This month is a great time to start using planting calendars, garden journals, and other garden planning documents to explore/ study your garden’s progress. Below are my record-keeping, garden planning sheets, and fun gardening activities to track & improve your garden. They may inspire you to create your own custom documents.
And in 2023, check out our online store. I will launch my collection of garden journals, planting calendars, and gardening education books.
October in Cebu brings steady rainfall and a daily chorus of bird calls. Healing Present’s (HP) headquarters is located in the bustling, concrete landscape of Cebu City. It sits far below from the farm’s upland vegetation and pocket forests.
Although the headquarters are surrounded by cement homes and ragged roads, we manage to create an oasis for local birds (Photo 1). It’s truly awe-inspiring what a collection of potted plants, raised beds and vines can do (Photo 1). Without fail, every morning and afternoon, we are visited by local avians like black shamas, sunbirds, flowerpeckers, and more.
In general, adding plants that attract local birds benefits you and the local ecoystem. Birds visit urban gardens for food, water, and temporary protection from predators.
In turn, they grace us with relaxing songs. For some, birdsongs are reminders of our unique ecological heritage. These urban bird oases are also wonderful venues to teach children about nature without traveling too far from home.
Here are 3 strategies to create your own bird-friendly garden.
1. Offer a Fruit & Nectar Buffet. Add fruit-bearing and nectar-rich, flowering shrubs, vines and trees. If you live in a smaller space with a balcony or small courtyard, select dwarf fruit trees or shrubs that grow well in containers.
In urban Cebu’s humid, rainfall, and tropical climate, we can plant so many combinations of tropical fruit or berries. Try adding your favorite local fruit. I’ve seen birds flock to gardens with batwan, biasong, lomboy, or seryales.
If you have a larger space, add mature native trees and vines. As your fruit/flower garden matures, birds will appreciate the free food and nectar. You can add non-fruiting plants too. Birds like to protect themselves amongst large leafed plants (Photo 1) like elephant ear, ferns, crotons or other foliage.
2. Leave the fallen leaves. In Cebu, there’s a compulsion to constantly clean up old leaves. In a bird garden, fight this urge. You can sweep the leaves and debris under the plants. But please don’t throw them and worse yet, burn them. These precious leaves return nutrients to your plants. They also attract harmless insects birds love to eat.
3. Discourage cats. Cats can threaten and attack local birds regularly. In Cebu, sometimes it’s difficult to protect your garden from stray cats. If you have your own pet cat, try to keep it inside or away from your garden. You can also put a bell on your cat’s collar so birds are warned as it approaches.
Photos 2 to 5 are my sample designs to inspire your next bird-friendly garden.
Each design illustrates an outdoor space with bird-attracting flowering and fruiting plants. Native and endemic plant varieties are also highlighted.
“Tropical Lounge” (Photo 2)
A: Outdoor seating area with cluster of native Phalaenopsis orchids, flowering Heliconia latispatha, and a local variety of Dwarf Lakatan bananas. B: Bignay fruit tree (Antidesma bunius) and Kamagong (Diospyros blancoi) C: Dwarf lakatan in container D: Large-leafed foliage plants
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“Relaxing Patio” (Photo 3)
A: Kamuning shrubs (Murraya paniculata) around a pond B: Talamisan Citrus tree (Citrus longispina) with Vanda orchids attached to trunk C: Mix of Luy-a (Zingiber officinale), ginger lily (Zingiber spectabilis), and ferns D: Reclining outdoor chairs to observe birds and rest
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“Garden path” (Photo4)
A: Walkway with bordering gardend. A mix of cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) and local Santan shrubs (Ixora philippinensis). B: Native Dendrobium orchids growing on decorative boulder C: Behind the flowering borders, you can add large-leafed foliage like taro. If you have more space, you can plant trees like Cebu Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cebuense) or Banaba (Lagerstroemia speciosa)
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“Terrace” (Photo 5)
A: Islands of Gumamela varieties (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) B: Dwarf Limonsito (Calamondin spp.) tree in a large circular raised bed with attached circular seating C: Group of dwarf papaya growing in containers D: More hibiscus shrubs in front of a slightly raised terrace
I hope these designs inspire some enthusiastic brainstorming for our feathered friends. Till next post, enjoy the rest of October’s birdsongs.
In previous posts, I’ve introduced ways to initiate a children’s garden. Whether you’re a teacher, caregiver, or designer, you can find numerous ways promote plant appreciation in young gardeners. Trust me, it’s all worth the effort. There’s nothing like seeing younger gardeners cultivate their curiosity for the Earth.
The trick is engaging children’s sensory powers. We can build:
And what’s left? What other senses can we amplify with a magical garden? How about our human tactile powers…our sense of Touch?
Luckily, we live in the tropics. In our tropical humidity, we can grow a spectacular range of plants with prickly, feathery, furry, sticky and other peculiar textures.
For this initial introduction into plant textures, I’ll share a garden path design with smooth exteriors. This garden walkway is designed with touchable, tropical plants.
After the garden is built, you and your young investigators can learn how these smooth, durable plants get nutrients. This garden design features shiny, smooth Bromeliads, Succulents, and Philodendrons (Photo 1). They all possess specific ways of storing water and collecting nutrients. Luckily, these plants aren’t fragile and can withstand the tactile pressure of curious explorers.
Here’s a sample activity to help you how you and younger generation explore tropical plant textures. Remember you can adjust this activity to suit your specific budget, timeline, students’ learning preferences, and resources. You can always start with a small garden and then expand later when more resources are available.
