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All The Ways The Metro Green Thumb Club Taught 2020's Rookie's Gardeners How To Get Dirty—With Soil

A year's worth of expert plant care and gardening tips


2020 was a good year—at least for gardens, plants, farms, and many other things green and flowering. 


As communities from all over the world hunkered indoors for months to stay safe from the COVID crisis, that meant urban living as we knew it stopped and stalled; less cars on the streets meant cities' air quality improved, diminished industrial and commercial activity meant we produced less waste, and even virtually non-existent air travel for much of the year meant humankind went easy on carbon emissions, at least for a little a while.


Mother Nature rejoiced!


But as the great big outdoors was enjoying a rare period of respite, something else was happening behind the scenes in people's backyards, balconies, rooftops, lawns, and in some cases, salas , too.

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Image from Pexels


The combination of missing open spaces, a desire to reconnect with the organic, wandering minds, and finally having much desired time on one's hands birthed a unique group of individuals Metro.Style celebrates for their creativity and initiative: pandemic-born planititas and titos, all members of the freshly minted Metro Green Thumb Club! 


Throughout the country's nine long months of quarantine, we spotted individuals and brands that made the most of this time by discovering or strengthening their green thumbs; with each specializing in their own aspect of plant or garden care and cultivation, we share everything they've learned this year about what it takes to invite—and make a permanent a space for—green in your lives this year and beyond.


Check out The Metro Green Thumb Club's inaugural members below! 


Paco Magsaysay and his at-home pocket garden

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Image courtesy of Paco Magsaysay
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Image courtesy of Paco Magsaysay


When you set out to do something good, expect the project to snowball into something much better than you originally planned.

Paco Magsaysay, known for being the founder and owner of Carmen's Best ice cream nd Holly's Milk, was never really a gardening kind of tito. But after spending hours and hours at home, he saw how many empty ice cream cups and pints his household had accumulated next to gallon-sized plastic milk containers and wanted to recycle the perfectly reusable items. 

The only space he had for them was his otherwise uneventful garden; one pint was initially dedicated to some pechay, a gallon or two for eggplant and okra, some kang kong here and there and tomato and tanglad, too. And then, lo and behold. In a few weeks' time, Paco's garden transformed into a oasis, however small, of agricultural bounties. He actually harvests from his garden from time to time, and his family now enjoys a handful of meals that incorporate the fruits of his labor (a favorite of his tilapia with gata and kang kong). 

His crowning glory has to be his 10-foot tall okra plant, he beams. 

When Paco once never thought about getting his hands dirty with soil, he now has a complete set of gardening tools and wants to add to his little home-based farm. 

Whoever thinks that recycling/upcycling was just a grade schooler's science project has to seriously reconsider their thoughts!


Read more about Paco Magsaysay's green thumb project here.


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Zsa Zsa Padilla's orchid tips 

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Still from "Plantita na ZSA: Orchid & Birds | Zsa Zsa Padilla" from Zsa Zsa Padilla's official YouTube channel
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Image from @zsazsapadilla


Some people grow plants to eat, while others grow them to surround themselves with pretty things to marvel at. Both groups are awesome in their own ways, but new plantita Zsa Zsa Padilla prefers to be the latter!

This year, in the absence of live shows, regular TV appearances, and guestings, she took the time to work hard on a passion project she's always had her eyes on. She announced the opening of her private farm in Lucban, Quezon, and it's home to something truly wonderful: an orchidarium that houses some stunning species that thrive in a controlled environment and under the watchful eye of plant-loving caretakers. She's spent a ton of time in the new location in the last nine months, even taking us on a our via a vlog released on her YouTube channel. 

Although new to the business of caring of delicate plants, Zsa Zsa already shares her plantita wisdom for anyone and everyone hoping to get in on the hobby. For instance, did you know that orchids much prefer rainwater and might react badly if you water them with hose/tap water? Or that it's not completely accurate to think that all orchids aren't appropriate for newbie gardeners, but that there are species considered "starter" orchids to help you practice your orchid game? 


