The panorama on the sunrise side: an awesome view of Malarayat

The quiet panorama on the sunrise side of the farm: an awesome view of Mount Malaráyat and the river below the gap.

31 December 2011


Flowering profusely now is the Firespike Plant (Odontonema strictum), looking gorgeously-red this Christmastime. Its flowers which are on its terminal spikes, have a nectar attractive particularly to sunbirds (leftmost part of the bush in the above image) and have been delightfully keeping me occupied photographing them, both the pompous bush and the perky birds.

When i started having this plant propagated, my head gardener Edwin looked baffled, wondering what beauty I find in this plant which they consider more of a roadside weed than an ornamental. But I insisted we grow it and cultivate it as a hedge, and now I'm vindicated :)

27 December 2011


Practically everyone I know has some childhood recollection or even a favorite story about Arátiles (Muntingia calabura, also known as Dátiles or Sarésa, from the Spanish Ceréza [cherry]). Every visitor who comes and sees it waxes romantic and chuckles at some memory of simpler days from yore, with dreamy eyes and a silly smile and soon, they'll be pulling the end-branches to pick the reddest fruits and nibble on them straight from the tree!

Though it sounds omnipresent in Philippine culture and heritage, it is not a local tree but instead, was transplanted from the Americas via the Galleon Trade (thus explaining the Hispanic-sounding local names). It grows very fast; in my experience, a seedling with enough sunlight grew tall and started fruiting in just around twelve to fourteen months. Though the leaves are light-colored and the crown does not look dense, it is an excellent shade tree especially for young gardens where your hardwoods and other fruit-bearing trees will take ages to cover half-sun ornamentals.

The fruits are a bird's favorite, though the seeds which they drop can sometimes be a nuisance once it starts germinating where you don't want them to.

19 December 2011


Hoya incrassata
Another Philippine jewel from the local rainforests is Hoya, a group of vines and plants from the Asclepias family with small flowers arranged like starbursts and fireworks. Among them is a somewhat popular plant abroad called Shooting Stars (below, Hoya multiflorum, sometimes labeled as Centrostema). Mine came along with some epiphytic ferns and I was delighted to find them one morning, indeed looking like shooting stars. I think they flower all year round, and require practically no maintenance, given that it is planted under the right conditions.

Hoya multiflorum (a.k.a. Centrostema multiflorum)
Ironically, it is more known in other countries than here in its native islands. I myself admittedly did not know about this group of plants until that fortuitous morning I saw it among the ferns. On the other hand, I have come across a zealous native plant collector who has dazzled me with his extensive Hoya collection, with flowers ranging from fuschia to black! So far, I have started sourcing and planting other colors but only the cream-colored flowers are mature enough.

Although it is jewel-like, its name has nothing to do with the Spanish translation for pearl, but instead, named after for an English gardener named Thomas Hoy.

18 December 2011


One beautiful plant about to flower now is a true Philippine native, the Bagáwak (Clerodendrum quadriloculare). It has green leaves on the top side but deep purple underneath, with attractive pink and purple flowers that start to emerge at this time of the year. Strangely, it is not common to find these in local gardens despite the fact that it should grow and flower here easily. 

December 2009
 If you leave it untended, it will naturally assume the shape of a small tree. However, from our pilot specimen that produced a multitude of seedlings, we gathered some and clustered them altogether, trying out its ornamental viability as a hedge or a screen. So far, it has taken root but I have yet to see how it will eventually look like, though I imagine it will have to be big and tall, owing to its thick stems and large leaves. It is also only when it is elevated that you will appreciate the leaves' purple underside. 

The experimental hedge will still take some months to define its shape, but in the meantime I am posting photos here of previous seasons' flowers for you to see how uniquely beautiful the flowers are.

January 2010

11 December 2011

Puto Lanson

No, it's not fried rice! It's called púto lansón; I couldn't photograph it any better, but I wish I could make you taste through this blog. It's another Ilónggo delicacy made by my caretaker, Bukíng and his wife, Cristina. They made it earlier; giniling na kamóteng káhoy (ground cassava) with gatâ (coconut cream), butter, and toasted coconut. It's also got toasted coconut in between, pretty much like a donut filling.

It's yummy! And I didn't know this before; I don't recall ever coming across this native steamed cake. I'm intrigued what else they can cook from our available produce in the farm?

