Sunday Lifestyle

Sonya’s Garden: In full bloom

RENDEZVOUs - Christine S. Dayrit - The Philippine Star
Sonyaâs Garden: In full bloom
The iconic Lavender cottage at Sonya’s Bed & Breakfast
Bum Tenorio Jr.

An oasis of calm, a place of solitude, and a haven of peace and tranquility — that is what I envision when the name Sonya’s Garden is brought up. There are magical places that you can visit so many times and still feel like you’re seeing them for the first time. And this special sanctuary in Alfonso, Cavite is definitely one of them.

More than a week ago, tragedy hit upon with the sudden eruption of Taal Volcano. Ashfall spread across the skies of Batangas, Laguna and Cavite. Those greatly affected by the eruption of the volcano were brought to evacuation centers,  away from the danger zone. It almost looked like a gray photo filter was plastered across the entire place.

My sister Michelle Soliven, my best friend Bum Tenorio and I volunteered in the relief operations of Sonya’s Garden last weekend. The gardens were miraculously spared from the wrath of Taal Volcano. But Sonya Garcia, the royal innkeeper of Sonya’s Garden, does not bask in that blessing and feels she has all the more responsibility to help those who are affected by nature’s rumbling. Sonya and her hardworking staff organized relief operations a day after the eruption and the kitchen of Sonya’s Garden was busy as ever cooking food to be delivered to evacuation centers.

On SLEX that Saturday on the way to Sonya’s Garden, our hearts were warmed by the sight of trucks, cars and cantervans filing up the roads on the way to Batangas to deliver hope, to give love, to bring goods and deeds to the people affected by the calamity. From SLEX, we took the newly opened CALAX (Cavite-Laguna Expressway) in between Mamplasan Interchange and Santa Rosa City. CALAX is heaven-sent as this road cuts our travel time from Makati to Tagaytay by about an hour. 

Sand was still swirling in the air when we exited to Santa Rosa Road. It was like no man’s land along the ridge of the volcano on our way there with roads shrouded in thick gray ash blankets. Trees were heavy with ash — desolate, dry and dreary. But in contrast to this sorrowful scenery was seemingly a miracle because freshness and nature’s best welcomed us at Sonya’s Garden.

Not a month passes that we don’t visit Sonya’s Garden. For my family, it is a healing place. My sister Michelle successfully battled two kinds of cancer and in those moments, my family joined Michelle in her healing soujourns at Sonya’s.

For Bum’s family, Sonya’s Garden is a place that instantaneously brings them joy. Ten years ago, we retreated to this idyllic paradise after the burial of Bum’s father. It was an unforgettable and cathartic experience. The pain of losing a loved one was assuaged by the comfort and joy Sonya’s Garden brought them. They, too, have made Sonya’s their happy place, especially so that Nanay Candida gets to relive her harana days with the lilting voice of Mang Pronio, the resident kundiman singer at Sonya’s Garden.

So on the 10th death anniversary of Tatay Ising on Jan. 18, Bum asked his mother and nieces to follow us to Sonya’s Garden for a weekend celebration. They did. And amid the flowering palo santo (with its quiet coral colored flowers) and santisima (with its flamboyant chartreuse blooms), joy overflowed as we all celebrated the life and legacy of Bum’s father. The celebration was capped by luscious steak and soft-as-cotton seabass. The chocolate cake was devoured in an instant by the younger set. While Nanay Candida and her friends Dely Dimaculangan and Oma Cruz relished caramelized sweet potato that they downed with fresh taragon tea.

“My father taught me that legacy is not about a billion pesos earned but about a billion memories shared together,” Bum said. “He also taught me to enjoy life — no matter what, no matter what we have, no matter what we don’t have.”

Quoting Sonya, he added, “Life is beautiful — by design.” 

The Tenorios and their friends retreated for the night in the Lavender cottage of Sonya’s Bed & Breakfast. Michelle and I had a restful slumber at our Borage cottage. With no exaggeration, fireflies escorted us to Borage that night, proof that in this paradise, clean air permeates the vicinity.

