THE lockdowns and stay-home protocols in this pandemic prompted many people to find ways to kill boredom or do something productive. For workers and businessmen who have been displaced, they turned to online selling. Some pursued hobbies like painting and singing. There are those who chose gardening. Netizens call them "plantitos" and "plantitas" (from the words "plant" and "tito/tita").

Early in the pandemic, there are people who went into vegetable gardening because going to the market was difficult especially during the most strict quarantine period. Later as the quarantine level was eased, more people turned to ornamental plants and became plantitos and plantitas. For many, it is a hobby. To some, a means to earn money.

In Pampanga, the surge in the number of home gardeners is evident by the increase in sales of clay pots. In Sto. Tomas, Pampanga, Mayor Gloria "Ninang" Ronquillo, said there was an increase of about 80 percent in the sales of clay pots from manufacturers and sellers. An online seller who I talked to said sometimes clay pots run out of stock.

House plants provide many benefits aside from aesthetics. They clean the air, gives-off oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. For those trapped in their homes by the pandemic, gardening provides a way to ease stress. Talking to plants is even more relaxing, according to some people. A survey done in the United States revealed that people who talked to their plants were reportedly 3.5 times more likely to say their stress had dropped to a great extent during the pandemic.

And do plants talk back? Yes, according to my radio partner of 20 years, Cecile Yumul. She has many stories about her chats with plants. Talking also benefits the plants. A study performed by the Royal Horticultural Society discovered that talking to your plants can help them grow faster. They also found that plants grow faster to the sound of a female voice than to the sound of a male voice.

Plants in the office can also help ease the stress of workers. A 2019 study published in HortTechnology from the American Society for Horticulture Science suggests that plants can lower stress and anxiety when you're working. I can attest to this. I am also a plantito. I have six potted plants on my desk. They are a stress reliever.

Students benefit too from house plants. A study at the Royal College of Agriculture in Circensester, England, found that students demonstrate 70% greater effectiveness when they are taught in rooms containing plants. In the same study, attendance was also higher for lectures given in classrooms with plants.

Plants help in healing too. A study, conducted at Kansas State University, found that viewing plants during recovery from surgery led to a significant improvement in physiologic responses as evidenced by lower systolic blood pressure, and lower ratings of pain, anxiety, and fatigue as compared to patients without plants in their rooms.

So, what are you waiting for? Be a plantito/plantita now!