GARDENS are green cabinets in this country.
I got reacquainted with the small garden that came with the house we purchased more than a decade ago. Distracted by the heat, I doubted our plants fared better in the heat wave.
Watering the garden at dawn and twilight these past days made me realize how a lot of stuff I eat and drink come from a plot that I can cross in ten strides (I’m five foot in height): kamunggay (horseradish), sili (bell and wild pepper) fruit and leaves, tanglad (lemongrass), bayabas (the Bisaya variety, meaning small and wild), tambis (waterapple), green tea, wachichao (cat’s whiskers), mangagaw and ampalaya (bitter gourd).
Passersby and kids biking or roaming around the village pick the guavas for impromptu snacks. Children pick the kamunggay to bring home or sell, a fact that does not bother us because there are always more than we need. Lemongrass is popular with our neighbors, too. From them, we also get guyabano leaves, goto cola and other nameless leaves with curing properties.
I’m fortunate to live with a companion who can make anything grow. But even if Yaya did not pour attention to our garden the way other helpers tend their cell phone and Facebook messages, I think our garden will still thrive.
Over the years, we’ve buried several cats, a rabbit, and assorted parts of rats and birds left by our predatory friends. We also leave kitchen waste to fertilize the Mactan variety of soil, which is crumbly and fit for quarries rather than gardens.
Aside from sun, rain, soil and compost, the thing that’s going for our garden is the idea behind it. The “magic square meter garden,” as introduced by agriculture specialists of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, stems from the idea that backyard space can meet the nutrition needs of a family, wrote Dr. Florentino S. Solon, then the executive director of the Nutrition Center of the Philippines (NCP).
In a paper for the Vegetable Improvement Gardening Workshop at Bangkok, Thailand and Shanhua, Taiwan, Republic of China on Apr. 22-26, 1985, Solon wrote that homeowners can benefit from what they grow in a land as small as one square meter.
To ensure that home gardens create real magic for urban green thumbs with little space and time, Solon observed that the vegetables and root crops grown should be of the “plant, forget and harvest” variety.
Watching condominiums mushroom around and change urban space, I wonder how magic square gardens thrive today. In our village, I know we are not alone in making green space, no matter how small the lots and cramped the space. The expensive herbal infusions sold in cafés and specialty stores can be grown in the same frappé plastic cups you can take home and reuse.
While Solon wrote that home and school gardens were promoted to supplement nutrient deficiency in the 1970s-80s, many today grow greens in their front- or backyards to fight life-threatening ailments. During rainy season, when dengue cases are on the rise, mangagaw (salingkapaw in the southern uplands) is boiled and drank for its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, including the ability to raise blood platelets.
A roadside weed, the mangagaw is cultivated in pots by homeowners that would like to have a ready supply that won’t be watered by village cats and dogs. Not endorsed by doctors but attested to by those who used and benefitted from it, the mangagaw is part of the poor man’s pharmacopeia.
Guyabano is another rising star. A decoction made from boiling its leaves is said to cure many scourges from bedbugs and lice to cancer. Leaves placed on the mattress or inside the pillowcase give a good night’s rest. Juice from the fruit is said to be good for the liver.
Even if you feel safer with a doctor sticking pins and needles into you, a home garden will still yield pandan, tanglad and guyabano drinks that are free of additives, birds and birdsong to ease the soul, and all the shade you need as our planet warms. Bring home green magic.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 18, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”