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Of plantitas and halamoms

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 12, 2020 5:00 pm

Some people are blooming under the “new normal” — the so-called “plantitas of Manila.” One of them calls herself a halamom, a pun on the Tagalog word for plants, which is halaman. 

These ladies bloomed as their gardens did, for studies show that gardening is good for one’s health (all that Vitamin D!), and emotional well-being.

“Studies in the United States and abroad have found that gardening improves your mood and increases your self-esteem,” says an article in published this June. “When people spend time in a garden, their anxiety levels drop and they feel less depressed.”

Interestingly, the two ladies who bloom in this article are connected with the airline industry, and growing plants have kept them happy and grounded despite this pandemic.

Malu Dueñas nurtures her Calladium, Aglaonema, Sensation and San Francisco.

Malu Oclarence Dueñas is the current district sales manager for the Philippines and Guam of Thai Airways, while Rowena Ruivivar Romero worked with Cathay Pacific for 23 years, first in reservations, then sales and marketing.

“They say our home should be our refuge,” shares Malu.  “But with our new work-from-home arrangements, I gasped when I realized that my work-related issues and stress have followed me straight into that one place where I am supposed to relax! And seeing so many social media posts of people gardening, I realized I was blessed with a big space to also do it. So, I decided to join the fray.” She then christened herself a halamom, because she raised and nurtured plants.

 “Now, it’s fun buying garden tools, visiting plant shops, getting free (yes, free!) vegetable seeds from the Bureau of Plant Industry, putting on your gardening gloves and digging into the cold, moist soil.  I have even become friends with the earthworms!  And oh, the fulfillment of seeing the first sprouts appear… is priceless!” Malu continues.

She finds gardening both energizing and restorative.

“Working from home tends to keep you staring at your computer the whole day.  Gardening pushes you to step outdoors at intervals, whether to water your plants, transfer a pot or two, or to simply gaze in quiet satisfaction at the thriving greenery.  You soak in the sunshine and zap! Your energy is restored!”

Malu bought her first Aglaonemas, Calatheas, Calladiums, Peace Lilies, Snake Plants, ferns, assorted succulents and orchids at the Quezon Memorial Circle. 

 “They now adorn my front lawn and some I placed along the side of our house, visible from my bedroom window.  Every morning, I wake up to the chirping of the birds and the refreshing foliage. Aahhh, bliss,” this halamom says proudly, as if talking about a newborn.

Malu will celebrate her 33rd year with Thai Airways on Oct. 17, “my first and only job, which I love so dearly!”

But while the industry cannot take off just yet (Malu says IATA forecasts that global air traffic will not return to pre-COVID levels until 2024), some things on the ground have kept Malu on Cloud Nine.

“I do my best to keep healthy and safe, and to improve my emotional well-being… one leaf at a time!”

* * *

Rowena Ruivivar Romero

Rowena Ruivivar Romero grew up in a house with a big garden, and despite not having a “green thumb” (or so she says), she inherited many of the garden’s crown jewels — Anthuriums, Philodendrons, Swiss Cheese, Pothos (the plant for budding plantitas, she says, for it’s the plant that “never dies”).

“My mom and dad always maintained a beautiful garden ever since we were little,” recalls Rowena. “I always loved going to plant nurseries, but when it came to caring for plants, I just didn’t have ‘it’. The green thumb wasn’t there. Plants died on me.”

But that didn’t deter Rowena, a youthful mother and grandmother, from making her garden grow. Like Malu, Rowena also scoured the Quezon City Memorial Circle, and Farmers’ Market in Cubao for great finds. Some neighbors contributed to her stash of leafy treasures. Soon, she was a full-fledged, card-carrying plantita.

Rowena was pleasantly surprised that at least one group of entrepreneurs has thrived during the pandemic despite its untold economic repercussions.

 Rowena loves philodendrons. ‘Waxy leaves, sturdy stems, easy to manage.’

Rowena Romero’s Montsera adansonii or ‘Swiss cheese,’ the ‘only monster allowed in the house.’

“The prices of plants have skyrocketed! What was once selling for P700-800 mostly sell for P1,500, “ she reveals. This was a plantita-fueled boost to the economy, definitely.

“It wasn’t till the pandemic, when we were all locked up in our homes, that I truly appreciated plants. They are God’s handiwork. The stems, the leaves, the petals — I am in awe of His artistry!” Rowena brims with joy as she recounts the wonders she sees in her garden.

“It’s funny how the plants’ personalities come out as you gaze at them,” she observes. She finds each plant unique — one plant is coy, the other “able to present herself so attractively.” She even gives them nicknames if their scientific names are too long.

And, just like plants, which thrive on the essentials we take for granted — sunlight, water and air — people can also bloom when they make the most of what nourishes them at the moment. Even in difficult times.

“Where you are planted, there you will shine,” believes Rowena.