Gardening in the time of quarantine
Landscape architect Cecile Herras-Tence prunes her Kaffir lime to keep it healthy.
Gardening in the time of quarantine
CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren (The Philippine Star) - August 15, 2020 - 12:00am

This week we visit three more quarantine gardens to see how people have been able to cope with the crisis through time spent in their gardens.

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Feedback is welcome. Please email the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com. Erratum from last week’s article — IP Santos has four daughters, not three: Joni, Suzy, Gigi and Tina.

Cecile buffers her garden from neighbors using colorful hibiscus and bougainvillea.

Cecile Herras-Tence, landscape architect

We first visit Cecilia Herras-Tence, who worked as a senior associate for National Artist IP Santos. She was also former president of the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects. Cecile lives in a gated village in Parañaque.

Paulo Alcazaren:  How often do you tend to your garden?

Cecile Herras-Tence: As often as I can, but especially when I need to clear my head.

Cecile believes that gardens must all tell a story and hold surprises.

Do you have a favorite plant?

I don’t really have any favorite; they all bring great joy to me even if my rhinitis does not agree!

Did you learn any garden secret from IP Santos?

Yes, I learned a lot from IP. One of the most important lessons was to respect and design plants according to their natural habit of growth; that even what people consider as “weeds” also has ornamental value.

He also taught me that gardens are not merely for aesthetics but each element in it must convey a purpose and contribute to making a unified picture. There must be a story and an element of surprise.

Do you think gardening helped you cope with the quarantine?

My garden has always been my go-to space when I need to be alone or when I need to shake off the stress. During the quarantine, it has given me more reason to be thankful that I have my happy place!

What do you grow for the kitchen/dining table?

Mostly herbs for cooking. I have laurel, oregano, tanglad, Kaffir lime, calamansi, and curry. I also grow pomegranate, figs, Persian plums, Acerola, Berba, Mindanao cinnamon, Miracle berry, ampalaya, cucumber, squash, macopa, Rio Grande cherry, jaboticaba, Sugarloaf pineapple, and bell pepper.

How big is your garden and how long did it take to establish?

It’s about 150 sqm. and we moved here in 2008. So it’s been roughly 12 years of happy gardening. My garden is also a laboratory of sorts where I try out new plants that come out on the market.

Architect/poet Cesar Aljama on his favorite trabeaza garden bench

Cesar Aljama, architect and poet

We move on to the garden of an architect with a green thumb. Cesar G. Aljama is also a Palanca Award-winning poet. Cesar lives in Bae, Laguna, beside Los Baños, which is blessed with ideal garden weather year round.

Have you always gardened?

Cesar Aljama: Yes, but sporadically. The quarantine brought me back. I found myself trimming wayward branches, weeding, cultivating the soil, and watering. I regrouped plants, taking into consideration the sizes, colors, shapes, textures of the leaves, and overall appearance… to improve the garden’s design.

Cesar’s greenery extends to his interior spaces: He rotates his plants every few weeks.

What are your favorite plants?

I love golden gardenias, kamuning, sampaguita, rosals, suimey (Wrightia religiosa), fiddlewood (Citharexylum spinosum), cinamomo, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora), Lady of the Night (Brunfelsia lactea) and Dama de Noche, which blooms the whole year round. Their delicate, sweet fragrances would permeate the air around the house, especially at night.

How often do you tend to your garden?

Gardening has become a daily ritual. There was always something to do. I even learned to make use of kitchen scraps from vegetables and fruits. I would put leftover shoots of kangkong, alugbati, and kamote in water containers or directly in soil for propagation. Needless to say, we have less organic waste to deal with.

Cesar has taken to stacking stones to balance his mind and keep his sanity.

How has gardening helped you in quarantine?

Gardening has given me a general sense of well-being during the quarantine. It kept me stress-free. I read somewhere that contact with the soil triggers the release of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a happy chemical and a natural anti-depressant that also strengthens the immune system.

In the last few months, I also discovered rock balancing. After gardening, I would sit down to rest on my garden chair to have a hot cup of tea. I would see the stones and rocks lying around the garden, so I thought, why not try rock balancing? I started with small rocks. It took some time to get the hang of it, feeling the rocks, sensing their center of gravity. Knowing when to release the hands from the rocks was tricky. Eventually I graduated to bigger rocks. It took discipline, patience, a little Zen… bringing a feeling of exuberance. Yet with it would come the certain sadness knowing that at any moment, the stones could topple. A precious lesson of letting go learned while gardening in the time of quarantine.

Restaurateur Giboy Sarayba and his mom enjoy their garden every day.

Giboy Martin Sarayba, restaurateur

Finally, we visit Giboy Martin Sarayba, who manages Josephine’s Restaurant overlooking the Taal volcano. Giboy lives nearby, in a cluster of farm estates thriving in the cool and always-moist Tagaytay air.

How often do you tend to your garden?

Giboy Sarayba: It’s not a daily chore for the garden. I pull out weeds twice weekly and only water the plants during the dry season. Most of the plants, especially the aerial varieties, get a lot of hydration from the morning dew of Tagaytay.

Tagaytay gardens are paradise on earth.

What is your favorite ornamental plant?

The New Guinea vines, which bloom twice a year.

You love to cook and bake. Why do you like to eat out in your lanai?

It’s very relaxing to have breakfast and merienda in the lanai surrounded by the chirping of the birds and the sound of the chimes brought about by the soft breeze.

What do you grow for the kitchen/dining table?

I grow rosemary, tarragon, basil, peppermint, Italian oregano, peppercorns, and squash.

Giboy cooks with ingredients from his garden.

How big is your garden and long did it take to establish?

It’s a 500-square-meter property and the garden took only a year to mature. My place is surrounded by properties of good friends, like Henry Pascual, Bessie Badilla and Lito Carating. The whole area is filled with tall trees and lush greens that make it appear like paradise the whole year round.

Gardens will figure prominently in all our futures. The best time to start one is now.

GARDENING
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