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Journalist Howie Severino keeps a lush lakeside garden in Batangas

Severino is all smiles with his giant swamp taro (Cyrtosperma merkusii).

By Vina Medenilla

It can be recalled that in 2020, Horacio “Howie” Severino shared his experience as Covid-19 patient 2828. 

In his recovery, the journalist and Covid-19 survivor has found company and respite in plants. Since he was discharged from the hospital, Severino has been spending most of his days in his home in Mataas na Kahoy, Batangas.

There, he tends to a garden that is filled with various ornamentals and flowering plants, including zinnias, cosmos, mayanas, papyrus, vincas, ferns, snake plants, portulacas, and petunias.

When he is not working as a media professional or doing household chores, Severino, who prefers to be called “hala-man,” does gardening.

As Severino recovers from the disease, his garden, which was damaged by the Taal Volcano eruption in January 2020, is also coming back to life.

A journalist’s obsession

In episode 34 of his podcast, The Howie Severino Podcast, he was asked by his son, Alon Severino, what takes up most of his time these days. His answer was gardening.

Severino says that he maintains a healthy work-life balance through gardening and landscaping.

“What it does is it helps me relax, but at the same time, it consumes me for some reason. I find so much satisfaction [in it].” 

Found on the shores of Taal Lake, Severino’s garden is mainly planted with ornamentals, including cosmos, mayanas, vincas, ferns, snake plants, portulacas, and petunias.

Even before the pandemic, he had always been interested in plants, but it wasn’t until this period that he started caring for them. “I’ve never had time for gardening before, or landscaping, or for taking care of plants, because I was often traveling.” 

Now that his son has entered college, and his wife is busy with her new job, he has found more time for himself.

“I’ve been listening to botany audiobooks in the car, [with] botany professors giving lectures in photosynthesis and how roots work.” 

He considers gardening to be “an obsession” and a therapeutic hobby. “It’s healthy, wholesome, it multiplies. There are so many rewards from taking care of plants. I give them as gifts. It makes others happy, and it makes me happy.” 

“Plants are, to me, one of the ultimate visual pleasures, especially if you take care of them yourself and watch them grow and develop and become colorful blossoms,” Severino added. 

Tomatoes are Severino’s “accidental produce” after the tomato seeds from his compost grew into mature tomato plants beside his ornamentals. He calls his green space “a garden of surprises.”

Death and life

Severino did, however, note that gardening isn’t always full of rainbows. The process can be disappointing, too, especially when plants die and wilt. 

He has a different take on why many have begun keeping plants in the midst of the pandemic. 

Besides having more free time and staying at home most of the day, he thinks that people grow plants because “it’s a life and death cycle that’s easier to manage.” and “that can easily be renewed.” 

He explained, “We’re living through a period when there has been a lot of suffering and death. Plants are an entire universe where death doesn’t have to be so bad because when a plant dies, even if it’s an expensive plant, you don’t have to take it so hard. It’s not like losing a family member, a friend, or even a pet.” 

Severino, too, has lost loved ones to Covid-19, and plants help him still see hope for the future.

“Now, when I see plants, I am able to nurture life and try to prevent death that way. There’s something so therapeutic, there’s something so wonderful about it. It takes my mind off a lot of the tragedy we’ve seen.” 

Severino with his two fave Philodendrons: his six-year-old Philodendron Selloum (beside him) and Philodendron Warscewiczii (in front).

Silver lining

Despite the losses and difficulties in the past few years, taking care of plants has made a substantial shift in this journalist’s life.

“In my line of work, although [creating a] documentary can be physical, a lot of the work is in your head. You’re writing, thinking of questions to ask in an interview, brainstorming. A lot of the work is in your brain.” He added, “But in gardening, a lot of the work is in your hands.” 

“It has given me a lot of respect for people who do labor; people who work with their hands, in addition to their minds.” 

Severino is all smiles with his giant swamp taro (Cyrtosperma merkusii).

Severino’s tale reminds us of how nature heals us and how, no matter how crazy life becomes, we will always gravitate back to it.

Photos are taken from Howie Severino’s Facebook and Instagram

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Vina Medenilla
Vina Medenilla is a content producer for Agriculture Monthly magazine. She is a graduate from Miriam College with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Fashion, photography, and travel are some of the things she loves. For her, connection with nature is essential to one’s life.

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