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The Metro Green Thumb Club: Mama Botanika PH's Charlene Panutat Is All About Turning The Pandemic Into Something Way Better—A "Plantdemic!"

With a hundred and one things to dislike about our new normal, this plant momma makes sure that newly discovered plantita life isn't one of them!

Charlene Panutat-Carlos sells marble. Specifically, she designs and sells marble pieces for The Masonry PH. And she's pretty good at it, too! 

Before that, she and her sister-in-law ran L'Indochine, a store familiar to those who frequent the design and décor floors of shopping malls and love unique finds for the home and closet. 

An eye for beautiful things Charlene definitely has, but a green thumb, not so much (or maybe not at all). 

"I used to joke around before that I had the blackest of black thumbs. All plants used to die on me before when I was still styling for shoots," she laughs.

It really didn't take very long for her to figure out that caring for marble items and store inventory, though delicate and fragile in their own way, required a totally different skillset from tending to plants—living, breathing, feeling life forms. After all, inanimate objects care little about whether or not you remember to spritz them with water, if you overdid the fertilizer, or you're totally oblivious to the fact that basking in noontime sun is a death sentence. 

Plants are beautiful things too, for sure, but theirs is the kind of beauty that blossoms under a give and take relationship; they're unlike marble, metal, plastic, or stone that thrive with just an occasional dusting and polishing, no human touch needed. 

And yet these days, Charlene is happily busy with a whole other endeavor.

Though she is still very much in the business of prettifying homes, she accomplishes this by selling pots of pileas, monsteras, calatheas, fittonias, marantas, alocasia pollies, and, well, you get the point!

Even with a touch that transformed plants into piles of accidental crunchy, brown potpourri, she managed to shed the layers of her "black thumb" to reveal a core of fresh, tender, spring green. She went on to create Mama Botanika PH, an online plant-focused business that's now selling out stocks faster than it can refill shelves less than a year after it was launched. 

"This 'plantdemic' taught me that there is no such thing as black or brown thumbs. We all have the ability to unleash a green thumb... I believe everyone, if they are just willing to read up a bit, will have a green thumb," she assures. 

This New Public Art Installation by Toym Imao Is An Emotional Tribute To The Fallen Frontliner


This New Public Art Installation by Toym Imao Is An Emotional Tribute To The Fallen Frontliner

So how does one transform into a harbinger of plant death to a mother of all things lush and verdant?

First, the power of observation helps a ton. 

For Charlene who also used to style photo shoots and write for home style sections of a couple of publications, she often saw the difference plants made when they were brought on set. Big plants and little plants, all-green darlings and flowering beauties, it didn't matter; she saw that filling up a room with plants didn't just enhance a room's physical atmosphere, but made it healthier, too.

"I would use plants as styling props for these shoots... Then later on I realized whenever I walked into a room full of plants that the air felt naturally cooler and the air seemed fresher. After researching, I soon found out that plants naturally remove harmful indoor air toxins and help purifies your air," Charlene shares. 

And as all pre-COVID and pandemic-born plantitas will tell you, plants are also great for mental and emotional balance. Being around all that green and all that life has natural calming and soothing benefits, and there's an even bigger health boost that comes with getting your hands in the soil and growing plants yourself.

What's there not to enjoy? 

"That is how I basically started loving plants," she smiles. 

But believe it or not, the seends of Charlene's plant-spiration were planted as early as 2013, and said seeds were sown were by the most unlikely of characters in her life at the time.

"My former boss Tessie Sy Coson of the SM Group actually got me into plants... She kept telling us to start selling plants in our store. She was definitely way ahead of her time. We were selling beautiful vases and planters made by artisans then, so it would have been perfect to add the plants in. She taught us where to get good quality plants and great options to offer our customers. We did our research and even bought the plants for our own homes and even more to style the stores with," Charlene recalls. 

The idea was lovely, but just like many creative concepts that don't get a chance to materialize, this one had to be put in the backburner because of a lack of logistical support and more widespread interest. 

It was one pandemic too early, you might say. 

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Calling All Platitas, This IG Account Carries All The Local Big Names In Stoneware

Years and years after Charlene mused over those conversations, the thought never left her.

And as she continued designing marble pieces for The Masonry PH, she thought, why not pick up from here? She was already designing planters anyway, so she figured she might as well take advantage of a small opportunity to test out her long-shelved idea.

"I wanted to offer plants with the marble planters for the convenience of my customers. [It would be a] complete package—planter and plant!  I first sold the plants growing in my garden. I was so surprised when the demands for plants greatly exceeded the demand of the marble planters," she beams. 

