As the number of our ordinary activities dwindle with shelter in place orders, two pastimes have surfaced as favorites: gardening and outdoor walks. Many Benicians taking their outdoor strolls have stumbled upon an oasis on the outskirts of First Street. Vangi Damayo’s garden encapsulates both of these pastimes and has become a town treasure through the years.
Vangi’s gardening interests began at a young age. Even before ever tending to a garden, she loved watching plants grow and change. While growing up in the Philippines, she helped her parents water their vegetable garden every afternoon. She was eight years old when she would “fetch pails of water from a nearby stream.” Her talent and interest in gardening later blossomed into a major hobby.
Before coming to the United States in 2008, Vangi spent her early twenties in Malaysia, where she currently keeps a second home. Having gardens in both California and Malaysia offer a unique look into the different gardening scenes. Most notably, Vangi says that “we can almost grow anything here in California,” compared to a more limited variety of only tropical flowers and vegetables in Malaysia. Due to California’s friendly climate, Vangi is able to incorporate tropical plants into her garden here as well. Beside her roses, passersby can find heliconias, frangipani, plumerias, or hibiscus plants that she collected from her garden abroad. Her Benicia garden exhibits a fusion of Malaysian and West Coast plants.
To Vangi and other green thumbs alike, the benefits of gardening go without saying. The therapeutic and social aspects are reason enough to start planting. Harvesting ripe vegetables or cutting fresh flowers offers a sense of accomplishment and pride. Vangi says that “being able to do what you like and enjoy seeing a plant grow to a nice flower, or harvesting your vegetables or fruits is something that only you can achieve for yourself.” Beyond the gratification felt from a successful garden comes the invitation of conversation. While gardening in her front yard, Vangi has had people in cars and pedestrians stop to compliment her garden. This has transformed her garden into not only a place of interest, but of personal achievement and community.
Vangi encourages fellow gardeners, both current and aspiring, to get to know their plants. Getting to know your plants is deeper than studying the seed package or researching online – ”you must spend time with them.”