The most beautiful can be the most aggressive

I have been meaning to share my gardening experience with purple queens, a special kind of plant, early this week. However, my roller-coaster thoughts on COVID-19 took over the blank sheet and before I knew it, I kept appealing to people to stay at home and to stay strong. My personal plea from the heart remains the same: Stay home. Stay put. Stay strong. Stay safe. Stay hopeful. Stay. Stay. And live.

As the entire province of Cebu, including its component cities, is now under lockdown, forcing residents to stay within the confines of their homes, people are sharing through social media how they are turning to reading and gardening to pass the time. To do any one of these things despite the constant barrage of news about COVID-19 hovering behind our necks like an eerie whisper in the wind is already a feat in itself.

Some of us work from home on top of worrying about food supply and the overall well-being of our family members. In my case, I work from home. I have always worked from a home office for the past six years, but the set-up pre-coronavirus has been generally worry-free. I teach from home now as well and the shift has been a pick-and-shovel experience for the class in the past two weeks because of the additional administrative requirements we need to fulfill. However, no matter how busy it can get, there is always time for gardening.

Have you read the Vogue post on Why We Turn to Gardening in Times of Crisis by Kristen Radtke? The metaphor of plants taking roots, blooming flowers, and growing tall is representative of the circle of life, don’t you think? The philosophers within the nature of the gardeners may think this way. For me, though I tend to be philosophical to the point of abstraction, I take gardening simply as a therapeutic exercise, a calming balm to my sensitive mentality, a constant in the chaos.

I tried growing a vegetable garden from cuttings, and failed. I tried growing a flower garden from seeds, and failed. I tried growing ferns and other green non-flowering plants from roots, stems and cuttings, and succeeded. While my asparagus fern, snake plants, cacti, desert rose, and emerald fronds (very fancy names indeed) are growing well, there is one beautiful but perhaps quite odd plant that my mother-in-law let loose in her balcony garden of potted plants before I took over after my marriage and her knee operation.

This plant is called purple queen. It is, of course, purple and has a tiny crown of pink flowers at the ends of its deceivingly sturdy stems. It is beautiful, but its leaves can look like dark pairs and groups of desperate hands at night. It can live on its own, but can spread like wildfire when untended. It can easily take root however you plant it, clinging to the earth like a right dress for a body.

Purple queens are part of my fond memories of my late grandmother, Lola Vicenta, my mama’s mama. She had owned and tended a lovely garden filled with malunggay trees, orchids, santan, jackfruit, ferns, guyabano, and more. I would often pass by it as a child when I would play with relatives and neighbors, trekking the narrow earthen paths of the garden that are bordered on each side with, that’s right, rows of robust purple queens. Along the way, I would see big snails clinging on the leaves of the purple queens and thick earthworms near its roots. And when I look up from my fascination with these fragments of nature, I would see my grandmother not far away (often her back), doing what she does best and looking like a wood nymph in her bright-colored duster dress full of flower designs.

These precious memories came to mind when I moved in with my husband and saw my mother-in-law’s purple queens sprawling in all directions, their ends pointed in worship to the sun. A neighbor had expressed a wish without conviction that she wanted such a beautiful plant, but for some reason my mother-in-law was not able to give a pot. I can understand why anyone would want a purple queen. Apart from being an aggressive ground cover, it is an unforgettable sight for sore eyes.

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