In their hometown of Hengxi Village, Xinxing Town, Songyang County, Lishui, Zhejiang Province in east China, young entrepreneurs Ye Jianhua and Fang Jing have a greenhouse estate. The couple described the 1.3-hectare area as their main battleground for entrepreneurship.
Since 2018, through artificial pollination, hybridisation and other technologies, they have cultivated and planted more than 45 rose succulents, a fascinating succulent variety. These roses with unique colours and shapes can generate over 1 million yuan ($137,000) in output value annually.
The couple has developed succulent planting into a beloved career.
A succulent life
From July to September, succulents enter their dormant season. But Ye and his wife keep busy cutting off small branches that grow from the roots and stems, and transplanting them from their stock plants in greenhouse.
Ye said that although dormant succulents are not eye-catching in shape and colour, they are as attractive as roses in late November or early December. The secret lies in the month of September, a transplanting period when he and his wife take the plants out of pots, divide the buds on each succulent and then replant them separately. The roses quickly turn tender pink.
According to Ye, rose succulents are popular with consumers as a new family of succulents. The new varieties he bred, themed love and romance, sold out last Valentine’s Day, on 14 February, and Qixi, aka Chinese Valentine’s Day, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. To expand the planting area, Ye leased 20 acres of land around their greenhouses in 2023 and built 10 more high-standard greenhouses. “The high demand requires a larger planting area.”
Even during the dormant season, the couple never lets up. They enter the greenhouse at 8 a.m., Ye starts transplanting and Fang is occupied with livestreaming their latest varieties.
“Some people place orders in advance, and we ship the products when they go through the dormancy period and return to their original colours,” she said. Fang added that they have established mutual trust and tacit understanding with regular consumers.
Before planting succulents in his hometown, Ye worked in the apparel e-commerce industry in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang. “During the busiest time of the year, I didn’t even have time to have a drink of water during work hours.” Operating the online store, checking inventory, packaging and arranging for deliveries… It was nonstop.
“But no matter how busy I am, I need nature and plants in my world.” Ye maintained his hobby of planting flowers for years. And the succulents on the balcony of his rented apartment were a beautiful backdrop to his life in Hangzhou.
At the time, Fang was interning at an e-commerce company in Hangzhou. They met through business connections and romance soon blossomed. “We were surprised to find out that we both came from Songyang and had studied at the same high school,” Ye said, adding that their meeting was fate.
After their marriage, the couple returned to Songyang, as did the succulents on Ye’s balcony. Noticing the thriving plants in his family’s courtyard, Ye, who could not find a job, came up with the idea of opening an online succulent shop. He won the support of his family and his first order was placed within a few days of registering the shop online.
Working harder, getting luckier
With a background in e-commerce in Hangzhou and a keen sense of business, Ye conducted some research on the domestic market for succulents in the early stage of his new business. He found that, compared to others, the most popular choice among plant lovers was Greenovia aurea, or mountain rose. And so, the couple decided to focus on growing and selling this variety.
However, there were few mountain rose varieties in China and they could hardly meet the increasingly diverse demands of the market. So the couple tried to introduce many rare varieties from Germany, Spain and other countries and regions.
Of the 100,000 seeds they collected, only 4,000 sprouted, which was a blow to the couple. They consulted experts to improve their planting skills, and after experimenting and comparing, they found that the problem was in the soil.
In a second attempt, Ye imported soil from Denmark at a high price and finally uncovered the right soil preparation ratio by searching for information online and seeking advice from experts.
There are more than 80,000 pots of mountain roses in Ye’s greenhouse. Today, the couple has a clear division of work. Fang sells the plants via livestreaming, while Ye focuses on the technological and managerial aspects of their undertaking. He has bred more than 40 varieties, in addition to the 13 original varieties he has introduced.
These succulents look like roses that do not wither, so consumers like them, Ye said. Each new variety takes two to three years from pollination to seed selection, sowing and breeding. The couple’s efforts and perseverance over the past few years have led them down a rosy path.
Today, many new varieties in his greenhouse are unique to the domestic market. Many large succulent growers come to him to introduce them.
A rose by any other name
“The market is changing rapidly. We should keep innovating to take the lead in the industry,” Ye said. In the small succulent garden in southwestern Zhejiang, he is cultivating a dozen new varieties that will be introduced to the public around the Spring Festival, China’s biggest annual holiday and a time for family reunion, in February 2024.
“Only by innovating the old and creating the new can we improve our existing brands.”
As the business expanded, Ye began to think about how to make the succulent industry in his hometown competitive in the market, providing more jobs for local young people. After much discussion, the couple decided to build a livestreaming base for succulents and help more growers increase their income.
“When my team is established, I plan to turn this greenhouse into an exhibition hall and live broadcast studio where people can visit or learn about our experience. They can also sell their products in the studio through livestreaming,” Ye explained. He hopes to provide a platform for more young people returning to their hometowns. He also wants to introduce his beautiful rose succulents to more parts of the world to promote Songyang County’s development.
African Times published this article in partnership with ChinAfrica Magazine