By Rica Anne D. Victoriano

Various studies have found that being exposed to nature by spending time in a garden, park, or a forest offers wide-ranging health benefits. But aside from doing wonders to one’s physical well-being, it is said to also cause significant benefits to one’s state of mind.

Twenty-five-year-old Abby Yu Jeco from Marikina City sees gardening as an avenue to take a break from the hustle and bustle of life. The patch of green that she maintains in the vicinity of her home is where she recharges her troubled mind and finds solace.

Two years ago, Jeco was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder, a condition characterized by having severe shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. For that reason, she found herself needing an outlet that can help her ease her mind and their home garden happened to offer that.

According to Jeco, her doctor did not directly prescribe that she start gardening; it was her who chanced upon the fact that being in close connection to nature somehow helped her cope with her condition.

Jeco grows different varieties of chili like marusot, kinalabaw, devil’s
tongue, and purple habanero.

Starting out with courage

She started getting in touch with nature little by little by hanging out in their home garden and doing garden activities with the help of her mom.

Her mother has always been inclined to care for plants since she was young, and because of that, Abby did not have a hard time getting her hands on the garden the moment she discovered how therapeutic it was for her.

Similar to most members of the younger generation, prior to being diagnosed with the disorder, Abby did not have any interest in gardening. She would just watch her mom exercise her green thumb and help out a little when needed.

It was her numerous fails at gardening where she ended up killing plants that turned her off at first. But now, she considers it as one of those things about gardening that makes her keep doing it.

“You get better at it, and before you know it, you’re already eating your home-grown vegetables.” she said.

Currently, she has a decent patch of garden in her backyard where she grows dalandan, some ornamental plants, and vegetables such as chili, eggplant, tomato, and patola.

Having sense of control by overcoming space issues

However, gardening wasn’t always a walk in the park for the 25-year-old. Since her house is located at the east of the Metro, space has always been an issue for her.

Patola plants sprouting in makeshift
plant containers on Jeco’s rooftop.

This problem turned out to be an opportunity for her to have a sense of control over things. Because of the dearth in space, she is given more chances to improvise and take control of her garden.

Aside from doing vertical gardening, she has also started one on her rooftop where she grows more plants like pandan and different varieties of chili.

She recently planted a bunch of indoor plants that she can also use to decorate her bedroom with, because according to her, she prefers waking up and seeing plants first thing when she opens in the morning.

Solace in the form of gardening

She spends a lot of her time in the garden watering plants and
attempting to do various gardening activities like fertilizing and grafting as these act as therapy.

“It gives me a sense of belonging, and a sense of belonging is always a comfort for me” she said.

According to Jeco, it is also through gardening that she has encountered one of the most healing things she has ever experienced, and that is growing something with her own hands.

Learning about different aspects of gardening is what she views as the best part, whether it’s about pests, or some kind of organic fertilizer. She loves the concept of having something new to discover and look forward to every day.

Aside from these, she shared that she also learns a lot from the trial and error process that comes with the activity. Gardening teaches her so many things, to the point that she feels like over the years, she has become more self-aware through gardening.

“It has taught me to know my strengths and weaknesses and for some reason, I find asking for help easier because of it.” she added.

She believes that gardening has definitely been very important to her mental well-being and thinks people who have the same condition as her should also give gardening a chance as there is no greater feeling than having your hands in the dirt to grow your own food.

She also shared how amazed she is that an excellent way to ease her troubled mind is right in her backyard. “Aren’t plants amazing? They really do help us heal when we take care of them.” she said. (Photos courtesy of Abby Yu Jeco)

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2020 issue.