Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, New Garden!

The garden before I started last Tuesday
The swing without the pavers
With the pavers added
I have been in excommunicado for the past few days. It is probably burn out. But then again it is the end of the year, so I decided to do something completely for myself for a change (not work related). I decided to give time fixing my garden. For how many months now I have been playing around with what to do with the mess in my garden.  I had lots of plants in the center so it is hard to get around. Plus everything is topsy-turvy.

I told my friend Susan Topacio of Jardin Isabel one day I will borrow a few workers from her shop. But I never really got around to doing so.  Last Tuesday I did and only finished this afternoon, in time for the new year. I repotted all my plants and most of all removed the junk in the middle of the garden.  Hopefully the new look will usher in some new chi and good vibes into our household.
My repotted Agaves
Finally arranged all the potted plants
No more plants in the center!
View from swing
It will be a pleasant new year for my garden.  Hopefully it will be for me and all of us!  May the dragon bring in joy and prosperity to us all this coming year! If not, I hope that  2012 will be at  least peaceful and fruitful!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

To the Mary up the Mountain

The steps leading to Regina Rosarii
Regina Rosarii
I was invited by Ime Sarmiento to go up Tanay, Rizal along with a few native tree advocates. We visited Regina RICA which had a large statue of Mother Mary resting on top a hill. I was thinking that this was tree immersion trip but it turned out it was a spiritual one.

One of 17 cherubims 
All I could say is that I was dreading to climb the hill! I was looking at the image of Regina Rosarii (Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary) and it looked difficult to tackle.  Adding the fact that it was a nice sunny day, but since the sun was up and above, the heat literally burns the skin.  But when I started to brave 309 steps needed to reach the Holy Mother, it proved  easy to do.  The slope was manageable and in no time at all, I was at the foot of the towering madonna statue.  The view on top of the hill was wonderful and upclose the statue's smile was warm and assuring.

The statue's gentle smile
A Dominican sister was waiting for us there and explained to us a few important items before we immersed ourselves to introduction to contemplative prayer. From what the sister told us, these are the facts I gathered.  Regina Rosarii of Regina RICA stands on the highest hill in a 13.5 hectare land in Tanay Rizal, adjacent to the famed Erap property.  The fiberglass statue towers over everything, its height at 7.1 meters.  It is so big that it houses an adoration chapel underneath the image's garments. It had 17 cherubims adoring and adorning the flowing robes of Regina Rosarii.

There is a small chapel below the statue
Probably the most rewarding was the contemplative prayer primer.  The instructions were basic but the simple positions proved to be helpful in clearing the mind of other concerns and focus on tranquility. Made me appreciate the nice mountain breeze and the peaceful ambience. Overall it made climbing Regina RICA a worth while task. Thank you, Ma'am Ime, for this different Christmas experience.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Silent Forest

The stand of introduced mahogany
A silent forest
This is a young mahogany forest in Tanay, Rizal.  The common mahogany or Swietenia macrophylla is different from the dipterocarps which locals call Philippine mahogany.  The former is an introduced species from the Americas, brought here for wood harvest.  But it has proven to be a resilient species and is promoted as a reforestation tree by the government.  Now stands of mahogany tower in place of our original Philippine dipterocarps and other native species.  

The lone tuai tree
Yesterday I stood in the middle of this mahogany forest. It was silent.  Amidst the trunk of the trees, I did not hear any birds chirping or any other animal stirring. The only thing I could discern was the rushing water of a nearby stream. I could  not hear any sign of life. Mahoganies bear no fruit which wildlife could eat.  It seems that no birds were even enticed to seek shelter in the canopies.

Yet in a ravine a few meters from the artificial forest, there is a fruiting native tree called tuai (Bischofia javanica) and it was teeming with life.  It was heavily burdened with fruits and these were feasted on by yellow vented bulbuls and swiftlets.  The air was filled with the animated birds and their high pitched sounds. It was a clear contrast to the silence of the American mahogany patch. 

