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.

23 December 2012

It's In the Bag!

The cabána, that is! A friend gifted me with a personalized tote with a photograph of our place printed on it. Not only is it so unique, it's also very practical and useful. Suddenly, my Christmas gifts to friends look so unimaginative...

22 December 2012


Whenever friends ask about coming to the farm, I always make an effort to let them feel welcome to visit. As I always say, the place only gets animated when there are people around. It can get boring to garden all day, play with the dog, or bike by myself; visiting friends always give a respite to our othewise bucolic lifestyle.

And it's such a joy to dine alfresco! This Christmastime, we are blessed with sunshiny days  with an evenly cool breeze. Dining in the fern garden always starts early and lingers until twilight. We barbecued spareribs, had fresh salads, the yummiest desserts, and our own home-grown coffee.

16 December 2012

Philippine Tree of the Month: Baguilumbang

When I set out to plant a pair of shade trees for our parking area, I went to great lengths choosing a pair of native trees whose names are heard of but people have hardly seen. I eventually narrowed down my choices to Lumbang (Aleurites moluccana), and went on looking for seedlings. Throughout that time, I got acquainted with a foundation whose advocacy is to promote planting native trees.

The day came I was to pick up my Lumbang seedlings and soon after, we planted it. Some months passed and this foundation invited me to contribute anecdotes to a book they will publish about Philippine Trees. I wrote about Lipa, my city's namesake, and Lumbang whose story I mentioned above.

When the book came out and I brought it to the farm, the Lumbang photos (not from my tree) did not look like what we have at all! The leaves are different and the tree's shapes do not look alike. On the same book, I found out that I planted instead a pair of Baguilumbang trees! Now I have not heard of Baguilumbang (Reutalis trisperma), but I learned from the book that this is an endemic tree unlike the Lumbang which occurs in many countries in Asia (which explains why it has an English name, the Candlenut Tree).

I have grown to like the Baguilumbangs: apart from it being such fast-growers, they are actually an endangered species, making it an even more important tree to propagate. More people are even made aware now of a relatively unknown native tree simply by planting them!

15 December 2012

White Christmastime Blooms

Just like its more popular cousin, the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), the aptly-named Pascuita (literally, "something small related to Christmas," E. leucocephala) is in full bloom now. We have only recently started propagating this, and our mother plant has just got itself established and acclimatized. True to its name, it has tiny white flowers but are so many that it covers the entire bush. We will start propagating potted specimens and will complement next year's red poinsettias.

Another beautiful white bloom is the native Doňa Aurora (Mussaenda philippica), with creamy white, somehwat velutinous "flowers" (actually bracts), tiny yellow bead-like flowers, and deep green leaves. It's another we are propagating in pots to support the popular poinsettias.

09 December 2012


My cousin, Peachy visited last Friday and she gifted me with a home-made white parôl (a Christmas lantern, lower right) as pasalubong. We ourselves have actually started making parol frames from our own bamboo but have been fence-sitting whether to use weather-proof (though hideously shiny) plastic sheets or the old-school, hard-to-find paper ones.

So to complement what Peachy gave, we bought some red and white papél de japòn and grouped them altogether. Peachy's home-made gift affirmed what we have been thinking all along: making the traditional version without the glitz and the blings, which looks and feels far more organic to our place. What I like the most about these paper lanterns are the cut-out tassels as delicate as pastíllas wrappers.

The name comes from the Sp. faról, and symbolizes the star that the Three Wise Men followed to find the Christ Child.

08 December 2012

The Glamping Tent

For some years, I've been toying with the idea of a furnished camping tent; I had no clue there is actually a term for it and it has become quite a craze in Europe in the recent years! Glamour camping, or "glamping," for short, is like a more comfortable, stylish, and relaxing version of roughing it out in the

wild. Now a friend gave me this oversized, seven-man tent when we started the farm and I furnished it with our own home-made bamboo furniture.

02 December 2012

Batik Tablecloths

Earlier this year, I had to make a quick trip to Indonesia and I managed to sneak out from the business schedule and buy some nice batík table cloths. They're nothing exotic nor valuable; in fact, I think they're some inexpensive, touristy beach sárongs but they look gorgeous in the gardens nevertheless.

They have coordinated patterns (in this case, flowers) in contrasting colors of blue and orange; I have another set with butterflies (not in the photo), in the same color scheme. Two ends are fringed, while the long sides have a jagged pattern on its senepa.

20 November 2012

Eggs on the Aparador

The free-range chickens are so free that one decided to lay eggs on a glazed bonsai pot, on an antique aparadór in the cabana! This is one of the "concerns" of having open huts; open to the "elements" include not just the sun and rain but even domestic animals like dogs and chickens, and small reptiles.

