After her miscarriage, caring for succulents was a gift during a dark period


Engoy holding a Maranta leuconeura at her shop in Lomita, California. Photo: Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Twelve years ago, Marissa Engoy suffered a miscarriage. For days, she struggled to get out of bed.

That's when a friend brought her some succulents as a gift. She'd never seen a succulent before that day, but was drawn to their adorable, chubby, cartoon-like appearance.

"I never really cared about plants before, but suddenly I cared about these ones with all my heart," says Engoy, 42. "I needed them to survive."

Caring for those succulents and knowing they were dependent on her to survive helped her through that difficult time in her life.

She soon began to grow her collection of succulents, she says, making "too many" trips to Home Depot in California, the United States to buy more.

She started researching plants and checking out books from the gardening section of her local library when she came across some of Debra Lee Baldwin's books on making living art using succulents.

Engoy says she was inspired by the work of the San Diego-based gardening author and horticulturalist who specialises in succulents, so she began making her own arrangements as a hobby. She also travelled to Portland, Oregon to study under Françoise Weeks, a Belgian artist known for her living botanical art.

"The plants were a gift from God to usher me out of that dark season," Engoy says.

She began posting photos of her arrangements on social media. Her posts gained some traction, and the Torrance resident found herself immersed in the online plant community.

For a couple of years, she sold plants and arrangements on an e-commerce platform and at local markets in Los Angeles and Orange County.

That's when the former third-grade teacher named her business Good Morning, Cactus. She says the name came organically.

"I was looking at one of my cactuses one day and I was just like, 'Hey, good morning, cactus! Good morning, you little prickly punk!' And it stuck."

Today, she has partnerships with two storefronts in Lomita, which are located across the street from each other: Corridor Flow, a coffee shop known for its Spanish lattes, and the the Golden Triangle, a sustainability-focused boutique.

She has also partnered with the Aloha Bungalow, a beachy gift shop in Redondo Beach. Engoy, her husband Derrick and her three children love to surf, so the Aloha Bungalow's location makes for an ideal day.

"I'll go surf in the morning, get cleaned up and then water my plants at that shop," she says. "It's been such a sweet celebration of life."

Good Morning, Cactus sells a variety of plants at these stores including maranta lemon lime prayer plant, philodendron, watermelon peperomia (peperomia argyreia) and anthurium. She also sells arrangements including small succulents in vintage teacups, succulent wreaths, terrariums and kokedamas.

Engoy, who's Filipina, says Filipino customers often come in asking her for plants that are not "maarte", the Tagalog word for "dramatic" or "high maintenance".

She also hosts plant workshops and informational talks on topics such as succulent wreath arranging, terrarium-building and plant maintenance in the Lomita shops.

Engoy says she has had workshops with nonprofit organisations including Changing Tides, an organisation working toward ending the stigma around mental health in the Asian American community.

She says it brings her joy to see people becoming connected and empowered through her workshops.

"My favourite thing is to connect with the community during workshops," she says. "As cheesy as it sounds, the gift of community keeps this small business going."

Engoy's path to becoming the woman who customers now affectionately call "the plant girl" wasn't easy. She says she had to hustle every step of the way, crediting her strong work ethic to how her parents raised her.

Engoy's parents got married in their home country of the Philippines in their early 20s and immigrated to the US soon after in 1975. They started a catering business in Gardena when Engoy was in elementary school.

Engoy remembers serving punch at weddings and putting toothpicks in fruits and sandwiches with her siblings to help out with the family business.

"I remember watching my parents and having so much respect for them," Engoy says.

As for gardening, she says her mother has always been an avid gardener, and it's a hobby that brings her incredible joy. The garden in her mother's backyard is full of hummingbirds and the occasional bunny or raccoon.

People – and animals – like to visit the garden because Engoy's mother has made it into an oasis.

"It's her therapy," Engoy says, adding that her maternal grandfather was also passionate about gardening, creating makeshift waterfalls and tending to plants in the yard of his home in the Philippines.

She says she remembers seeing his outdoor space as a safe haven when her family visited.

When she discovered plants as a means to heal from her miscarriage, Engoy says something clicked in her head about her mother and grandfather.

She realised that, although they were on different sides of the world, they both needed the same thing for their mental and physical health: to cultivate a beautiful place to escape.

"I was like 'Oh, so this is why they did it'," she says. "I know now that this is why I do it too." – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service

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