On a sunny Saturday evening, I had gone with one of my friends on a tour in the Northern part of Taipei. As usual, we had been heading to the oldest and most full of atmosphere districts, and had found a lot of great people and stories, taken some pictures.
As we were almost over, close to Songshan Airport, we noticed a small, old-fashioned portal open to some kind of garden, stretching along a half-hidden, half-forgotten canal. This was enough to raise our curiosity and we went in, not too sure from the Chinese characters on the door if it was a public garden or a government land not opened to public. From within we could confirm that the place had a certain charm, there were a lot of roses, a bunch of people busy grooming flowers, and the strange canal exactly going along the garden, while disappearing God knows where at both ends. The place was charming, because even if at first sight it didn’t seem to use the most shiny and fashionable equipment, there was also an air of seriousness and professionalism floating around.
This is where we met Tina. She came to us, half suspicious, asking what we were doing there- to which we had the now common answer: we are making an artistic documentary about Taipei! She probably understood then we were rather harmless creatures and gratified us with one of those smiles that make you instantly like people in Taiwan, a smile that says everything all at once, the peace of mind, the big heart, the pride to work in this garden – maybe she was the manager of this hidden place. We were instantly conquered and understood that that was THE place we had been looking for during this day.
Tina told us how the main purpose of this flower factory was to provide all kind of flowers, for all kind of occasions, to the various public spaces owned by the Taipei City government. Equally hidden in Taipei are 7 places producing flowers for various purposes. She told us the City had originally chosen this place close to the domestic airport because it ran along the water, and probably the noise from the airplanes didn’t make the land value very attractive, while the long stretch was, after all, suitable for a garden. But now that the airport had been turned (last year, NDLR) into an international airport, and that “guests like us” were going to take this road more often, the City had decided to move this place somewhere else I couldn’t understand, and therefore the whole garden will disappear soon, another place full of charm and history left behind in the name of the extension of the airport. This sad destiny made the place dearer to us, we instantly loved it.
After all, it was my first time visiting a City Government Flower Factory. What does such a curious place look like? The garden is arranged in 3 different parts, the first one for roses, the second one deals with office plants, waiting room plants, entrance hall plants, you know, the many small green plants we see each time we go into an official building, and the last part deals with ceremony flowers, the ones in official prime buildings like the Chang Kai Tchek residence in Shilin, or huge assemblages that are put in the biggest ceremonies. All in all,this is an exotic mix of almost boring, simple plants mingled with extravagant, huge compositions that take many months to prepare.
Tina led us quickly past the roses, and the office plants, because she had bigger treasures to show us: the huge plants that are being grown for a ceremony later this year. Those plants take up to 2 years to develop, and require a lot of work, they are circular compositions that can reach around 2,5m height, with each of the flower having a different color, a prowess I am not sure to have fully understood from the explanations in Chinese Tina gave us. But what’s sure is that, every time the plant reaches a certain height, every 20 to 40 days depending on the season, some of this plant magicians split the burgeon into two parts and let it go again, thus controlling the shape of their creation and doubling the size. While the tree is robust, its flowers are very sensitive, and they are protected by as many small plastic bags, so that they keep a constant temperature.
I insisted for Tina to pose before one of these trees (the lesser version where someone was currently working, not the biggest ones), and she, in turn, accepted only if it was to be photographed with a nice and equally smiling lady in charge of these great plants.
As we were visiting the different places, I was struck by the cooperative atmosphere that was showing up here, Tina being careful to help the staff and give directions while everyone was well in position and all the work seemed to be done as if by magic. After chatting a while and exchanging on many topics dear to the heart of people living in Taiwan, Tina had to leave us and jump in a truck – some plants were waiting to be delivered to Neihu! After a last smile, she left, and let us spend some more time in her beautiful garden.We went to the end of the garden before we left, and saw a lot of cardboard pandas, a ramp to nowhere above the MRT, and many exotic flowers, plus some old, already ready to be abandoned buildings.
This whole experience has been like a breeze of fresh air, it made me understand that plants do matter, I remembered all the Chinese tourists visiting the Chang Kai Chek Palace who can’t miss all of those beautiful creations, I thought about my mother, who, I think I remember, told me she had noticed there are a lot of flowers here.
Next time I sit in a government office waiting for some paper, I will now have some friends in the presence of this flowers, which, I now know, some people are working hard to make grow and decorate the cold public areas of the administration… thanks to Tina and thanks to all of those who work to make our every day more colorful… more human!