Flowers are a gift that suits nearly every occasion. It could be a wedding, funeral, birthday, anniversary, graduation, first date or a religious or traditional holiday – flowers can usually take care of it, especially if the recipient is a woman.
Whether it’s roses, lilies, orchids, sunflowers or some other variety the colourful blossoms can be arranged as floral bouquets, framed, placed in vases or used to decorate gift baskets filled with fruit by a local shop called Pkar Khmer.
Without touching them you’d never guess that their flowers aren’t the real living plant kind. They are artificial and handmade from corn husks and mangrove palms.
This odd floral shop began operating in January, 2021, and was co-founded by Vong Heranhniyuth and one of his friends.
Heranhniyuth says opening a flower shop is something he never imagined doing until recently and it all began with his friend who loved to design paper flowers to sell in his free time.
“Before that my friend and I had our own careers. I used to work in the tourism field and my friend was a barber. He loves to spend time making paper flowers and selling them online. Through that he met a friend online, Lina, who had also been making the flowers to sell, but from corn husks.
“She gave us advice, saying that a flower made from paper didn’t have much value and people have seen it before. How about we try making them from corn husks like she did? We jumped right on it the moment we saw what she was able to make.
“The flowers last longer and look more glamorous and fewer people make them. We are one of the first shops to do it, so we learned the process from her online. Finally, we opened the Pkar Khmer shop,” the co-founder, Heranhniyuth says.
The shop started off with only artificial flowers from corn husks, mangrove palm and some dried flowers but over time and according to the demands of our customers the shop started to also carry fresh flowers.
Pkar Khmer’s floral arrangements are mainly made with artificial flowers made from corn husks and mangrove palms, they also use dried grass and corn flowers they pick in the mountains. They test everything before they start using it in bouquets to make sure that none of the living plants cause skin irritation or other issues.
As far as raw materials go, he says they are easy to find plants and he can find them just about anywhere and the corn husks are widely available in the city from street food vendors.
“We bought it from the vendors that sell boiled corn from carts. We have told them to keep the corn husks for us after they peel the husks off for their customers. In exchange, we often buy them their corn to sell and sometimes some money beyond that. So, now they know. Instead of throwing it out, they always make sure to keep the husks for us,” he says.
The process to make these unique and creative flowers is far more intricate than typical “origami” folded paper flowers, according to Heranhniyuth.
It starts out with collecting the corn husks from the sellers. Then they do another round of boiling but with the colour that they want mixed in.
Then they dry the husks out – because if they don’t then mould will grow on them – but this must be done slowly and carefully or it will make the husks very brittle and difficult to fold without breaking. They need the heat at just the right temperature for just the right period of time.
Finally, the husks are cut and then folded into petals and then the petals are assembled into a flower.
“These flowers are environmentally friendly because they are made from other plant materials and are biodegradable. We hand-make them so our business creates a lot of jobs for people that way.
“There is beauty in both natural and artificial flowers, but I believe our handmade flowers are more meaningful to people and valued more by them. And because each piece is handmade, all of them are different. Some are shorter, longer, smaller and bigger but I think that’s its uniqueness,” he says.
Right now he is only doing orders for bouquets or baskets and he says he isn’t able to do orders for big events yet because of the sheer number of flowers that one would require and he’d like to add staff and perfect his methods before tackling those challenges
Customers need to wait about 3-7 days for their custom orders to be completed, he says, and for special occasion days like Valentine’s Day it might take up to two weeks or even longer, but it also depends on what types of flowers and which colours the customers want.
“If the flowers and colours we have in the shop are just right for what the patrons need then their flower arrangement can be put together much sooner. But if someone really needs an order done urgently we do our best to get it done for them. We play it by ear because those situations depend on what other orders we have, how many staff are available and so forth.
We recommend that if they want the most beautiful and perfect bouquet made they should order early because normally after we are done with any bouquet we will send a picture to the customer first and if they want to adjust it or add more flowers they can let us know and we will fix it for them,” says the entrepreneurial florist.
He says that when the shop receives custom orders asking them to design and make flowers that they aren’t familiar with they will do their best to accommodate those requests, but some flowers are just too difficult to make artificially by hand if they have an unusually complex appearance.
Their handmade flower arrangements and bouquets vary in price depending on the details, but they start from $20 and increase in cost with size or difficulty.
Looking back over the past few months, Heranhniyuth notes that he started without any background in this type of business and no established customer- base, but recently his sales have started to pick up and he’s already getting a lot of repeat business.
“We’ve got regular customers now coming whenever they have a special occasion and their feedback has been really great and it drives us to be more creative and work harder to meet a high standard. Right now, frankly, I think our products are great but we need to become more efficient with how we produce them and modernise a bit more in that sense,” he says.
A lot of people are curious to see or touch the artificial flowers up close to compare them to the real living versions and that brings them into the shop for the first time to check them out and ask questions, which often leads to sales and new customers.
“I hope all of your readers will come and take a look at our handmade flowers and support a that locally handmade and ‘green’ product. Their support means a lot to all of the creators and designers who have been working in the field. Hopefully the market for our products will only grow bigger – even if our flowers don’t,” he says.
Pkar Khmer shop is located at #250 St 153 in the Chamkarmon district of Phnom Penh. For more information, they can be contacted via Facebook: @PkarKhmer