Growing up in a South Kolkata apartment overlooking a busy street, Amartya would often see his mother, steal herself away from the daily household chores and spend a few moments in their tiny balcony, overgrown with an odd number of plants that she grew. From Tulsi (where she would unwaveringly light a lamp, come wind or hail), a crimson hibiscus, some speckled crotons, and the usual seasonal marigolds or rustic nameless carnations, Amartya’s mom had a special place in her heart, and her house for innumerable fauna — caressing their leaves, talking to them as they were her own children, coaxing them to bloom, against all odds.
Even as a child, Amartya knew that those few moments his mom spent with her plants, as the evening sun settled in behind the neighbor’s house, was something special. Moments that gave her mom respite from daily conundrums and energized her to face all odds while raising a family of three children. Looking back, Amartya would be insanely jealous at his mom spending her time with her plants, but somewhere understood that it was something his mother needed. And as years went by, her love for plants grew on him like the tendrils of the creepers that his mom kept, tangled their way up the veranda grills.
Thus, when Amartya decided to shift to the US, triggered by memories of his mother, he quietly packed in saplings of his childhood plants into the oversized suitcase that carried his meager belongings as he ventured out to start afresh. And thankfully, for him, hibiscus, tulsi, and speckled crotons helped create an oasis of sorts, in his rented apartment in East Village.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Amartya, a confirmed bachelor, was confined within the walls of his apartment along with the foliage, comprising of a few other South Asian varieties of plants he had amassed over the last 5 years. And truth be told, he admits that they provided him with a respite from all the turbulent news he heard outside. Much like his mom, years ago, Amartya says he quickly steals away some time from his daily work and house schedule to tend to his plants, talk to them, and disappear from the harsh reality of present times.
In fact, with physical distancing measures to contain COVID-19 having included closing beaches, playgrounds, and parks, adding to the challenges to our mental health, experts, too, opine that having a slice of nature at home does support human well-being.
For those who are lucky enough to have a backyard, a 2017 study, presented in Preventive Medicine Reports suggests that gardening can offer benefits such as reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression apart from improving physical fitness.
However, if one stays in an apartment, indoor gardening too has its own benefits. A volunteer, who participated in a study, published in Urban Ecosystems that highlighted the importance of nature in urban living said that having a small vegetable garden and flowers in pots makes him happy — a sentiment Amartya echoes, saying that seeing things grow in the city, even as everything around him is in disharmony is a beautiful and calming experience.
Scientists find that tending to one’s garden helps suppress the sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotes comfortable, soothed, and natural emotions.
Experts have often hinted at the importance of nature in one’s mental and physical well-being, but it is only now that it holds even more truth as active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work.
While most people think houseplants are just a way to beautify an indoor space, having a few plants scattered around the home can also provide one with emotional wellbeing during the pandemic. Amartya, on his part, believes that apart from the scientific jargon associated with indoor plants, looking at those plants, not only evoke a sense of nostalgia, but watering, pruning, and caring for the vegetation helped him maintain his sanity even as everything familiar around him, suddenly dissipated into the unknown.
Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.
Any day is a good day to learn about protecting the environment, but this month, especially so. Earth Day takes place on April 22 every year and in “normal” times we would participate in a myriad of activities and events to help protect, preserve, and improve the planet we all share. This year has been a bit dystopian, but as we spring forward our hope is that slowly we will get back to normal and enjoy all that the Bay Area has to offer. So, whether you are looking for something to do with the family or by yourself, something quiet, or an outdoor adventure, we’ve got you covered!
The center offers daily guided and audio tours, a great way to raise awareness of environmental issues. There are also many interesting exhibits and on clear days, you’re rewarded with stunning vistas of the city.
Getting there: The Marine Mammal Center is located at 2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito, CA 94965.
From jellies to penguins to sea otters and sharks, over 200 exhibits and 80,000 plants and animals that call the Monterey Bay Aquarium home. The first museum to have a living kelp forest, the array of exhibits is sure to enthrall tots, from watching marine mammals swim about in humongous tanks that imitate their natural habitats to watching them being fed.
Member days: May 1-14, Open for all: May 15
Getting there: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940
A science museum and zoo for children and families where visitors see wild animals up-close and play with kid-friendly science exhibits. CuriOdyssey is home to nearly 100 rescued animals, most native to California, that cannot survive in the wild.
