For our Singing Feathered Friends

By Michelle Domocol
Back to Inflourish: Cebu

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.

Photo 1. Features in Bird-friendly garden behind HP headquarters–A: Assorted foliage plants; B: Fruiting vines; C: Flowering ginger lilies; D: orchids attached to post

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)
Photo 2. “Tropical Lounge”

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)
Photo 3. “Relaxing Patio”


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” (Photo 4)
Photo 4. “Garden Path”


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)
Photo 5. “Terrace”


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.

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Lovely, Leafy Lagoons

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

Lush lagoons are a wonderful site to relax. Sitting beside a pond or dipping your feet into a leafy lake has a restorative power for some. After an agitating day, watching water flow can slow down rattling thoughts and help you escape. You can lengthen you inhale and just concentrate on the wind pass through the waterside palms.

With some sturdy construction and consistent maintainance, a flourishing pond can provide an ample amount of respite. Sound appealing? Well here are some basic elements you can consider as you brainstorm your oasis.

  • Lagoon location. Choose a spot that has partial or full shade. This inhibits annoying green algal and mosquito growth and keeps your pond healthy.

In Healing Present, our main pool is shaded by tall palms, bamboo, vines, ferns, and a variety of low growing vegetation (Photo 1). The shade also keeps the water cool and refreshing during the dry, hot seasons. Healing Present also added fun fountains and mini-waterfalls to increase water circulation (Photo 1, C). That means less stagnant water eliminates mosquito infestations.

Photo 1. Healing Present’s lagoon: The partial shade, vegetation, & mini-waterfalls create optimal conditions for a healthy lagoon.
  • Details & Depth. The depth of your pond is up to you. It really depends on the intended function of your pond. Will it be decorative and part of a beautiful vista? Do you intend to swim in it? Would you look like to keep fish in the pond? Or would you like a mini local water habitat for your respite as well as for local fauna?

Research the appropriate depths for your pond’s intended purpose. Or consult a landscape professional for suggested pond depths.

Photo 2. Stone & concrete ledges in Healing Present Lagoon

In Healing Present, the lagoon is used for respite, swimming, and a local habitat (Photo 2). We also added sitting areas, lush vegetation, and stairs to achieve these functions. So we decided to build graded ledges around and inside the lagoon (Photo 2).

The deepest part of the lagoon is 1.2m (4 feet). This depth safely accomodates our youth and adult swimmers (Photo 2, B). Ledges within the pool provide built-in seating and steps (Photo 2, A) for swimmers. Terracing or graded areas around the pool make plant and water maintenance accessible and easy.

  • Leafy & Lush. For me, plant planning is best phase of a waterside project. When we add the right plants, a boring cement pool or fancy puddle comes alive. In the Philippines, a variety of:
    • water-loving lilies,
    • irises,
    • water reeds,
    • moisture-tolerant palms,
    • flowering gingers, and
    • colorful crotons

are commonly available.

Luckily, the tropics gift us with an impressive range of water-loving plants. Remember, with planning, your can choose plants that help you achieve your water garden’s intended purpose.

Perhaps you want specific floating plants for your fish’s food and protection. Or maybe you want low-maintenance, fast growing plants that grow all year-round so you can easily and shade your swimming spot. Or you may want native, moisture-tolerant palms and grasses that songbirds will like.

  • Illuminated evenings. Consider adding lights to your lovely water feature. Solar-powered LEDs or halogen lights extend the use of your pond into the night. With recessed lights or spotlights, you can enjoy the pond without tripping or accidently falling in.

Visitors can sit waterside or swim under the stars. You can add recessed lighting to garden steps or decks around the pond. Or you can add underwater lighting on the lagoon floor or in the pond walls. Alternatively, spotlights can also amongst the vegetation bordering the pond.

  • In-ground or Above ground. Many who’d dream of grand, flowing water feature get turned off by the construction process and investment. One way to install a pond or lagoon without digging holes is an above ground option. There are a variety of materials and designs for an above ground water feature.

You can create a beautiful no-dig, container pond. Your raised pond’s exterior can be gorgeous limestone bricks, stained concrete, treated timber, bamboo, or other weather-resistant local materials. Some even use re-usable exteriors like wine barrels and bathtubs. Photo 2 shows Healing Present’s above ground pond with a gray flagstone exterior.

Photo 2. Healing Present’s above ground pond; the fountain bubbler and aquatic plants increased water aeration.

Photo 3, A & B display two types of above ground ponds. Check out “Flowing Sanctuaries” to learn more about raised water features.

A. Above ground pond with stained concrete
B. Large terrazo stone bowl transformed into pond

Photo 3. Raised ponds from my article  “Flowing Sanctuaries”

Whatever decorative exterior you choose, make sure your pondliner is sealed and water-tight. Small pumps, fountains or pond bubbles also help the water aerated. This reduces unwanted mosquito and algae growth. A combination of shade, pumps, filters, and/or added vegetation keep you pond (Photo 2) easy to clean and maintain.

In many cases, above ground options are easier to construct and require less time. Plus smaller, preformed ponds or other types of container ponds can be dismantled or transferred easily. So if you’re planning to move in the future, you can transport the pond with you.

Thanks for browsing these 5 considerations. If you need more inspiration, here are more examples on waterside planting and garden stair lighting.

July Joys & August Arrivals

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

How has your farm or garden faired in the July weather? Are you letting your soil rest and adding layers of nutrient-rich compost? Or maybe you’re harvesting some fruits?

This July, I spent my summer enjoying new places and learning a new language. But now August has arrived and I’m ready to share more design and garden inspiration.

Throughout August, I’ll post more design inspiration for food production, outdoor relaxation, and habitat restoration. I’ll feature:

○ Seasonal fruits available in August
○ Indigenous Philippine re-forestation species
○ Terrace Gardening
○Unique Floral Arrangements
○ Outdoor Eco-Activities for Children & the Young at Heart

and more! Also remember to check out my other blog, Inflourish: Around the World, to learn about gardening techniques in environments and gardens outside the Philippines.



August Arrival: Caimitos

In the meantime, did you know many delicious fruits are available in August because they need the dry season to develop their fruits. Caimitos (star fruits) are one of those delectable fruits available in August. Check your local vendor to see if they are available particular area. Before caimitos reach your local markets, they are grown in the ground or in containers.

Here are some tips to help you grow caimitos in your garden:

  1. Many experienced gardeners plant caimito seeds just before the rainy season. For beginners, I suggest you get a healthy young caimito sapling (aka a young caimito tree) to plant in a container or in the soil. Plant your young caimito sapling in a spot with full sun exposure. These plants thrive with sunlight and warm soils. Ideally, your soil should have great drainage. But I’ve seen caimitos thrive in poor soils around Cebu.
  2. If you have a small caimito sapling, make sure your hole is 3 times the diameter of the container. Dig a hole as deep as the container so the roots remain healthy.
  3. Fill in the hole with soil and water thoroughly. Make sure the water is directed at the roots.
  4. Fertilize your caimito every 2 months within the first year of planting your sapling. You can use vermicompost with rice hulls or other types of mature compost. After the first year, you can apply the organic fertilizer to the soil around the caimito 3 times a year.
  5. Make sure the caimito is watered every two days for the first week of planting. Then reduce the watering to 2 times a week for the first two months. Increase the frequency during the dry season. And reduce watering during the rainy season.

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.
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.