A Relaxing Garden in Puerto Rico
When asked about her favorite garden memory, Perla Sofía Curbelo-Santiago recalls wandering around the streets of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, peeking over her neighbors’ fences to see what they were growing and asking for cuttings of white spray roses to make floral arrangements for her home. For Perla, these childhood memories are intertwined with feelings of relaxation, being connected, and having fun.
“Fue porque tenía curiosidad, realmente me encanta esa sensación de sorpresa. Podía hacer lo mismo al día siguiente y siempre supe que encontraría algo diferente en el mismo jardín.” // “It was because I was curious - I really love that feeling of surprise. I could do the same thing the next day and always knew that I would encounter something different in the same garden.”
Nowadays, Perla lives in Carolina, a municipality next to San Juan, the capital. Because a large majority of Puerto Ricans live in the city and surrounding areas, the gardening scene is very urbanized, with many people growing plants on their balconies, patios, and indoors. Although 85-90% of Puerto Rico’s food is imported, Perla has seen a dramatic uptick in local food production and “agropreneurs'' in the last decade. Local food markets that can be found on nearly every corner and public green spaces are growing. After Hurricane María devastated the island in 2017, people began to understand to an even greater extent the significance of agriculture and home gardening. The entire island was impacted again by the earthquakes of 2020, although the south and central areas were more severely affected. Moreover, since the pandemic, like much of the rest of the world, gardening in Puerto Rico has taken off as a way to cope, entertain, and learn more about growing food.
“La gente esta entendiendo mejor los beneficios de integrar plantas a su estilo de vida pero también a nivel comercial y de embellecimiento público. Los efectos que tiene esto no solo son para su autoestima individual, pero su autoestima comunitario también.”// “People are beginning to better understand the benefits of integrating plants into their lifestyles, and also at a commercial level and for public beautification. The effects of this are not only at the level of personal self-esteem, but community confidence as well.”
Although both Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico, fewer than 20% speak English fluently. English was integrated into Perla’s life in her childhood, but as an adult she took conversational English to improve her communication skills and began to embrace her bilingualism because of her work in media. She largely attributes reading books and magazines to gaining her fluency in the language.
Perla’s favorite garden-related kids books
- The Global Farm: Where Animals From Different Cultures Live in Peace and Joy by Tere Marichal
- Grow it by Erika Markmann
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- El Jardín de Las Abejitas by Tere Marichal
- Generosa, La Gallinita Agricultora by Tere Marichal
- Un Jardín Muy Divertido by Clare Matthews
Perla suggests that gardens can be transformed into learning sanctuaries for kids and shares the following tips:
- Think about the garden as an extra room.
- Create a quiet, comfortable space; have an area with shade and protection from the weather.
- Encourage kids to observe and be curious when being immersed in nature.
- Integrate teaching tools into your garden space, such as plant labels to teach vocabulary.
- If you don’t have an outdoor space at home, make an intentional effort to visit a park, botanical garden, or community garden nearby.
- Try and use things you already have and get creative.
“Eres más creativo cuando haces un inventario de lo que ya tienes."// “You are more creative when you take an inventory of what you already have.”
Check out her favorite gardening with kids blogs on Agrochic:
- Guantes de Jardinería // Garden gloves
- Herramientas para Los Pequeños // Kids tools
- Cultivos Divertidos // Fun Crops to Grow
In the spirit of uplifting the work of others, Perla would like to highlight:
- Kale Mamá from Puerto Rico
- Sonya Harris, her colleague in the BIPOC Hort Group and founder of The Bullock Garden Project
Perla Sofía Curbelo-Santiago is an agricultural journalist and founder of Agrochic, a female-focused gardening lifestyle platform founded in 2009. She is from and resides on the island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that is the size of Connecticut and bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. She has had a lifelong interest in plants and is passionate about sharing content related to wellness, gardening, urban agriculture, and upcycling.