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.

30 October 2011

Easy Ways to Add Twenty Years to Your Life

The whole premise why I'm in Lipa (or at least, part-time) is to pave the way for a better quality of daily life in the future. The wide open spaces encourages me to be active and not sedentary, I started eating what we plant and according to the seasons, de-stressing myself from a chaotic metropolitan existence. When I'm in the farm, I sleep early and wake up early. I don't use airconditioning and the organic roofs keep us cool all day, all year round. I run the dog, I bike in the neighborhood, we have our own free-range chicken and eggs, I bend over to pick leaves up, I'm sure you get the picture.

It goes without saying that I'm in love with life and I certainly want to live longer. Amazingly, my experience is that my quality weekends balance my workweek and I've become even more productive and efficient in the city. But what a lot of people don't realize is that I've been doing this even way before I had the farm. I have the farm because of my lifestyle, not the other way around.

Now I found this article from Yahoo News: Easy Ways to Add 20 Years to Your Life which pretty much enumerates stuff we already practice.
At present, it sounds real simple to me but a lot of people have so much reasons why they can't do it: the kids, work, no time, my spouse is not up to it, money. And most of all, they say they don't have a farm like mine! But that's exactly what I'm saying: the lifestyle comes first. And if you're honest and serious about your preferences, it will become more apparent and tangible.

Different people have different ways of de-cluttering and some may need paradigm shifts to even make one step forward. But it always begins with one step, and any step, no matter how small (and easy) will make you inch closer to a better and longer life.

27 October 2011

Aquatic Fern

A new addition to the fern garden is an aquatic plant given me by a doctor-couple who visited the farm recently. They are friends of mine and are nature and outdoor lovers as well, though I only learned that Sunday that the wife is also into plants. She was very appreciative of the gardens and it's always a pleasure to host friends who visit and know the plants by name!

Some days later, she sends me a water plant which she calls Eared Watermoss (Salvinia auriculata), the creeping, boat-shaped leaves on the photo above. When I researched on it, I was delighted to learn that it is an aquatic fern! I did not even know that such exist, and now a friend gives me some to complement the other epiphytes and terrestrials in the fern garden; a true and well-thought out gift.

My fern book hardly touches on it; Salvinia is mentioned but there's not even one photograph in all the pages. In other references, it's towards the end of the fern section and not much page space is given to their group of aquatics (in fact, I still only see two kinds, the other being Azolla).

The other plant, the rosette-looking light green plant is called Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes). It is called kiyapo in Tagalog, which apparently grew profusely centuries ago on the banks of the Pasig River, thus the Manila arrabál was so named.

21 October 2011

The Many Shades of Purple

Spathoglottis plicata

Purple has many shades and a lot of them are named after flowers: "lilac," "mauve," even "violet" is named after a bloom. But hardly any of the names are from tropical plants, when in fact there is a bigger palette of colors in warm climate flora.

Pink Quill Bromeliad/Tillandsia cyanea
This month alone, four plants: a ground orchid (above) two bromeliads (left and bottom) and a flowering vine (below) are making the gardens more mesmerizing with their gentle purple blush. Cool colors are not too common in a tropical garden and they always give an interesting contrast to the warm oranges and bright yellows. In my experience, purple-hued flowers always command a second look, and psychologically calms rather than excites. It is a color that quiets me down, and causes me to be introspective.

The orchid on top is a Spathoglottis species, a low-growing terrestrial that we have begun propagating this year. Just like typical orchids, it had seeds like dust falling off its dried flowers. This one is particularly prolific this year; flowering continuously already for several weeks.

The tiny flower above is of a pink-bract bromeliad from the Tillandsia family. They're best grown potted because of its small size.

The flowering vine below is the infamous garlic vine, pretty to look at but the leaves and the flowers smell like, uh, garlic. At least, they only smell when you pick them, so they're best left high up on a trellis.

A Neoregelia bromeliad (bottom) has mauve-colored leaves when young then changes to stripes with mauve blotches as they mature. This particular one has miniscule flowers, still mauve, in the center of the rosette.

