In East Tawakoni, Texas, there lives a Filipina with a backyard garden full of flowers, fruits, and Filipino vegetables. 34-year-old Mia Pettyjohn-Anderson, along with her American husband Chaz Anderson, is completely in love with gardening.
Mia is a Filipina who grew up in Calamba, Laguna. In 2006, she migrated to San Francisco and relocated to Texas in 2015, shortly after marrying her husband in 2013.
“When I was still living in the Philippines, my parents and my grandmother really liked having a nice garden. So I’d spend lots of time outdoors,” Mia said. “So I kind of got my love for plants growing up in the Philippines.”
Despite her love for plants, Mia wasn’t able to have her own garden when she moved to the United States of America (USA) since she lived in apartments and simply had no space for it.
However, in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, Mia and her husband discovered a community garden near their previous home in Texas. They decided to join it and acquired a small plot of land in the community garden. That was the beginning of the couple’s gardening journey.
Mia and her husband loved gardening so much that, a year later, they bought a house in the countryside with a large backyard. The large space was immediately converted into the garden they always wanted.
A small abundant garden
Besides her love for plants, Mia started gardening to save on buying produce from groceries, especially since she and her husband loves to cook. Their garden is around 1000 square meters and every corner has different types of crops and plants.
A former floral designer, Mia believes that flowers have their place in their garden. She grows different types of flowers for personal flower arrangements.
Besides flowers, there are raised beds dedicated to herbs, such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and more. They have a grapevine and fruit-bearing trees like apples, peaches, figs, and plums. She grows different types of pumpkins and squash, while her husband grows varieties of peppers and tomatoes.
She also likes growing the classic Filipino vegetables especially since they were hard to find and too expensive at local groceries. From what she has seen at groceries, eggplants are $4, or P219, a pound and green beans are $5-$6, or P274, for a small bunch.
Some of the Filipino vegetables she grows are green beans, okra, sigarilyas, and eggplants. She has plans to include ampalaya and malunggay in her garden, too. “Basically, everything you need for kare-kare and sinigang I always grow in the garden,” Mia said. “I like how the vegetables taste fresher. And it’s so satisfying to grow yourself.”
“One of my favorite things to grow is onions,” she said as she listed her favorite crops. “We always grow lots and lots of onions, the different types of onions.” She also likes growing center cut squash since it tastes really good. For Filipino vegetables, she loves growing green beans because they are abundant and easy to grow. Her husband, on the other hand, really likes growing spicy peppers.
Her husband, Chaz, keeps a spreadsheet which tracks the amount of produce their garden produces per year. For 2022, they found that they found that they grew over 360 pounds of produce, essentially saving them almost a thousand dollars in groceries.
“In Texas we have two growing seasons,” Mia said. Every year, she buys different seeds from suppliers and plants them according to the season they are suited for. “I’ll start seeds from January to May, and again in the fall for winter stuff.”
Her plants start their life inside the couple’s home. Once they grow to an appropriate size, the plants are brought out to be planted in the garden.
Mia and her husband both work for the same food delivery company during the week, limiting their time to focus on their garden. However, they are dedicated gardeners. They consistently spend an hour a day monitoring and tending to their garden, and are able to spend more hours during the weekend.
“The daily maintenance is kind of difficult. We go outside after work everyday and we water plants, do maintenance, trim stuff, clean up,” she said. “It’s really time consuming, but we love being outside.”
Their garden is 100% natur, so they don’t use pesticides or any other chemicals for their garden. “We are also setting up a system to collect rainwater so we don't have to use so much water to water the plants,” said Mia. “It's important for us to use sustainable farming practices.”
Mia admits that before 2020, she and her husband didn’t know much about gardening. “I watched a lot of gardening shows streaming. I watched lots of British gardening shows,” she said with a laugh.
The community garden which she and her husband joined also taught her a lot hands-on. Aside from that, she took to learning from books and YouTube videos.
“The best tip I’ve gotten is you have to make sure you plant everything at the right time,” said Mia. “Every has a specific thing (condition) that they like during the year.”
Big dreams for a little garden
Because their garden constantly had abundant harvests, Mia and her husband are planning to establish a business. “We want to make money from doing something we love,” Mia said.
Their garden produces more than they could consume, and the couple didn’t want to just throw the extra away. They plan to join a farmer’s market in Dallas and sell some of their produce there and are also exploring making their own products. “We’re trying to figure out ways to preserve things. To turn it into hot sauce or make jam so it doesn’t spoil easy,” said Mia.
Just like she said, the first products the couple is trying out are jams and hot sauces. They both learned how to make them from videos, and adjusted it according to the taste they wanted. Mia can now make three types of jams which are hibiscus, spicy apple, and strawberry rhubarb. Chaz, on the other hand, is dedicated to creating unique hot sauces made from habaneros, peaches, pomelos, apples and peppers.
They also plan to make pickles, syrup, lemon and calamansi curd and so much more. They also want to make the most out of their little garden and plan to venture into making soap, lotions, lip balms and other similar products. Since Mia used to be a floral designer, she wants to make more flower arrangements and sell them, too.
But it doesn’t stop there. They want to go bigger, literally. They want to expand their area to make space for a chicken coop to save on eggs, and a beehive to explore making their own honey. Mia said, “We have lots of plans!”
Gardening for mental health
“ has been really great for me and my husband,” Mia said as she recalled the widespread depression and mental anxiety that was rampant during the initial global lockdown. “We wouldn’t have gotten through the pandemic without it. It really helps our mental health.”
Despite having a stressful day at work, as soon as Mia sees her garden, her stress is gone. She has so much more she wants to grow, such as Philippine mangoes and types of Philippine flowers.
A few years ago, Mia had no practical knowledge in gardening, but her love for plants motivated her to learn and create a garden full of abundant harvests.
“Don’t be scared to try,” she said. “If you want to, just try.”
(Photos courtesy of Mia Pettyjohn-Anderson)