Getting there: 1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo, CA 94401
The 55-acre “urban oasis” with more than 9,000 plants from around the world is always beautiful, but, for obvious reasons, is the most magical in the spring when so many flowers begin to bloom. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the grounds or wander through the gardens and visit flora from Australia, Chile, South Africa, and more, all in one afternoon. April is a good time to see magnolias in bloom, but there are always really cool plants to check out no matter when you go.
Getting there: 501 Stanyan St, San Francisco, CA 94117
This Japanese garden is designed by landscape architect, Nagao Sakurai of the Imperial Palace of Tokyo, and features a granite pagoda, tea house, koi pond and bamboo grove. Visit during spring/summer to feed the koi and catch cherry blossoms in full bloom. There’s also a mini-train that’ll delight kids, tennis courts and many picnic areas.
The garden was designed by Kimio Kimura. It follows Japanese garden design principles, using California native stone and plants. No stains were used on the wood constructions. Nails and fasteners are recessed, and all wood was notched, and aged, to simulate the appearance of a traditional Japanese garden.
Visit this beautiful garden at the peak of its bloom in spring. Situated within Golden Gate Park, the garden showcases over 8,000 species of plants. There are several different collections within the garden, such as Mediterranean and Tropical.
Getting there: 1199 9th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94122
Take advantage of spring in full bloom by renting a paddle, electric, or row boat to tour this hidden gem. Situated in the middle of Golden Gate Park, the lake includes a 110-foot artificial waterfall, colorful Chinese pavilion, and a 125-year-old Stone Bridge. During springtime, visitors will also get the chance to see ducklings and goslings hatch! Rentals start at $24/hr.
Getting there: 1 Stanyan St, Unit 2, San Francisco, CA 94118
An AvGeek’s Nirvana. Beautifully curated exhibits show the past, present, and future of flight. Aircraft are beautifully restored and displayed with exciting angles and exceptional lighting. The museum has more than 50 aerospace vehicles along with companion descriptive displays concerning the history of flight.
Step into the world of Vincent Van Gogh at this trippy exhibit with over 500,000 cubic-feet of illuminated projections of his work that will make you feel like you’re literally inside of his paintings. The “experiential journey” has been modified for COVID times, but still promises to be one of the most unusual and/or cultural things you’ve done in a very long time. The exhibit runs through the beginning of September.
Getting there: 10 South Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94103
Dedicated to destigmatizing mental health and promoting mental health resources. As official sponsors of Crisis Support Services of Alameda County, they donate a portion of their monthly proceeds to suicide prevention services in the local community.
A list of Bay Area environmental/sustainability-related classes, workshops, exhibits, tours, films, and other events. Events posted are directly related to Ecology Center’s main topic areas and located mostly in the East Bay.
Building a grassroots climate movement in the Bay Area and beyond to eliminate carbon pollution and achieve a clean energy future with racial, economic, and environmental justice. San Francisco Bay Area residents building a grassroots movement for deep CO2 emission reductions.
They have local groups in most every county. They have hundreds of volunteers, supported by a small but mighty staff, working since 2012 to:
Raise awareness & urgency for the climate crisis; Mobilize to demand action at the speed & scale required to protect us all from the worst impacts; Support the voices of young people calling for a livable planet; Dig into policy options to get real emissions reductions actions passed
Stop and smell the wildflowers! Spring is when the landscape is alive with carpets of colorful wildflowers. Check out some of the best wildflower displays on the Peninsula and in the South Bay.
The rolling hills in this preserve create a range of habitat types offering refuge for a great diversity of wildflowers. You’ll find the biggest patches of wildflowers along the sunny, southern-facing slopes.
Getting there: 1530 Arastradero Road, 1/4 mile north of Page Mill Road.
Giant redwoods tower over the cool waters of the San Lorenzo River in this park. It contains one of the largest stands of old-growth redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and an abundance of spring flowers add to the beauty of this landscape.
Getting there: River Trail (Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park)
Just a short drive from downtown San Jose, this preserve offers phenomenal views of Coyote Valley, the Diablo Mountain Range, and a plethora of spring flowers. You don’t have to
complete the full loop to get your fill of spectacular flowers.
Getting there: From Highway 101, take Bailey Avenue west, Turn left on Santa Teresa Boulevard, Turn right on Palm Avenue. The preserve is at the end of Palm Avenue.
Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: email@example.com
Valley Verde to sell culturally-meaningful and hard-to-find seedlings for families to ensure food security and comfort during pandemic and economic uncertainty
Today, Valley Verde launched a new offering of seedlings for culturally-preferred produce at a price point that communities can afford (even offering a discount to low-income shoppers). With unemployment and the cost of living high and a crisis like COVID-19 hitting our community, a backyard or porch garden can provide economic security and a nutritional safety net for families in need.
“Families want to grow healthy, fresh, organic, and affordable culturally-meaningful organic produce like Thai basil, bitter melon, chayote, and chili peppers in their own gardens. We are here to help them every way we can,” said Raul Lozano, Founder of Valley Verde. “People can grow their own food and eat it, share it, or even sell it to other families in the community.”
Diverse South Bay communities can have difficulty finding seedlings for the healthy, culturally-meaningful, and organic produce they would like to grow and eat. When families must rely on big stores and corporations for food access it can be easy to feel disconnected from their cultural food roots. With this new effort, Valley Verde is making it easier to grow the vegetables that our communities want.
Valley Verde has provided participants in gardening courses with homeland seedlings for four years, and is now expanding this opportunity to meet community demand. This includes opening an in-person nursery at 59 S Autumn St. on Saturday, March 27th where families can buy seedlings and have access to resources for new gardeners.
Lozano added, “Food unites our communities and nourishes our souls. Planting seedlings in a home garden or community garden is a critical first step to food security. Harvesting foods from our heritage is also a way of investing in the future and creating the community we want to see.”
To tell this story, we can offer media:
Interviews with Valley Verde representatives (Languages: English, Spanish, Punjabi, Hindi)
Interviews with local growers/gardeners (Languages: TBD)
Site visits to the nursery, including on the day of its grand opening – Saturday, March 27th, 9am
Photos and b-roll of gardens and people working in their gardens
Seedlings will be available for sale at:
59 S Autumn St., San Jose, CA (Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-4pm)
Homeland seedlings for sale (at prices ranging from $5.00 – $10.00) include:
Chinese bitter melon
Alok – bottle gourd
Satsuma long eggplant
Squashes and zucchinis
Thai hot chili and other peppers
Habanero, jalapenos, and serranos
About Valley Verde
Valley Verde is a San Jose-based nonprofit focused on increasing self-sufficiency, health, and resilience through a culturally informed community based food system. We own greenhouses and help local residents plant gardens to promote food security. We offer monthly workshops and one-on-one mentorship in a variety of languages (including Spanish) to help home gardeners have a successful harvest. We want to support our community as they build resilience through food sovereignty by providing culturally preferred vegetable seedlings, environmental education, and supporting the development of edible gardens.
Holidays at Filoli is the perfect season to make special memories with loved ones and friends. The historic House and Garden will be glittering and glowing with festive cheer every day and night of the week through January 3. Filoli is one of a kind. With its 16-acres of historic garden the unique landscape provides the perfect setting to connect with loved ones and appreciate beauty.
For fun festivities join us on Mondays for Holiday Themed Nights! From Pajama Party to Solstice Night, we’re making Mondays merry and bright with a selection of jolly dress-up prompts. Match the theme and get a special gift. On select Saturdays in December our ever-popular Santa Saturdays are back with a twist! Santa will be located outdoors on our beautiful Woodland Garden Court. You and yours are invited to take a socially distanced selfie with Santa himself.
To get you in the spirit we’re hosting a Holiday Bar on the Woodland Garden Court throughout the Holiday season, featuring a selection of wine, beer, warm libations, and mixed cocktails. Cozy up to a firepit and enjoy a beverage of your choice. Festive food and treats are available at the Quail’s Nest Cafe by the Town Kitchen. Highlights from the menu include peppermint hot chocolate and tasty seasonal coffee drinks in addition to holiday cookies and confections.
The Clock Tower Shop is the destination for carefully curated holiday gifts and decor. Our outdoor Courtyard will be filled with holiday greens, specialty and dwarf conifers, garden sculptures and ceramics as well as unique varieties of camellias, daphne and azaleas. And don’t forget to look for our favorite tulip and daffodil bulbs! In the Shop themes of Mrs. Claus’ Bakeshop, Elves in the Toyshop, and Nature Wonderland come to life with beautiful displays featuring blown glass ornaments, tea towels, baking dishes, artisanal soaps, stuffed animals and more.
