By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao 

It is widely known that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected more than just the health of people everywhere. It also put economies on hold and threatened the livelihood of many in order to minimize the risk of getting infected. 

All this has also left an impact on the people’s mental health, with various news articles declaring a rise in the number of people who experience stress, anxiety, and even depression. 

“The extended lockdown and prolonged confinement was already affecting me emotionally and psychologically,” said Jem Dumlao, a human resources director for a shared services company in Alabang. 

She shared on social media that she had an active and busy lifestyle prior to the imposition of the community quarantine. Now staying at home, the confinement has left Dumlao feeling unmotivated and discouraged. 

However, she decided to do something against it and find a way to cope with the current situation. She first ventured into woodworking as a distraction but she saw that this would be challenging to do since most of the stores at the time were closed due to the community quarantine. 

“I [then] decided to focus on building my garden. I have been wanting to do it since last year but was just so busy to start,” Dumlao said.

Dumlao turned to gardening in order to distract herself from the negativity of the pandemic.

For the HR director, gardening detaches her from her worries and stress, and it also helps her overcome her longing for the outdoors and nature. 

“This newfound motivation became my driving force to get out of the emotional rut I was in and I have not stopped since then,” she said. 

A vertical garden in a personal space

Dumlao shared that she personally built a vertical garden in her bedroom balcony and she tends to it herself. “Before I go about my day, that’s where I spend my first 30 minutes: watering, inspecting, pruning and moving plants,” she said. 

She installed a vertical garden on her bedroom balcony so she can feel closer to nature.

She decided to locate it close to her personal space so she can easily visit her plants whenever she needs a break from work or a recharge from the day to day hustle.

Whenever she needs a breather or is feeling overwhelmed, Dumlao visits her garden.

The HR director acquired plants that can fit in small spaces as well as those suitable for a vertical garden. 

“I started with Vietnam rose cuttings, red creepers, ZZ (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) plants, sansevierias, ferns, dischia ionanthas and callisia fragrans,” she said, adding that these varieties are low maintenance and fairly easy to propagate, making them good for beginners like her.

The HR director prefers colorful plant varieties.

After gaining some confidence in her gardening skills, Dumlao shifted to acquiring more colorful varieties like mayanas, purple shield, aglaonemas, and more. 

Learning from others and personal experiences 

When she was starting out, Dumlao shared that her over eagerness has sometimes caused problems for her. 

“I got too excited about acquiring plants that I didn’t know how to care for. There are plants that look aesthetically pleasing but are very fussy and hard to handle,” she admitted.

With the help of her housekeeper and online groups, Dumlao slowly learned how to care for her plants and it gave her confidence.

Luckily for her, she has a household helper who likes to garden and is more than willing to teach her about growing her plants. The two have been working together in maintaining the vertical garden.  

Dumlao also began reading and watching content available online to learn how to care for particular plants that they’re not familiar with. As for her plant troubles, she turned to online groups who share the same interest for advice on how to deal with her plant-related issues.

“Getting advice from online groups helped me to deal with certain issues. I also probe gardeners more now before I buy a plant. I stopped acquiring just for the heck of it and I now try to propagate from my own collection, too. I also learned that understanding plant behavior must be a personal endeavor. You simply don’t leave it to others to do it for you,” she said. 

One of the things she learned on how to properly care for her plants is by first determining which plants are for indoors and which ones are for outdoors. This way, she wouldn’t have a hard time figuring out which ones should be placed near windows, out in the sun, or deep inside the house. 

“Some of our so-called indoor plants thrive better in bright light so we leave them outside. Regular care involves watering and moving some plants to bathe in the morning sun if needed. I occasionally prune dead or dying leaves and stem,” she said. 

Despite having no background in gardening before the community quarantine, Dumlao didn’t let the lack of knowledge and experience get to her and stop her from growing her vertical garden. 

In return, her garden has given her the motivation she needed since it served as her coping strategy during the pandemic. 

For those who want to give gardening a try, whether it’s for mental health problems, a hobby, or a source of livelihood, she says that “anyone can be a gardener.” 

“It is not a skill you train for nor it is exclusive to people who have the natural ‘green thumb.’ If you have the right attitude and commitment to every plant you adopt, everything else will follow,” she said.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September to October 2020 issue.