Inflourish: Cebu Blog

Growing Children’s Creativity

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

For families with children or teachers with young students, a garden can be an opportunity to create and celebrate fictional stories, characters and fantastical worlds. A garden can be reminiscent of a child’s favorite book characters, cartoon scenes, or computer game landscapes.

Children (with the aid of adults) can sketch gardens with plants, sculptures, and visual art inspired by their favorite fiction. Teachers can also use a themed garden design to engage students with new literature.

While planning, children’s garden ideas can reflect the character’s personality or a landscape depicted in their favorite book, movie, cartoon or video game. Here are some sample prompts to launch the child-designer’s brainstorm:

  • What adventures did your favorite character go through?
  • Does your favorite character have favorite colors or favorite foods?
  • In the video game, what are some amazing worlds you experience as a player?
  • Does your favorite cartoon character say funny things or do funny activities?
  • Do any of your favorite movie characters live on other planets or fantasy worlds that amaze you? Describe or draw them.

Based on the responses, you and the children can choose plants, sketch designs, plan murals, build mini sculptures, or paint quotes from literature or media. The plants can be ingredients to the characters’ favorite foods. The mural can replicate a scene from the character’s adventure. The flowers can be the favorite color of the computer game character. A character’s funny quotes can be painted in large letters across a garden fence or on the plank of a raised bed. If the child’s favorite story has notable architecture like a castle bridge, a treacherous maze, or magical doorway, you can integrate a small version of this feature in the garden. The possibilities are boundless.

As you brainstorm, be open to children’s creativity and expression. The more exciting the garden planning, the more they may feel connected to the resulting garden.

Growing up, I would have loved to grow a fruit garden adorned with art from Filipino folk tales. The legendary origins of makopa, piña, and manga would be great reference material. Or maybe I would have designed a mini terrarium inspired by Miss Honey’s cottage in Roald Dahl’s book, Matilda. Or maybe my classmates and I would have planted raised beds with pickling cucumbers in honor of Shel Silverstein’s poem Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too. We would have filled it with other edible plants you could pickle and flowering groundcovers that tickled.

Literary gardens are long-beloved destinations. Many botanical gardens around the world construct themed gardens inspired by historic literature like a Shakespearean play, a Dr. Seuss bestseller, or a classic like Alice in Wonderland.

I suggest you and your children (or students) plan a garden that directly connects to their contemporary literary or media interests. The contemporary stories may be a better channel to facilitate children’s creativity and engagement.

After the designs and brainstorming, the resultant garden can start out as a modest landscape. At the start, you can hang a gallery of framed artwork from your child’s planning process in the garden.

With more time, resources, and creativity, you may even build features from your children’s sketches. You may find the children increase their time playing and creating in the garden.

If children sustain their connection to the garden, you can further celebrate their passion for literature and storytelling. Maybe add tables for an outdoor art studio. Include a mini platform for stage plays. Perhaps more comfy seating can create calm reading nooks. As the children grow, the garden can continue to evolve and foster creativity for many years to come.

Related Articles about Children’s Gardens

Popping with Color (Part 2)

This week I’d like to offer a free mini booklet that may inspire you to build your own color/colour palettes. In the booklet, I offer free color combinations and textural collages to inspire your designs. Enjoy!

If you’d like to learn how to integrate color into your outdoor designs, check out, “Popping with Color”.

Binignit Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

For many in Cebu, April is a time for family meals, Binignit, and Easter festivities. It’s also a great month to start planning a Binignit Garden.

Binignit (Photo 1) is a hearty, delectable dessert that features sweet root crops and fruits. Gabi (taro), camote, ube, cassava, kardaba bananas, landang, and nangka (jackfruit) are some of the natural sweeteners of Binignit. My extended family in Cebu proudly served delicious, homemade binignit during Holy Week meals. Honestly, outside of Easter, binignit is an eagerly welcomed dessert at any office party, birthday, or special celebration.

Planning & Growing a Binignit Garden

If your garden or farm has moist soil or a water body (like a pond), this can be a great site to plant some of the water-loving ingredients in Binignit. If you start planning in April, you’ll have time to gather healthy planting material like gabi roots and cassava cuttings. You can also prepare any soil amendments like vermicompost or mulch. With ample time for preparation, planting can start in May. You can design a waterside garden with gabi, ube, cassava, and camote. These sweet root crops adapt to partial and full sun exposure.

In portions of your garden with more well-draining soil, you can grow other Binignit-themed plants like nangka, kardaba, buli palm (aka landang tree). As these trees mature and grow taller, they can provide partial shade to the low-growing root crops. If you need ideas for more shade-providing agroforestry trees, check out “A for Agroforestry”.

Here are some more tips for your Binignit garden:

Photo 1. (Clockwise from top left) Binignit, gabi, kardaba, ube, landang, cassava

Gabi (aka taro) thrives in partial sun with constant soil moisture. In Cebu, you can plant gabi from May to July. Gabi prefers a waterside garden, pond border or site with wet soil. Make sure the soil is fertile. If your soil needs nutrients, amend it with vermicompost. You can plant the entire root or small sections of the gabi root. I like to plant gabi 5 inches deep. Then I cover the root with about about 2 inches of soil. If you have multiple root sections, you can arrange them 2 feet apart so they have room to flourish. Make sure to regularly remove weeds that compete for space and nutrients. They can ruin the development of young gabi.

Ube is another bountiful addition to your waterside Binignit garden. Like gabi, it loves the constant moisture and fertile, composted soil. I like to add mulch over the soil to increase organic matter and suppress weeds. You can mulch with dried leaves from surrounding trees, old palm leaves, or rice hulls. You can also adorn your waterside garden with decorative trellises to lift the trailing ube vines.

