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.

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 Formerly unpublished data from their extensive on-site researches are presented through new paradigms, like valuing our endemism and biodiversity compared to stereotypical samples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.

01 September 2012

DIY Pandan

I have inherited a peculiar habit from my Mom: we glefully rub our bare feet against a variety of textures, from split bamboo floors to high thread count sheets! Now have any of you discovered the immense pleasure from these pandán pillows and ottomans? They are such handy pieces to have around the house, multi-tasking as side tables, step-stools, caddies for trays, but most sensory as an ottoman to prop your tired feet up. In our case, it serves best as an elevated, three-dimensional organic mat to rub our soles and enjoy the smooth, natural and woven texture.

It's no surprise that I have massively frayed them, especially the corners of the cube-shaped one (right), pandan being a natural and biodegradable material. And wait, while we're at this photo, not many people know that the interior is stuffed with even more pandan leaves!

Anyway, a new piece would have the corners looking even with the rest of the sides (below left). So my trusted staff, May got some fresh leaves from our pandán plant, took off the spines on the edges, air-dried them, and cut them to strips and started weaving our still-greenish leaves into the corners (below right).

She'll let the strips dry in the weave to make it more taut and trim off the edges and lock the ends in place. In just a few days, it will look just as it used to be.