivid pinks and purples and pale yellow.
Not so long ago many Chinese refused to have flowers in the house. As well as being an expensive and rather frivolous luxury, the scent of flowers was believed to attract ghosts. One exception was yellow and white kook fah (chrysanthemums). Cheap and long-lasting, kook fah are considered the appropriate flowers for spirits and are used on the household sun toi (god table, or altar) and funeral wreaths; they must never be given to the living.
Tastes and beliefs have changed and flowers for anniversaries and home decor are now regular purchases. Florists along Flower Market Road make elaborate arrangements for any celeb-ration. Long-stemmed red roses sell for hundreds of dollars apiece - complicated bouquets can go for thousands - during February's nauseatingly saccharine Valentine's Day binge.