Cassava can be planted from May to June. Unlike gabi and ube planting methods, I plant cassava from cuttings. Cassavas thrive in a wide range of soils including moist soil. So they can accompany your ube and gabi. Ensure cassava is surrounded with at least 3 feet of space. They also enjoy full sun exposure cutting. If you’d like tips on growing camote, check out “Camote, February’s Featured Crop”.

Hope you enjoy your Binignit this weekend and Happy Planting!

April’s Dessert Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

April is the perfect time to add dessert plants to your garden. These dessert plants are excellent flavors for ice creams, delicious smoothies, healing teas, favorite soups or other comforting dishes (Photo 2 and 3).

For April, I suggest a dessert garden planted with acerola, makrutlime, gumamela (hibiscus), luy-a (ginger), and turmeric. (Photo 1)

Photo 1. (Clockwise from Top Right) Acerola cherries; gumamela; harvest mix; makrut lime; turmeric & ginger

If you’d like to add some April savory ingredients, plant sayote, atsal (bell pepper), chili pepper, or repolyo (cabbage).

If you need more garden inspiration for April check out these past articles and my Cebu planting calendar:

Want some exciting dessert recipe ideas? Go to our Cookbook Store. We feature recipes for: Marang Acerola Ice Cream, Gingered Avocado Ice Cream Gingered, Pili Pineapple Ice Cream, Acerola Aloe Custard and sweet smoothies (Photo 2 and 3).

Photo 2. Assorted Acerola-flavored desserts from Healing Present cookbooks.
Photo 3. Original smoothies using April’s dessert garden plants; recipes in Healing Present’s cookbooks.
April Planting Advice

Here are some cultivation tips for turmeric, ginger, makrut lime, and acerola.

Acerola and Limes. Acerola and kaffir limes are beautiful fruit shrubs that bloom almost year paths. They are both perfect in containers or planted directly well-draining, composted soil. They thrive in full sun exposure.

To produce more fruit, we like to prune the limes and acerolas so they remain short. Ideally, they stay 3 or 4 feet tall with lateral branches. Abundant fruit harvest on on the lower branches are easier to pick.

When I prune, I remove some upward growth tips near the top of the main stem. This ensures lower branches grow outward and horizontally. Pruning also trains the buds, flowers and fruit to grow on the lower portions of the shrub.

Ginger and Turmeric. These versatile gems thrive in partial sun exposure. The garden site should be well-draining, composted, and protected from strong winds. In the farm, they are shaded by fruit shrubs or fruit trees.

I like to get my ginger and turmeric root sections from other gardeners, official seed suppliers, or plant nurseries. Sometimes, if you use kitchen leftovers or roots from a grocery store, they may be sprayed with growth inhibitors. This affects its root growth when transfered to your garden.

If you still want to experiment with the common grocery store ginger or turmeric, soak them in water overnight. This may remove the commercial spray residue.

Ensure your ginger and turmeric roots are plump and healthy. Don’t plant any shriveled root sections. The root section should have well-developed buds (aka “eyes”). If you cut the ginger root section into smaller pieces, make sure the sliced area is calloused. To callous, dry the section for at least 24 hours. When I plant the root sections, the growth buds (or “eyes”) are pointed upwards. I cover them with 1-3 inches of soil.

Water well after planting. Regularly monitor your soil. The soil should be absorbing the water. Ginger and Turmeric roots rot easily in waterlogged, soggy soil with stagnant pools of moisture.

Resilience and Recovery after Typhoon Odette

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

At Healing Present, we continue to rebuild and recover from the destruction and aftermath of Typhoon Odette (Photo 1). Luckily with amazing supervision from the founder and the farm operations crew, we are making progress. We have deep gratitude for the Healing Present staff who continue to repair, rebuild, and replant the portions of the farm/forest that were damaged. Sylvia, Mario, Ariel, Jaime, Jerry, Marvin and Yeng Yeng all  rebuild and adapt Healing Present to this era of more severe storms and lethal wind velocities.

Photo 1. Building re-construction and repair after the typhoon. Photos from Sylvia Suson.

Typhoon Odette left us with detached roofing, broken windows, fallen vegetation and disrepair that results from 189-mph winds. The damage was extensive and heartbreaking. The damage also prompted us to refine our strategies to mitigate typhoons.

It would be misguided to rebuild and revegetate the farm without considering the new characteristics of this past typhoon.

Here are some of the overarching management questions that help guide our typhoon recovery:

  • How do we rebuild while considering the new severity of typhoons?
  • Is there anything we can improve our current mitigation systems?
  • How do we cultivate trees near our facilities will not fall and cause damage?
  • Are our trees still resistant to these new, stronger typhoons?
  • Is it possible to manage a forest patch that can withstand the next storm, flood?

In this article, I share an excerpt of our post-typhoon evaluation. This excerpt focuses on tree management and windbreak systems. Improving our tree care and windbreak is one of the many important land management strategies to strengthen our typhoon preparedness.

Photo 2. Periodic tree and windbreak evaluations at Healing Present
Tree care & Windbreak Evaluation

At Healing Present, we plant feature trees, forest patches and agroforestry windbreaks to protect crops and reduce wind damage to our facilities (Photo 2 and 3). As mentioned in a previous article, windbreaks are an agroforestry technique that:

  • create favorable microclimates,
  • decrease wind erosion,
  • increase biodiversity,
  • stabilize soil,
  • buffer noise, and
  • screen undesirable views.

Windbreaks are also a living combination of trees, shrubs and groundcover that may need refinement or improvement to suit our changing environmental challenges.

Here are 5 questions to help evaluate the effectiveness of our windbreaks and other trees:

1) Are the trees and shrubs in our windbreaks planted too densely? Sometimes when windbreak plants are too close together, they block incoming winds. This block can cause too much wind turbulence in the areas you’d like to protect. A protected area can include a building or vegetable beds. Effective windbreaks are more permeable and reduce windspeed; rather than stopping it entirely.

