After a long and unusually cold winter, the return of the sparrow to Seoul signals the start of spring. Although it will be another month before the city’s famous cherry trees are in full bloom, if you want to see an impressive and colorful display of flowers right now, just head on over to the Yangjae Flower Market in Seoul (양재동꽃시장).
Located in southern Seoul’s Seocho-gu district, the Yangjae Flower Market in Seoul is Korea’s largest flower market, in terms of sales.
Although the 12,000 square meters is a fraction of its former size, since 1991 the horticultural hotspot has been operated by the Korea Agro-Fisheries Corporation and remains the Seoul area’s preeminent destination for everything related to flowers and plants.
While everyone these days seems thankful for the onset of spring, perhaps it’s the nation’s flower growers who are the most ecstatic.
The prolonged cold spells and high fuel costs this winter drove a number of growers out of business.
But for those who made it through, February to May marks the wholesale flower market’s busiest season, when area greenhouses reap half their annual sales.
Although the Yangjae Flower Market in Seoul’s primary customers are wholesale plant sellers who attend the twice daily flower auctions – 1:00 am for fresh cut flowers and 8:00 am for potted plants, the greenhouses also feature popular retail stalls that sell everything from exotic orchids to cut, dried and artificial flowers, not to mention flowerpots and other gardening items, like tools and fertilizers.
These days, floral exports have emerged as an important growth market for Korea’s trade ambitions, with nearly $100 million in sales in 2010, the bulk of which goes to Japan and China.
Among the most popular Korean exports is the snow-white Baekma chrysanthemum, which is hardier and easier to breed than most of its fall-blooming cousins.
While walking inside the warm and humid greenhouses, shoppers can peruse scores of rose varieties, as well as kalanchoes, carnations, marigolds and gerbera daises, not to mention a wide variety of succulents, better known as cacti.
Among Korean customers, a popular choice is plants that clean the air inside apartments, like philodendrons. And generally, spring is a popular time for houseplants, as it’s when many Koreans move into new homes.
Perhaps to the chagrin of area flower vendors, about a third of the people who visit Yangjae Flower Market in Seoul are just window shoppers.
But customers in search of potted plants for the sun room, bedding plants for the veranda or yard, or perhaps just some color for a graduation bouquet are also frequent customers of the Yangjae Flower Market in Seoul.
Then again, given the colorful and optimistic setting after months of winter cold, who can blame them?
If you’re among this lot, I have one more suggestion: a trip to the nearby Yangjae Citizens’ Forest (양재시민의숲), whose 260,000 square meters feature 10,000 trees representing over 70 species.
So there you have it, the perfect destination for those in search of spring just a couple of weeks early!
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About Matt Kelley
Matt Kelly is native of the US Pacific Northwest and is half-Korean by ethnicity. He lived in Korea for five years and has written hundreds of travel guides for Wallpaper, TimeOut, the Boston Globe and Seoul Magazine and was a host for several different variety shows on Korean radio and television.