Holiday gardens with Family


By Michelle Domocol
Back to Inflourish: Cebu Blog

December is the holiday season throughout Cebu. Families, schools, churches, restaurants, and offices are busy planning for Christmas parties, Sinulog festivities and other barangay fiestas. Many households and local businesses are prepping for the arrival of overseas family members. In that spirit of holiday festivities and joyful reunions, here are two fun family activities to share:

Activity #1: Family Storytelling Garden. Grow your own magical, native tree with your children, nieces or nephews. Certain native tree is perfect for small spaces or cozy backyards. As the tree matures, you can surround it with add seating, tables, cheery decorative lights, and art. You and your family can spend a fun time taking pictures, sharing meals and telling stories around your magical tree. Here are some native trees with their own magical, natural qualities:

Winged Alibangbang (Piliostigma malabaricum ). This beauty is adorned with flowers shaped like cattleya orchids. The leaves are resemble butterfly wings. It grows to 10 meters with either white, purple, or yellow blossoms. They are resistant to fires and droughts. And their strong roots are used to regenerate dry, hilly areas in the Philippines.

Perfumed Champak (Magnolia champaca). This tree possess beautiful yellowish-orange blooms with a fragrant aroma. In a small space, it will adapt to a compact 8 meters. In the wild, they can grow to 50 meters.

Mighty Maritima (Drypetes falcata). This small, straight-trunked tree symbolizes strength. It’s strong roots famously withstands floods and typhoons.


    Activity # 2: Lucky New Year’s Garden. Usually, families in Cebu prepare bowls of round, lucky fruits to welcome prosperity. What other traditions do you have on New Year’s Eve? In my house, we where polka dots, have a bowl of lucky fruit, turn on all the lights.
    How about another tradition–A Lucky New Year’s Garden?
    With the children in your family, grow a lucky fruit to celebrate the upcoming new year.
    You and your family can plant lucky pomelo, star fruit, or limonsito (Photo 1) in containers in your backyard.

    Here are some general reminders when growing fruit trees in containers:

      • A: Beginner gardeners should buy a young grafted or marcotted tree with an established ball of roots (rootball). Pick a dwarf variety so it fits your small space. Grafted pomelo, star fruit, and calamansi all like full sun exposure. So give them a bright, sunny spot in your garden.
      • B: Give your fruit trees well-composted soil that drains well. Water them regularly for the first few months. As they mature only water them when the soil is dry.
      • C: Choose a container that is 30%-50% bigger than the rootball of your fruit tree. Young trees (aka saplings) already have an established ball of roots. Make sure your container is big enough for them to spread and stay healthy.

      Hope you’re inspired to create fun memories in the garden. Happy Holidays and have a fun-filled time with friends and family!

      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

      ○ ○ ○


      “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

      ○ ○ ○


      “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)

      ○ ○ ○


      “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.

      Tropical, Tactile Gardens for Children

      By Michelle Domocol
      Back to Inflourish Cebu

      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.

      Photo 1. Garden paths (Right) and planted stairways (Left) with tactile tropical plants can be fun outdoor learning spaces

      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).
      Photo 2. (Left to Right): An illustrated closeup of a Puzzling Path; My suggested layout for the Puzzling Path design.
      • 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.
        • Philodendron cordatum
        • Aloe vera
      Photo 3. In my illustration, I feature jade plants and echeverias around limestone stepping stones. Purslane and hardy sedum succulents are also included.
      • 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!

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      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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