By Yvette Tan

Dr. Lorgene A. Mata, a retired psychology professor and Director/Owner of LAM Personnel Compumetrics Center, has been growing fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants on a 1,000 sq.m. lot in his family home in Quezon City for 38 years. “Talihib and other wild grasses were growing everywhere and I thought this was a lot of waste,” he says. “I thought that planting fruit-bearing trees and vegetables would make this land gain better value and use to a family like ours.”

He chose to plant fruit and vegetables over ornamental plants because, “being the pragmatic and practical guy that I am, I choose food for the stomach more than flowers for the eyes and nose.”

The produce from the garden, all naturally grown, has been gracing the Mata table for decades. These include, depending on the season, saluyot, labanos, kalabasa, and patola, as well as fruits like star apple, kamias, and duhat. Here are some of his tips on maintaining a thriving urban garden:

A sign on a wall near the garden reminds everyone to relax
and enjoy the many blessings the garden offers.

Soil is king 

“You must determine the type of soil you actually have for your intended garden and the type of climate you have,” Mata says. “Then, you have to research on which type of plants will grow under these conditions. Otherwise, you have to experiment planting all kinds of plants to know which ones will thrive in your garden, like what I did with mine.”

Watch your water 

“Maintain a regular watering schedule for your plants. Find out how much water your particular plants need and adjust accordingly,” Mata urges.

When considering building a garden, he also advises that water consumption should be considered. “Watering is also a problem when maintaining a big garden. Since water is so expensive in the city, the volume and quality of the harvest that one can get from the plants that require constant watering may not be enough compensation for the high cost of water consumption made.”

Fertilize and get rid of pests as needed 

“Don’t forget to take out the weeds that stifle the growing plants as they compete for water, sun and fertilizer. Put fertilizer as needed, preferably organic manure if available. Allow birds, bees and butterflies to take away the pests and pollinate the flowers. Do not use artificial pesticides if you can avoid them completely.”

He adds, “The presence of pests that attack each particular variety of plant is hard to control and is a serious problem. They eat the leaves and bore into the fruits before they can be harvested. When my garden was fully enclosed with fishnets and covered with UB plastic, I observed that the bees, butterflies and birds could not get in to fertilize the flowers and eat the insects that destroy the plants. I discovered by allowing partially an open space into the enclosed garden, the bees, butterflies, and birds could then fly in and eliminate these pests. Then, I did not need anymore pesticides, which could actually render the plants harmful when consumed, to control these harmful pests.”

Keep watch during the rainy season

The rainy season can pose a special challenge for gardens. “During the rainy season, most plants prefer to just produce leaves but never give out fruits,” Mata says. “If the plants that tend to grow fast during the rainy season produce leaves that cannot be eaten, such as patola and kidney beans, there is an overcrowding of useless foliage covering the whole garden. Their leaves shut off the sun shine that other plants need to grow.”

He adds, “During the rainy season, the torrential rain overfloods the small, growing plants and they rot before they have a chance to grow large enough to bear fruit. I installed the UB plastic to keep the heavy rains off the plants, but the plastic is quite expensive to install and hard to maintain as they get damaged with strong winds during typhoons.”

Kindness is key

Perhaps the most underrated tip almost all gardeners adhere to: “Talk to your plants daily and treat them with tenderness like the way you would handle your baby or child.”

Read about how Dr. Mata built his garden from scratch in this month’s issue of Agriculture magazine.