A FOOD FOREST
FLOURISHES IN A GARDENER’S PAMPANGA RESIDENCE
BY VINA MEDENILLA
Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp
De Vera has always dreamed of having a food forest, so she built one for her family in 2008. As a mother, she wanted to provide her children with the most nutritious meals possible while they were growing up. She understood that it wasn’t the best idea to give her kids conventionally grown food. However, at the time, there was no organic food available near them, and if there was, it was costly. She opted to create an edible and ornamental garden similar to the ones her parents and grandparents had. She converted one-third of her 180 sqm home into a food forest and backyard container garden to grow food for her family, particularly crops that weren’t always (or at all) available in the local market. Since her children were still young then, she built a lowmaintenance garden filled with a few fruit trees and edible perennials. Some of the crops she planted include natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa), lemon, variegated calamansi, edible ferns, roses, sunflower, purple leaf potato, and a few vegetables in large terracotta pots. At first, she was only growing crops in the backyard using containers. When a watermelon unexpectedly grew and fruited in her front yard in 2010, this gave her an idea to grow more edibles in the same spot. A shared passion for growing plants De Vera has been a gardener since 1986. Her affinity for gardening was mainly rooted in the influence of her parents and relatives who also love cultivating both edible and ornamental plants. “My late father was an avid vegetable gardener and supplied me with vegetables and fruits from his garden. He also gave me tilapia and edible snails that he grew in a small pond that he built,” said de Vera. When her father died in 2010 and the supply of naturallygrown produce from his garden stopped coming, de Vera decided to grow annual crops in memory of him. Gardening, in a way, kept her company as she went through a loss. NURTURING HER GARDEN FOR MORE THAN A DECADE At present, she tends to more than 24 fruit-bearing trees and plants, in addition to 24 different kinds of edible crops, most of which are perennials and annual root crops like cassava, peanuts, ube, and sweet potatoes. “Although I have a very small garden, I still get a surplus of food that I can give away to family, friends, and even passersby I preserve some of it by freezing, cooking, pickling, and fermenting,” said the longtime grower. De Vera used to water her plants twice a day. Now that she has gotten to know their needs better, she only waters them one to three times a week. She mulches the plants with unfinished compost, dried leaves, and other organic materials to help improve water retention. “Mulching also provides food and home for earthworms and beneficial insects that, in turn, help break down the materials, thus improving the soil,” de Vera explained.