By Vina Medenilla
Plants, however big or small, provide growers with food, clean air, and a better state of mind. Amid these trying times, more folks have started to view gardening as a hobby that’s good for the soul.
Joanne G. Blanco, 29, a primary care physician, started growing plants in 2014 when she was still a medical student to cope with stress. Blanco, who’s also a medical writer, continued this hobby even after she became a licensed doctor.
When Blanco isn’t working in the clinic, she’s attending to the needs of her plants at home. She is the woman behind the Facebook blog “Grow Girl” with over 16,000 followers to date.
“Now, more than ever, there is a greater need for us to nourish ourselves not just physically, but also mentally. The pandemic [causes] burnout and stress [is] almost inevitable. Sometimes, we just need to take a pause,” said Blanco in a Facebook post.
Blanco grew up in a family of plant enthusiasts. As a kid, she would join her parents to buy plants, pots, and other gardening essentials on weekends.
“My parents regularly changed the layout of our garden to accommodate new plants. Back then, they were all just background to me and I did not care so much about them.”
Little did her younger self know that she would be into plants later in life because of this exposure to greenery.
Balancing plant parenthood and profession
The pandemic provided everyone, including Blanco, with more time and a reason to stay at home. Owing to this, Blanco maximized this period to be more active in blogging, which helped her to take her “mind off the horror of COVID-19.”
Blanco added, “It is difficult to find a balance between work and life outside the hospital. Never did I expect that I would be so involved with plants. Taking care of plants is a meditative experience for me. It calms my nerves, helps me [to] be more focused, and makes me happy when I see new growth or blooms. I love how my home is surrounded by so much life.”
This doctor tends to an 80 sqm garden in Tarlac with her parents and she also built a small indoor jungle in her condo in Manila.
At the onset of the pandemic, she had the time to stay in Tarlac, her hometown, where their family garden can be found. Now that she physically reports to work in Manila, she only goes home to Tarlac on weekends.
Blanco works from eight to five, but she also writes about medical stuff for various media platforms as a side hustle.
Despite her tight schedule, she consistently cares for her indoor plants before and after work.
Her two gardens are mostly filled with aroids like alocasia, aglaonema, monstera, ZZ plants, pothos, and philodendron.
The Blancos placed the cactus and succulents at the back of their Tarlac residence so the plants can receive an ample amount of sunlight daily. Edible crops also grow in their garden, too, including kamote tops, malunggay, and siling labuyo.
“I raise a lot of plant species and varieties, and even if I have a great love for monsteras and philodendrons now, my heart still goes to the plant that started it all—a cactus.”
Seven years ago, Blanco got her first cactus, specifically an Easter lily cactus (Echinopsis subdenudata), which still prospers to this day. As a busy person, low-maintenance plants like cacti are a good match for her schedule.
In her condo garden, she mostly collects cactus genera like Opuntia, Gymnocalycium, Astrophytum, and Euphorbia since these plants are more manageable with the lifestyle that she has.
She waters them once every two weeks and changes their soil every three months. Cacti grow slowly, but when they do, they give the most beautiful blooms, said Blanco.
Pruning and repotting every three months, according to her, helps potted plants grow taller and have bigger leaves.
Blanco added that making your own potting medium is important to see what works best for each plant. In her case, she generally uses 60 percent pumice and 40 percent mixture of loam soil, rice hull, vermicast, cocopeat, a pinch of fertilizer, and fungicide.
Plants are patients, too
It was with her first plant that she experienced her first plant mortality. Since then, she didn’t stop growing plants until she got the hang of it.
Blanco says, “There is so much to learn from taking care of plants. When I see them grow, a part of me grows too.”
Of course, she still faces unavoidable garden issues that help her grow as a collector.
First are unwanted guests like caterpillars and snails. She gets rid of these pests by applying neem oil to the leaves, especially at the back part that always goes unnoticed. She also scatters crushed eggshells around the plants’ base to prevent the snails from crawling towards them.
Sunlight is the most challenging part of maintaining her condo garden since she mostly tends to cactuses that demand a great deal of sunlight. To manage this, she keeps them in the sunniest parts of her home and uses grow lights as a supplement.
A not-so personal diary of her garden journey
Blanco created a Facebook blog, “Grow Girl”, in 2019. It was supposed to be a private record of garden experiences until the page unexpectedly gained thousands of followers after a few years.
“Much as I am a doctor of people, I also became a doctor for plants, who is constantly being asked about plant identification, diseases, and possible solutions.”
Because of her huge number of followers, not only does she get invited to virtual events as a resource speaker, she also gets sponsorships and gifts, which she gives away to her followers.
Photos courtesy of Joanne G. Blanco
For more information, visit Grow Girl