Garlic Vine/Pachyptera alliacea
Neoregelia variety

16 October 2011

From My Library: Ferns of the Tropics

I periodically do business trips to Singapore and I am always awed by their massive yet well thought-out urban landscaping. But one of my most favorite hangouts is not a garden nor a park but the old Borders bookstore in Wheelock Place, at the corner of Orchard and Scotts. And a great book I picked up on one trip is this: a reference book partial to Southeast Asia, by a Botany professor from the National University of Singapore. It's actually full of information that's not overbearingly scientific but largely practical and clearly understandable to hobbyists and enthusiasts.

In simple language, he writes easy steps to propagate and care for ferns. There's also a section about its science, its place in history, and simple identifying methods. The second half is devoted to a fairly comprehensive catalog of species, each with clear photographs in their natural habitat.

Rain and Shine

It's one of my most favorite times of the year to be in the farm. Although there are hardly any fruits in season at present, the gardens and the plants are at its most gorgeous! The heavy rains are always followed by clear days with heavy dew on early windless mornings. The light the sunrise brings makes nature glow with a warm and calming ambience.

The haze is not from a filter but instead, moisture on my lens after removing the cap on a cool, damp morning.

And it's the ferns that relish this weather the most, of all the plants in the gardens. I think it's this time when they are the most prolific, with practically most of the ferns successively bringing forth new crosiers (left), the coiled tips that would eventually unfurl and become the amazingly-diverse variety of fronds (the fern "leaves"). On this photo, it's interesting to see a crosier, a mature frond stalk (the dark brown in the middle) and a young frond stalk (the light green on the right).

Apparently a Mircosorum variety

Microsorum punctatum "Grandiceps"

An unidentified variety

An Asplenium variety

12 October 2011

Shingle Vines

Another interesting tropical curiosity is from the Rhapidophora family, a vine native to the Philippines yet I don't see it much in gardens here. In fact, I first got acquainted with it in Indonesia (where it's possibly indigenous as well). 

Researching on the web does not yield much information. Some sites and books don't even agree on the everyday name of the more common type (left). I've heard some people call it "Shingle Vine" or "Shingle Plant" but I have yet to see an authoritative source confirm this.

A robust grower, the vine trails vertically without branching out, at least in my experience. I think most aroids behave like this, what books call "self-heading."

The leaves look like they cling to the wall (or to a tree in the wild), but surprisingly, they are not adhered as one initially imagines it to be. They're just uprightly flat and always evenly laid out.

Some months back, I visited the private garden of a native plant collector and I was astounded to see that he has another variety (right) with a beautiful texture and a richer hue. He sold to me a cutting and so far, has vigorously started to grow in my garden.

10 October 2011


In the few couple of years I've been observing fruiting cycles, I'm beginning to notice a pattern wherein certain fruits fruit at a time of the year when we humans need its vitamins and nutrients the most. This is highly arguable but from either a Creation Story or Evolution perspective, it does make sense that, barring farming and food processing, nature not only provides us with the necessary foods to survive but also, at the right time we need it.

In the farm, most citruses ripen in December and January. Here in our part of the tropics, this has always been the coolest time of the year, just when we need a big Vitamin C boost. 

Our pomelo tree (Citrus grandis, súhâ, also called lukbăn) is now literally burdened with massive cannonball-like fruits that have yet to ripen after, perhaps eight more weeks. By now, it has reached its full size but are still acrid (mapaklâ) if picked and eaten this early. What we have is not as sweet as the pink Davao variety but it is very useful for dishes like the Vietnamese-style Shrimp and Pomelo Salad, for one.

I think it's a great idea to eat according to the seasons! Adhering to it makes one more creative and resourceful, apart from the fact that we become more sensitive and in tune with nature, cycles, and our over-all well-being.

07 October 2011

Propagating Ti Plants

Every so often, some Ti Plants grow too tall and scrawny that trimming is the only way to go. Now it would be a waste to throw away the cuttings; what you can do is just put them together in a jar half-filled with water, mix some flowers or bracts (right, in this case, anthuriums) and display it somewhere in the house. It makes a very inexpensive arrangement that will last for even a couple of weeks.