06 December 2011

From My Library: Tropical Garden Plants

I've had this book for years, I remember buying it in the old free-standing, kiosk-like Bibliarch store outside Power Plant in Rockwell, way before it was Fully Booked. It's a reliable reference to help identify plants and has surprisingly accurate and handy growing tips how to care and propagate. So far, this book has been the most helpful aid to make me understand tropical plants better.

The articles can be quite generic and the photographs tend to illustrate more common ones, but what's impressive is it reads like a well-researched reference guide without sounding scientifically-difficult and still laid-out looking like a simple and casual coffee-table book.

It is also gardener- and landscaper-friendly; the plants are grouped according to its function and blocking in a garden. All flowering trees are on the first section, followed by shrubs and hedges. A chapter is devoted to foliage plants, then ground covers are grouped together later, just as vines.

There is a big section on palms that show the immense variety not just in Southeast Asia but in tropical countries elsewhere, from Egypt to the Caribbean.

This may be out of print already by now; I searched on but couldn't find even a used copy. But the author, William Warren came up with a new title in 2006 called Tropical Plants for Home & Garden, still with photographs by Luca Tettoni. It may be just as good.

05 December 2011

December Bird of the Month

The Brown Shrike, commonly called Tarăt but in our area, it is known as Pákiskis. It has become more visible and audible lately; a rowdy and noisy bird, and can be quite aggressive. We like it though, since it eats a lot of the insects, even the large ones that are scattered in the farm and the gardens. It's usually conspicuous because of its chatter, especially when there's a group of them late mornings or just when we're about to have our afternoon siesta when they break the quiet, laid-back mood.

04 December 2011

Must-Have Pots

I don't know about you but that's how I feel when I source pottery for my use, and lately, for friends. They're not the usual pots you find in roadside stores or garden centers, but instead the types of terra-cotta pots you find in coffee-table books on gardening, tropical design, and Southeast Asian architecture.

We use them in the gardens and sell them as well; sturdy and beautifully-designed pottery that are visually appealing by themselves
and at the same time, complements tropical plants that match certain shapes and sizes. A chunk of my weekend time is spent assigning the right plant to the right pot, and it is totally satisfying to see that both the plant and the pot set each other off as a singular, natural work of art.

But all these begin with the right pot. Terra-cotta literally means "baked earth," so the vessel containing your plants simulate similar natural conditions, just like how it is if it is planted on the ground.

Some are ribbed (topmost), some have geometric relief (second from top) that are hand-made one by one. One of my favorite designs are stamped patterns, in this case on the rim with leaves (right) or circles (below).

Sizes vary from tabletop to jars that can fit you and me inside. The biggest I've bought, for a resort project recently took the entire space of the pick-up's bed; that was all I could take one time. After all, they're breakable and cannot be stacked.

You'll see the stocks when you come and visit, or I'll periodically upload the more interesting designs here in the blog. We can also deliver, as these require special handling and a considerable space. 

30 November 2011

Dalandan Season

Just in time when we're starting to sniffle because of the changing weather, the dalandán trees (mandarin orange, Citrus reticulata) are ready for picking! It's a great Vitamin C morning boost (above), and infinitely more delicious than temperate-country citruses.

Some trees are so heavy with fruit (below) that we have to brace them with pole supports. In my area, these are called çintóres and I couldn't decipher how this name came about in Batángas. It sounds Hispanic and plural, but no amount of internet researches sheds light on the name's source.

We have around thirty trees in all, mature and fruiting by the time I acquired the farm. Apparently, they were grafted from a prolific mother tree; they do produce a bountiful yield but the tree's life span may not be as long as one borne from seed.

I will need to start planting a new grid of cintores trees to eventually replace this batch, which will hopefully remain fruit-bearing for around ten more years.

25 November 2011


Two plants, totally unrelated but contrast each other in the gardens. Both of them look curiously unusual, and are colored from opposite sides of the spectrum.

Above is the Dwarf Papyrus (Cyperus haspens), a miniature version of the bulky water plant commonly found in ponds or river edges. This looks good as a potted specimen, elevated to a comfortable height so the plant can be appreciated properly.

On the other hand, the Red Powderpuff (below, Calliandra emarginata) has a similar silhouette but is a different plant altogether. In this case, it is the flower and not the leaf that is umbel-like, and is in a bright crimson color that warmly glows in the sunlight.

