Therese Jison was busy reading her telex (the forerunner of today’s e-mail) when a familiar pain struck her. She woke up her husband, and asked him to rush her to the hospital. He did, wearing his pants inside out, as he saw one side of Therese’s face droop.
She told the nurse that she was feeling the symptoms of a stroke. The nurse took her blood pressure—130/80. “Baka nag-away lang kayong mag-asawa,” Therese recalled the nurse saying. “Tulog yung asawa ko, papaano ko aawayin?” she responded.
The nurse was asking more questions when suddenly, Therese fell unconscious. The next thing she knew, she was already in the intensive care unit (ICU).
“Luckily, I had my Creator caring for me,” she said. “But I must have looked terrible, because they didn’t want to show me the mirror.”
Her mom, Pilar Ledesma, decided that Baguio would be the best place for Therese to recuperate—in effect, taking her away from her job.
Then 46, Therese was working in the travel industry. She was very much successful that, despite several attempted coups d’etat at the time, she still managed to bring in tourists to the country. The idea of leaving her job was out of the question.
A workaholic even during her confinement, Therese asked that a typewriter be brought to her room “because my hands were not working, so I forced them to type. Also, people didn’t understand what I was saying. I didn’t know I was talking gibberish.”
Against her will, she had to move to Baguio in 1995. She recalled how much she disliked the Summer Capital. “I’m a city girl, what will I do there? There was no theater and culture, and everybody was talking in Ilocano.
“I found every reason to go to Manila.”
Then one day, her mom confronted her and said that if she wanted to live long, she had to cooperate. “If I’m going to live this way, I’d rather be dead,” she replied defiantly.
But her mom didn’t give up on her. She told Therese to look at Baguio as a tourist would. By this time, her condition had improved and she could already walk using a cane.
Therese heeded her mother’s advice and started moving about.
Just when Therese had regained her stride, however, a few days before Christmas Day in 1999, her mother, who had been protective of her, passed away. Since she was the only one in a brood of four who was living in the country, she had to attend to her mom’s estate, including a property located in one of Baguio’s steepest areas.
Informal settlers had taken over her mother’s property. Since she didn’t want to burden herself, she decided to sell the property to them.
“Unfortunately, they filed a case against me for trespassing. It went to court, and when the judge asked who owned the property, they came out with tax declarations. I came out with the title,” Therese said.
With the informal settlers out of her mother’s property, Therese faced another problem—they left her with a mountain of trash.
This didn’t dishearten her, not after she had grown to love Baguio and now wanted the city to have a unique destination. “It took us some time to fix it up, and it came to a point where I wanted to give it up,” Therese said.
In 2009, she sought the help of Benguet State University’s Dr. José Balaoing in transforming the property into a unique destination.
Mother’s Garden was born, a farm-restaurant that offers its guests not only organic food but also entertainment and cultural immersion.
Therese, who since childhood has been fond of organic food, decided on this venture to honor her mother, who was like any mother willing to make sacrifices for her children.
“One thing she loved so much was the garden,” Therese recalled. “She was always puttering in the garden. With her long nails, she would pick and place worms on her plants. Apparently, she already knew about vermicomposting.”
At Mother’s Garden, which has a panoramic view of Baguio City, guests are assured they are served only organic food. You can pick your own greens, and the staff will prepare the right dressing.
Sometimes it’s Therese herself who cooks. She studied at the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. “I love to cook something people appreciate,” she said.
A chef for 21 years now, Therese still hankers for knowledge. Just recently, she went to Heidelberg in Germany, and again in Paris to know the latest trends in European cuisine.
Apart from enjoying the inexpensive, good food—dishes cost an average of P189—guests can try out pottery, weaving and T-shirt painting. Also, one can learn a bit more about Cordilleran culture. The cañao ritual is performed, for example, in the presence of an elder Igorot. (Those who would like to witness this rather expensive ritual would have to contact Mother’s Garden ahead of time.)
Therese is now 66, and shows no signs that she once suffered a stroke. “It’s the red lipstick,” she quipped.
Even after she has built a place in honor of her mother, Therese is fulfilling one more of her mom’s wishes: “to convince people that they should go fresh, all-natural.”
Mother’s Garden is at 6 Upper Fairview Road, Quezon Hill Proper, Baguio City. It is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit www.mothersgardenbaguio.com.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MOTHER’S GARDEN