A for Agroforestry

By Michelle Domocol

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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.

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Popping with Color

By Michelle Domocol

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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.

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Raising Blooming Food & Blossoming Students!

By Michelle Domocol

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Young visitors at Healing Present growing herbs in the Edible Buffet garden

In Healing Present’s Edible Buffet garden, children planted herbs, veggies and flowers. This interplanting method was readily used. With this type of planting scheme, you too can build simple and fun children’s gardens. If you’re a teacher in an outdoor classroom, you can have a steady harvest of edible plants for scrumptious meals with garden-based activities. Your classes’ flowers primarily attract beneficial insects that help your veggies and herbs grow. As you learn what grows well in your area encourage students to experiment every season. Add new varieties. Ask your students to record and journal what plant varieties were bountiful. Your garden can change every season so why not keep it thriving and buzzing with engaged students and blooming food. Below are more tips and insights to building educational and productive raised bed gardens.

When I’m designing and growing raised bed gardens in outdoor classrooms, students love combining flowers and edible crops. Some projects allow a more collaborative garden planning process with students. This is a key teaching method for student involvement and project engagement. When we plan together, we invite inspiration and

  • list down student’s favorite meals,
  • browse through inspiring online art and illustration websites
  • peruse seed catalogs or
  • visit botanical gardens to brainstorm the best and most meaningful plant selection.

In this collaborative, student-centered method, students determine what grows in the garden. They help direct the artistic and scientific investigation in their outdoor classroom. Through their involvement, I want the students to care and feel connected to the garden. As they contribute planning input, they may engage more with fellow students and their lessons. If they grow vegetables and herbs they recognize from their favorite meals and snacks, they may feel more invested.

I also want them to incorporate flowers they remember from past vacations or field trips. Memories of food and exciting field trips reinforces continuity between old and new concepts.

As a teacher and designer, I sometimes wish we could grow and build everything our students want. But that’s not always possible. At best, we can grow a simple cross section of our student’s requests. Thankfully, simplicity can breed focus and innovation.

Many new garden-based teachers ask themselves what grows well together? What plants are easy to grow?

Well there are a multitude of approaches and answers to these questions. One method I favor is organic, chemical-free interplanting. It’s a safe and fun way to interplant a combo of flowers, herbs and vegetables with students.

Here are some planting combinations our team has planted in the Eastern US, California, and Healing Present:

  • cluster of large wooden barrels planted with masses of bokchoy and napa cabbage were interplanted with dill. Separate raised beds of sunflowers were installed beside the bok choy and napa cabbage
  • Raised beds with Rows of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage interplanted with marigolds. At the edge of each row, Queens’s Anne’s lace, lamb’s quarters, golden rod
  • Paths lined with dwarf bean varieties; every fourth bean plant was combined with zinnias and tansies
Photo 1. Raised beds and container gardens in Healing Present

Whether in class or at home, choose a raised bed that suits you or the end user. Be it students, your family, or fellow community members. Match the raised bed to the specific needs of your end users. Who’s primarily gardening in the garden? You? Taller, Adult students? Younger, shorter students? Visitors with specific mobility needs? When you’re planning, take the time to investigate raised bed products or build custom raised beds. In Healing Present, different raised beds and container gardens that serve various visitors, farmers’ needs and the requirements of our clay, rocky soil. Photo 1C shows raised beds that accommodate visitors with wheelchairs and limited mobility in their backs. Photo 2 shows my designs for seated planters. These suit gardeners who’d prefer or need to physically sit while taking care of plants.

Photo 2. Planters and Raised beds with attached seats.

Choose or design raised beds with features that accommodate the height of your students. Photo 3 displays a variety of planting combos and raised bed materials. Photo 3A shows a raised bed with a durable, plastic basket weave frame. Inside, you can plant flowers like Iris and purslane and vegetables like purple camote (sweet potato) and munggos (mung bean).

Photo 3. A) Durable, Outdoor plastic Bed with camote, eggplant, iris and purslane B) A speckled, concrete raised bed frame with Canna and cosmos flowers interplanted with eggplant and kamatis (tomato); C) A treated hardwood raised bed with yellow and red canna flowers mixed with cabbage varieties (like napa) and bok choy; D)A corrugated aluminum raised bed with blooming coleus and cosmos; alongside delicious basil and raddish.

In Photo 1, Healing Present use small containers, coconut shells and green roofs to substitute our site’s ground is naturally rocky and heavy soil. So we can’t directly plant in the ground all the time. Sometimes our vegetables and herbs grow better with lighter soil with less rocks. So we give it to them in containers. In Photo 4A, you can see Healing Present bed frames are made of local fish netting in protective greenhouses. This helps our farmers increase harvest yield, improves the drainage of our rocky soil and protects the bok choy and lettuce from pests and wind. Photo 4B also shows kale thriving in a netting raised bed with lighter soil, vermicasts, and compost.

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