Horticulture was among the biggest trends to sweep Filipinos over the past eight months under quarantine. Proudly labeling themselves “plantitos/plantitas,” people from different walks of life took to planting as a hobby to rid themselves of boredom, a way to spruce up their homes, and more importantly as a form of self-care given the stressful time we live in.

One of the “OG” (original) plantitos of this generation is Sen. Miguel Zubiri, who has found a liking for plants since his younger years. Having spent a chunk of his childhood in the lush province of Bukidnon, he took interest in general agriculture, eventually taking up Agribusiness as his college major at the University of the Philippines – Los Baños.

Through the years, he has amassed a huge collection of indoor and outdoor plants, as well as trees. “[I have] probably by the thousands already, because I plant them around the farm, aside from my home. I have a particular interest in my flowering vines and trees. Right now my favorites are my New Guinea Creeper and my Bauhinia kockiana, both of which are prolific bloomers,” he says, noting, too, that his favorite places to shop for plants and seedlings are the farming communities in Calamba, Pila, and Victoria in Laguna, as well as growers in Davao, Cagayan De Oro, and Bukidnon, and the Quezon City Circle marketplace in Metro Manila.

As a long-time horticulturist, Sen. Zubiri was very pleased to hear about the “plantito/plantita” trend blowing up, especially in Metro Manila and other urban areas. “I think it’s great! It’s exciting to see so many people giving it a try, whether that means finally tending to their neglected garden or getting a small potted plant to start with. But I have to say, I hope that it becomes a permanent passion and not just a trend to be abandoned after a few months, because in all honesty, while plants make for great Instagram photos, they also take a lot of time and effort. But they are so worth it.” he says.

Aside from being a rewarding activity that benefits the environment and air quality, caring for plants at home also helps improve human well-being. For Sen. Zubiri, taking care of plants can teach many things like patience and perseverance, as plants take time to really nurture and grow. “It’s very fulfilling when you finally see them bloom, when trees grow taller and grow into maturity, when you are able to propagate them through cuttings and successfully replant them.”

“It’s also very peaceful,” Zubiri adds, noting how relaxing it can be to be simply surrounded by greenery and breathe in the soothing scent of leaves and flowers. There is also a mutual therapeutic effect on the person and the whenever they talk to them. “In my experience, my plants bloom when I talk to them and encourage them to grow,” he says.

Having been diagnosed positive with COVID-19 a while back, Sen. Zubiri also found comfort in his plants while he was recuperating. “I couldn’t get out of my quarantine room for 36 days, which was torture for me. But I think that it helped to have a garden outside my window. Looking out at the greenery helped me clear my mind and kept me from feeling claustrophobic. If I only had my walls and my TV screen to look at, I might have gone stir-crazy,” he recounts.

While planting and plant care leave countless benefits to the horticulturist, this surge in interest for verdure also made a significant impact in the country’s economy. With the pandemic halting the operations of many businesses and industries, local farmers and gardeners were able to thrive thanks to the plantitos and plantitas who took the quarantine as an opportunity to finally get into the horticulture hobby.

As a staunch advocate of the Buy Local movement, Sen. Zubiri feels grateful to see the local economy, especially the farming communities, thriving amidst the pandemic. “We’re all seeing how the trend has already boosted the businesses of our local growers and sellers.

What we need to do now is to try to sustain this beyond being a trend, so we can build long-term support for our plant and agri-businesses, especially those in the MSME sector. And a strong MSME sector translates to a strong national economy, since MSMEs make up 99 percent of our registered businesses,” Zubiri notes.

Learn more about the Buy Local movement and Sen. Zubiri’s “plantito” adventures by following @migzzubiri on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.