BY AISYAH AZZAHRA SUHIRI
FOR Lundu-born plant seller Lina Sidi, her journey to seek inner peace has been the hardest obstacle to overcome in her 46 years of life.
Lina shared her story with New Sarawak Tribune in the hope to inspire people who are struggling with mental health.
Her journey began way before finding sanctuary in nursing plants as the mother of three was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and had to resign from her job as a teacher.
“I hit rock bottom, lost all motivation, felt like a misfit, and I remember feeling emotionally numb most of the time.”
Lina said it took her two years to get back on her feet again with the aid of medications, regular visits to the doctor, support from her family and close friends, and an unexpected group of ‘therapists’ – her plants.
“I feel tranquil and grounded whenever I take care of my plants. The way they grow — sprouting new leaves and flowers — lifts my spirits in a way I cannot explain.”
As her general wellbeing progressed for the better, she and her family decided to move from Lundu to Kuching.
After settling down at their new place, her children suggested that she open a restaurant to earn a side income.
To ward off panic attacks, she decorated her place with a variety of plants to keep her emotional and mental wellbeing anchored.
Her business at Lee Ling Commercial Centre took off smoothly with the help of her family and support of regular customers.
Then the unthinkable happened! The Covid-19 pandemic struck and the government imposed its movement control order.
Although restaurants were permitted to operate while complying with the order, her restaurant was at a disadvantage as she was unfamiliar with p-hailing services. She did not even dare to venture into it.
As neighbouring shops closed their businesses, her usual customers eventually stopped coming.
She had no choice but to temporarily close her business too. Not only did this take a toll on her family’s main income, but it also started to affect her mental health.
“It was challenging to make ends meet, and it slowly brought back the old feeling of losing my way of life.”
Fortunately, a flash of inspiration came when she remembered that a couple of her customers had enquired about whether or not the plants she displayed in her restaurant were for sale. From that point on, she set up a plant shop adjacent to her restaurant.
“It was almost as though it was fated. What began as a sort of self-therapy somehow turned into a source of extra income. It was like killing two birds with one stone.”
She recalled how excited she was when news broke out that businesses were permitted to reopen in Phase 2 of the National Recovery Plan (NRP).
That led her to incorporate her restaurant into her new plant shop by setting up tables and chairs for clients to dine-in as they browse.
“I decided to form a garden-like café hoping to create a calming ambience for my customers while they enjoy their meals.”
In mid-July, she started selling plants that she personally grew, but as the business grew, she began to get more plants from all around Kuching and Lundu, her hometown.
She sells snake plants, bunga ati-ati, different types of yam or keladi, Japanese roses, prayer plants, begonias, and money plants, to name but a few.
Her shop operates from 8am to 10pm daily, and she offers her plants at reasonable prices ranging from RM4 to RM50. An added bonus is for every purchase of RM100 or more, Lina gives away one plant.
She also sells a collection of rare plants. One of several is Alocasia Zebrina Tiger which sells for RM120.
Besides selling indoor and outdoor plants, she also offers herbs like curry plants, chilli plants, and turmeric to customers who have edible gardens.
Adding to her list of products, she sells quality soil mix for RM2 per bag of approximately 3kg each. She plans to sell different types of planting media in the future.
According to her, before the pandemic, most people considered plants as mere decorations, and there is a misconception that plants are usually associated with the elderly.
She pointed that it was quite the opposite because most of her customers are young people.
She also said that she was overjoyed that mental health issues are brought to light amid the pandemic.
“It warms my heart to see youths spending their spare time with a healthy hobby to cope with the ongoing pandemic.”
She shared that the current market for plants is big since more people are spending their days at home.
When it comes to selling, she stated that she placed a high value on providing excellent customer service.
Lina is always happy to assist those who are new in the planting hobby by giving basic care guides such as light intensity, watering schedule and the right humidity for plants to be in a better and healthier state after leaving her shop.
She also welcomes customers who require décor advice, adding: “I provide décor tips suitable to a plants’ needs according to the customer’s house layout so that it pleases both customers and plant’s desires and I believe that offering a quality service will return as a regular customer.”
Mentioning the decorations in her shop as one of the key attractions, Lina displayed her plants with creativity and sustainability in mind.
With the help of her children’s expert handcrafting skills, she presents her plants by utilising used materials such as PVC pipes, fan covers, and wooden pallets disposed of by neighbouring shops.
“Of course, when it comes to running a business, the main aim is to sell, but I feel that everyone should reuse whatever we can to help save the environment. It is not much but I’m hoping that I can reduce waste by reusing and it’s also a good way to save money.”
On her hopes for her plant business, she wishes to apply for a plant selling licence or permit in the future so that she may sell imported plants from other countries.
Lina expressed that looking back, she never envisioned herself managing a plant shop and how she can now earn while doing what she loves.
“As a patient battling depression and panic attacks, I am happy to have discovered my coping mechanism – plants. Everyone copes with life in their own manner, some via music and some through art but what’s important is to never stop finding what makes you happy. Regardless of how long it takes.”