She has so much more to share, all of which you can read about here!

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Tetchie Cortez-Palaganas' kokedama 101

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Image courtesy of Tetchie Cortez-Palaganas
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Image courtesy of Tetchie Cortez-Palaganas


Kokedama: it's a Japanese gardening technique that combines bonsai and kusamono gardening, and your main tool of the trade is a special kind of moss that you form into a ball that acts as the "home" for your plant, in lieu of, say, a pot or actual soil.

The results are all sorts of neat little plants, many of which mimic teeny tiny trees and stunted bushes and shrubs that look like they could be home to fairies and other such small and magical creatures. Kokedama is surely one of the many gardening techniques in the world that's just as therapeutic as it is creative, and we have business owner and kokedama instructor Tetchie Cortez-Palaganas to thank for introducing us to it! 

In a conversation with her, she tells us how she discovered the Japanese art of kokedama and shares all the basics to get us started on our own kokedama project. Best of all, Tetchie offers free workshops in her Bulacan home for those truly interested, and because she's a member of a local gardening club and is well-connected with artisans whose work can spruce up any gardening initiative, you'll end your day with her with everything you need and want to know. 


Read about everything Tetchie shared with us in this exclusive highlighting her expertise.

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SmartPlantsPH's succulent and cactus care 

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Image from @smartyplantsph
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Image from @smartyplantsph


True or false? Cacti and succulents are but mere practice plants, a sort of gateway to more serious, legit gardening.

False!

The truth is, cacti and succulent gardening is a whole other league of its own, one often underestimated and underappreciated by many. After all, when you think of "gardening," one often thinks of big, leafy plants and big, fragrant blooms, and a large space to accommodate them all. It's very rare that someone reflexively thinks of prickly plants and other living things most often associated with the desert. 

But give them a chance, says Jamie Lyn Arcega, founder of Smarty Plants PH that specializes in said prickly, desert-friendly greens. When cacti and succulents get some TLC, you'll be rewarded with some of the most unique, eye-catching plants you ever did see. They come in all shapes and sizes and show off the most unique hues and textures you never realized plants could have. 

There's a unique joy in being a cacti and succulent gardener; the slow-growing plants are subtle and understated, but when they do show off, you'll be rewarded with a pretty display you won't be able to keep to yourself!


Jamie Lyn Arcega talks more about Smarty Plants PH and all things cacti and succulent in her feature here. 

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Angie King's next level farm life

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Image from @angiemeadking
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Image from @angiemeadking


It's one to appreciate farming and organic produce, but to actually want to contribute to real-life, commercially ready solutions to address the growing need of sustainable agriculture in the Philippines is a huge task! Who would have thought that Angie Mead King, a personality most known for being a racing enthusiast, would be a pioneer of exactly that? 

This year, she expanded her very own farm, but one unlike most you've seen and heard of. Her project, called King Tower Farm, was actually something her father started but one she improved to become "the first commercial aeroponic Tower Farm in Asia using Tower Garden technology." Ultimately, it's meant to be a model for sustainable farming not just on an industrial scale, but for individuals and households, too. 

King Tower Farm gives Filipinos the chance to learn how to grow their own food, something that Angie believed could have helped millions of her fellow Pinoys this year, had they only been equipped with the knowledge and resources she has today, thanks to her new venture. 

The initiative is also great for the environment, most specifically, bees! Angie emphasizes the role the little critters play in the delicate balance of ecosystems and life itself, and that with her contribution to farming, she's able to help keep their populations afloat and in that way, give back to the planet. 


Learn more from Angie and about King Tower Farm here. 

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Non-GMO Hybrid Corn Guru, Ken Mishra's Words of Wisdom on Growing Your Own Kitchen Garden


1. Start with a determined mind set

Bring your thought into action, and do it.  


2. Ignore fear of failure.

Don’t let fear win over you. Even if you fail, so what?  At least you tried. However, I assure you that with little common sense, your love for the soil & plant will bring you desired success.