2) Are we giving the trees near our buildings enough rooting space? In general, large and small trees with enough room to grow a wide and deep fan of roots can be less vulnerable to high winds.

3) Are the trees near our buildings healthy and possess good structure? Perhaps Healing Present can decrease the amount of uprooted vegetation by paying more attention to the large trees that are planted close to structures. Ideally, these should have healthy trunks and central leaders. This can be managed with a consistent pruning program. This includes trees that survived the typhoon. Broken branches must be pruned so they don’t fall or cause further damage in a future storm.

4) Are there any isolated or potentially hazardous still standing near the existing buildings? If so, we need to monitor them. Isolated trees could be planted with more vegetation so they buffered from future wind events. Do any trees that survived the typhoon show signs of decay? Old trees showing signs of decay, disease or damaged roots may need to be monitored or removed if hazardous.

Photo 3. Evaluation and care for forest patches and featured trees near buildings.

5) Are we still planting the best wind-resistant species? Some of our trees had medium levels of wind-resistance because it suited storm pressure.  Perhaps we need to integrate some more high wind-resistance species to match the new, supertyphoon characteristics in our area.

When selecting windbreak species, a variety of species, ages, and layers of vegetation is preferred. Local observation is key to effective selection. We can check our property as well as neighbors’ properties to observe which species withstood the storm. Online lists of wind-resistant trees are great, but not always helpful. These recommendations don’t always match your specific climate and soil conditions. At Healing Present, if we notice a species that consistently withstood the typhoon, they may be a great candidate for windbreak re-plantings.

Photo 4. Forest fragments, denuded hillsides, and mixed agricultural areas of the Cebu uplands. Photo taken prior to Typhoon Odette.

Undoubtedly, systemic disaster preparedness is much more complex than evaluating windbreaks and planting wind-resistant vegetation. But it is a significant component to our recovery and repair. On a broader scale, disaster mitigation would be more effective with broader, structural forces like a cohesive national preparedness strategy.

Recovery would be exponentially easier if the Cebu uplands (Photo 4) and urban lowlands were strategically forested or designed to reduce the wind velocity of torrential rains and typhoons. If the upland forests contained continuous stretches of healthy, strongly rooted vegetation, residents could be more protected from typhoon winds. If we, as a global community were more adept at battling climate change, the severity of our storms would be less lethal. The “if only’s” are numerous and layered. And I lament the inactive collective.

Nevertheless, Healing Present is grateful for our operations team and the landscape management strategies that could help us recover from future typhoons.

Bees & Belonging

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

Growing up, I always thought it was delightful when a person’s last name echoed their interest in nature. It seemed reminiscent of an quaint scene in folktales. Like “Mr. Green worked in his garden next to Señora Flores’ floral shop after they received produce from the farmer, John Boom”. These namesakes connoted an inherited path towards a desirable, verdant destiny.

Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of the life paths I independently laid.

Fortunately, all of us, with or without a floristic name, belong to an ecological heritage we can protect. This can be everyone’s legacy. 

But I understand the power and cultural influence of a namesake or a family narrative. For some, it can summon perseverance when hurdles seem insurmountable. Sometimes a simple last name or the mythical origin of an ancestor can offer a stronger sense of direction. It can feed an imagined belief that you are guided towards the right choices. I’ve found this angst and search for guidance re-emerging in my friends; especially as their senses of self were shaken by the pandemic.

Nearly 40, with solid self-knowledge, I recently discovered my family does bear a nature-based last name: Abella. This article celebrates the Iberian etymology of my grandma’s family name. “Abella” was historically related to a nickname for a busy bee (a buzzing, active person) or a beekeeper. It’s a charming extension of my well-established love of ecology.

So, onto our Bee-utiful environmental heritage and my design chat: Pollinators in Pollinator Gardens. 
5 of the 9 species of honeybees in the world are native to Philippines. At least 7 species of stingless bee species are found in the Philippines.

Globally and especially in the Philippines, pollinator gardens are vital to the health of our ecosystems, economies, and our food security. Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and certain flies are the ecological foundation to farms, mangroves, and every type of forest in the Philippines. They enable plants to reproduce or bear seeds, nuts, berries, and fruits. Their massive impact on the health of our world is mind-boggling. Unfortunately, pollinators, like most of our vulnerable wildlife, face population destruction from agricultural chemicals, pollution, climate change, and habitat loss.

Below are design ideas to start a pollinator garden in your school, community garden, or home. Please note my design illustrations for this article emphasize the vegetation by muting the colors of the hardscaping (constructed areas and furniture).

Photo 1. Features in the Butterfly Yoga Garden.

1) Butterfly Yoga Garden. Build a shade house or sunroom that immerses you in a pollinator’s habitat (Photo 1 & 2).  The shade house is like a greenhouse with plants but usually built with green shade netting. If you’re in an area that does boil in the summer, consider building a sunroom. This building can have large windows or a clear PVC plastic sheeting roof like a traditional greenhouse. Alternatively, you can use white shade netting. Your flooring can be composted, mulched or covered with gravel. A portion of the flooring can be tiled so that you have add seating or yoga mats. This can be a peaceful place to meet friends, exercise, or meditate. The pollinator plants can be installed into the mulched or graveled flooring, raised beds, or other containers. Keep the greenhouse windows open so pollinators can visit and use your garden.

Photo 2. A closer look at the shade house or sunroom.

Some of the plants can be cannas, coreopsis, mint, or basil. Outside the shade house or sunroom, plant a pollinator-attracting fruit tree like mango, guyabano, jackfruit, or atis.

