Yoga enthusiast Claudia Bermudez-Hyun tends to her vegetable box in her garden in Singapore.
Beauties go down to earth
ALL IN MY HEAD - Monique Toda (The Philippine Star) - May 24, 2020 - 12:00am

During this atmosphere of uncertainty, I noticed that there are people who thrive. Instead of wilting under the heavy cloud of fear and anxiety, they bloom. Included in this inspiring group are these beautiful women who ventured into gardening as their personal reactions to this pandemic. What’s interesting is that they all decided to plant food, and also their reasons for doing so.

Gardening is not only an external act but also internal. It feeds the soul. By nurturing life and getting your hands dirty in the soil, it connects you to the world at large. There is a feeling of fulfillment and deep satisfaction watching what you have planted grow. Scientifically, gardening has been proven to make you happy and even cure depression. It is no wonder that gardening is flourishing, with many finding comfort in it.

Gardening or planting can help provide food and promote sustainability, which are noble causes. For others, it is a meditation of sorts, giving them a glimpse into their higher selves, which is akin to prayer.

Claudia Bermudez-Hyun: A silver lining

Claudia Bermudez-Hyun was the first person who talked to me about planting produce as a reaction to the pandemic. Since then, this beautiful mother and yoga enthusiast has created a vegetable box in her garden. Surrounded by nature in her Singapore abode, she narrates how wildlife seemed to inhabit her home.

“I began to notice how nature was taking over: several beehives appeared suddenly, birds were building their nests in areas that they never had before, a family of hornbills came to the pool daily, unrecognizable new loud chirps were waking us up in the mornings, trees were healthier and orchids were all in full bloom. The air felt so clean and the earth so fertile. Aware that we would have ample time to tend to it, and as a project the kids could be involved with, I decided to set up a vegetable box in the back of our garden and grow greens we could consume rather than purchase.”

She started planting herbs such as mint, basil, chives, thyme, rosemary, dill, and lettuce.  Celery, pumpkins, tomatoes, melons and ladyfingers were added by collecting and drying the seeds of what they were eating at home. All the seeds have successfully thrived and grown.

On another level, Claudia says, “Gardening or planting makes me happy. The first thing my children and I do in the mornings is to check on the seedlings and decide what to repot or plant that day. It’s calming and therapeutic being immersed in nature a few hours a day: watering, fertilizing, pruning and harvesting.” 

This is a long-term project and commitment for Claudia, who is embracing it fully. Looking at the situation in a positive light, Claudia concludes, “Connecting with nature this way has been one of the silver linings of the lockdown.”

Holistic aesthetician Victoria Toda with her strawberries and Pepe the cactus

Victoria Toda: Strawberry patch forever

It’s officially springtime in the Bay Area in California and it is uplifting to see blooms all around. San Francisco-based holistic aesthetician Victoria Toda has always loved plants, especially those that remind her of home in the Philippines. This lovely lady is surrounded by wonderful tropical plants and ferns in her apartment, which looks like a charming greenhouse.

“I have a banana tree, calamansi, and siling labuyo, but my favorite plant right now is the strawberry plant (and Pepe, the cactus) I got right before the COVID-19 shelter-in-place happened.”

I personally have seen photos of Victoria’s red, luscious strawberries, and they are beautiful. Whimsically, Victoria added “eyes” to her tall cactus, naming him Pepe. Pepe’s eyes seem to roll in response to the current lockdown situation and being in quarantine. Victoria shares that “having to stay at home and not work has given me a lot free time to tend to my plants. I find that it puts me in a meditative state and helps ease any anxiety or worries I may have. After this is lifted, I will definitely continue to tend to my plants.” 

I welcome this news from Victoria as I look forward to visiting her, Pepe the Cactus and sampling some of those strawberries.

Chef Malou Fores in her balcony garden after a workout

Malou Fores: Little farm to little table

Chef and restaurant owner Malou Fores started her love affair with gardening as a child inspired by her mom who tended to her orchids, ferns and tropical plants. Now Malou has set up her three patios to become her mini-garden, or “little farm,” as she calls it. It has also become a habit of hers to always set aside seeds from eaten fruits and purchase seed pockets from stores or from her trips abroad. She even collected seeds from Spanish towns when she walked the Camino de Santiago. When the quarantine happened, these seeds came in handy for patio planting in her apartment. As a food lover and chef, it was second nature to plant produce and ingredients for the delicious meals she whips up.

Malou’s daily routine includes tending to her “crop” after workouts. She has vegetables like onions, ginger, pechay, yellow and red bell peppers, and fruits such as pomelo and chesa. She also grows rosemary, basil, oregano and Italian flat parsley — herbs that are easy to pick and add to the dishes she cooks.

I asked Malou how this ritual of gardening makes her feel. “Planting is something enjoyable and therapeutic to me,” she replied. “I think the same goes for my staff at home, namely Melody, Mila and Elmay. However, we enjoy gardening most when we cook and eat our harvest.”

It also looks like Harry, Malou’s cute Schnauzer, shares this love as he eats the raw vegetables straight from the pots and digs into the soil. Malou will continue with gardening after the lockdown is lifted because it gives her joy. She adds, “I encourage others to save the seeds of their favorite fruits and vegetables and plant it in their patios or gardens. It will become an easy source of ingredients, which you can use in your home cooking.” From farm to table? In Malou’s case, it’s from little farm to little table.

Artist Tessa Mendoza loves her micro greens.

Tessa Mendoza: Speaking the language of plants

Artist Tessa Mendoza started dabbling in gardening late last year but it was only during the lockdown when she plunged into it wholeheartedly. She decided to plant microgreens. “Why microgreens?” I asked. “Microgreens are the usual vegetable greens you find in the groceries but in ‘baby’ form. They are grown from seed and eaten when they are 10 to 14 days old. They are proven to be 40 percent more nutritious than their ‘adult’ counterparts. The best thing about microgreens is that you can grow them indoors by a window that gets some sunlight. They are organic, pest-free, and fertilizer free.”

Tessa is quite the prolific horticulturalist, having planted radishes, arugula, sweet peas, sunflowers, Lolla Rosa and broccoli. She has also sowed herbs such as rosemary, peppermint, lemon balm, tarragon, thyme, basil, oregano, lemongrass and pennywort. Tessa believes that this experience is beneficial to her wellbeing.

“Ever since I’ve gotten into the gardening, I’ve been more relaxed. I didn’t fully understand my mother’s obsession with her plants until I started planting. It’s therapeutic. It’s calming.”

More importantly, she has discovered the language of plants. “I learned that the number-one rule to growing a plant is to pay attention. I don’t talk to my plants, but they speak to me. When there are yellowing leaves, they are saying, ‘You are drowning me!’ Shrivelled leaves are plants complaining and saying, ‘I am thirsty.’ The wilted leaves whisper to me, ‘I don’t like it here. It’s too hot. Move me.’” 

Tessa will definitely continue gardening after quarantine and will encourage others to do the same. “If everyone can start planting their food, whether it be on their balconies, their windowsills or their gardens, we will all be much healthier in mind and body.”

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