The tuai fruits
This paints a scenario of what might be happening in some of the country's reforestation projects. Mahogany patches are claimed to not harbor native wildlife. This is also said to be what is happening in the Bohol artificial forest. My birdwatcher friends say birds are accustomed to native trees because the fruit they create and the shade they provide are what the winged animals are used to.  So when they are replaced with the non-familiar species, they are reduced feeding and perching on the remaining natural vegetation.  In this case, it is a single tuai tree in a 13.5 hectare property. May this not be the case in our remaining forests all around the Philippines. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Come Visit My Version of the Philippines

Boracay from the air
Mt. Samat Cross in Bataan
I was added by Ponchit Enrile into this Facebook group called Come Visit My Philippines.  It is a social site posting various stuff about our country to entice foreigners to do drop by. For the past days I have been rummaging though my old files looking if I do have pictures of local attractions, and guess what, I do! And I realized that my point-and-shoot cameras were not all that bad.  I have some nice ones which I think could persuade tourists to give coming to visit the Philippines a try. Do indulge me as I will be posting some here:
El Nido Sunset
Magellan Cross in Cebu
The Manila skyline

The Bucao River in Zambales at 6 in the morning

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Bamban Could be Nice Afterall

The potted bamban
I saw this specimen of bamban, probably Donax cannaeformis, in the garden of Patis Tesoro. If potted in a big jar and grown healthy it could be used as a nice ornamental plant.  The specimen looked like a fine culmed bamboo. It would take up a big space in your garden though.  But then again bamban just grows as a weed in riversides in the provinces. It is free if propagated and would appear garden worthy afterall.

The famous bamban cane
My impression of bamban is that it is used by teachers as punishment stick.  Have you heard of the term 'pam-bamban' which means whacking cane. So eversince bamban has a negative reputation to most, especially young kids in provincial public schools.  The unruly plant used to punish the unruly. Hehehehe!

Leaf detail
But then again a lot of places are also named after bamban, like the town in Tarlac. I am not sure but some say that the root is also used to make uraro cookies.  But googling uraro, it says it is sourced from a Maranta and not Donax. But both plants are closely related.   So it might be true that the bamban may be used as uraro ingredient, but will still have to confirm it.    

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rising with the Sun on Top of Borobudur

Borobudur at 4 am
The moonlit silhouette
I was rummaging through my blog archives and found this unfinished and unpublished.  It has been a year since I have been to Yogyakarta but I will post my experience in going up one of my life-long dreams, to climb the ruins of Borobudur at sunrise. After all I have already finished writing it and was one of the most memorable moments for me. But this was written a year ago so the time frame of my blog is quite off.  But you will get the drift.

At around 5 am with the purple hues
The lonely Buddha
The individual stupa domes
When I was barely studying architecture, I came across an article in National Geographic chronicling an author's ascent into the Indonesian Buddhist ruins of Borobudur.  He described it as long and spiritual, but in my mind he painted it as enlightening.   He narrated that he went up the mountainous behemoth at 3 am armed with a light torch and slowly ascended level by level to the top of the ruins. When he reached the stupa cap, it was just in time to experience the beautiful golden sunrise.  His accounts have embedded in me a very long dream of embarking myself on this adventure.  It was not realized until a few days ago, when I was presented a chance to go to Bali and make this side trip by bus to Eastern Java and eventually Yogyakarta.

At 5:30, Borobudur turns golden yellow and bright orange
The silhouette clearing up
The stupas in the light
My companions and I had a drawback. The bus ride was supposed to take 16 hours from Bali to Yogya, but was prolonged another 18 hours because the ferry our bus mounted crossing Bali to Java literally hit rock-bottom.  We were stranded for more than 12 hours before we were rescued one by one by rubber boat and tranferred to another ferry.  Indeed this trip was already proving to be an adventure.

