Petal Pushers

Aling Agapita: Today, paper roses is not just a line from a song. Now you can feel and see them. (Photo by Dedette Sison-Santiago)

I weave through the mid-morning traffic, careful not to miss the fork in the road that is my landmark for this place called “Bulaklakan ng Maynila.” I have to be alert. After all, this is Manila where traffic can be pretty stressful especially on a Friday, and missing your “turn” can mean having to weave in and out of traffic again by the same route.

Finally, I see a curb bustling with activity, and I know I’m on the right track. Dangwa Flower Market is vibrant, always teeming with people even on ordinary weekdays, and Dos Castillas street where the market sits, is constantly brimming with traffic.

I look around thrilled by myriad colors and the abundance of fresh-cut blooms: daisies, sunflowers, dahlias, hydrangeas, lilies, mums, gerbera and roses, to name some. A visual feast, indeed! A light tap on my shoulder suddenly springs me from dreamland, and I look to find a friendly flower vendor eager to show me the freshest produce for the day. His selection does not disappoint. You can bring home a dozen white or red roses for P100 ($2.40). Haggling can bring the tag down to P80 ($1.95). Assorted gerberas are yours at P170 ($4.10) a dozen; three stems of dark pink torch ginger flowers priced at P50 ($1.20) only and local orchids go for P350 ($8.50) while imported ones from Bangkok are P650 ($15.80) a bundle. I scoop a bunch of assorted daisies ($3.90), a dozen of my favorite silky white roses and a quarter kilo of white baby’s breath flowers or asters ($. 50) to complement my own floral centerpiece.

Say it with orchids:  Exotic fresh orchids from Thailand and potted plants on display. (Photo by Dedette Sison-Santiago)

Happy with my loot, I move to a stall by the corner where I meet Agapita Pamulaklakin, one of the very few pioneers in this flower market and onetime president of the Dangwa Flower Market Association. She shows me the most beautiful paper roses I’ve ever seen in romantic shades of baby pink, powder blue and canary yellow. “Nung unang panahon, ang paper roses ay nasa kanta lamang, ( In the past, you only hear about paper roses in a song),” she says. Smiling, the mother of five continues: “Ngayon nakikita mo na, nahahawakan, totoo na, hindi lamang isang linya sa kanta. ( Now you get to see and feel them. They’re not just a line from a song).”

It is heartwarming to realize that through the years, we have nurtured many clients and more are coming.

Recalling how her business started 25 years ago in Dangwa, Aling Agapita says that she eagerly waited for the day’s delivery of fresh-cut blooms transported by bus from Baguio and the Mountain Trail every day at the break of dawn. She and fellow vendors knew that their supply would yield good profits. “Mga tira-tira na lang yung mga bulaklak na nakukuha ko at ng ibang vendors noon kasi lahat dinadala sa Quiapo. Pero maganda pa rin ang kita namin (Most of the produce were brought to sellers in Quiapo. Ours were leftovers, but the sales were good).”

Cheerful selection of fresh-cut roses and other delicate blossoms in vibrant colors make stunning bouquets. (Photo by Dedette Sison-Santiago)

Like Aling Agapita, Gant Espelo is no newbie in the business. At 20, she has learned the ropes of the trade and has helped manage Given’s Flowershop, a family enterprise, for many years now. “Sa tagal na namin dito, maraami na rin kaming mga kliyente at nakakatuwa na marami pang dumarating. (It is heartwarming to realize that through the years, we have nurtured many clients and more are coming).” Gant says that should her parents pass on the business to her someday, she’d more than happy and willing to accept the challenge.

Pretty in pink : Imported  long-stemmed Ecuador roses in full bloom ready for delivery. (Photo by Dedette Sison-Santiago)

Established in the late ‘80s, Dangwa Flower Market, named after a bus company that transported the fresh flowers and vegetables from the summer capital, now boasts 100 stalls lining two blocks of Dos Castillas street where once only seven sellers thrived. They now work round-the-clock as demand for fresh and exotic blooms grows especially on occasions like weddings, Christmas and All Souls Day and most notably Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. The market has since evolved into “the flower market of Manila” as proclaimed by then Manila City Mayor Lito Atienza in 2006. “Noon, ang mga bulaklak galing lang sa Baguio at Tagaytay, (At that time, flowers only came from Baguio and Tagaytay),” says Aling Agapita who, at 53, still reigns over her flower shop, La Primera. And because the demand for more blooms keeps increasing, supplies now pour in from other sources outside the country like China, Ecuador and Thailand.

Dedette Sison-Santiago

Dedette Sison-Santiago

Dedette Sison-Santiago is a freelance writer based in Manila.