It would be great though if she lays her eggs in the kitchen already!

18 November 2012


It's always sheer joy to see someone coming up the gate with a bagful of homemade súman! The locals always make some when there's a special occasion like a wedding or a big birthday party (which are fairly often), and of course, during the annual fiesta. My neighbors know that we love suman so they always send some my way!

This type (as there are as many kinds as locales) is THE suman of my barrio (or maybe Lipa-wide?): ground sticky rice (malagkít) mixed with coconut cream (gatâ) and refined sugar, then wrapped in banana leaves. Glorious!!!

11 November 2012

Earth Star

A beautiful surprise today: first time ever for me to see this bromeliad, Earth Star (Cryptanthus bivittatus) bloom! At first I thought the white flowers fell from a tree or was blown by the wind and landed suprisingly upright. But it turns out this bromeliad has reached full maturity and is now ready to produce offsets.

We've had these Earth Stars for around three years already; I distinctly recall a plant supplier giving it for free after purchasing a substantial number of greens. When we got to the farm, we did not know how to plant it; in fact it took me some time to learn that it is a bromeliad to begin with. In short, we've practically neglected it initially and yet it is a hardy plant and has now even bloomed.

04 November 2012


The locals call this tórdan (left), is it what we city folk call latundán? Or is it spelled la tundán, as in Spanish? We have a number of varieties of bananas within our farm, sabâ (right, plantain) being the most profuse. This tordan is much smaller and narrower, pointed just like the seňoríta variety, but the skin is not as thin.

20 October 2012


Photo courtesy of Jay Santos

I guess it's a generational thing, that most of the people my age would always, no fail, point out to themselves or their kids or sometimes, even to me, the curious weed called Makahiyâ (Mimosa pudica). Maybe this was one of just a few prolific and hardy plants that managed to thrive in Manila in the '70s before we were all taken over by concrete?

In reality, the makahiya is an invasive weed that is not native to the Philippines but instead, most likely hitched a ride on the galleons during the Spanish conquest, alongside numerous plant species. It's from tropical America but is now practically naturalized everywhere in the islands.

Americans call this "shy grass" or "touch-me-not," and is preposterously sold online as an easy-to-grow houseplant, from seeds!!! Maybe we should start "harvesting" them hahahaha...

13 October 2012

Philippine Tree of the Month: Rimas

One of my most favorite trees is the Rímas (Artocarpus altilis), with enormous foliage and an over-all robust stance that makes it look like it will explode with fruits! I first learned to appreciate it on a visit to the Batanes Islands many years ago where they use rimas instead of banana leaves to serve their country cooking. Apart from the leaves being big, it has a distinct shape and is handsomely veined.

It belongs to the same family as Kamansî (A. camansi), Langkâ (A. heterophyllus), Márang (A. odoratissimus), and the Tipólo (A. blancoi). It took me time to find a seedling years ago; for some strange reason, no one propagates this and hardly will you find the fruit sold in markets. Now I happened to tell a friend, Tintin about it and she promptly had some sent from her home province in Nueva Vizcaya! She says the fruits just fall off the tree and the seeds germinate by istelf.

Some scientists contest though that the Kamansi is just the same as the Rimas, except that it has no seeds. Either way, both are edible and is in fact, deliciously prepared by cooking in gatâ (coconut cream) garnished with pork or shrimp bits.

It is indigenous to the archipelago but also naturally occurs elsewhere. In fact, it is more closely identified with the Pacific Islands, and is always mentioned as the fruit that Captain Bligh made the trip for on the HMS Bounty, wherein his crew staged the novel-inspiring mutiny.

11 October 2012

Five Images

This and all photos in this entry are from Jay Santos

Another close friend, visiting from California was in the farm yesterday and I thought of sharing his photographs to lend new perspectives and fresh perceptions apart from my typical visuals. It's always a pleasure to see our place from somebody's eyes, especially if it is artistically and technically well done.

Jay is on a very brief, one-week visit and it flatters me no end that he made precious time to come visit us in Lipa. We have been friends since our teens and I guess we're wired similarly and have congruous long-term plans; so much that he wanted to see for himself what I've done so far.

09 October 2012

Garden Bench

We have a new "old" bench, a rustic artisanal piece that suits our countryside ambience. It's charmingly simple; a free-form, organic-looking, simplistically-crafted bench, apparently made of Dúngon wood (Heritiera sylvatica). What makes it novel is that the wood's been bored by woodworms, resulting in a random, natural pattern that makes each piece unique. In reality, the timber's practically useless already since its been gnawed at, but some intrepid craftsmen saw the lumber nevertheless and create artistic pieces. 