Well lit domeless Buddha
Crisp and clear forms
I felt like a refugee, especially when the rescuing ferry opened its doors at the nearest port.  All of us hungry 'survivors' were showered with camera flashes as we walked towards the terminal building.  We were herded into one corner of the building and handed out water and packed lunches...relief goods! It was another 3 hours before our ferry and our bus was eventually towed onto shore, and we resumed the last 14 hours of our bus-trip. It was already 2 am when we arrived at Yogyakarta. We barely had sleep but decided to find a taxi and make a very short stop in a hotel to deposit our luggage.  An hour or so more later we were already on our way to make my dream come true.
The avenue of small and big stupas
The detail of the walls
A step down the stupa level
Niches and sculpture panels
The rich detail of the lower levels
At 5 am it was still very dark but we found ourselves frisking our way, holding a flashlight at one hand.  The light it made was limited and we almost blindly walked through dew-wet grass and eventually rock paved ground.  Under the faint moonlight I could already discern the silhouette of Borobudur's stupas.  I was excited, even more when we were led into the first of flight of stairs to climb up the Buddhist monument. They were quite large steps to tackle. But these steps, which stood through centuries old tests of time, stand as the only hinder to my goal.  I had enough time to hurdle them, as slowly and steadily I ascended every inch of each riser. A few more moments I would be on top, I thought. The last steps  were sweet as the image of the individual Buddha stupas became more evident. A few strides more I was already immersed in the midst of the bell-like stupas and we were not alone.  There were other fanatics with us coming from other parts of the world, also eagerly awaiting the golden hour. We found our niche in which to wait for the impending sunrise.

More Buddhas

The rich carved rocks are adorned with many figures
We watched the horizon as the sun slowly rose with first a very faint light.  It turned the dark sky into first the blues and the purples, gradually turning red orange and golden yellow.  We were patiently awaiting the color transformation as all of us spectators were immersed among the encased buddhas. One by one the bell-like structures were sprayed with diffused but pure hues until all of them were completely revealed in daylight. The air was filled with the oohs and ahs of all the people there. It was indeed a dream come true!   

The main steps to the upper levels
The only regret I had was finding that Borobudur was in the middle of a park cum golf course.  From what I remember reading, it was then in the midst of a wild wooded area. Probably was true but I am 20 years late in following through with the dream. Like in Manila, the once wooded area is now eaten by developments, exposing the majestic ruins to urbanscapes. The forest got tired concealing their hidden treasure.

Borobudur completely revealed 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Naturally Native View

The Orosa garden
The adjacent lanai
Pathway to the garden
I went to Alfonso in Cavite for a Metro Home magazine shoot.  I was told that the house we will visit had a nice view and of course a garden that would compliment it. I was expecting that the vista had something to do with Taal Lake as I knew Alfonso is near Tagaytay.  But when we reached the place, I realized I was wrong.
The private view
The house we visited was Rene Orosa's, an interior designer from the US.  It was located inside the town proper near the church. Rene renovated his ancestral house into a cozy hideaway tucked into the slopes of a creek ravine. The view mentioned was not the iconic Taal view but of the deep creek valley. It had a clean water and the lush greens bordering the rich and moist banks of the mountain stream.  The trees look like they are the original plant cover as most of them are native plants, including impressive large specimens of Macaranga grandifolia.

Macaranga grandifolia
Surprisingly Alfonso town still hides a few natural wonders. They are unfortunately hidden away inside the private properties for owners to enjoy.  But then again I would imagine such a view would be exploited if it had public access. The Orosas really treat it as a prized possession as most of their garden and living areas revolve around maximum appreciation of the creek valley. They carefully framed it with an equally lush garden. 

Tropical ornamentals
I wrote a more detailed account of the Orosas' garden in the next issue of Metro Home, out December 12. You could find more pictures of the whole garden plus images of the house's interiors. I hope you do get a copy and check them out.