We’re open every day and every night of the week for you to enjoy the wonder of Holidays at Filoli to your heart’s content! Purchase your tickets online for Daytime or Evening Admission today, we’re open 7 days a week from 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Advanced registration is required. Each year we look ahead with great hope about the joy this season will bring. We can’t wait to see you!
Spring has a charm, at once joyous and peaceful, almost unparalleled.
Over the last few weekends, gardens everywhere are coming alive with the tender palette of green and the skies put on their best shows of blues, indigo, saffron, and gold.
The birds that peek soon swell, open up in brilliant colors or earthy shades, greeting the sun and the wind, braving the rain, invite the bees and butterflies to dance around, hum and feed, and share. Cheery little hummingbirds join the dance, flitting and fleeting, lapping and tweeting, tiny arcs of sheen and energy, leaving us mesmerized as they find their nectar in the tiniest of flowers!
Then there’s birdsong, tuneful, rhythmic, full-throated, right from announcing the arrival of dawn, singing for mates or for sheer joy, forming patterns in company, some bringing notes from other lands and seas and humbling with their graceful might!
The scents of the flowers vie with the riots of hues, some sweet, others emphatic, nonetheless unique to each, perhaps to woo the bees and butterflies.
And….. along come the critters that nourish the soil and garden, mostly at work unseen, at times wiggling and poking out of the rich, brown earth and looking surprisingly clean, smooth! Imagine if we’d had a dirt bath… how much of a wash it would take! There are the nifty hiders with legs aplenty, the husky rollers, the shelled footers who are so clever at their feeding, I almost want to leave them on the leaf or stem!
The nourishing clods, and grains, which with the added sun and rain create the magic of food as has churned on and been the source of energy for creatures large and small.
The freshness is intoxicating, never tiring, year after year. I wish I’d been keeping track of all that we’ve planted, thrived, liked, disliked over ever so many seasons – like the Algerian tangerine that I had the pleasure of going to a lesser-known nursery with our dear friend and children’s music teacher, Jane. I also learnt of the sprightly Peruvian lily from her, the leaves that have an earthy scent and flowers of happy colors.
More recently, our son planting and grafting fruit trees has given yet another purpose to our garden, with great variety and promise.
As the day moves on, the sun mercifully burns the fog, though the crisp mist and slight chill are refreshing to begin with. Soon the rays beat down on me, the jacket needs to be shed and sweat starts to bead up. I often realize only too late I’ve set out with no hat. I’m quite a mess… wind-blown hair, bronze tanning and sweaty trotting back and forth, clearing, planting, snipping, all the while being almost lost in the garden meditatively with great admiration for all things in nature!
At times it may not look a whole lot different, but the closer I look as the sun begins arcing down, the drier old branches are spread or out to compost, wilted flowers cleared, new plants or seeds in, some flowers, greens discovered, admired and my muscles, joints in a happy well-used tiredness! And certainly with hopes for seedlings to poke through!
Spring this year has a whole new meaning, one of gratitude, for the selfless frontline workers and scientists during this coronavirus pandemic, for loving families and friends, educators, food and farm workers and everyone who’ve been tirelessly adapting! It is one of hope and prayers for new, empathetic and well-reasoned beginnings!
Madhu Raghavan is a pediatrician who enjoys writing, exploring our great outdoors, gardening, and art as a pastime.
Filoli Historic House & Garden is the magic place to warm your hearts and rejuvenate your spirit in every season. A member of the 27-property National Trust for Historic Preservation, this Northern California treasure is the perfect escape from the high tech-low touch world for people of all ages.
Stroll the 16-acres of landscape Garden and take a selfie surrounded by beautiful blooms and orchid displays. Explore the 54,000 square foot historic House with an architectural tour. Ponder the lovely handcrafted Filoli products in the Clock Tower shop.
Enjoy live cultural events in the historic ballroom, including music, dance, and theater. Take a class in art, horticulture, or floral design. For those who love the great outdoors, you can hike for mushrooms and explore the greenhouses in the 654-acre Estate.
Even if you’d like to simply enjoy each other’s company in a bucolic setting, you’ll find Filoli is equally suitable for families, singles or couples.
Located in Woodside on the Peninsula, Filoli is closer than you think. People who discover Filoli for the first time tend to return to experience the seasonal blooms, events and themes. Many become members.
Open everyday of the week, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, rain or shine.