And so, Mama Botanika PH bloomed into existence. 

Now as awful as it is to be living in a pandemic, one thing Charlene is grateful for during this time is how thousands (perhaps millions?) of others have discovered the joy of caring for plants—and that the hobby is much less intimidating and a lot cooler than what was previously thought. (It's certainly no longer baduy to be into gardening and other home-based hobbies!). 

With the endless list of reasons to detest our new normal, she's glad to see that plant care tops a list of another kind—one that's all about celebrating silver linings and embracing unexpected areas of personal discovery at an even more unexpected time. 

"A big positive is that there is now a wonderful plant community... Virtual friendships have been made. Despite the isolation of being in a lockdown, people are still connecting and reconnecting," Charlene says. 

"At the same time, homes of plant parents are becoming greener and healthier. Plant parents are learning about plants, flowers, and trees and this is amazing step forward for our environment," she adds. 

Right now, Charlene's Mama Botanika PH has almost 8,500 followers on IG and counting.

You'll find that her plants sell out fast, and for good reason, too. They're always of good quality and very healthy, while Charlene ensures admirable post-sale customer service for all her clients. Nervous first-time parents can get all the need they help from her if they're unsure of what to do via IG, and plants themselves come with a thoughtful care card to remind buyers of what their plant babies need to thrive in their new homes.

While Charlene can't possibly pick her favorite plant (it must be like asking a mother to single out her favorite child), she is able to name Mama Botanika PH's best sellers:

Pilea Peperomiodes: Charlene's are imported all the way from Holland—and she was one of the first to bring them in, too! They were dubbed 2020's "It plant," but they're loved by Pinoys for other reasons aside from their trendiness. Pilea plants' circular, coin-like leaves symbolize improved luck in money matters, so if you want to get moolah flowing in this year, considering purchasing a pot or two.

Monstera Standleyana Albo VairegatedIt's not often that plant species come out variegated (two or multi-toned), so Charlene's monstera standleyanas are obviously quite the lookers! She's proud to say that she sells them intact: mother plant and pups are always in one pot.

Fittonias, marantas and calatheas: They're always loved for their attractive colors. Who said only flowers could put on a show?

Staghorn ferns: They're Charlene's crowning glory, because they speak to her artistic sensibilities the most. These ferns can be hung on walls to create a vertical "living art" gallery. So many people have caught on with the trend that it's virtually impossible to keep these plants in stock. 

If there's anything that Charlene's newfound plantita identity has taughter her, it's that patience pays, always.

"Patience to wait for your babies to grow. Patience to wait for the right time to water or add fertilizer. Patience to wait for new leaves to push out and unfurl. Patience to wait for when your wish list plant comes back in stock," she shares. 

And of course, patience for COVID to come and go. Patience for travel bans to lift—because there are just so many places in the world that Charlene wants to revisit because they're home to so many of the most beautiful gardens she's ever seen.

If Your Kids And Vegetables Are Like Oil And Water, Monique Santos-Roxas' Urban Gardening Story Can Help Fix That For You


If Your Kids And Vegetables Are Like Oil And Water, Monique Santos-Roxas' Urban Gardening Story Can Help Fix That For You

France's Gardens of Versailles and Claude Monet's Garden, Canada's Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Japan's Imperial Palace East Garden, and Singapore's Botanic Gardens are all on her bucketlist, but while she waits to hop on a plane, she's more than happy to be tending to Mama Botanika customers. Who knows? With good experiences with Charlene, someone among them could end up nurturing a world-class garden destination right here in the Philippines. 

As a final thought, she leaves three basic plant care tips for anyone and everyone hoping to encourage their green thumbs to unfurl:

1. Start with l0w-maintenance plants. You want to build your green thumb's resilience before you go all-out! Everyone needs to start from somewhere, so don't feel bad about having to go through the basics. Charlene says, "Great starter plants are the ZZ, sansevierias, and the wonderfully variegated varieties of pothos."

2. Plants are not all the same. Like pets (an people!), they have different needs! If you're going to be a plant parent to different species, make sure to learn what each of them require, water, sun, and fertilizer-wise. There are to ways to make this easier for you: adjust your environment and routine to best care for a plant, or, you can pick a plant whose needs already fit your current surroundings well. 

3. Lastly, research! "...The novice plantita and plantito can take it a step further by asking plantito Google for more care tips. I am also very hands-on in answering messages, so I welcome after-sales messages on how to care for plants purchased from me," Charlene ends. 

All images from @mamabotanikaph