First of all, I don’t have a garden. Technically, that is. Not the kind you see in the Smithsonian Gardens or in the backyards of suburban homes. If you can call a congregation of 30 pots or so a garden, then I have one. More than half of these pots are not even mine. They belong to my mama and my mama-in-law.
Gardening did not interest me until three years ago when I was feeling very sad after a miscarriage. At the time, I did not want to work. I had wanted only to stay cooped up in bed, eat, and watch Korean variety show Superman Returns videos on Youtube until I was strong again. So I directed my energies to the things I have always enjoyed doing: drawing, doing embroidery, crocheting, reading, and arranging my books. I did not write for seven months.
One day within that bleak period, my mother challenged me to nurture one of my maternal grandmother’s pots of asparagus fern. A couple of pots were already in a pitiful state. I thought of Lola Vicenta whose slim back I had often seen as a rambunctious child when she bent down to tend her orchids, malunggay, and purple queen. Motivated not to lose (not again, I thought at the time), I agreed to my mother’s challenge and brought one pot home.
Now let me tell you a story. I have a bad memory of the asparagus fern. When I was in kindergarten, this particular fern was a popular part of the corsage that was pinned to the left (or was it right?) chest area of the dress. During my kindergarten graduation, my corsage happened to have a long asparagus fern that kept brushing my neck and chin. It was not tickling; it was downright annoying.
I brought home my grandmother’s clay pot of asparagus fern and placed it on the second floor of the house, facing the sun and the open air. I remember feeling both excited and nervous about taking care of this plant--excited because it was a new thing to do and nervous because I didn’t have any knowledge on gardening, how to take care of them, how to raise them, how to grow more from cuts. I had tried watching Youtube videos on gardening for beginners, but I found them too unrealistic, too advanced. Pretty soon, my pots increased, with some more coming from my mother, others from my mother-in-law, and a few I bought online.
In the weeks and months that followed, I learned what I can and found myself feeling like, I think, a mother would. I worry about not watering them consistently, I fuss over them, I feel overjoyed about their growth, I feel sad when one or two couldn't make it, and I feel awed and proud of their resiliency.
Several months after I got my first asparagus fern, I went back to work and I was so immersed in completing the work I missed during what I call my seven-month sabbatical that I, to my shame, forgot to water my plants for two weeks. When I checked them out, half of the asparagus fern was turning brown, on the verge of death. The others managed to live under the tropical heat; one or two didn’t. Almost crying from worry, I scrambled to tend to all of them that day and in the days that followed, pledging never to forget them again. The asparagus fern, which I consider a family heritage artifact, has lived to this day, thank God.
In the past three years, the same asparagus fern has become my favorite, its healthy leaves in hues of dark green, green, and yellow green standing tall, ready to be revered, like a once-malnourished child who has now attained its ideal weight. Recently, I have taken an offset and planted it in another pot, like I did with aloe vera, and I hope they will all grow, away from the cats’ playfulness and trouble-making.
I also plucked four twigs of bamboo from my mother's potted garden and two of them are growing well, slowly but surely. There was a fortune plant that died during the hottest days in the first half of the year, or so I thought, until I saw leaves coming directly from its roots. I almost cried from relief and I told my mother the great news, like I won the lottery.
My mama-in-law, perhaps forgetting the cactus’ malleability, watered her pots of cacti every other day for a week. When I passed by, I had noticed one pot was already drowning, its roots soaked to death. I immediately plucked a joint that looked very healthy and dried it for a week before planting. That one joint gave birth to five little robust cacti.
I also learn more about myself while tending to these plants: how I prefer ferns over succulents, how I prefer growing plants from offsets or joints or branches than from seeds, how I don’t mind getting my hands and nails dirty from digging, how I can be resourceful with recycling plastic containers, how I am bad at memorizing plant names but still like all of them, how my heart would skip at the sight of plants wherever I go, how I see the world a little bit differently, a little bit happier now.
Growing up, I lived a hustle-bustle pace, only focusing on and being successful at work because I thought it was the only thing I was good at or the only thing that matters. Gardening slows me down; it breaks my work schedule, demands my attention, squeezes peace and quiet into my life, and I realized...it’s not so bad. With this, I thank all the women in my family.