In the past, when plant lovers and gardening enthusiasts wanted to spend some money on all things green, they either went to the Weekend Market at Sanam Luang or the Thewet market in the Dusit area. Thewet had an advantage as the row of permanent stalls along Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem, from the intersection of Sam Sen and Krung Kasem roads to the end of the soi just a stone's throw from the Thewet pier, was open every day. A few years after the Weekend Market was moved from Sanam Luang to Chatuchak, it was decided that separate days would be devoted to the plant market. Now nursery owners and plant lovers swarm to Chatuchak every Wednesday and Thursday, while Thewet seems to have been forgotten.
STALWART: Thongsook Boonsongsuwan has been at Thewet for 36 years, and has handmade earthen pots she designed herself.
For the sake of readers who have no time to check out Thewet, I went there last Tuesday and found it exactly the same as when I last went there two or three years ago. Plants of the kind you can find at Chatuchak are crammed in 4mx4m or 8mx4m shops, which are flanked by those selling plant containers in all shapes and sizes, as well as gardening supplies. As in Chatuchak, you will find all your gardening needs there, from plants and seeds to soil, fertilisers and pesticides as well as pruning shears, trowels, sprayers and everything that a gardener might need. Comprising about 20 shops, the Thewet plant market is confined to the bank of the canal and you can finish your shopping before you even begin to feel tired. It is popular among old-timers, mostly elderly people whose love of plants never waned but who no longer have the energy to explore such a vast market as Chatuchak. The prices are slightly higher, but even if you don't bargain the seller voluntarily gives a discount if you are friendly enough.
"Just call me Pa [aunt] Ung, as in Ung Aang, which my parents gave me as a nickname," one jovial seller told her customers with a laugh, as she offered them discounts and giveaways to go with their purchases. In the end, nine well-established flowering plants, including a rose, three hibiscus, two desert roses, a Dendrobium orchid, a knee-high shrub and a bushy hanging plant, amounted to just 1,350 baht. It was Pa Ung's first sale of the day, and it was already one o'clock in the afternoon.
After the customers had left, Pa Ung turned to me. "As long as I earn enough to get by, I am willing to give discounts so I can sell. The plant business here has been very quiet these days, but I have been selling here since 1976 and I don't want to start elsewhere all over again."
She wouldn't give me her real name, "but you will easily remember me as my shop is right across the street from the Cooperative Promotion Department."
Other shopowners echoed Pa Ung's sentiment about the Thewet plant market no longer doing the brisk business it did in the old days. They said the reason was not just the present economic situation, nor the fact that parents were saving money for their children's tuition at the start of the mid-year school term, or that with an increase in population the space for gardens had shrunk.
"It's the proliferation of plant markets," said Paitoon Amphanthong, whose Orasa shop sells ornamental plants and lawn grass as well as garden ornaments. "In the past there was only the weekend market as competition but now there are plant sellers everywhere, at Taling Chan, Khlong 15 and along Khlong Rangsit, and even just outside housing estates like Bang Bua Thong, to name a few. These days there are even vendors selling plants on pushcarts."
Like Pa Ung, Mr Paitoon is not willing to move out after 30 years at Thewet. Another long-timer, Thongsook Boonsongsuwan, otherwise known as Pa Kiew, takes everything in her stride. Her Namjai shop opposite Noranat Sunthikaram Temple is popular among students from a nearby vocational school, she said, as she sells everything that the students might need to make the tray gardens their teacher assigns. From tiny plants like cacti and shallow containers to soil, gravel and pebbles, her shop has them all. She also sells bromeliads, ferns and other ornamental plants. To make them more attractive and to make the most of her 8mx4m shop, some are planted in hanging earthen pots she designed herself.
"City dwellers who do not have space for a big garden can make the most of what space they have with hanging plants," she said. "It is only here that you can find these pots, which were individually made by hand." The pots come in three sizes _ 4, 6 and 8 inches _ which she sells for 40, 80 and 120 baht each, respectively.
Ms Thongsook, who has been selling plants at Thewet for 36 years, comes from a family of gardeners.
"I did not like plants when I was little but my parents assigned _ no, ordered _ me to water them before I went to school," she said. "Now all my family members, including my brothers, sisters and nephews, are in the plant selling and landscaping business."