Travel & Leisure

In Focus: Digging Into Urban Gardening—Manila Is Getting Down And Dirty With This Latest Trend

In Focus: Digging Into Urban Gardening—Manila Is Getting Down And Dirty With This Latest Trend

Indeed, Manila is getting green minded. In window boxes and upcycled tins, to vertical installations and terracotta pots, lush vegetation are taking over the city’s concrete jungles. Horticulture has suddenly become hot and not because of the greenhouse effect. Amidst dense city neighborhoods, growing a green thumb, or at least a liking for it, seems to be adopted by the young and hip.


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Undoubtedly, some influencers have helped to drive these trends. Celebrities have been sprucing up their personal spaces with plants.


Solenn Heussaff-Bolzico made the most of her balcony space with a verdant vertical installation.


Angelica Panganiban gushes about her triumphant cactus transplant.


Bea Alonzo gets down and dirty with creating some cacti and succulent dish gardens.


But the green revolution goes beyond plants as ornamentals. It seems that a growing clamor for organic and local is inspiring people to grow their own food. Aiding matters is that urban agriculture is hardly the fusty upkeep of your grandma’s vegetable garden or the endless drudgery of traditional methods. Farming has been given a stylish reboot, with an easier, fresher approach to the whole enterprise. 

MNLGrowKits, a Philippine startup company, has been quite instrumental in introducing urbanites to the joys of crop growing. They offer organic plant kits that help rookie horticulturists ease into their green adventures, showing a  hipper way to farm. “We wanted to show how easy it can be to grow your own food. Usually, the younger generation views it as hard and dirty, thus not for them,” says Carlo Sumaong, founder of MNLGrowkits. “Hopefully, through our kits, we will revamp these negative connotations of farming and agriculture, one seed at a time.” Their nifty packages provide everything a novice would need, making the whole process as sleek and straightforward as possible to adapt to today’s fast-paced lifestyle. 


Because of such innovations, many city dwellers are seeing the value of growing their own. It simply makes economic and environmental sense. Julie Ko-Hernandez is one such convert. To prepare for dinner, she walks out into her balcony to collect what she needs: Some Black Cherry Tomatoes, a couple of sprigs of oregano and rosemary, a few blueberries that just ripened. A bottle of pesto made from a bunch of recently harvested wild rocket sits on her counter, waiting to be poured on the pasta bubbling in the stove. The convenience of having the garden-fresh produce is undeniable. “Clean, organic fresh food from our balcony is priceless,” Julie exclaims, “I don’t have to go to the grocery anymore to buy tomatoes or herbs.”  


[related: Cheat Sheet: Effective Home Gardening And Veggie Tips From A Plant Whisperer]

The lure of the green goes beyond its obvious benefits. Gardening allows one to reconnect with nature, offering a personal oasis through its process. When all other elements of work and life move so fast, gardening is a welcome respite, a means to stay rooted, so to speak. “I can stay in my balcony for hours, just tending my plants,” Julie says. “It calms me down. Since I work at home, I’d step out for mini breaks to help me relax.”    


Apparently, people also find satisfaction in the process of plant growth. “When you plant a seed, there’s no instant gratification. You can’t rush its growth,” Carlo shares. “You have to commit to working with and respecting nature, on its own terms. You’re not going to get what you want overnight, either, which makes the results all the more pleasurable when they appear.” The excitement of seeing a tiny seed unfurling from the soil is indescribable, as Carlo can attest to. “The first time I saw little green tendrils shooting out from basil seeds that I planted myself was a magical moment for me,” reveals Carlo. “Before that, I didn’t believe it was possible.” That basil seed, was in fact, where the idea for MNLGrowKits germinated from. "I wanted people to experience the same magic I felt. Perhaps, this would spark renewed interest in farming." 


Julie further reveals how gardening has taught her resourcefulness, acquiring organic nutrients for her balcony garden from their household’s daily trash. “Egg shells are great for tomato plants,” shares Julie. “My blueberries started fruiting like cray when I started watering them with water steeped in used coffee grounds.”

Perhaps, the return to gardening is a sign of things to come. The clamor from the modern world is driving people to unplug from technology and reconnect with themselves; and gardening is providing an avenue for mindfulness amidst the chaos. Essentially, there are metaphors in nature that parallels life. People find that gardening echoes the same process of working towards a goal. For Julie, it taught her to view challenges through a different lens. “I’ve had some plants die on me and I get devastated. Ironically, it excites me too, because I get space for a new plant,” laughs Julie. “Ultimately, the whole thing reminds me that there are things that we cannot control. I just do the best that I can and leave the rest to fate, trusting that my efforts will be rewarded eventually.” 


Through gardening, Carlo has grown to appreciate the cycle of life better. “Gardens will always offers new treasures. One day, it might be some ruby red tomatoes peeking out from green leaves. Sometimes, it might offer crisp lettuces waving cheerfully in the morning breeze,” says Carlo. “Nurturing another life form and receiving its produce in return is a reminder that ultimately, we will reap what we sow.”


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