Whilst I’ve been spending time in Shenzhen, China, I’ve been buying lots of house plants for our apartment. One of the spots that I’ve been coming back to time and time again is a small shop in the expat area called iFlower. I was very lucky to get the chance to interview Julie, who set up the company 10 years ago!
Shenzhen is a brand new city. It’s actually the same as me, born in 1979. But, where were you born, Julie?
I am from the Szechuan area, the spicy food region! However, I have been in Shenzhen for around 30 years. I originally came to work in shipping, as it is a popular logistical business in this area, The Greater Bay Area.
So why the career change…?
Well, it was when I got married actually. I found it extremely difficult to find high-class flowers in the city of Shenzhen, and actually had to visit Hong Kong to find what I needed.
That’s right. It is in a leisure park known as SeaWorld, which is visited by many expats, as well as Chinese from every region. We get lots of passing traffic, and loyal customers too.
Why do you think Shenzhen is a good location for such a flower store?
The city is very open, very entrepreneurial and modern, and accept new things very well. 90% of the people here are young, and there are many fresh ideas at all times. The city also gets good policy support from the government.
That’s right. We have a full range of cut flowers, and can make arrangements for every occasion, but we also stock houseplants of all sizes. We also do some small garden and balcony design. At the moment the Japanese style is very popular.
Where did you learn all about flowers then?
At the Hong Kong Academy of Flower Arrangement. I have so much to thank them for, and I am still very much involved, and actually teaching at the school too. I have trained all the staff that work at iFlower in that same style, so we are able to create fresh new designs that are not really seen elsewhere in Shenzhen.
Yes, it’s great to have such a good mix of customers. Generally, men tend to like the Japanese style plants, whilst women like lots of bright colours and flowers. We also noticed that young people especially like the pink colour or flower.
Are you experiencing a boom in houseplants like we are in Europe then?
Yes, to some degree. For many years, Chinese people have made sure they have house plants in the home, either for keeping the air clean or for decoration. However, they are starting to make more considered choices, especially in the case of succulents. Of course, younger people are getting very interested in these too.
Cantonese people (in Shenzhen area) like Agalonema, Zamia, Sansevieria and Pachira. They grow Pachira and Zamia because they are said to bring food fortune!
However, feng shui must be considered when placing your house plants. Chinese people like bigger leave plants with big round leaves, that are Majestic. They also avoid cactus, because they are seen as unlucky.
However, in an office environment cactus are said to soak up the electromagnetic waves, so are often placed on desks!
I also noticed that plants are used a lot more in shops and shopping centres than they are in Europe?
That’s right, in shopping centres, plants are use for decoration and they will often be looked after by a maintenance company. Even electrical shops have plants in them, often Pothos! From time to time, you may also see plants in toilets, they are in there to actually keep the air purified, would you believe?
Of course, most Chinese homes are apartments, so they don’t have much space. What do people grow on their balconies?
This is the place where they will grow flowers, because of course flowers will perform better in a well lit condition. Chinese people see red flowers as being very lucky. They will grow them on the balcony, or make sure they have cut flowers in the home over the Chinese New Year period to bring food fortune.
Surprisingly, Chinese people do not like to eat their own edibles from the balcony. They prefer to have them grown professionally, and buy them from the market or the supermarket. They don’t trust themselves to grow them in the right way!
How about picking from the wild?
Right now, Chinese people with expendable income like to learn new experiences. Many are learning how to bake their own cakes, how to paint, and other activities. For example, in the traditional art village of Dafen, they no longer go there to buy art, they go there to make it themselves with guidance. We are seeing a few of these experience courses for foraging now too.
Do Chinese people choose to study horticulture?
It is not considered that you can make big money in horticulture, so there are very few study options. However, landscape design is a very popular area to study in. This is a big industry with big growth, as there are so many new buildings, and they need landscaping to surround them.
Some of your students at the Hong Kong Academy are career changers though, isn’t that right?
Yes, some are looking to change their career and start doing wedding party designs and other such things. The middle and rich classes are starting to travel more, and seeing what other opportunities are out there.
So, Julie, what inspires you?
I am very lucky to get to Hong Kong every couple of days to teach and to visit the flower market. Here, I find a lot of inspiration. I also find a lot of inspiration from Pinterest. Because I have access to this western world, iFlower has become an important portal for horticultural creativity in Shenzhen.
What about advertising, how do you advertise iFlower to the public?
Obviously, a lot of our customers are simply walking by. We don’t have a website, because the Chinese social media platform WeChat has everything you need. We simply update our social media profile with our latest arrivals.
And what’s next for iFlower?
In a week or so, we have Chinese Valentine’s Day coming up! This is always a big day for iFlower, and we expect this year to be no different! Flowers are the language of love!
What do you love about this flower shop find in Shenzhen? Let me know in the comments section below!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook – and writes a plant-focused Substack called Grow This, Not That.