How green is my garden

Growing herbs, vegetables in the new normal

posted July 04, 2020 at 07:30 pm
by  Manila Standard
While the chokehold of traffic consumes Dona Soledad Avenue in the suburb of Better Living, Paranaque, on an early Saturday morning, Celso Ventura is in a space of relative calm, as he tends to the erratic foliage of his urban garden.

In his patch of greenery, the plants are tall, bright, and varied. In one corner, a row of of native banana (Lagkitan Cultivar), papaya, kamias and langka trees, flanked by two huge, fragrant  Kaffir lime trees, sit amidst thick clumps of kamote, alugbati, arugula bushes. A heavily-laden trellis runs overhead a narrow pathway with winter melons, jicamas, string beans and gourds peeking below from thick vines.

On another stretch, a riotous foliage of lagundi, malunggay, saluyut, holy basil, insulin, pesticide-free ampalaya vines and lemon grass, sit on organically composted earth, competing for dappled rays of sunshine with potted aloe plants and colorful ornamentals.

Ventura claims no background in farming or gardening.  But the retired corporate executive loves cooking Mediterranean, Islamic and Asian dishes. Thus it was ideal for him to gradually plant is own vegetable and herb garden ten years ago. Today, with just a sprig, or a torn leaf or two, the herbs, in particular, are enough to elevate any Italian pasta, Moroccan stew, or Malaysian Assam Pedas into new culinary heights.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme….

Herbs are what Ventura particularly dotes on. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, as the song goes, are just few of the herbs that he grows in the tropical climate. These  need lots of sunlight , though not exactly direct, and good soil, and the only adjustment to be made is in the amount of water they get to absorb.

Ventura tends to his garden about two to three hours every day, usually in the morning. His advice for beginner urban gardeners: “You have to pick the plants for you ... that will benefit you.”

After a few minutes, he talks about lemongrass. “I get fresh tanglad every day. I will just cut it. ‘Di mo na kailangan ‘yung root eh … nag-re-regrow naman agad siya,” he said. “Once you have one, endless supply na siya.”

In a city of clogged roads and harsh pavements, to nurture the soil and create something from it is a kind of silent rebellion, a way of taking control from capitalist means of production.

Vegetable, kitchen garden

If you have extra land, Ventura said you can even create a vegetable, or kitchen garden. The French and Italians have been designing such utilitarian gardens since the Renaissance period, usually employing symmetrical or geometric shapes to map out the plots.

The idea is to combine ornamental plants (usually, edible flowers like gumamela) with vegetables and herbs to create pockets of utilitarian beauty. The vegetable garden should be located near the kitchen so that the cook can just amble out, and pick the fresh produce that is needed for the day’s dishes.

But even if you don’t have that extra space, you can easily grow herbs in pots and other containers. “Pick the sunniest part of your house, and make sure that the pots have good drainage holes,” Ventura said. The advantage of growing in pots is that you can easily move them if you change your mind about their location, and of course, you definitely have to find them a sheltered place when the heavy rains come.

Herbs aplenty

As far as herbs are concerned, the easiest to grow from seed are parsley, basil, mint, coriander, and sage, Ventura volunteered. At the gardening aisle of the top hardware stores, you can buy the seeds as well as some plasticized planting trays. Fill up the tray with a seedling or growing mix rather than untreated soil from your backyard. This will give your seeds a head start by providing them with “clean” and nutrient-filled growing material.

After about a few weeks, you will begin to see some sprouts. Let them grow out a bit, until you see what are called the “true leaves.” Once they are about two inches tall you can transfer them to their permanent place, in a pot or outside in your garden.

An easier and faster way of creating an herb garden is to buy grown plantings from garden centers, especially from growers in Silang and Tagaytay. Just transfer them gently from their containers, making sure not to mess with the roots.

Most herbs are annuals and you do have to plant them again after they start to flower and mature. When it starts heating up, the herbs will bolt quickly. Snip off the flowers if you want them to last longer, or harvest often so they would grow new leaves.

Most challenging herbs in a tropical setting

Rosemary and lavender are the most challenging to care for in a tropical setting.

While the other herbs can tolerate good watering as long as the drainage is good, these two herbs just want enough water to get by. They are also heavy feeders of plant nutrients so make sure to plant them in their own pots for specialized care.

Mint is also a challenge in that it is an invasive plant. It just grows so fast and its snaky roots will overwhelm the rest of your plants. This one is best for pots. If you must have it as part of an herb garden, you must first place it in a pot and plant the entire container so that its roots are contained, he said.

Thyme, oregano, and tarragon are also quite hardy and can be sown outside together with the ornamentals. 

Topics: Celso Ventura , Urban Garden , Herbs , Vegetable , Thyme , oregano , tarragon
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