3. Selection of location

Depending on whether you have a small patio or big backyard, you can plan your kitchen garden to fit the space available. A patio will accommodate your kitchen garden in pots, whereas backyard space will allow a combination of pots and planting directly in the backyard soil. Choose a location which has at least six hours of Sunlight. Some leafy vegetables and herbs such as cilantro, oregano, kulitis (amaranth) will thrive in less sunlight of three hours or a partially shaded place.


4. Garden soil

Buy garden soil or make it your own.  For beginners, I suggest a garden soil mix for flowers and vegetables. Prepare your pots with this soil. If you are planting in your backyard, and are not sure about the soil conditions, you may consider applying purchased garden soil in your planting bed or around your plants.


5. What to grow

Start with easy to grow plants, and succeed before adventuring towards comparatively difficult ones. In a tropical country like Philippines, the following vegetables and flowers are suggested:Tomato, Eggplant,  Chilies,  Okra,  Radish,  Carrot,  Sweet potatoes, Spinach, Kulitis (Amaranth), Oregano, Basil,  Cilantro, Kankong ; leaves; and flowers or plants that act as insect repellent:  Marigold,  Lemongrass,  Lavender


6. Water timely.


7. Fertilizer

Go organic. Buy a kitchen composter, or make it and use kitchen waste as fertilizer.8. Control of insects and pestsGoing organic minimizes insect pest. However, untimely watering or the severe warm weather may bring in some sucking insects. They will be visible on the lower surface of leaves, and typically look like the head of a white pin. The leaves will start turning yellow. A simple spray made of liquid soap and oil will control these insects.


Read more about it here. 



Anna De Leon Marcelo's hydroponic plant balcony 

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Image courtesy of Anna De Leon Marcelo
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Image courtesy of Anna De Leon Marcelo


It's odd that not more city-dwelling Filipinos have discovered the art of hydroponic gardening given the lack of space and land for traditional gardens. Hydroponics essentially lets you grow plants—especially easily maintained veggies, herbs, and even decorative plants—without soil, as your produce simply depends on mineral and nutrient-rich baths to soak in.

It's one of the best things that artist Anna De Leon Marcelo picked up in an otherwise unproductive and stagnant year; the fact that she can enjoy fresh greens grown in her mini hydroponic garden located in none other than her balcony. 

And don't be discouraged by not know anything at all about growing edible things at home! Anna, otherwise an expert in all things paint, brush, and canvas-related things, admitted to being a total greenhorn at gardening but learned with nothing but online resources and webinars at her disposal.

If you haven't considered it yet, hydroponic gardening might just be your new big thing for 2021.


Read more about Anna and her hydroponics balcony here. 

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Jinkee Pacquiao's indoor plant bonanza 

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Image from @jinkeepacquiao
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Image from @jinkeepacquiao


What are all those plants? 

It's a question so many people found themselves asking each other when Jinkee Pacquiao started sharing more and more of the carefully curated indoor gardens she had in her homes! If in the past we saw her OOTDs, luxury finds, fancy meals, and travel experiences dominate her social media, this year, we were pleasantly surprised to see Jinkee showing off something totally unexpected. 

By the looks of it, Jinkee's homes have opened their doors to a variety of so many indoor plants, many we're unable to name, and she's had the grandest time tending to each and every one of them. In fact, we went as far as seeking the help of Patrick Gozon, assistant professor of the College of Architecture at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, to help us identify some of the prettiest ones we spotted! 

In our quest to learn more about Jinkee's quarantine-born garden, we discovered that she's now a plant mom to species like golden pothos, caladium Thai beauty, all sorts of snake plants, tillandsia, palms of every kind, orchids, syngonium moonshine, and even miniature banana trees that fit snugly into pots. 

And if you see that you yourself want the same plants in your very own home, Patrick is there to share all the crucial care tips unique to each of them. 


See Jinkee's plant babies and read Patrick's advice in this article!

