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.

22 September 2011

From My Library: Tropical Garden Design

"Mádě Wijáya" is actually a professional, adopted name of an Australian who was so enamored by tropical plants and gardens that he moved to Bali and began a second career as a landscaper. He has since been recognized as one of the first career landscapers who developed a "Tropical Asian" look that finds its roots in Balinese gardens but has come to foster a lot of un-Asian thematic, even theatric schemes in gardening.

Undoubtedly, many people have preceded him and may have even been better, but it is to his credit that he made it popular, systematic, and recognized in other parts of the world. Many people still call this style Balinese, both the landscaping and the architecture, but it is really a mishmash of many influences that have evolved to the present-day style.

Tropical Garden Design is a good reference book for aesthetic design and the visual side of landscape architecture. The photographs are sumptuous and inspiring, priming your creativity to re-do your garden or buy new pots or just do anything to make you keep up with the remarkable gardens in the book.

21 September 2011

Has Anyone Heard of Caitana?

I was invited to contribute brief articles for a book about native Philippine trees and I wanted to write about one of my most favorite, which I fortunately have in the farm; right by the edge where the land suddenly drops into the gap. The locals call it caitána (sp? possibly kahitána), but much as I try,  could not find any more information about it except my file photos and the name by which the locals call it.

Just like most trees, it sheds leaves during the dry months then sometime during the vernal equinox, the flowers appear for around two weeks (top photo) before it starts to bring forth leaves. For months, it will have a lush crown (it is the same tree on the blog's header above) before it repeats the entire cycle again around January.

It has a slender, erect trunk with a smooth and whitish bark and random white spots. I'm pretty sure it is a native tree, it grows alongside other local flora like lipâ, muláwin, baléte, and alagáo.

I've tried googling but it didn't yield any result. I've forwarded photos to pretty knowledgeable people but to no avail. Does anyone recognize it? Would appreciate any help!

Around Lipa: The Cathedral

Despite the recent growth and expansion, Lipa's cityscape is still dominated by the dome of the Catedrál, an imposing structure in the core of the city which a lot of locals still use as a reference point where every significant landmark radiates from. The Lipeños are deeply pious and hold their patrôn, San Sebastian dear.

The puerta mayór (main door) of the cathedral is made of muláwin and is decorated with bas-relief depicting the history of salvation from Biblical times until, believe it or not, eleven years ago (the last panel depicts the logo of the 2000 Jubilee, not in this photo). What's interesting on the left photo is the scene on the lower right; a Santacruzan scene, what is actually a Filipino re-enactment of St Helena, accompanied by her son Constantine, and their search for the Holy Cross.

The interiors are typically in the colonial baroque style, and this seat of the Diocese of the Southern Tagalog Provinces is not be outdone. Frescoed ceilings done a la Michelangelo, trompe l'oeil decorations, chandeliers, and a dazzling silver retáblo typical of the Augustinians.

But even if the design is imposing and awe-inspiring, the catedral is an intensely-personal matter for every local. A lot have had something significant held there, from one's christening to a wedding or even something as mundane as a new vehicle's blessing. The cathedral is never without people, and I guess that alone shows that it is very much an intergal part of daily life.

20 September 2011

Garden Bananas

On the other hand, we also grow other banana varieties for landscaping and decorative purposes. All bananas, edible or otherwise, belong to the Musa botanical family, and these (above and below) are no exception. They're maintenance-free and just fluorish on their own. It's very easy to just cut the attractively-colored blossoms and include it in a tropical arrangement.


Less than two years ago, my trusted staff, May came back from her province of Léyte hand-carrying a banana seedling with a trunk already as big as her torso. She said it is a banana type that we don't have in the farm; one can tell by the leaves alone as it has random reddish variegations on it. They call it tindôk, and she proceeded to plant it by week's end.

Months passed and it slowly grew in height and girth. You know how it is when you wait for something and it takes even longer; as the saying goes, "a watched pot never boils." But one weekend, it finally produced a blossom and it got us all worked up, "watching the pot" again until the blossom becomes fruit all the way until its ripeness.

