The irresistible charm of gardening (Conclusion)
May 10, 2019 - Friday 4:05 AM by Eva Aranas Angel
By the time I was in high school my family had left the residence in Obrero and its lush almost an orchard flora.
There wasn’t much going on in the plant department because I’d always been a serious student. My scholarship was anchored to my grades and my grades were anchored to how much time I actually spent studying.
My extra-curricular activities in college was nil, nada, zero, zilch.
The only time we dealt with plants was in Botany class when we were in second year. In the third year, we stepped up the game and started growing fungi on agar plates and other bacterial colonies from samples we gathered from soil, from our finger tips, skin scrapings and most of the time, from the drinking water in the ‘Piso-Busog’ hole in the wall eatery where we could have a meal enough to last us through the early evening cost P2.75 max.
We worked inside an enclosed space the size of a cinema booth when we were making agar plants and inoculating it with the sample and examining the bacterial growth under the microscope. Because of that, we started growing huge acne on our faces too!
In medical school and residency up to the time of my Clinical Fellowship in Geriatrics in St. Luke’s Medical Center, plants never took a space in my consciousness. Everything was almost always academic or clinical or both. But I had a life. I had countless trips to CCP and PICC gratis et amore on account of generous friends who were aware that I thrived on a P4,000 allowance a month, in Metro Manila.
When I came back from training, all eyes were set into making a name for myself. The career part always took a back seat because I had a ‘family first’ mantra – my husband and my son who came along four five years into the marriage, after my two consecutive miscarriages.
It wasn’t until last month that I took and inordinate interest in plants and gardening.
Since my Papa passed on to the Great Beyond, my Mama, who has had Alzheimer’s for the past several years, either refuses or hardly goes out of her room. My husband also asked me to pay attention to the upended pots that spilled the contents, the yellowed leaves, the overgrowth and weeds (all rights, wild grasses) in Mama’s garden.
When I joined the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA) as the first Asian and Filipino, I toured several Adult Day Center facilities in Arizona, particularly those in Phoenix, Prescott, Flagstaff, and Black Canyon cities near Phoenix, along with more than a thousand other delegates from the different states in the US.
This was in the pre-Trump era. People were very helpful and friendly. It was an interesting mix of adult day care center proprietors (Adult Day Services are compensable by MedicAid), occupational therapists, chef, project director and coordinator. The next conference would have been in San Antonio, Texas and Indianapolis, Indiana but there were overlaps in the dates of my US trips.
While I may have officially ceased my membership to NADSA (which means I no longer pay the annual membership dues and mandatory attendance to the annual conference), I have remained friends with the officers who remain supportive. I find Stephanie the Activities coordinator (she’s an Occupational Therapist), the Mexicans Gustavo and Loreto and fiancée Rose the most supportive.
In all the centers I have visited, there were always gardens segretated or compartmentalized into ‘succulents,' ‘flowering’ , ‘ornamentals,' ‘herbs,' ‘vegetables’ and ‘tree seedlings.' There were also nurseries. He gardens varied into different landscapes – pots, big containers, garden plots and carefully manicured ones.
Stephanie would say that most of the Senior Citizens would be thrilled to know that some of the ingredients in the food prepared for them for the day actually came from their garden, or the flowers in the vases were picked from the garden they, the Senior Citizens tended.
It is with this state of mind that I decided to revive Mama’s garden.
From the first day I started to discard the undesirable flora and loosened the soil with a trowel so I can plant new varieties, Mama started going out of the room very early in the morning.
She would sit on her folding chair and recalled which plant grew in which spot. Surprisingly she was correct in her recollection. When the sun’s heat was biting, the caregiver would fold her chair and bring her in for breakfast.
Mama’s garden is one of the reasons I wake up early. Me working in the garden is one of the reasons Mama would wake up early and get out of her room. She does the same ritual. The caregiver unfolds her chair and she would be behind me. I told Mi-Yen, an artist friend and herself a green thumb, that I now have a ‘backseat’ gardener. She said, ‘No, you have a director!’
She couldn’t have put it more succinctly. Once I took a clump of Aglaonema which, in the Philippines, comes in several variants. This is translated to different gradations or degrees of greenness or redness. Mama asked ‘Are you going to put them together in that pot?’ I nodded.
Mama said ‘There’s one that has a different color.’ It was one of those times where I was happy to be wrong. Mama, a retired music and art teacher, still has a keen eye for colors.
It is because of these positive effects of gardening on Mama’s cognitive ability and intellectual stimulation that what I intended to ‘rehabilitate’ an agonizing excuse of a garden that I have continued to work on the garden in the morning when I wake up, and in the evenings when I come home.
I had allocated my budget for some books and paintings for the Mindanao Art Fair in October for Mama’s pergola so she can be near her plants without the pain of being scorched by the sun.
Each day there is always a new idea that comes up. Most of the time these come from well meaning friends who have becoming living testimonies to the life defining effects of plants and garden as therapy – for depression, for boredom, for visual and intelllectual stimulation and for self satisfaction.
My commitment to my institution and medical societies have precluded me from working in the garden with Mama as long and as much as I wanted to.
However, come holidays, I intend to work on the lay out and sorting the ornamentals and other plants (I now have a tiny nursery in the backyard covered by double layered netting or mesh).
As one advert on TV asks, ‘Ikaw, para kanino ka bumabangon?’
(I love you Mama!)
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