2) Pollinator Garden Party. Pollinator gardens are enriching opportunities to teach students about insect life cycles and plant-pollinator relationships. They are especially attractive to teachers, parents, and caregivers averse to “butterfly kits” or any learning tools that capture wild animals. Instead, you can build a mini-environment like an outdoor garden classroom to exhibit natural cycles.  Observation decks and educational signs are additional tools that can help you facilitate outdoor engagement with nature (Photo 3).

Photo 3. Learning tools in the Pollinator Garden Party.

Some pollinator plants you can cultivate with your class are katmon, pili, native orchids, gardenias, magnolia trees (like champaka), cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum camphora) or flowering varieties of passionfruit.

There are numerous activities you can host in a pollinator garden. Here are some sample activities:

  • Ask garden visitors and students to wear, pink or yellow at the garden. These colors attract pollinators. This can lead to a class conversation about floral color and insect vision.
  • Create an outdoor gallery sculptures or photos taken in the garden with your class to study the phases of butterfly life cycle.
  • Conduct “treasure hunts” or a “bio blitz” to help children identify and discover different pollinator plants and evidence of a pollinator’s activity (like insect bites on a leaf)

3) Citrus Home Garden. At home, you can create a garden that attracts beautiful native butterflies and stingless bees. Start building a collection of potted dwarf citrus trees or venture into a back yard citrus orchard (Photo 4). Pollinators love the blossoms of lemon, lime, kumquat, pomelo, mandarin, and limonsito (calamansi) trees. You’ll have a delicious harvest. And you’ll create a needed haven for our diverse pollinator friends.

Photo 4. Citrus Home Garden concept.
Related Articles about Pollinators & School Gardens:

Can’t Contain my Joy

By Michelle Domocol

Inflourish: Cebu Blog

I can never contain my joy for a radiant and flourishing container garden. Container gardens are one of the foundational landscaping techniques used in Healing Present. Container gardening is the technique behind our beautiful azotea greenery, sunken gardens (Photo 1), vertical walls and gate plantings (Photo 3 & 4).

Photo 1. Container gardens in our sunken garden (top) and azotea areas (bottom).

In previous articles, we’ve focused on container gardens like raised beds. We’d like to share inspiration and more possibilities you can apply with container gardening techniques.

Below is a potted sanseveria plant Ariel (one of the gifted farm staff) prepared. In this particular project, he adorned the pot with dried fern fronds from the farm. Staghorn ferns are common epiphytes that self-propagate around the farm and forest. Dried jackfruit, taro, and breadfruit leaves are also wonderful options we have at Healing Present. When their leaves drop and naturally dry, they become gorgeous material to decorate furnishings and garden pots.

Photo 2. Ariel planting a sanseveria in a plastic pot decorated with dried fern fronds.

Here are seven lessons Ariel and the rest of Healing Present crew learned from our container planting adventures:

1) Suitable Soil Level. Make sure your container is large enough to provide room for soils and roots. Make sure the soil is at least 1 inch from the top of the container. Don’t fill a container all the way to the top of the container.

2) Well-Drained Soil. Does you container have drainage holes at the bottom? When you water your containerized plants, you want excess water to drain out of the soil. If not, the plant roots can rot from too much stagnant moisture.

3) Strong Containers. At Healing Present, the containers chosen for the garden are planned. They are suited to the environmental conditions and style we want. We use a range of containers, but we ensure they are strong. For us, durable containers can withstand our site’s level of rain, wind, humidity, pests and other factors that can degrade or break down a container. What are the specific site conditions in your backyard or balcony that may affect the durability of an outdoor container?

If you have a sheltered patio garden with little wind, maybe your containers can be ceramic pots & gorgeous glass terrariums. At Healing Present, we’ve used coconut shells in our gate gardens (Photo 3). And we’ve reused thick plastic water bottles for our wall gardens (Photo 4). In other parts of the farm, we’ve used terra cotta, stone, and plastic composite.

Photo 3. Vertical pots adorn our farm gates. Containers are coconut husks and decorated plastic pots in various sizes and shapes.
Photo 4. In our vertical gardens, we used thick plastic Evian bottles and green netting to hold soil and roots.

4) Stylish designs. To achieve a certain style, sometimes we use plastic pots and then insert them in a larger decorative reed or fiberglass container. Sometimes, we embellish an ordinary pot with dried leaves or other natural materials from the farm (Photo 5). Since we have weather that ranges from high humidity, torrential rain, and blasting dry heat, we don’t choose heat-conducting aluminum or brass containers. Over the years, we also learned hungry termites occupy our site. So we don’t use containers made of untreated wood.

Photo 5. A common black plastic pot is decorated with a reed shell to match the decor.

5) De-stress Roots & Repot. Repotting means transferring your containerized plant into a larger container with new fertilized soil. Not all of our container gardens are repotted. We only do this when we notice roots are expanding outside the container. Or sometimes the roots are wrapping around the inside of the pot. Sometimes we repot when the plant’s soil is drying out faster than usual. We also try to repot when the container is no longer half the height of the container.

For instance, one time we neglected a ginger plant that grew 3 times taller than the height of the pot! It was hidden with a group of other container plants, so we didn’t notice it at first. The roots were stressed and needed more room to expand. Instead, the roots were cracking the sides of the terra cotta pot. So it really needed a larger pot and new soil to thrive. Make sure your new pot is at least 2 inches larger in diameter than the current pot. It should also be at least half the height of the current plant.

6) Organically fertilize. With our container plants, we use a soil mix that is mostly made of vermicast. This is a great fertilizer and helps nourish the new roots before and after repotting.

