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

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:

March: Food x Flower Gardens

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

In Cebu, March is a great time to start or expand your Food x Flower gardens. These seeds or young plants can be arranged in containers or beautiful borders around a walkway. Photo 1 (top) shows a welcoming border garden in Healing Present. In March, you can start planting gotu kola, heliconia, basil varieties, and celosia. Photo 1 (bottom) shows what these colorful additions look like when they bloom and mature.

Photo 1. (top) Healing Present’s border garden; (bottom Right to Left) Gotu Kola, Heliconia, Basil Varieties, Celosia

When we held workshops and retreats in Healing Present, we had many visitors, supporters and retreat participants from Bohol. To celebrate their Healing Present advocacy, I want to feature some vegetables and groundcovers you can plant in Bohol. Some of these featured vegetables are

  • eggplant,
  • ampalaya,
  • lettuce,
  • tomato,
  • bok choy,
  • mani-mani (peanut grass groundcover)

Below is a garden design that includes the featured vegetables. Photo 2 shows a planting map with raised beds. Each raised bed has vegetables, flowers, or groundcovers that are grouped by their similar nutrient needs. For instance, eggplants and tomatoes absorb lots of nitrogen and similar micronutrients from the soil so they are placed in the same raised bed. These groups in Photo 2 are designed for crop rotation.

Photo 2. Planting Map and Crop Rotation Diagram of Raised Beds with featured vegetables

The arrows in Photo 2 show each group will be planted in a new raised bed each season.  This diagram shows how  planting design changes from one season to the next. So in Season 1 Tomatoes and Eggplants are grown in the Top Left raised bed.  The next growing season they are planted in the Top Right raised bed.

Crop rotation is a method to ensure your soil provides the nutrients your vegetables need to grow well. When gardeners and farmers plant the same vegetables in the same place every season, the soil loses its minerals and nutrients. They have been absorbed by plants that were previously planted and harvested.  Instead of depleting the soil quality, you can rotate crops.  After you harvest your vegetables in one area, the soil can sustain a second group of plants with its a different unique set of nutrient needs.

But how do we know what plants have similar nutrient needs? This is only a brief introduction to crop rotation. More details and examples will be highlighted in upcoming articles and downloadable info sheets.

There are nuanced techniques in crop rotation.  For example, after two seasons of rotating crops, some gardeners let a raised bed or farm plot rest. They add layers of vermicompost to the resting plot.  They may also plant green manure or leguminous groundcovers like mani-mani into the resting plot. These plants do not heavily absorb nutrients. They can actually add nitrogen into the soil. 

Crop rotation one of the many  organic methods to manage soil quality.  Rotated crops can ensure tomatoes have a vital supply of calcium and manganese from their soil. As a result, we get luscious and disease-free tomatoes. Nutrient-rich soil also produces large, green leaves in bok choy and lettuce. In short, better soil quality means thriving plants and a nutritious harvest.

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!

Raising Blooming Food & Blossoming Students!

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog
Young visitors at Healing Present growing herbs in the Edible Buffet garden

In Healing Present’s Edible Buffet garden, children planted herbs, veggies and flowers. This interplanting method was readily used. With this type of planting scheme, you too can build simple and fun children’s gardens. If you’re a teacher in an outdoor classroom, you can have a steady harvest of edible plants for scrumptious meals with garden-based activities. Your classes’ flowers primarily attract beneficial insects that help your veggies and herbs grow. As you learn what grows well in your area encourage students to experiment every season. Add new varieties. Ask your students to record and journal what plant varieties were bountiful. Your garden can change every season so why not keep it thriving and buzzing with engaged students and blooming food. Below are more tips and insights to building educational and productive raised bed gardens.

When I’m designing and growing raised bed gardens in outdoor classrooms, students love combining flowers and edible crops. Some projects allow a more collaborative garden planning process with students. This is a key teaching method for student involvement and project engagement. When we plan together, we invite inspiration and

  • list down student’s favorite meals,
  • browse through inspiring online art and illustration websites
  • peruse seed catalogs or
  • visit botanical gardens to brainstorm the best and most meaningful plant selection.

In this collaborative, student-centered method, students determine what grows in the garden. They help direct the artistic and scientific investigation in their outdoor classroom. Through their involvement, I want the students to care and feel connected to the garden. As they contribute planning input, they may engage more with fellow students and their lessons. If they grow vegetables and herbs they recognize from their favorite meals and snacks, they may feel more invested.

I also want them to incorporate flowers they remember from past vacations or field trips. Memories of food and exciting field trips reinforces continuity between old and new concepts.

As a teacher and designer, I sometimes wish we could grow and build everything our students want. But that’s not always possible. At best, we can grow a simple cross section of our student’s requests. Thankfully, simplicity can breed focus and innovation.

Many new garden-based teachers ask themselves what grows well together? What plants are easy to grow?

Well there are a multitude of approaches and answers to these questions. One method I favor is organic, chemical-free interplanting. It’s a safe and fun way to interplant a combo of flowers, herbs and vegetables with students.

Here are some planting combinations our team has planted in the Eastern US, California, and Healing Present:

  • cluster of large wooden barrels planted with masses of bokchoy and napa cabbage were interplanted with dill. Separate raised beds of sunflowers were installed beside the bok choy and napa cabbage
  • Raised beds with Rows of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage interplanted with marigolds. At the edge of each row, Queens’s Anne’s lace, lamb’s quarters, golden rod
  • Paths lined with dwarf bean varieties; every fourth bean plant was combined with zinnias and tansies
Photo 1. Raised beds and container gardens in Healing Present

Whether in class or at home, choose a raised bed that suits you or the end user. Be it students, your family, or fellow community members. Match the raised bed to the specific needs of your end users. Who’s primarily gardening in the garden? You? Taller, Adult students? Younger, shorter students? Visitors with specific mobility needs? When you’re planning, take the time to investigate raised bed products or build custom raised beds. In Healing Present, different raised beds and container gardens that serve various visitors, farmers’ needs and the requirements of our clay, rocky soil. Photo 1C shows raised beds that accommodate visitors with wheelchairs and limited mobility in their backs. Photo 2 shows my designs for seated planters. These suit gardeners who’d prefer or need to physically sit while taking care of plants.

Photo 2. Planters and Raised beds with attached seats.

Choose or design raised beds with features that accommodate the height of your students. Photo 3 displays a variety of planting combos and raised bed materials. Photo 3A shows a raised bed with a durable, plastic basket weave frame. Inside, you can plant flowers like Iris and purslane and vegetables like purple camote (sweet potato) and munggos (mung bean).

Photo 3. A) Durable, Outdoor plastic Bed with camote, eggplant, iris and purslane B) A speckled, concrete raised bed frame with Canna and cosmos flowers interplanted with eggplant and kamatis (tomato); C) A treated hardwood raised bed with yellow and red canna flowers mixed with cabbage varieties (like napa) and bok choy; D)A corrugated aluminum raised bed with blooming coleus and cosmos; alongside delicious basil and raddish.

In Photo 1, Healing Present use small containers, coconut shells and green roofs to substitute our site’s ground is naturally rocky and heavy soil. So we can’t directly plant in the ground all the time. Sometimes our vegetables and herbs grow better with lighter soil with less rocks. So we give it to them in containers. In Photo 4A, you can see Healing Present bed frames are made of local fish netting in protective greenhouses. This helps our farmers increase harvest yield, improves the drainage of our rocky soil and protects the bok choy and lettuce from pests and wind. Photo 4B also shows kale thriving in a netting raised bed with lighter soil, vermicasts, and compost.

We offer health education and aim to treat illnesses with nutrition and holistic therapies