IN the concrete jungle that is Manila, you rarely see anything green. There are pocket wall gardens along Edsa struggling to survive, and for a time there was a row of ficus bordering it. The trees are now scarce and far in between. Sadly, parks and open spaces have become a luxury only available to a few. If you are like me who grew up in the province surrounded by flora, the city can be harsh territory wanting some green.
Which is what I sought to do over the last weekend. We have a small patch of land in front of our house which we asked somebody to landscape. The border near our wall is lined with camachile which sprout glorious leaves of pink and lilac in the summer. The groundcover is plain bluegrass so I enhanced it with some cuphea which blooms little purple flowers, and some purple and pink chichirica for added color.
However, my real project last weekend was the little garden in our balcony where I sip tea after dinner. I wanted to hang some pots macrame-style for the Peruvian ferns but gave up after several attempts—the nylon rope does not work, as well as the jute kind. I ended up repotting the yellow bells and the dama de noche so they could grow better and bigger, and rearranged some pots so the cypress could be in one corner and the philodendron on the other side. All of my plants in the balcony are potted because of the limited space, and it is also convenient whenever I want to rearrange them. But the important thing for me was to have a space where I can sit, relax and enjoy my brew.
One of the things I like about working on the garden is the physical element of carrying, tilling and potting plants which is basically a form of exercise. You burn calories but at the same time you become stronger from all the activities involved in making your garden. After an afternoon of fixing the plants, my shirt was drenched with sweat but I got the satisfaction from being able to exercise and having fun putting it together. I actually did not notice the afternoon pass because I was so focused and happy fixing my garden.
Gardening also relieves stress. Maybe the focus of completing a task and seeing the result of our work has the effect of calming us and giving us a sense of accomplishment. Not to mention a garden also has the same effect as what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing,” otherwise known as nature therapy or ecotherapy. This technique is used in improving one’s well-being by being surrounded with nature. And what better way to do this than have your own garden where you can have your nature therapy. I am not surprised that three cats have joined me on the balcony and I also have two resident butterflies fluttering around the flowers. What could be more stress-free than that?
Maintaining your own garden can also help you get more sunlight which triggers your body to produce serotonin, one of the happy hormones that is responsible for boosting your mood and making you feel calm. And of course sunbathing in the early morning has numerous benefits, including the ability of your body to produce vitamin D which is responsible for regulating calcium absorption in the body. This helps your body maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles. So, you see, maintaining your own garden helps in your general well-being.
And not only that, your garden can also have environmental benefits. Plants are natural air purifiers and having a garden helps in ensuring you have enough clean air. Your garden can also become a home and playground for your pets and attract butterflies and bees which help in pollination. If you plant vegetables aside from ornamentals, you also gain the added benefit of having another source of food. You not only help yourself but you also help the environment.
Starting your own garden is not that hard. You first need to choose a place where you want your garden. If you do not have space for a bed of soil, potted plants are the way to go. If you do have a space where there is soil, you need to consider foot traffic and the kind of plants you want to put there. Choose local plants which are suitable for your available space. Aside from foot traffic, also consider how much sun the area gets within the day, the adjacent structures or machineries, how the foliage would look in the space, and most importantly the season. When you buy plants, ask the plant vendor what their recommendations are depending on the effect you like for your garden. Local plant vendors offer excellent advice on how to take care of the plants you buy, what to avoid, and other useful information to maintain your garden properly.
Of course, choose the plants you like. After all, the garden is meant for your enjoyment. You can experiment by putting together different plants which bloom at different times of the year. This way, you have a highlight plant throughout the year. A plant you might like to try is the kalanchoe, which sprouts a fiery red bloom during the Christmas season. This can be your focus plant as an alternative to poinsettia. Again, ask your local plant vendor what can go together and when a plant is at its best.
You can also make gardening an opportunity to bond with your family or just enjoy the garden together. Having a small garden will benefit not just you and your family but the environment as well. I liked what I did with my balcony garden. I might have a small space for it but it is a place I can call my own where I can just relax and see the world pass by. For now, I am content sipping my tea surrounded by yellow bells and the faint jasmine smell of the dama de noche.