Story by Teeranai Charuvastra and Pravit Rojanaphruk.

BANGKOK — It’s a common joke among Bangkokians who locked themselves in their homes during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak that they discovered at least one new hobby in their solitude.

The common experience is learning how to cook, or bake, while for others it’s finding joy in buying and tending plants. And there’s just the place where the new breeds of urban gardeners can find everything they need: the lesser known plant bazaar in the sprawling JJ Market.

While located inside a weekend market, the plant sellers do their business from Tuesday to Thursday. Even with the slumping economy, the market was busy and buzzing during a recent visit. 

There are over a hundred sellers here, hawking varieties of cactus, succulents, lotus, bonsai, flower plants, quality pots, and even fake plastic flowers and plants if you insist. Most of the vendors have fixed prices, but do try haggling. Some shops had long queues. 

“Everything is selling well,” plant shop vendor Naruedee Payungsaengkul said. At the shop she works for, Boat Succulent, cactuses and succulents start at 100 baht.

“Prices have tripled over the months,” Indian rubber trees seller Thanapol Yormyue said. “We are running out of larger potted Indian rubber trees. We now have to import them from southern China, as the demand kept surging.”

Thanapol said gardening became popular among Bangkokians because of the worsening air pollution in recent years. But what really helped it take off was the coronavirus outbreak, which forced people to stay indoors and spend more time staring at their houses like never before. 

In a Bangkok Business News article on the rise of the gardening industry during the pandemic, the report said many Bangkokians adopted gardening as a way to kill boredom and loneliness, but it soon became part of their lifestyle expressions. 

Shops compete with each other on social media for customers, touting different aesthetics and speedy delivery. Some even held auctions for the sought after plants. 

“Planting trees has perhaps become the New Normal that many desire,” the article said. 

It’s not just Bangkok either. Another news report in June said plant sellers in Chonburi province are seeing the same boom in sales, largely driven by the homestaying habit in the virus pandemic. 

Image: @Urassaya

And then all hell broke loose when celebrity actress Urassaya ‘Yaya’ Sperbund joined the trend and posted photos of herself with the plants she bought, launching her fans into a gardening frenzy.

Even celeb actor Mario Maurer teasingly asked her to stop, since the price has since gone too high for him. 

One of the shops benefiting from the craze is the one where Thanapol sold Indian rubber trees, whose distinct dark green and rather shiny leaves can be seen in one of Yaya’s photos. You can find the larger versions decorating Siam Paragon shopping mall as well. 

“It was actually even popular before Yaya made it more so,” Thanapol said. “Before that, PM2.5 [micro dusts] made the plant popular due to its ability to cleanse the air.” 

Indian rubber trees from China, just 10 inches tall, start at 300 baht. Taller local ones now cost about 2,000 baht, at around 100 centimeters tall with two branches.

Of course, all kinds of gardening equipment are sold here in the market. For instance, creative flower pots can be found inside @Tree Craft and Plant at Section 20.

Shop owner Rungtham Insra sells brown glazed pots made by an old kiln in Ratchaburi province, famous for its traditional rainwater jars. 

A lovely small brown pot, 15 centimeters in diameter, is more durable than its terracotta and plastic counterparts. It costs just 100 baht. 

Just a word before you visit: be prepared to really sweat, and watch out for cars and pickup trucks loading and unloading their goods at the many shops in the market. 

And you might want to take some examples from Yaya’s Instagram photos. She posted a photo of herself with a pot of chuan chom (Adenium) the other day. Who knows, maybe you might like a pot of two of this hardy and sun-loving plant from Arabia?

Chatuchak Plants Market (ตลาดต้นไม้จตุจักร) is open from Tuesday to Thursday. The nearest public transportation is BTS Mo Chit, MRT Chatuchak, and MRT Kamphaeng Phet.