Pike Place Market would be a drabber destination if it weren't for the HMONG FLOWER FARMERS who started the first floral businesses there 15 years ago. Many of those pioneers had fled the Vietnam War, arriving in Seattle in 1976 and turning to farming—their traditional livelihood—to make ends meet. In the beginning, they sold produce; then they expanded into flowers in the early '90s when that crop proved profitable.
Pike Place Market First Avenue and Pike Street, 206-682-7453, www.pikeplacemarket.org.
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The blooms they sell now change from season to season. First in the spring come tulips and irises, then peonies. In high summer, arrangements are built around dahlias and lilies. The $10 bunches look huge and abundant—until you compare them to the $15 bunches that look even bigger and more riotous. Most shoppers buy premade bouquets, but the farmers are also happy to fill special orders. Each one is a work of art, though Xia Chasengnou, who works at her family's farm in Carnation, says they're not hard to make: "I've been doing it my whole life."
These days, Hmong families work side by side with Mexican immigrants who have also embraced the flower business. And while family members of all ages help out at the stalls, things are slowly changing. Fourteen-year-old Thuzong, a vendor at Maika's Garden (also based in Carnation), says he doesn't mind pitching in, but he intends to go into business or law after college. "I don't plan to do this forever," he says. Maybe in the future Thuzong will be a customer instead of a vendor, but no doubt a new generation of immigrants will arrive to take his place.—Lynn Jacobson