Puzzling Paths with Tropical Touchables (Photo 1)
Choose a humid, sunny spot in your garden with space for a walkway. You can also adapt this project for stairs as well. The garden site can be in your home, at school, or in a community space. This will be the site of your tactile garden, the Puzzling Path with Tropical Touchables.
Tell your students about your special Puzzling Path project.
With your students or children, introduce each other to plant textures with selection of bromeliads, philodendrons, and succulents. You can explore outside in a park, at a plant nursery, or do a group internet search. You can gauge their level of involvement. For instance, 2nd graders may want to lead the plant research and design process.
If possible, let them choose bromeliads, philodendrons and succulents that are commonly available. Allow them to choose varieties that spark enthusiasm. Maybe they are attracted to the plants with the brightest colors, coolest shapes, and/or the plumpest appearance.
When you are planning your path, make sure you have gaps around each stepping stone. The gaps will be planting space for the small succulents. You can have additional planting space by adding a row of planting space on both sides of the stone walkway. See illustration below for a sample design (Photo 2).
The path should be wide enough for you and the children. I suggest you make the path wide enough for at least 2 children to pass through comfortably (Photo 2). You and the children can also determine the space between each stepping stone. Mark the path outline with flags or strings. You and your youthful garden crew can customize the design.
Once you’ve determined the dimensions and layout of your walkway, choose a set of stepping stones. You can go to a rockery or hardware store to choose limestone, plastic, concrete, brick or other low-cost flat stones (Photo 3). I recommend choosing stepping stones with a 3-inch thickness. You can add a few medium boulders on the outer border, next to your bromeliads. This adds more textures and height (Photo 3).
With the help of a professional construction crew or landscaping professionals, dig out a flat path that is 5 inches deep. You will excavate the existing terrain to install the paving stones and plants. Make sure the construction crew uses layers of landscape fabric or plastic to suppress weeds. They should also add a layer of sand and soil to ensure the stepping stones are level and sitting at the same height.
Go to a plant nursery or farm and pick young, small plants to fill the space around your stepping stones. Choose locally available bromeliads, succulents and low-maintenance philodendrons. These young plants will grow bigger after you’ve inserted them into your garden path design (Photo 3). As they grow, the will fill in the gaps in your garden path.
Here’s a sample plant list for your puzzling path (Photo 3):
Bromeliads like Neoregelia spp.
Jade plant groundcovers from Crassula spp.
Small, clumping Echeveria spp.
Now for the botanical magic. You and the children can now plant and insert the succulents in between the stepping stones. The planting space beside the walkway is reserved for the larger bromeliads, philodendrons and succulents.
Make sure all your plants’ roots are covered by soil. Supervise your beginner gardeners to make sure each plant is not damaged while planting. Water the plants after the intial planting. Monitor the plants weekly. If you or your young explorers notice dry soil, water your Puzzling Path. In general, these tropical touchables are hardy and don’t need frequent watering.
I hope you enjoyed my ideas for engaging sensory gardens. I look forward to sharing more outdoor learning inspiration. Happy exploring!
Some of the most important parts of plant cultivation occur after fruits and vegetables matures. So far my blog posts describe seedling care and daily garden maintenance. After harvest, what happens? What about collecting or saving seed from your prized flowers, vegetables, fruits or trees?
Will the seeds we collect be viable?
These are all fair questions from a beginner seed collector. If you want your plant to be ever-giving, here are some tips to extract its seeds.
Choose a flower, vegetable, fruit, or other amazing plant in your garden. Make sure it came from non-GMO and open-pollinated seeds. These plants are viable and can pass on their genetic traits. Photo 1 shows popular vegetables and flowers that produce seeds you can save. These include lettuce, beans, tomatoes, squashes, eggplants and cucumber. Irises, marigolds, hibiscus and sunflowers are flower seeds you can also collect.
Garden Bonus! Download this fun seed saving envelope activity. Happy Seed Collecting!
Collect seeds from plants that have favorable features or traits. If you like your corn’s flavor, color or size, collect the seed. Or maybe your gardenia’s petals were huge and produced a brilliant yellow. Save the seeds so you can grow more! Seed saving may generate custom garden full of plants you curated and collected.
Once you pick a plant for seed collection, observe how the seed matures and how the plant sheds the seeds. For instance, cucumbers and eggplants chosen for seed collection need to stay on the plant longer than the crops chosen for eating. The seeding cucumbers and eggplants are only harvested when the seeds mature. Mature seeds can withstand drying and storage. Do some research and ask fellow gardeners about your target plant. Observations of your personal plants form the best guidance.
Identify the type of seed your desired plant produces. Do they have dry seed cases like sitaw beans? If your plant has dried seed cases like many bean varieties, garlics and onions, then remove the seed head by hand. Then use a paper bag to catch the individual seeds inside the seed head. Other gardeners may shake the mature seed pods or seed heads so they fall into a bucket.
Or maybe you have a plant with seed pods split open? Or perhaps the seeds naturally pop out of the seed case? Will you be threshing or winnowing to separate some seeds from their seed cases? Or, like mango, will you remove your seed from the older, fleshy fruit? Once you find out your plant’s seeding behavior, then you can use the best way to catch and harvest the seed.
Make sure you use the correct method to clean and store your seeds. Fungal diseases, rain, hungry insects and even hungrier birds can threaten your seed collection process, so be vigilant.
Saved seeds can be stored in paper envelopes, water-tight jars, camera film cases, and glass jars. Some gardeners then store the containers of seeds in a refrigerator or a cool, dry, dark cupboard.
Make your batches of seed are labelled. Labels can include the seed collection date, plant names, and the plant’s notable traits or features.
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 MeToo. 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.