By Vina Medenilla
A retiree in General Santos named Rosana Sacay, 64, a mother of three, has converted about 20sqm of her 187 sqm home into an indoor garden. The front veranda and back area of the home, as per Sacay, “were converted into a sort of display area for all potted plants.”
Her love for plants sparked during her elementary days, when her school’s garden was recognized as “the greenest and healthiest.” At that time, she wanted to tend plants at home, too, but due to the limited space and lack of resources, she only gets to nurture plants that her friends gave her. “At that early age, I already dreamed of having a beautiful garden someday when I can already afford it.”
She worked as an administration supervisor of a private company and retired in December 2017. Her job included landscaping design and garden maintenance of their company’s offices and guesthouses, which rekindled her interest in plants. As per Sacay, this also enhanced her landscaping and gardening skills.
When she was in her second to the last job in Leyte, her family was provided with a house where she had enough space and resources to develop a garden that eventually became a business. “I rented a space in the municipality where I displayed my plants for sale and at the same time, my colleagues were buying plants from my house.” At that time, her first plants were philodendron temptation, Xanadu (Philodendron Xanadu), wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina), fortune plant (Dracaena Fragrans), yellow or areca palm (Dypsis lutescens), Japanese and Chinese bamboo, calathea varieties, ti plants (Cordyline fruticosa), and anthurium or flamingo flower.
Years later, their family transferred from Leyte to General Santos, where they now reside, due to another job opportunity. When they occupied their own home in the same province, that’s when Sacay grabbed the chance to continue tending plants at home. “I preferred ornamental plants over flowering plants and succulents.” In her garden, there are a lot of varieties of philodendrons, monstera, aglaonema, calathea, pothos, sansevierias, spider plants, fortune plants, alocasia, caladiums, episcia plants, ZZ plants, and more. But among all these, philodendrons are her favorites because for her, these are easy and fast to grow. “Furthermore, they have the most beautiful leaf shapes, designs, and colors. Although there are rare varieties with high prices, there are also not-so-rare, but beautiful and affordable,” said Sacay.
With the restricted space and the absence of soil in Sacay’s garden, she decided not to plant food crops in it. “I want to utilize the space for ornamental plants, which I love so much. I can always buy food crops or vegetables when I want them, but the joy of having the plants that I love in my garden is worth something more for me,” Sacay explained.
For this urban gardener, hard work, patience, and most importantly, love for plants are the things that she needs to be able to manage her day-to-day garden tasks. As per her daily garden routine, “Activities are watering of the plants, cutting of dried leaves or stems, and sweeping or mopping of the floor.” Transplanting, top cutting, and planting of newly acquired plants are also performed when needed. For the fertilizer, she only applies osmocote every six months. “I chose this kind of fertilizer because it is easy and non-damaging to plants even if applied in a bigger quantity. I never use pesticides in any of my plants ever since I started gardening,” she added. Aphids are the only issue that she faces in her garden and she resolves this by discarding the infected plant and its soil. This way, “it will not contaminate other plants. And so far, this solution was effective,” she said.
From hobby to a business opportunity
At first, her purpose in collecting plants was purely for the beautification of her home. As it became a productive and enjoyable hobby after her retirement, she decided to develop it into a business. During the community quarantine, people’s interests in plants were at peak and selling plants was something that she saw as a lucrative business. Sacay said, “In my case, selling is the best way forward for me to continue planting and propagating plants in my garden. If I do not sell, my space will eventually be saturated and I will have no more opportunity to acquire new plants.”
After four years of collecting and propagating plants, she owns enough varieties and supplies to put it up on sale. She started selling her plants to friends and neighbors only. Recently, she also ventured into online selling, making her market a lot wider now. “A lot of people whom I do not know were coming to my house to buy plants from my garden.” Although she owns several varieties of plants, she still buys plants from online sellers to keep up with the demand. Her plants range from P50 to P3,500.
Her marketing strategy entails keeping track of trends in the plant business. For instance, she finds the most popular and expensive plants in the market and looks out for suppliers of these plants to buy their seeds or seedlings, which she will propagate and sell later on. She expounds, “I want to invest now in seeds or seedlings and reap the return on my investment in a later period rather than buying the matured ones now, which are very expensive.” When buying in bulk, Sacay is also very particular in choosing them, especially if she sees that the plants will provide her a good profit in the future.
With all her efforts and investments that she pours in today, she says, “I expect my garden in the near future to be able to provide varied and beautiful plants at affordable prices. It will become more popular and one of the most-sought gardens in GenSan.”
Gardening tips acquired from experience
In gardening, there are five things that other gardeners must consider according to Sacay:
Sunlight. The sunlight you have in your garden area must be the basis for your choice of plants. In her case, all the plants in a covered area like her terrace are the plants that do not need direct exposure to sunlight, while those plants who are sun-tolerant and can withstand direct sunlight are placed outdoors and in an open space back garden.
Soil moisture. For the soil mixture, she uses garden soil with a mixture of either coco peat, rice hull, or sawdust, and vermicast or cow’s manure. The purpose of this is to prevent the soil from hardening, allowing the roots to grow faster.
Watering. Watering the plants depends on the needs. “Plants directly exposed to sunlight may be watered daily if the soil is dry. Plants in shaded areas may be watered once or twice depending on the soil condition,” Sacay noted.
Replacing the soil. Replenishing soil is important as its nutrients are consumed and diminish as time goes by. “Sometimes, the roots occupy almost all the space inside the pot. To keep the plant healthy, it is recommended either to replenish the soil or replace it with new soil,” said the gardener.
Many retirees turn to gardening after working in their fields for years. Gardening is an excellent escape from stress and is a good hobby to practice, especially when you have the luxury of time to do so.
Photos courtesy of Rosana Sacay.
This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s September to October 2021 issue.