7) Weed Control. Monitor your container plants on a daily or weekly basis. For many, this is a meditative and relaxing exercise. Observe your plants’ growth. If you notice any weeds in your potted plant, pull them out. Don’t let them mature and grow large roots. Get them when they’re young. Weeds can steal water, sun, and nutrients from the plant you want to cultivate. If you have a larger container with a lot of exposed soil, you can add a groundcover plant to suppress any weed growth (Photo 6).

Photo 6. Low growing groudcovers & trailing vines are planted to suppress weeds and create visual interest.

In an upcoming article, I’ll share techniques for creating new container gardens through a technique plant division. See you then.

If you need ideas for plant combinations for your container garden, check out these articles from last month:

Kamunggay, March’s Featured Crop

By Michelle Domocol

Inflourish: Cebu Blog

Kamunggay (aka malunggay or moringa) is an absolutely delicious crop filled with amazing qualities. The tree’s leaves can be harvested and transformed into classic soups, stews, sauces and pestos. You can blend them and make sweet shakes, smoothies and sorbets. If you have the equipment, you can extract the medicinal oil from kamunggay’s seed pod. The leaves can also be pulverized into a fertilizer for vegetable crops.

To top it all off, the kamunggay is intrinsically valuable without harvesting. It provides food and shelter to important birds and wildlife. The tree also improves the surrounding with nitrogen and macro-nutrients. Kamunggay is globally known so I recommend you research how different cultures around the world grow, harvest, and benefit from this wondrous, miracle tree.

Below are general gardening procedures and my planting maps for a small agroforestry plot in Healing Present. The main trees were limonsito and kamunggay. As seen in the cross-section diagram in Photo 1, they were planted along a hill and served as erosion control.

Photo 1. Planting Map (top) with cross-section (bottom) of agroforestry tree combination

After planting the rows of kamunggay seedlings, the crew waited a few weeks for them to mature. Afterwards, they planted the calamansi seedlings. Mani-mani was planted in between the rows of trees. All of these species thrived in full sun exposure and nitrogen-rich soil.

To learn more about agroforests, click here.

Here are more quick-reference Kamunggay Highlights:

WHAT DOES KAMUNGGAY NEED TO GROW WELL? Kamunggay loves sunny areas. Although the tree is drought tolerant, they can be watered to make sure the roots spread and become healthy.

HOW DO I PLANT IT? Plant healthy seedlings that are at least 5 weeks old rather than seeds. When transferring the seedling into the soil, try not to disturb the root system. Make sure you hole is filled with vermicompost and loose soil. If you’re planting multiple trees in a row, the space between each tree should be 2 meters.

HOW DO I HARVEST KAMUNGGAY? It depends on which part of this amazing tree you want. Most Cebuanos harvest the leaves. Do not wash kamunggay branches or leaves before stripping off the leaves. Pull the leaves off the branches first, in a stripping motion, and then simply rinse them.

Photo 2. Iced Kamunggay Almond dessert (top) and Mango Kamunggay Pesto (bottom)

HOW DO I EAT KAMUNGGAY? Kamunggay is a delicious way to get your daily doses of Vitamin A, C, E, Iron, and Potassium.

My lola used to make soup with kamunggay, sayote, kalabasa, and the best broth. Photo 2 shows Kamunggay ice cream and Mango Kamunggay pesto.

If you’d like the recipes, check out Healing Present’s recipe online book store. Contact healingpresent@gmail.com if you are outside the Philippines and want copies of these recipe books.

Farewell February, Marvel at March!

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

So we ended our first month of Inflourish: Cebu articles and posts! I’ve had so much fun sharing stories about Healing Present’s land management and design. Throughout March, I’ll continue to post fun gardening projects, outdoor design inspiration and land management food-for-thought. I’ll feature:

  • Healing Present’s farm crew & their amazing garden skills
  • Greenhouse management activities
  • Philippine Native re-forestation
  • Indoor Gardening

and more!

In the meantime, click below and download your own free Cebu Planting Calendar. I made it just for you! Enjoy!

A for Agroforestry

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

With Healing Present and other landscape design clients in Cebu, I use agroforestry practices. Agroforestry is a set of sustainable land management strategies practiced globally. These land management practices take many forms and integrate existing and accepted types of farming. In Healing Present, I chose agroforestry as a design approach for their crop systems and forest rehabilitation projects. This design approach met their preferences for organic cultivation and environmental stewardship. If successful, agroforestry can achieve goals that are important to me, my clients and maybe you too. These goals include:

  • increase organic crop productivity
  • restore and conserve local native plant and wildlife biodiversity
  • maintain a healthy and clean water supply

Agroforesters in the Philippines commonly include practices like shaded perennial intercropping, living fences, erosion-control vegetation strips, and windbreaks. To learn more about agroforests in other countries, click here.

Don’t worry if these terms are new to you. Below is an example of how these strategies are combined in a landscape.

As you can see Photo 1, three main components are included in this agroforestry system. The shorter perennial food and medicinal crops occupy the central food gardens. Then the outer layers are taller fruit trees and native habitat species. If site conditions were favorable, you could even grow some of those shorter perennial species under the tree canopy. The vegetation strip with native trees serves as natural erosion control. Th trees’ roots stabilize the soil and reduce major landslides. In practice, these species are not frequently managed. Instead, they are monitored monthly and designated as a biodiversity corridor.

Less visits from the farm crew and others humans allow shy wildlife to feel safer in a new biodiversity corridor. The native species also:

  • increase the land’s soil fertility,
  • provide nutrient-rich mulch layers
  • regulate nitrogen cycles, and
  • support local food pollinators.