Though silence is always observed at the bed and breakfast area, Bum’s nieces couldn’t contain their excitement when a sparkle of fireflies greeted their view as they looked out the bay window in Lavender cottage. All together they blurted their wish — for Taal Volcano to behave so people’s lives and properties would not further be affected. 

We were told that Sonya’s Garden experienced booking cancellations when the volcano erupted. But as soon as people found out that the place was spared from the ashfall, they braved the drive to Sonya’s Garden. In fact, that Saturday that we were there, a wedding reception was held.

The following day, sweet mist woke us all up. The morning dew rested on the petals of proud and mighty sunflowers. Bees buzzed around Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, a plant that bears three flowers in white, violet and white-violet. Angel’s Trumpet flowers seemed to herald a new day in paradise. The buttery scent of Butter Bush, pompous in appearance, made us all hungry for breakfast. And by some stroke of luck, because the wind carried them to the dining area from the gardens, parijata flowers, which are native to India, fell on the table, making the dining experience all the more fragrant.

In a fine-bone china cup, tsokolate-eh was poured, thick and envigorating, a perfect kick to start the day right. Bangus belly was served with tomato-mango-cilantro relish. Refreshing. The mushroom omelet was fluffy and moist. The CPA (chicken-pork adobo) with chicken liver was to die for. From Sonya’s Panaderia came the crunchy old-style cheese hopia and piping hot Spanish bread. Nanay Candida ate her bread the old-fashioned way — by dipping the bread in her tsokolate-eh. 

For lunch, we all had a field day munching on our greens with rose petals and other edible flowers picked from the gardens. Of course, we showered our vegetables with sliced mango, jackfruit, turnip, cashew nuts, cucumber and generously slathered our salad with Sonya’s secret dressing. The lip-smacking adobong pusit in olive oil and honey made us burp in joy. The callos was a hit. Of course, the pasta, too, that came with two “red (tomato) and white (chicken and cream)” sauces.

Sonya brought us to Elegant Dining Room, the newest addition to her gardens of creativity and joy. Those who wish to celebrate Valentine’s Day or a wedding anniversary will find a more private dining experience at the Elegant Dining Room.

Her Proposal Garden is forever abloom with romance. The flowers in this garden have seen many a love story.

Guests of the bed and breakfast also enjoy many beautiful add-on treats to their experience. They can harvest all the vegetables that they like at Sonya’s Secret Garden, a Sonya’s Garden property that is 10 minutes away by car. Michelle, Bum and I picked sayote from the trellis. Nanay Candida and her friends snapped some patani and digged for some labanos. Others harvested ampalaya, okra and kalabasa.

At Sonya’s Secret Haven we swam in natural spring water. This batis is about 15 minutes away from Sonya’s Garden. Sonya, who also thinks like an engineer and an architect, designed a pool in this property that her B&B guests can privately enjoy. You swim in cool spring waters as butterflies and dragonflies chase you.

Sonya’s Garden has another pool area called Sonya’s Healing Haven, about 20 minutes away from the B&B.  The spring-water pool is hedged with giant taro plants, overlooking a vast coconut plantation. So you can also sit at the edge of the pool while nursing buco juice from the shell.

There are some magical sanctuaries whose beauty and grace assuage our hurts and pains, a place where healing and nurturing happens gracefully. My nirvana — Sonya’s Garden — revitalized my senses. It is a breath of fresh air and we are always pleasantly greeted with very clean and green surroundings in this place. The flowers and springs are fresher than ever, all the cottages are pristine, and all the vegetable gardens are lined up neatly with the produce waiting to be picked.

Sonya’s Garden remains to me a blessed haven that my family and close friends hie off to on every occasion. It dawned on me then that one need not wait for any occasion or celebration to come to Sonya’s Garden. This place is the occasion in itself.

* * *

For more information about Sonyas Garden, please call Christy at 09175335140).

E-mail me at [email protected].



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