By Erwin Beleo

Many homemakers love gardening, and most of the time they love plants with blooming flowers.

But there’s one homemaker who doesn’t need to wait for flowers to bloom to be able to appreciate ornamental plants. “You need not to wait for its flowers to appreciate the plant, “Dahon pa lang, ang ganda na,” said Ma. Theresa Madrid-Ancheta, 51, also known as the dara-dara queen of La Union.

Dara-dara is the name of the Coleus (Mayana), whose brightly colored leaves can have hue variations according to its variety. Its leaves also have medicinal properties that is said to help treat various kinds of ailments such as ulcers, diabetes, and hemorhoids.

“It all started with a dream garden. I wanted a lush and colorful one,” said former college instructor who is now a full time housewife. She’d been browsing the internet for plants that are easily to propagate and can adapt to extreme weather.

She started propagating dara-dara after she stopped teaching in 2017. “I wanted to focus on a particular plant to propagate and make it attractive in the eyes of my friends so they can love it too and eventually plant their own.

“Since maluwag ang oras ko, (Since I have a lot of free time), I can do a lot of household chores, and that includes gardening. Gardening is my passion. While others do it to destress, I do it because I just love doing it, and I am happiest when I am in the garden,” she said.

Ancheta has hundreds of variations of dara-dara. Her garden now occupies almost all the space in-front and back of their yard, about a 1,300 square meter property.

She only started with few pots, some were gifts from friends, and most, including rare dara-dara seeds, were bought online.

She also inspired several people to care for dara-dara after she started posted pictures on her social media account last year. “My friends expressed their appreciation and they love it, di ko na mabilang sa daliri ko kung ilan na silang na-inspire ko na magtanim (I can no longer count on my finger how many of them I have inspired to plant),” she said. “The best proof are the photos of their garden tagging me as their influencer/inspiration.”

DARA-DARA QUEEN – A former teacher and now a housewife Ma. Theresa Madrid-Ancheta shows her several variations of colorful ‘dara-dara’ or Mayana Plant Coleus in her home at Barangay Talogtog, San Juan, La Union. (Photo courtesy: Matet Ancheta-FB)

Local personalities, politicians, businessmen, friends from the school, former students, and even people from several towns have visited her place because they saw her posts on social media.

“I give free cuttings to my friends. I sell the rooted ones in a pot. I am happy that I make money from it, but more than the money, I am happier because I was able to influence others to love gardening too. Maybe that’s the best legacy I can leave,” she added.

She also encourages of her friends, saying, “When you start to plant, you will have a change of perspective in all things. You’ll become a person full hope, excited to wake up every morning. It is a different experience to connect with nature and the source of it. It is very soul-enriching.”

When the COVID-19 community quarantines started, people inside their homes began taking up gardening as a hobby. Ancheta took this opportunity to sell her ‘dara-dara’, “mas lalong mabenta, andaming pumupuntang bumibili at himihingi (it was in-demand to sell, more visitors were coming in to buy and ask [for plants]),” she said.

For La Union’s dara-dara queen, gardening isn’t just a hobby, it’s also a side business and more importantly, a way to connect with other people, especially during these trying times.