The staggered rows of fruit trees are both windbreak and living fences. This means some species protect crops, farm facilities and local wildlife from storm damage and high winds. As a living fence, a group of the fruit trees demarcate property boundaries. The fruit species are situated closer to the central food gardens. They are seasonally harvested for personal and commercial use. The central food gardens are cultivated and managed daily. Other examples of agroforestry systems include the following combos:

  • Sample 1. Taro, Sweet potato, Pineapple, Breadfruit, Mango, Papaya
  • Sample 2. Cassava, Pili, Chayote, Coconut, Guava, Leafy Vegetables
  • Sample 3. Shade tolerant herbs and yams with Sun-loving Native tree species like Talisay, Molave and Narra

The planting design must reflect your site conditions, harvest needs and environmental goals. For instance, Sample 1 is full of species for food harvests, soil improvement, and windbreaks. Sample 2 is great for food harvest, medicinal uses, and living fencing. Sample 3 can provide erosion control, food harvests, habitat restoration, and soil improvement.

I also practice agroforestry because the methods aim to address Philippines’ major environmental crises. Many agroforestry practitioners in the Pacific and Southeast Asia recognize biodiversity conservation needs to be integrated into agricultural landscapes. This action reduces the direct pressure agriculture can play when practiced with destructive land conversion, chemical-based fertilization, and crop cultivation that depletes soil. Through my environmental studies and research in Cebu, I learned we need biodiversity preservation and ecological health. We also need food systems that safeguard biodiversity and the sustainable use of our natural resources. Beyond human needs, the indigenous wildlife of greater Luzon, Mindoro, western Visasays, Mindanao and Sulu have suffered species losses from weakly managed wildlife reserves.

Unsustainable agriculture and biodiversity loss directly impact our economic health. Millions of Filipinos depend on the services and biological products of functioning forests and ecosystems. Without functioning forests, coastal storm buffers, fertile soil, and healthy watersheds, we are susceptible to natural disasters, commercial market instability, widespread malnutrition and a degraded water supply. Cebuanos know all too well, the price we pay for rapid, exploitative urbanization, massive deforestation, and coastal degradation.

It’s no wonder, agroforestry is selected as a land management approach in the Philippines.

If practiced successfully, agroforestry can increase harvest yields, improve soil fertility, restore habitats, and protect watersheds from agricultural chemicals. Indeed, agroforests can’t substitute well-preserved natural ecosystems. And it’s certainly not a panacea. But perhaps it’s a step in a beneficial direction.

Popping with Color

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

Budding designers and fellow gardeners often ask me, ‘How do you choose the color scheme or motif of the garden?’. Seasoned designers and avid gardeners have the joyful and sometimes daunting task of infusing their gardens with a cascade of color. A color combination in the garden is powerful. It can make a garden more attractive, uplift your mood or brighten a party’s atmosphere.

The initial phases of my design process prioritize urgent site challenges. For instance, if the client wants me to find solutions for flooding, pests, weeds, challenging soil or disruptive neighbors, I prioritize that first. Once I’ve found potential solutions for those challenges, I move onto questions of architectural form and color. And depending on the client’s style, I then formulate a pleasing and elegant color motif for the plants, outdoor furniture, landscape paths and other associated constructional materials.

But how does this translate to you and your interest in garden color combos? Whether you’re a budding designer or hesitant gardener, here are a few strategies to inspire your color design:

1) Family of Hues. For your own garden, you might have a certain color you prefer. Is it gold, sky blue, chocolate brown, or pink blush? Whatever the color, start a mood board so you can explore. Cut and paste that color from magazines, get color swatches from the home improvement store or go online. Then find plants that match that color. And if you’re open to it, choose plants with tones or shades of related to the color you chose. Then investigate if those plants in your mood board grow in your area. Don’t be distressed if none of those plants in your moodboard are in season. Call your local nursery and ask them for plants with leaves or blooms that match your color preference.

In the end of your design process, the color on your moodboard may not populate the entire garden but it may dictate the feature plants, outdoor furniture, outdoor garden fabrics, or other outdoor elements. Photo 1 shows a moodboard of Reds that I made. This moodboard of red, burgundies, pinks, and maroons gave me direction. It helped me draft a garden room sketch for a restaurant (Photo 1). The client liked bold reds because it evoked romance, celebration and vibrant mood for outdoor parties.

Photo 1. (Top) A moodboard highlighting Red and its related hues, shades and tones. (Bottom) Initial draft of restaurant’s garden room with reds in furniture and plant design.

Photo 2 shows other moodboards from past projects. If you’re interested in my e-book of custom color schemes and moodboards, email ask.inflourish@gmail.com

Photo 2. Mood board samples I created highlighting blues, silvers, and sage tones.

2) Smooth transitions. Another way to approach color design is exploring the connection between your indoor space and the outdoors. If your outdoor entertaining room or garden is right outside your living room, then maybe you want coordinate the colors, fabric patterns and textures. I’m not suggesting you use the same pillows, couches and lamps outdoors. I’m suggesting the outdoor path, pillows, outdoor chairs, plant color or outdoor construction materials can be subtlety influenced by the living room motif. The circles or swatches in Photo 3 include textile patterns that are not the same as the living room. They are inspired or derived from the textiles in the living room.

Photo 3. Living room in Healing Present center influenced fabric and textile choices for outdoor garden furniture.

Maybe you have indoor ceramics or blue-and-white porcelain you’d like to echo outdoors (Photo 4). Pairing indoor and outdoor pottery is a seamless and effective way to create a smooth transition. This mood board can offer direction when selecting outdoor furniture. Remember sometimes selecting elements for an outdoor room can be overwhelming so direction a mood board can really help you commit and narrow your choices.

Photo 4. Indoor porcelain and pottery can inspire your selection of outdoor plant containers.

3) Painterly Gardens. Do you have a favorite painting, photograph or postcard hanging in your house or apartment? Maybe your next color scheme or garden can celebrate this artwork. Focus on some of colors, textures, patterns or even plants (if any) from the painting, photograph or postcard. This may make a great color combo in you future outdoor room.