When I acquired it, it had a somewhat sloppy coat of varnish which I'm letting fade and will hopefully be gone in the next twelve months. This same wood, in its whole but gnawed form, is sometimes used by landscapers to mount bromeliads and orchids on.

06 October 2012

As the World Turns

It's only been some days since the September equinox and now, it clearly gets dark earlier as the day become shorter towards the end of the year. Today, I also begin another new personal journey around the sun as I turn forty-four. It's striking that since I have been here in Lipa, more rooted to the earth than ever before, I have increasingly become more sensitive to the seasons, cycles, the winds, the colors in a leaf, the people around me.

It has been an incredibly satisfying time, and I find myself being part of a much bigger picture alongside like-minded people. I hope the next twelve months will be even more fruitful, enriching, and productive. 

04 October 2012


Profusely flowering now is our Purple Bauhinia tree (Bauhinia purpurea), on its second year of flowering now since we planted it just a little more than three years ago. Needless to say, it is a fast grower and an excellent shade tree.

It belongs to the same family as the indigenous Alibangbáng; Lorie who joined us some months back (when it was not flowering) insisted this is the tree whose leaves they used to sour their dishes. But it is not this, and I doubt if any part of this Bauhinia is edible at all.

What it does though, is it sheds its beautiful orchid-like flowers and evenly litters the ground with a thin carpet of purple petals. Unfortunately, I cannot capture it well enough and I certainly can attest that it looks much better than the image on the left.

This is also the same flower that is the symbol of Hong Kong, and appears on their flag and many other national emblems.

01 October 2012

A Fellow Blogger Visits

photo by Groovy Dulcet
It sweeps me off my feet that fellow blogger and loyal reader Groovy Dulcet came to the farm yesterday, all the way from New York, despite her short Philippine visit! She has been a friend from a long time ago, but we have not seen each other for more than twenty years. We found each other recently through Facebook and consequently discovered each other's blogs. Yet even though we live on opposite sides of our wide, wide world, we write and muse over pretty much the same things: gardening, slow food, home-made crafts... the whole caboodle!

photo by Groovy Dulcet
It's also only now I personally meet her adorable five-year old son Zach, who is gifted with a natural curiosity especially with tropical stuff that must look novel to a North American like him. From dried palápas to ripe balimbíng (right) which he gamely tasted (and liked!), he wandered around the farm and would excitedly point at another new discovery.

The highlight of the day was the lunch she brought: seafood pasta, a bottle of Shiraz and Fougasse bread (below) she herself baked! It smelled heavenly and is deliciously chewy and crusty at the same time. And because she especially baked it for her visit, she shaped her bread like a tropical leaf, touches me no end. Of course, time is always short whenever we are having a good time, though it gives us sufficient excuse to see each other again :)

photo by Groovy Dulcet

29 September 2012

The Lipa Tree

Not many people know that Lipâ is named after a tree! Indigenous to the Philippines (that is, growing naturally here in our islands but can also be found in the wild in other countries) and I guess, growing profusely more in our area than in other locations nationwide, Lipa follows a long, pre-Hispanic Malay tradition of naming places after native plants that flourish in that locale. It is highly probable that Lipa grows wild, at least in the greater area that surrounds Taal Lake, since it is widely accepted but little known that the city originally began in the lakeshore of Taal, below what is now known as Mataas na Kahoy. But that's another story altogether...

Though it sounds romantic to learn about the origin of the city's name, most people including locals, have no love lost for this rather notorious tree. In English, it is called the Stinging Nettle Tree, belonging to a family of plants; some trees while others are shrubs, that releases a poisonous fluid when one comes into contact with the leaf's underside. It has small, fine hairs that will stick to one's skin and will start to make you itch and eventually lead to rashes and irritation that can last for several days!

Lipa is one of two Philippine Trees that I wrote about when I contributed articles to the recently-launched book Philippine Native Trees 101, which aims to inform people about the  richness and variety of our local flora, including unusual specimens like the infamous Lipa.

26 September 2012

From My Library: Vanishing Treasures...

It's deeply satisfying to know that every once in a while, a scientifically-researched, artfully-photographed, informatively written, brilliant gem of a book about the country comes along. Coinciding with the Philippine Centennial in 1998, the highly-renowned Field Museum of Natural Sciences in Chicago published this handsome yet informative collection of astounding facts about our beloved islands and our even more astonishing flora and fauna. Formerly unpublished data from their extensive on-site researches are presented through new paradigms, like valuing our endemism and biodiversity compared to stereotypical samples like the Galapagos (below), which only became popular because of Charles Darwin's visit. In fact, our archipelago would have been a more staggering laboratory for his studies, and he would have arrived at his evolution theories faster than he did in Ecuador.

