By Vina Medenilla
Some things developed in childhood never change. For Dr. Julius Ignatius Barreto Uy, 54, a dentist, passion for plants is something that has always been with him despite taking a different career that’s a bit far from what he originally wanted.
Uy shares this passion with his Mom since he was a child. Uy would accompany his Mom in plant hunting and garden visits. He recalls collecting plants with his Mom in high school when he had a lush collection of African violets (Saintpaulia), while his Mom had a collection of orchids and begonias. In college, Uy wanted to take up botany or horticulture, but he ended up getting a degree in dentistry to grant the wish of his father. Still, his love for plants always showed in different periods of his life.
Despite getting into dentistry, Uy continued to collect plants even after he graduated from college. He keeps all his plants in his 600 sqm garden in Iligan City, Lanao Del Norte. There are times that he would leave his collection under the care of his mom and their helpers to work. “I was busy with my practice and had other interests like traveling, which in my experience is incompatible when you have sensitive plants and you let others take care of them, while you are away for more than a week,” Uy expounded.
On March 14, 2019, he had to undergo major surgery, specifically a quadruple heart bypass, which caused him to take a leave from dentistry to rest and avoid stress. During that time, he found himself watching YouTube channels related to gardening that inspired him to personally nurture his plants again. Uy visited local gardens and bought plants from online sellers until he was able to amass a collection of sought-after aroids. When the pandemic came, Uy had more time to maintain his garden that is mostly composed of aroids such as philodendron, Monstera, and anthurium as well as some orchids like Vanda, cattleya, and moth orchid (Phalaenopsis).
Uy collects rare plants, namely, Monstera borsigiana albo, Philodendron varieties including Caramel Marble, Paraiso verde, Florida beauty, billietiae variegata, variegated Homalomena rubescens, Anthurium Manila’s Pride, and Musa Ae Ae variegated banana. In about a thousand plants, Uy mostly uses plastic pots because he finds terracotta pots heavy to carry around.
Keeping the garden healthy
Uy uses a soilless potting mix composed of 40 percent cocopeat, 30 percent rice hull, 20 percent pumice, and 10 percent vermicast. He fertilizes the plants every two weeks using a market-bought fertilizer. On sunny days, he mists the plants with rainwater.
Mealybugs and aphids are the pests that visit his garden the most. “I get rid of them using neem oil solution, but if the infestation is somewhat severe, I use insecticides such as Bushwhack,” said Uy. Snails also cause difficulty in keeping his plants. To control snails, Uy said, “At least three times a week, I go to my garden with gloved hands, a flashlight, and a pail with some salt in it, I handpick them one by one and put them inside the pail, the salt will instantly kill them.”
Root rot, a fungal infection of roots brought about by watering caused by frequent rainfall, also became a challenge for Uy. He transfers sensitive plants in the roofed part of his garden to prevent his plants from overwatering.
Additional profit from plants
From being a hobbyist and collector, Uy also became a seller due to the high demand for plants amid the pandemic. “I was lucky enough to have collected most of the sought-after plants before the pandemic hit and the plant craze started where prices skyrocketed.” In the first two quarters of 2020, transportation was strictly limited due to the spread of COVID-19 and so is the addition of new plants to Uy’s collection. Since he had more time on his hands this time, he decided to propagate the mature plants and to also share his collection on Facebook. With no intention to put them up for sale, Uy was eventually convinced by his friends to sell some of his propagated plants. Only about 30 percent of his collection is for sale.
Prices of his rare plants range from P10,000 to P65,000, while the more common plants like pothos (Epipremnum aureum) and Swiss cheese plant (Monstera adansonii) costs P350 to P1500 depending on the size and lushness of the plant. Uy considers himself as an inactive seller, but he can sell 20 to 30 plants and earn a gross income of P50,000 to P100,000 a month.
“I think that as long as there is a big demand for these rare plants, prices will remain high or even go higher,” said Uy regarding the overpricing of plants amid the pandemic. He added that celebrities who show their plants online somehow contribute to this high demand as well, causing the prices of plants to increase. “As a seller, there is not much you can do to control the prices. I can lower the price if the plant comes from my propagation, but if I bought it at a high price, then I have to sell it at a high price, too, to make a profit.” He explained that aside from shipping costs that are much higher today, some sellers also have to deal with other transportation expenses that it entails like fuel since some plants are transported via air and can only be picked up in the airport.
As of now, Uy doesn’t consider any garden expansion yet to enjoy what he currently has. “I don’t think I will expand it more than I can handle. I do not want to hire help to cope with the work that a bigger garden will require; that would be an added cost and stress for me.”
Photos from Dr. Julius Ignatius Barreto Uy.