I myself was curious as I had no clue how it will look and taste; May is a lady of few words and a lot of times, she would purposely not talk much about things so as not to make me even more anxious. But when the banana fingers started to emerge from the blossom (above), it turns out they're very big!

Weeks passed and the fingers became even more stout and reddish colorations started to appear on the skin (below). But it was still a pretty long wait of yet a couple more weeks before the entire buhîg was almost mature.

A practical tip, one that I picked up through time from the locals: until the banana trunk has stopped producing new leaves, or better yet when all its leaves are almost wilted and dry, that's the only time the fruits have reached its full maturity.

But in this tindok's case, some of the bananas' skin started to break already! We excitedly cut down the trunk and we were blessed with two bunches (pilîng) from this pilot tree. The trunk has also started to have suckers (súloy) which we have transplanted separately by now.

And they taste good! At first, it's a bit starchy compared to the bananas we're used to but by the taste and texture alone, these tindok bananas are obviously more nutritious and natural. 

I've googled and learned that the English name for this variety is horn plantain. I just regret not photographing it next to something to give you a scale of how big each banana is. Can't do it any longer, we've finished the whole bunch :)

13 September 2011

Two Flowering Trees

Fragrant trees, now heavy with blooms are Champáca (Michelia alba, above) and Ylang-ýlang (Cananga odorata, below). Both tropical trees are not stunning to look at but compensate by being the most pleasantly-perfumed. Folks traditionally plant these trees near gates or windows for an even more sensory appreciation of a garden or a home.

Champaca belongs to the Magnolia family, and there are several flower color variants. I have always heard of the name but it wasn't until I started in Lipa that I actually learned how it looks and smells.

Meantime, Ylang-ylang is a native tree with drooping branches and leaves, and can grow to four- or even five-storeys high. In my Mandalúyong house, I'm fortunate to have a neighbor with a full-grown tree which scent we can smell until our property. Sometimes, when ours in Lipa have no blooms, we knock on our city neighbor and ask for flowers to scent our interiors.

The ylang-ylang tree and its flowers are not very photogenic and quite hard to capture clearly. Below is a botanical print by Fr Blanco from Flora de Filipinas.

from Wikimedia Commons

08 September 2011

From a Coffee Expert

Not me, but Robert Francisco who sent me a link to give readers better information about my blog entry on alamid coffee. Robert was among some friends I consulted before I bought the farm three years back, and he's also hooked me up with farms and people from whom to source quality coffee seedlings.

He's passionate about coffee and definitely walks his talk: he's even written a book about it! Click this to read more about his take on alamid coffee.

07 September 2011


Practically everyone who comes to the farm will inevitably ask in the first three minutes about the notoriously-expensive Alamíd coffee (usually the first question is: "How big is your place?"). It's become an urban legend of some sorts and has spawned the curiosity of many, which, pardon the pun, will hopefully not lead to killing the "cat."

Alamid is a civet which is more raccoon-like than feline. It is similar to a músang (but I cannot tell the difference) and a binturông, the Palawan "bear cat" (as I said, they are not cats and definitely not bears!).

Photo by Ryan Fernandez

I'm no longer going to expound about the coffee since I'm no expert in it. But we do have it, we find the beans scattered around the farm, especially near the river (top photo).

Compared to Silang, Cavite, I guess we in Lipa find more alamid droppings because of our proximity to Mount Malarayat. I've read there are even organized hikes to the mountain with side attractions to track their poop.

I think it's fascinating! It's the nature of the alamids to hunt for the sweetest beans, a skill  something we humans will never develop, not in a million years. Since they only digest the pulp and not the beans, it does make sense to harvest them and try it out, at least. Now to what extent does it differ from the rest of the beans they did not choose?

I have yet to try.

03 September 2011

September Bird of the Month

We have Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers in our place (Tag., Karpintero-maliit, Banuktok) and they're easy to spot because of their, well, pecking noise, tapping their hardy beaks on tree hollows with a cadence that's unmistakeable. Most people have not seen woodpeckers and are even amused to know they actually exist, thinking they are just figments of some cartoonists' imagination.

They're fairly common and frequent old fruit trees, like this avocado in the photo above.