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:

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.

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.