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Aubrey Miles' gardening for beginners 


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Image from @milesaubrey
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Image from @milesaubrey


Aubrey Miles was gardening before it was cool. 

She was prepared to ride out life under lockdown way before "COVID," "pandemic," and "quarantine" became part of the world's every day vocabulary, and for good reason! She's long embraced the therapeutic benefits of caring for plants, the beauty they lend to any space, their air-purifying powers, and the discipline and patience they instill in anyone that ever attempts to care for them. 

She was the best person to turn to for advice on gardening 101 in this time, and all you need to do is turn to her Instagram page to see just how much of a genuine nurturer she really is. (She has even more pictures of her with her plants and her potted beauties more than she does of her husband). 

If you want to give the whole gardening thing a try, let her teach you how to get things right and trust her, because she knows what she's doing! 


Aubrey shares her gardening 101 tips and tricks with plant rookies right here. 

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Respira Plants' exotic collections 

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Image from @respira_plants
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Image from @respira_plants


When Marvin Braceros, a chef working overseas, found himself jobless and without a purpose to his days at the height of lockdown this year, he wasn't quite sure where to turn.

He's been a plant enthusiast for years, however, and if diners thought he was good with pots and pans, salt and pepper, he turned out to be even better with soil, seeds, and a watering can. As it turned out, quarantine proved to be the best time for what was once a casual hobby to percolate and become a huge success! He's now the proud founder of Respira Plants, a seller of exotic Philippine plants of every kind you can think of and he's opened boutiques in at least 10 locations and counting in just a few months. 

What we were most impressed with about his work wasn't just how many extraordinary plant species he offers; it's also that he's a guaranteed ethical seller who makes sure that those who purchase from him know that he sources plants sustainably, that he works fairly with communities the country where his rarest finds are originally grown, and that he's hands-off when it comes to endangered species—even though they'll surely fetch him big bucks. 

He's the OG plantito, and his business is definitely worth supporting! 


Check out Marvin and more about Respira Plants in this feature. 


Maricar Xerez-Burgos' rooftop tower farming 


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Photo courtesy of Maricar Xerez-Burgos
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Photo courtesy of Maricar Xerez-Burgos


What starts small can grow—literally. 

Just ask Maricar Xerez-Burgos who started out as a casual gardener but is now a big believer in and teacher of tower farming designed for the home. She's always had a green thumb, sure, but come the COVID crisis that gave her endless hours to dive deeper into her hobby, she's definitely upgraded to pro level. 

With the help of Down to Earth, a company that provides people with all the materials for and 101 knowledge on tower farming, she's now able to grow her own produce and on her rooftop, no less! What we're most amazed about with her feat is how she discovered that with tower farming by Down to Earth, she's able to grow 30% more produce compared to conventional growing methods. Translating that to her rooftop farm, she actually only has two towers (that take up two square meters, total) and they yield the same amount of produce that would have otherwise needed about 80 pots if she used conventional gardening methods (i.e.: individual pots!). 

She's christened her two towers with the cutest nicknames, too.

One is her Bahay Kubo tower (it grows bananas, okra, eggplants, tomatoes, kangkong, kamote, and beans), and the other is her pizza tower that's all about thyme, oregano, arugula, basil, malunggay, parsley, tarragon, peppers, mint, and romaine lettuce.  


Learn more about Maricar's gardening success story and gather your own ideas from her here.

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WonderPlantsPH's beautiful giants 

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Image from @wonderplantsPH
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Image from @wonderplantsPH


Giselle Yujuico of Wonder Plants PH (@wonderplants.ph), offers two tips to always keep in mind: 


 1.  Never overwater.  It's the fastest way to kill them.  

2.  [Plants]  should always get just the right amount of sun they need.


From a love of beautiful interiors and plants, Yujuico began her business of offering beautiful greens to those who share the same passion.  "We only carry plants we personally find beautiful.  All our plants are proudly pinoy," she tells Metro.Style


Opening images from @wonderplantsph @respira_plants @jinkeepacquiao @angiemeadking @smartyplantsph