Of course, the older leaves will dry out in time and you'll need to change the water every couple of days. But it will last longer than flowers and the colors are far more unique than typical greens. It also helps to put it in a clear vase as not only does it make it look more botanical, you can also clearly see if it's time to change the water.

What's remarkable is after some days, the Ti Plant cuttings will produce new roots and on the first couple of days, it looks so curiously interesting! The first time I was confronted with this was in a B&B in the Batanes Islands, where I saw this clear bottle with ti cuttings (below) and promptly picked up the practice. When I tried it back home, it took maybe a week to ten days before the sticks started to break and white coralline-looking rosettes started to appear! You'll enjoy this for some days; soon it will start producing regular hair-like roots. By then, you should be able to plant the cuttings onto a potting mixture already. 

05 October 2011

October Bird of the Month

The Common Emerald Dove, locally called Batu-batong Sílî. By its name alone, it is not some endangered bird or an unusual migrant but it is beautifully-colored nonetheless. And it is such a pleasure to discover such visitors in the gardens!

This particular dove got stuck inside the (netted) greenhouse. On any day, finding any bird inside the greenhouse would be an event! This would prompt anyone who sees it first to excitedly alarm everyone else, and I would follow with camera on hand. But this Common Emerald Dove, looking so gentle and tame, somehow commands a quiet respect and affection. 

04 October 2011

Epiphytic Ginger

When we started planting epiphytic ferns on the mango trees in the garden two years ago, we had no clue that the rich organic matter that came with it were proverbial seed beds for still a big variety of air plants that we will only discover much later. One of the most fascinating among these stow-aways is this aerial Ginger (left, apparently Hedychium cyclindricum), which emits a sweet fragrance like its cousin, the terrestrial cámia. It has small, pinwheel-like white flowers with just a hint of orange. From the ground, it's barely noticeable in the lush aerial fernscape but while working up on a ladder, its fragile flowers add visual interest to the variety of our epiphytic garden.

But after the flowers wilt, an even more attractive bract (some texts call it "throat") appears (below). Most gingers behave like this, but none as attractive as this particular epiphyte. The bract is firm, textured, and stays just like in the photo for more than a week. Last season, I did not try obtaining seeds from the bract though; I am not even sure if it does produce seeds. But it looks like, doesn't it? Terrestrial gingers produce rhizomes underground but I don't think this does. 

It will still be some days that we get to keep this wonder in the garden.

03 October 2011

The Lipstick Plant

Anyone can't help but notice, even from a distance, the startling red flowers of the Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus). A native of the Philippine rainforest, it naturally occurs as a vine in host trees, epiphytic in nature and highly-dependent in the damp tropical climate. In some gardens (like ours), they are hung from a wire basket to let the vines fall off the edge and flamboyantly display the attractive flowers.

02 October 2011

The Ti Plant Has Fruits!

In the gardens, I have seen Ti Plants with flowers but it is only this weekend that I have seen one that's borne fruits! Ti Plants (Cordyline fruitcosa) belong to a big family of ornamental plants that adds color and texture to any tropical landscaping. They're grown primarily for its foliage but now, I'm even more zealous in propagating and promoting them if only for its seasonal display of bright red cherries.

Ti Plants are originally from Polynesia but through time, it's become more identified with Hawaii and the South Pacific Islands. Traditionally, húla dancers wore skirts not made of grass but ti leaves. It kinda makes sense as the plant grows profusely in the islands and the colorful foliage is actually quite costume-y. I tried searching for photos though but nothing would come up except this cute illustration (right), complete with a frangipani waistband! Now I don't plan to make or sell hula skirts, but I grow ti plants and obviously like it much since it decidedly gives any garden a very easy-going, island atmosphere.

The leaf sizes vary, and some grow to be very tall (above). Some have short and wide leaves that curl (below, foreground) while some have long and narrow ones that point (further below). Patterns range from stripes, margins, random variegations, and fading hues, in an even bigger variety of colors: all shades of green, brown, maroon, fuschia, yellow and orange.

Today, garden enthusiasts are dazzled by so much variety, with new cultivars emerging every so often (below).