Growing Plants, Growing Minds

By Michelle Domocol

Inflourish: Cebu Blog

This September, I’ll share more design inpiration for

  • seasonal vegetable and fruit gardens,
  • outdoor learning gardens, and
  • medicinal/therapeutic landscapes.

Food gardens, outdoor classrooms, and therapeutic landscapes invite us to spend more time outside. I think expanding our outdoor connection is vital to growth and overall health.

I deeply understood this connection when I was studying my masters program. While I was studying oak forests for my masters program, I worked as a park guide and environmental educator for children and adults (Photo 1). At the same time, I regularly camped in the mountains with friends on the weekend. My outdoor recreation, work, and studies strengthened my environmental literacy. In addition, I regularly witnessed students, colleagues, and friends deepen their curiosity about nature. Through informal and formal outdoor educational activities, I also saw highschoolers and retirees:

  • re-invigorate their connection with community, and
  • take interest in environmental stewardship
Photo 1.  As a garden educator, university students, alumni groups, and pre-schoolers attended my past garden/outdoor education programs.

As a parent, caregiver, or teacher, are you interested in developing an outdoor educational experience? How do you start?

One approach is to use a garden, nearby beach, or farm as a classroom. From that starting point, you can build engaging environmental activities and curricula. Below is a booklet with a few fun environmental games and nature-based learning activities you can adapt for your students or children.

I hope the booklet can inspire new ideas or enhance existing outdoor learning modules.

I know first-hand the powerful effect of outdoor education. In particular, I’ve seen the benefits of transforming a garden into a new learning space (Photo 1). Informal and formal academic learning in a garden, schoolyard, park, or beach can spark a new appreciation for natural wonders. It can deepen a child’s connection to their environmental heritage and history. It can solidify an adult’s calling to protect clean air, water and land resources.

With all these benefits to our well-being, I look forward to sharing more garden-education-inspiration for the rest of September.

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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, corrugated, polycarbonate plastic roofing 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.
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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!

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

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.