Photo 5. An old photo of a memorable vacation can initiate a great color scheme in the garden.

4) Naturally Prismatic. Are you captivated by the markings of specific fauna or flora? In Southeast Asia and particularly the Philippines, we are extremely blessed with brilliant multi-colored fauna and flora. Philippine Birds and orchids are world renowned showstoppers with unforgettable color combinations. Below are two samples of Philippines’ natural wonders that could inspire your next flower garden or outdoor furniture motif. Explore our endemic butterflies, marine life, or other species in the Animal and Plant kingdoms. These design activities can be easily incorporated to school garden lessons. The bright or prismatic colors can evoke a dynamic whimsy and playful environment. Plus vibrant flowers from a nature-based motif can attract beneficial insects, butterflies and other pollinators that help your garden flourish.

Photo 6. The amazing parade of colors on a Philippine kingfisher bird.
Photo 7. Another moodboard I created; inspired by the glowing colors of Philippine orchids.

Medicinal and Therapeutic Gardens

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

One of my first major landscape design requests was Healing Present’s Yoga Area.

Photo 1. Healing Present’s Yoga Garden

Healing Present has many themed gardens and forest patches designated for past retreat activities. One of my first major landscape design requests was Healing Present’s Yoga Area. The Yoga Area’s landscape was a vibrant and unique outdoor garden around of Healing Present’s two-storey retreat house. After a collaborative and thoughtful design process, I proposed a calming design theme, outdoor furniture, plant selection, pergolas and other features. My proposals stayed true to the medicinal and therapeutic qualities requested by Healing Present’s founder.

Most groundcovers and shrubs I chose were ingredients from Healing Present’s menus or their health products. The proposed trees attracted local songbirds, butterflies and other beneficial wildlife. Many of the plants exuded a modest or calming aroma for visitors to enjoy. Photo 1A-C shows the selection of medicinal and edible plants thrilled visitors during Healing Present’s organic product demos and botanical tours.

Photo 2. Healing Present’s Yoga garden seating was my custom design; grown with lemongrass and citronella to repel mosquitos.

This is all well and good. Hooray for Healing Present. But the reality is Healing Present is closed to the public because of this pandemic. So can we still have a piece of therapeutic paradise close to home?

Potentially, yes! During this pandemic, many of us discovered the safest spot to travel was your backyard or a space near your home. So how do we transform a safe space into a therapeutic sanctuary? Let’s brainstorm. First, your sanctuary should be a reflection of your preferred method relaxation. Make moodboards to investigate how you want to relax. Look at the sample moodboard.

Your moodboard can be a collection of images that help you organize relaxation ideas, color motifs, garden architecture, comfy furniture, natural flooring and other elements you envision. Make multiple moodboards to help you refine your ideas.

How do you relax, de-stress, or rejuvenate? Breathing exercises? Do you relax with yoga? Reading? Arts and crafts? Aroma therapy? Cooking? Sleeping? Then build a garden that accommodates your specific technique and enjoyment. For instance, if you enjoy naps, then maybe incorporate a hammock or cabana with flowing fabrics and mosquito nets. Or add tall hedges that act as soundbarriers. If you like cooking, incorporate simple kitchen garden with your favorite herbs. Or a firepit where you can cook or grill.

Photo 3. A Powerful Vista in Healing Present. Sometimes creating a meditative space starts with site observation.

Here are design ideas to create you own sanctuary or healing outdoor space.

Create A Powerful Vista. Is there are view around your house or apartment you love? Is there vista you could create with a new balcony, a renovated deck or a tree house? Observe your surroundings from different areas of your house. Change your normal eye level by using a ladder around your house. You might discover an amazingly peaceful view.

Loving an abandoned space. Sometimes there are abandoned or neglected spaces that can transform into sanctuaries. I’ve seen this makeover happen with apartment rooftops, community gardens, or a backyard. A meditation garden in a community space or residential backyard does not have to be huge. You can create your a humble, small-scale retreat to suit your preferences. With the right seating, platform and plants you can make a space of recovery and stress relief. Though the example (Photo 4) has in-ground plants, you can easily build a peaceful container garden instead. Use cheap pots, re-use buckets or buy fancy ceramic planters from a flea market. Tall or short. Just choose plants and garden elements that will make you relax. This is a time to cater to your needs. This could mean comfortable seating or tall container gardens so you don’t have to bend and strain your back. Or maybe relaxing means designing a more minimalist garden. You can choose a small amount of large, low-maintenance feature plants. Perhaps a grand agave or dwarf, sprawling fruit tree. Then add pebble or gravel flooring with gorgeous stone statuary. This reduces maintenance, provides calming beauty, and still incorporates therapeutic plants.

Photo 4. Diagram of a small, personalized, and relaxing yoga garden.

February: Food Garden Spotlight

By Michelle Domocol

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In February, what are we supposed to do in a food garden? You can maintain and take care of the seeds you planted in January. Some gardeners and farmers around Cebu plant sitaw (longyard beans), camote (sweet potato), munggos (mung beans), rabanos (radish) and singkamas (jicama). The best way to find out what’s best for your growing site is ask experienced gardeners or seed store owners in your area. Their knowledge is priceless. For February’s garden project, why not start a raised bed. Click here for an article on raised beds just for you. A simple raised bed with eggplants, sweet potatoes and tomatoes mixed with lumps of flowers like cosmos and cannas may flourish in your future garden.

“Gourd-geous” Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

May is all about starting those gorgeous and versatile gourds. They are relatively easy to grow and a fun project to start with your students or kids at home.

In Cebu, vining gourds like ampalaya (bittermelon), kalabasa (squash), sikwa (luffa), and kalabasang puti (aka kalubay/ bottle gourd) are hardy options.

