The word ‘essential’ according to the Cambridge Dictionary means necessary or needed. It is synonymous with crucial or important.

Wittingly, ‘das Essen’ in the German language is ‘Food’ and if written as ‘zu essen’ transliterates ‘to eat’ in the Anglo tongue.

Healthy food is crucial for one’s well being. And good food means it should look sumptuous. (Culinary connoisseurs would confirm – we eat first with our eyes.) And don’t Pinoys love to eat or find it essential to eat three, four, even six times a day?

We like to eat that we have a song for surviving – the Bahay Kubo or the BH song. (Coincidentally, Pinoys know BH of an altogether different acronym of ‘Bring Home’ or food rests taken home after a party or banquet).

The essence of survival and eating healthy starts quite young in the Pinoy psyche. Usually sang by school children and as familiar as the Alphabet Song and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star of the west, the Bahay Kubo song describes a home – a simple house made of bamboo and roofed with nipa palm leaves surrounded with different vegetables – idyllically promoting a self- sustaining household setting.

During my preschool days, we were inculcated to learn the ‘BH’ song. We had to learn it by heart.
As we progressed to elementary we were forced ‘hands-on’. Long rectangular garden plots were assigned to us kids and we can plant whatever we can think of – as long as it’s edible!

We brought seeds of leafies and engaged in horticultural production. Sweet potatoes, corn, eggplants, yardlong beans…an endless list. The plot didn’t end there! Teachers encouraged us to recycle large tin cans which were used for propagating pechay, mustasa, mungo, even those colorful portulaca plants!

Every morning we were to water our precious plants, till the earth, baking under the sun that before we start with subjects – we were all soiled and stinking humus.

The 1980s saw the Marcos government promoting ‘healthier lifestyle’ through its ‘Bagong Lipunan’ or New Society movement. Women, were not exempted. The former Ministry of Health (MOH) set up workshops and seminars for the so-called “Barangay Health Workers” (BHWs) recruiting local housewives as ‘volunteers’. They too were encouraged to plant veggies and what not in their own front and/or backyards. If there was empty space around the house, it was more than emphasized to green it!

My very own mother joined the drive into participating BHW workshops. I gleed upon tagging along as there were unlimited calamansi juice and slices of ‘Nutribun’ served – the ‘bun’ was mass-produced by the MOH and distributed to ‘malnourished’ children. (To one’s surprise tiny dried beetles may sometimes be disgustingly tasted embedded on the bread).

Like everyone else who participated the seminar/workshop my Nanay was given a dossier of Medicinal and Useful Plants in the Philippines during the culmination program. ‘First Aid Plants’ were her beloved category – plants like the bayabas, alugbati, saluyot, okra. As soon as my Nanay turned certified BH Worker, our front, back and sideyards were sprawling with ‘First Aid’ consumables. And our spirited neighbours found their way to our front door asking for those so-called emergency plants most especially for luncheon.

Pinoys are cunningly adaptive, and flexible during emergencies. It comes from the experiences our forefathers learned after WWII. And many survived the aftermath of that war relying on what was locally found. Adding to this, an average of 20 typhoons annually visit the archipelago shaping the sense of resiliency and the ‘diskarte’ mentality of many Pinoys. (We always have had the pandemic instinct – no question about that).

Presently, many politicians campaigned for ‘survival’ gardens. A public official in Siargao urged residents to start ‘communal’ gardens, cutting back relying agri produce from elsewhere. A former-actor-turned-politician promotes fresh produce from his land on Youtube. The same channel swung a simple ‘probinsyano’ in the Visayas region to fame as he vlogged his daily rural farm life earning thousands of pesos much to his delight.

The so-called ‘plantitas’ and ‘plantitos’ are trending online as well. From the non-edible succulents to the most absurd flora species, which I call the ‘For-Your- Eyes-Only’ plants – they either sell it with the most ludicrous price tags or simply flaunt it online. The pandemic has produced modern green thumbs! (A green minded person however belongs to a deviating category).

One denominating factor bind these individuals – humans were built to connect to or with nature. In fact, a self-sustaining food supply is key to a healthy community and to surviving most especially in these trying times.

In London where the ‘Garden Culture’ since Victorian times started, modern Tele-gardening episodes have picked ratings up. World renowned horticulturists like Monty Don or Alan Titchmarsch have stirred fans not only in the British Isles but everywhere else on the planet.

(I personally like the episodes of Around the World in 80 Gardens which Monty Don hosts). As the majority remain stuck in their homes since April as governments imposed restrictions, many ended up with ‘Garden Therapy’. Their ‘small slice of paradise’ have helped with their mental state. (The word Paradise comes old Persian meaning Garden, by the way).
The current situation made people realise the importance on what is essential and the essence of having a garden. Whether in an Urban, Peri-Urban, or on Rooftop setting, a link to nature is important as it sieves the mind and soothes the soul.
Quintessential, indeed.

Mental health has been recognized to play an important role much equivalently as physical health. Certain plants exude aromatic fragrances and reinvigorate mind and body. Lavenders, Jasmine, Roses rule this list of aromatic plants. The scent produced come from volatile oils which if the olfactory sense capture it, transcends the mind into relax mode.

In Pinas, we have our own Aromatic plants – Sampaguitas of the Jasminum Genus, Rosal of the Genus Gardenia and the endemic fragrant Ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata) which contain ethereal oils used for aromatherapy, a form of alternative medicine in which healing effects are ascribed to aromatic compounds, mostly to induce relaxation.

A warning though of improper usage as essential oils may cause harm including allergic reactions and skin irritation.
In reality, certain flora are causes of allergies and even poison. In fact there are two famous gardens in Europe which are filled with killers – The Alnwick Gardens of North England and the Orto Botanico of Padova, Northeast Italy. Kept hidden behind black iron gates with the large poison signage of human skulls – visitors to the Alnwick Gardens are strongly advised not to stop and smell the flowers! Such oddities do exist in the natural kingdom. A warning to those endeavoring to be online plantitas and plantitos who have no horticultural background at all.

Nonetheless, gardens be it formal and grand, or tiny and minute provide an impact to the owner or gardener – it shares a responsibility, it’s not as tedious as a four-legged animal, deviates the mind into another world and links us with our Creator. A world of which the color green abound radiating a pleasant calming effect. Gardening is one of the best employment one can ever have.

How devastating it must have been for the first man Adam to lose his job as head gardener as reflected in John Milton’s ‘A Paradise Lost’.
A famous landscape artist once quipped, “When we lost the Garden of Eden, we were fated to search and reinvent it. But only some of us have the gift of knowing this. Only some of us have that Gift’.

Of that many would agree. Only a handful indeed possess the green thumb – however, it is never too late – learning the craft may take some time and acquiring the passion starts from a sprinkle of inspiration.

One thing is for sure – without trees or plants, humans will not survive, Earth will cease to be the ‘living planet’ without the green essentialities – culmatively the essence of life disappears.

When Antoine de Saint-Exupéry penned,

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”, I suppose he never had a garden to himself.