Natural gardening & God's pharmacy of plants
- Kevin G. Belmonte () - August 22, 2009 - 12:00am

(This week, Succulentophile gives way to an article written by Bert Einsiedel. Bert is an amateur gardener interested in learning about community gardens and other forms of sustainable urban agriculture. He and his wife, Edna, are transplanted Filipinos who now reside in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.)

A 45-minute drive from their lovely home in Pasig is a five-hectare piece of land that banker Flor Gozon Tarriela, who is also a passionate gardener, and her lawyer husband, Ed, have been meticulously and painstakingly nurturing. They named their tropical acreage in Antipolo Flor’s Garden. It’s really much more than what most people, myself included, would call a garden. Let me tell you why.

I had the good fortune to tag along to Flor’s Garden with my brother, Dinky, a well-known Filipino urban and environmental planner and a friend of the Tarrielas. I also learned that Flor and my wife, Edna, were UP Prep High schoolmates. Small world.

The narrow driveway into Flor’s Garden meanders past a lush, forest-like landscape. The van slowly made its way past bamboo groves, mango trees, and other tropical vegetation on both sides. The driveway ends at an elegant gazebo where Fely, our charming hostess, welcomed our small group. Fely served us delicious herbal tea, rice cakes, and homemade pesto with bread, and gave a brief explanation of the garden. She showed us a garden map, handed us a brochure, and described what we were about to see on the tour.

Fely led us past a huge guesthouse that can double as a meeting venue. Beside it is a beautiful and inviting infinity pool. As we strolled past the house and into the garden, we encountered free-range bantam chickens, butterflies, and birds. In the garden — or should I say gardens, because there are several — we saw hundreds of species of medicinal, ornamental, and edible plants. 

Fely introduced us to Ponching, another staff member, who showed us the wide range of medicinal plants and their healing power. This is “God’s Pharmacy Plants in the Garden,” where more than 25 species of medicinal plants are described on the brochure. Did you know that lemongrass, in addition to flavoring food, also makes an excellent tea to relieve stomach queasiness and is said to have anti-cancer properties?  

It began to drizzle, so Phil Regulatory Board examiner Bernadette Reyes, Carlos, Dinky, and I took shelter under an awning over a picnic table and listened to Flor, Ponching, and Fely as they took turns explaining the amazing healing properties of their collection of incredible plants.

As soon as the light rain ceased, we continued our tour along the nursery towards the vermi-composting area. Another member of the garden staff, Yoyoy, showed us a series of worm beds and samples of the organic materials that were needed for the worms. Flor’s Garden avoids the use of chemical fertilizer and, instead, makes its own soil amendment using African worms that consume organic waste from the garden and kitchen.

Down a path from the worm beds is a small pigpen where two pot-bellied pigs were silently sleeping. Unlike most pigpens I’ve seen, the air and the pigs were neither odorous nor offensive. Flor explained that the pigs bury their excreta and urine in several layers of organic material that line the floor, and the pig’s waste is decomposed by friendly microorganisms beneath the bedding.

The pigs evidently soil only specific parts of the pen, perhaps avoiding the place where they sleep. As Carlos Atayde, a local happiness guru and a Tarriela friend and adviser, noted, “Hindi sila baboy! (These pigs are not pigs!)” 

We continued the tour by crossing a wooden footbridge that’s suspended across a small creek. Several of us stopped by a mango orchard, where Flor was conducting an experiment. Half of the mango trees are fertilized with worm castings, and the others with conventional fertilizer. The quantity and quality of the mangoes will be the indicators of which method works best. Being a worm composter, I’m placing my bet on the worm casting.

Finally, our tour ended at the big house, where we rested poolside, took group photos, and cleaned up before lunch. Fred Liongoren, a famous artist and friend of the Tarrielas, joined us. It was an unexpected reunion for Fred and Dinky, who were students at the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts and Architecture in the Sixties. Fred was an art student and Dinky was an architecture student. Fred designed the suspended wooden bridge in Flor’s Garden that we crossed a few minutes earlier.

It’s not surprising that virtually everything that was served for lunch came from Flor’s Garden. This will undoubtedly set a trend in eating locally, which is good news for Filipino locavores, especially those who delight in eating edible flowers and leaves freshly picked from a natural, organic garden.

Flor’s Garden is truly a labor of love, inspired by an extraordinary vision to create a bucolic rural atmosphere for meditation, nature appreciation, and urban agriculture R&D. Like many visitors to Flor’s Garden, I enjoyed seeing a variety of birds and butterflies, and learned a lot about medicinal plants, farm-scale vermiculture, and no-smell pigs. Who knows what we will learn the next time we visit Flor’s Garden?

On the drive back to Pasig, I reflected on what I had just experienced. I could not help but marvel at the passionate and meticulous care with which Flor, Ed, Fely, Ponching, and the rest of the staff have invested in what I believe is a jewel in Antipolo’s crown.

* * *

Would you like to have healthy plants and vegetables without the use of chemicals, raise free-range chickens and no-smell pigs? Attend the natural farming/gardening seminar by Andrey Lim, a Secretary of Agriculture organic farming awardee for 2009, on Oct. 24 at 9 to 5 p.m. at Flor’s Garden. 

Visit the Flor’s Garden website at or call Fely at 635-6092 / 0919-5567121.

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