You can cultivate one type of gourd or experiment with a combination of different gourds. The flowers, leaves and dramatic vegetable shapes are a joy to observe as they grow. And if your efforts yield large gourds, you’re guaranteed a source of pride.

Here are 7 strategies for a successful, Gourd-geous harvest:

1. Select a site with at leat 6 hours of sunshine and well-draining soil.

2. Add around 4 inches of organic matter (like compost or vermicompost) into a raised bed or large garden pot. Ideally the pot is 15 inches high and about 15 inches wide.

3. Start planting with healthy seedlings to make it easier. If you have seeds, plant them 1 inch deep and 2 feet apart. Depending on the variety, your calabasa may require more space (like 4 feet) between each seedling.

4. Apply organic fertilizer like vermicompost or compost tea to the soil at least once a month

Photo 1. A trellised kalabasa (squash) in Healing Present’s gourd garden. Nylon netting and reed poles were used as the trellis.

5. Use a trellis (Photo 1) to prop up the growing gourds and leaves. This helps ventilate your plants and prevent any rotting or moldy growth. Remember to remove any dead leaves and damaged young gourds.

6. Remove any weeds trying to compete with your young gourd plants. Use mulch like coconut fiber/coco coir, dried leaves, rice straw, rice hulls, or chopped dry palm fronds to suppress weed growth. Continue to remove weeds as your gourd plants mature.

7. Every week, water your gourd plants. Make sure the water is percolating the soil and reaching the roots. Well-draining soil absorbs the water and allows it to travel to the roots. You can provide water through a watering can, drip irrigation, soaker hose or underground ollas.

Happy Planting! And hopefully your harvest will add home-grown flavor to your delicious lunches, dinners and desserts. Check out our cookbooks for recipe ideas featuring yummy squashes and gourds.

Planting Utan Bisaya in May

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

Happy May! It’s truly a month of PLANTiful bounty.  In May you can sow seeds or transplant seedlings of marvelous leafy greens, legumes, gourds, vining veggies and herbs. The vegetables planted in May eventually produce essential ingredients for our favorite soups, adobos, and sinigangs.

Photo 1. The colorful and textural mix of Utan Bisaya ingredients

Many of the veggies planted in May are the ingredients for a delectable soup called Utan Bisaya (Photo 1).  Friends from other Visayan regions call this delicious, hearty vegetable soup Law-uy and Laswa. What did you call it growing up? 

The soil and weather in May are warm enough to support Utan Bisaya ingredients like:

  • Taong (Eggplant)
  • Okra 
  • Kalabasa (Squash)
  • Atsal (Bell Pepper)
  • Sikwa (Luffa Gourd)
  • Sitaw (Yard Long Beans)
  • Kamatis (Tomato)
  • Alugbati (Malabar Spinach) 
  • Luy-a (Ginger)

For a complete list of May plants to cultivate in Cebu, download your planting calendar here

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Starter Citrus Garden

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

In a previous article, Bees and Belonging, I suggested a ‘Citrus Home Garden’ as a potential design for a beautiful pollinator garden. The Citrus Home Garden featured fragrant potted dwarf citrus trees that provide delicious fruits and nourished native butterflies and stingless bees.

In this post, I’ll provide growing recommendations for dwarf citrus varieties that are easy to grow.

1. Starter Citrus. Limonsito (calamansi), Makrut Lime, and Kumquat are great for beginner gardeners (Photo 1). Dwarf varieties can be placed in containers and easier to manage.

Photo 1. (Clockwise from top right) Kumquat; Variegated Limonsito; Makrut Lime

They also require less space. In general, they can grow to 6 feet and can be easily pruned. The best part is that your shorter citrus produce fruits with the same size and flavor as their standard, taller counterparts. Nothing is sacrificed. Dwarf lime, limonsito, and other dwarf varieties also produce the same leaves, flowers, and signature aromas.

2. Well-lit Location. Dwarf citrus can easily adorn a small apartment patio, balcony, terrace, or cozy backyard. They just need a well-ventilated space with at least 6 hours of sunshine.

3. Cozy Container. I like to plant young, dwarf-citrus tree saplings in a 1-foot diameter pot. As the mature, I transfer them to containers that 2 feet wide around 20 inches tall. Light-weight containers made of resin or fiberglass with ample drainage are great choices. Store a mini cart or platform with wheels in your tool shed. With this, you can easily move your container plants when re-decorating or re-arranging your garden.

4. Soil Mix Savvy. If you’ve read my previous articles, you’ll notice I usually recommend “well-draining soil”. Same goes for citrus trees in pots. They thrive in soil that absorbs the water well. Their roots suffer in soggy soil that lacks drainage. In general, I mix garden soil with vermicompost to make sure the citrus trees have enough micronutrients. You can also choose a special organic fertilizer that may be available in the plant nursery.

If all goes well and you’ve successfully cared for your citrus garden, you can expect amazing fruits and fragrant blossoms for the pollinators (Photo 1):

  • Limonsito (calamansi) can produce bright yellow, green or orange fruits. Their leaves can be glossy green or variegated with white pigment (Photo 1). Limonsito is a common flavor in the Philippines. In any Filipino kitchen or restaurant menu, limonsito juice is squeezed into sauces, entrees, dessert drinks, herbal teas, and more.
  • Makrut lime trees produce aromatic leaves perfect for soups and curries. The limes are wrinkled and bumpy with a thick, zesty rind. The rind can be grated into your favorite noodle and stir-fry meals as well.
  • Kumquats are tangy fruit snacks to pop in your mouth. They also make perfect jams and marmalades. The entire fruit, including the thin skin, is edible.

Who knows? After a few years of successful harvests and feeling confident with these easygoing citrus varieties, you may want to venture into more demanding citrus trees like pomelo and mandarin.

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