23 November 2011

Around Lipa: the de la Salle Chapel

Inside the de la Salle campus in downtown Lipa is a quiet, contemporary chapel that invites one to just stop by and commune with God. Oftentimes, the other churches in the city can be filled to the brim and may sometimes be noisy and surrounded with activities. But this school chapel has a calming and natural atmosphere, it gives a meditative vibe that somehow makes one introspectful. 

It helps too that from the inside, one can see an expanse of green; the school's football field, surrounded by trees and flowering gardens. It's nice to see that contemporary tropical design principles are also now being applied to ecclesiastical architecture.

Of course, I couldn't help but note that they have interestingly-designed pews. I couldn't tell if it partly uses recycled lumber but undoubtedly, it uses combinations of beautiful tropical hardwoods.

17 November 2011

Our Own Sinamak

My caretaker, Bukíng surprised me one weekend with vinegar that he made himself,collecting the coconut sap right from the tree and fermenting it for some time by then. It was remarkable that we are now making our own vinegar! It's not rocket science at all, but is quite laborious to make if only for small quantities. We realized it when he emphatically told the cook not to waste it for cooking but just for dipping; I guess if I have to climb a coconut tree everyday to make a bottle, I'll say the same thing!

And since that remark, the cook, May thought why not use it to make our own sinámak?   After all, we just have to add market-bought báwang at sibúyas (garlic and onion) to our own home-grown síling labúyo (chili pepper, below left), lúya (ginger, below right), and pamintáng buô (peppercorn).

Sinámak, as you can see is a wicked concoction of a dipping sauce for any dish you want to add some kick to. It works best for inasál na manók (grilled chicken) or iníhaw na pusît (grilled squid), fried lumpiâ, or any deep fried, crisp fish.

Chili Pepper/Siling Labuyo

A variation is to add some tóyo (soy sauce) to add flavor to some real killer bagnět (deep-fried pork, below). Just don't forget the Lipitor!

14 November 2011

From My Library: Flora Mirabilis

I would periodically browse through's site and window-shop for good deals, enjoying going through some selected pages as if I'm leafing through real books in a bookstore. I'd put them on my shopping cart after  but won't actually purchase until I'm certain someone can bring it here to the Philippines if I have it mailed to family in California. Sometimes, the deal gets taken and their system will replace it with a pricier equivalent.

For some reason, this National Geographic book is one that's been parked for a long time and never made it to the virtual check-out counter. I've not been to the US for some time, for one. I guess I've also just forgotten about it. But to my sheer excitement, I found a clean and marked-down copy some months back in Book Sale in my neighborhood grocery!

It is sumptuously illustrated, with awesome botanical prints in every single turn! It is a romantic gardener's prized book, with rare and delightful visuals that would fascinate you just as much as the plants themselves. Since I had it, I've been trying to get another copy with the intent of tearing off the pages and framing them as wall decór!

The author, Catherine Herbert Howell selects important historical plants that shaped our present culture and lifestyle today: wheat, rice, sugarcane, tobacco, tomato, cannabis, and orchids, just to name a few. It explains the plants in the context of parallel historical events to help the reader better understand and appreciate just how important and influential plants really are in our daily lives. There are even timelines (below), sidebars with historical notes, striking quotations that would make us see history from a new point of view.

11 November 2011


One of the things I enjoy with the farm is meeting new people who are tagged along by friends or family who come and visit. Most of them wouldn't know what to expect and are even the ones who leave our place with a more memorable time. My nephew Francis did just that recently; he tagged along some friends some weeks back and I struck a lengthy and interesting conversation with one of his friends, Garvin Yao.

He's a budding photographer, and his photos here display an emphatic sensitivity especially to detail, most of which we hardly even have time to take note of.

I remember him saying he does commercial work for magazines, yet his photos come across to me in a personal and intimate way; unstructured, spontaneous, and fresh. I hope you enjoyed his images as much as I did.

10 November 2011

Ripening Papayas

Papayas (Carica papaya) are among the easiest to grow! These big, evenly-ripening ones (above) are fruits from trees we planted ourselves just a year and a half ago. I distinctly remember we had some one meal and it was very good that I had the seeds dried and planted. It germinated soon and transplanted in the farm a few weeks later.

Now, we have more than two dozen trees and they are heavy with fruit! They're excellent to be eaten plain or with a dash of fresh calamansî juice, my favorite! It also works well as a smoothie, or if you're lazy to make one, just eat it with yogurt or honey.

And did you know there are "male" and "female" trees? I only learned in the farm already that papayas require pollination and some trees just bear the male flowers for the other trees to bear fruit.