It's page after page of plants and animals that populate our few remaining rainforests: from spotted deer to rufous hornbills, glorious Philippine orchids, endemic plants like the Kapa-kapa and the Jade Vine, and even more exotic animals like cloud rats and leopard cats (right). But as the book says, the most precious jewel of all that must be protected, cherished, and treasured is the forest itself.

A truly remarkable find, let me know if you find another copy.

23 September 2012

Home-Made Pavers

Something I owe from reading assorted gardening and design books is getting inspired to try out making for ourselves, home-made concrete pavers with imprinted leaf patterns from our own surroundings (above). With the help of our erstwhile construction team, it did not even take us half a day to figure out how to achieve some fairly handsome pieces.

We excitedly gathered assorted tropical leaves, all with defined shapes, textures, and patterns to make the final products more unique and interesting. We set out to make two dozen, and we made sure we did not repeat any leaf!

Foremost in our list were papáya (pawpaw), anáhaw (fan palm), rímas (breadfruit), even the unassuming kamóteng káhoy (cassava, sample on top photo, left side).

On the mold, we poured wet concrete then topped it with fine concrete powder, gently pressed the leaf, and just left it dry out in the sun. That simple!

By now, it's been some years and the pavers have achieved some aged patina (below) which gives it an even more finished look.

15 September 2012

Saturday Tree Planting

We just finished planting our Toóg seedlings (pronounced to-OG, Petersianthus quadrialatus, Philippine Rosewood) this morning, in the hope that they will grow to be tall and proud specimens of native majesty.

When I first learned about this endemic tree almost a year ago, I happened to discuss it over lunch with my staff. May (left), who comes from Leyte, says these trees grow within their area and she can easily send for some seedlings by bus. So one day, we went to the bus terminal in Manila, anticipating one small seedling but instead, we excitedly received eleven! She laments though, that she doesn't know anyone in their area who gives importance to this tree. In the book Philippine Native Trees 101, it says that wild Toogs have drastically depleted in the last decades because of high demand for its timber.

Today, we planted six of them on the edge of the gap, as a windbreaker and more importantly, to keep the soil firm.  In time, they will also start producing fruits that will hopefully provide food for wildlife.

10 September 2012

Blue Ginger

On humdrum weekends in the midst of the monsoon season, when it's just about to be almost dragging to consider going back to the city earlier than planned, the gardens will almost always not fail to entice even the most jaded enthusiast with a new discovery. And last weekend was no exception: it can be tiring to sort bromeliads weekend in and weekend out, and you can only be so thrilled by flowering orchids in a season.

But as I walked past the propagation area to check on pots to bring to Manila, an unusual color jumped out of the green-ness of the landscape: a bluish purple that is unlike any other. This is the first time this Blue Ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora) bloomed since we got a specimen from Baguio eighteen months ago. Initially, I was apprehensive it was too hot in my area for it to flower, but to my surprise and delight, a new color is added in our garden :)

07 September 2012

Philippine Tree of the Month: Piris

Since the book launch of Philippine Native Tress 101, I've become conscious learning more about native trees in the farm. My staff have been extra generous in keeping me informed and one tree that I absolutely did not even mind nor notice before is what they call "Píris" (apparently, Garcinia vidalii), coincidentally flowering and fruiting now at this time of the year. It's a medium-sized tree that wildly flourishes in the cliffside, going down the river. Our staff, Díko gamely grabbed some fresh young leaves that richly smelled of citronella!

Apart from this tall specimen (left), there are scattered around young trees that are still in the flowering stage (below).

But more exciting are the mature seeds that are easily visible even from afar! The local birds are feasting on them day in and day out, presumably since local trees' fruits are the preferred avian diet of our native birds. In the next days, we'll figure a way to collect the fruits so we can germinate them and hopefully help build better awareness and availability of our beautiful native trees.

04 September 2012

Cassava Cake

We're still harvesting plenty of kamóteng káhoy so it's time to make one of our perennial favorites: cassava cake! This time, May has perfected grinding the cassava so the cake's texture is flawlessly smooth, unlike the commercially available ones which is usually lumpy.

We also cook it in a turbo broiler instead of an oven, which we think makes the entire dish more evenly done. Some we come across have rather thick cakes, which result in sloshy middles.