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A Festival of Gardens

By PAULO ALCAZAREN, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 03, 2022 5:00 am

After two years, the Worldbex building and construction exhibition opened again recently. The organizer invited LaCISAP (Landscape Contractors and Industry Specialists Association of the Philippines) to mount their Philippine Garden Festival 2022 at the spacious lobby of the World Trade Center in Pasay. Asked to provide the designs for the installations were notable members of PALA (Philippine Association of Landscape Architects).

Collaborating with members of LaCISAP, they combined efforts to create masterpiece gardens in the spacious lobby. The six green installations were themed and include: Four Rivers of Heaven: A Healing Garden by architect Horacio Dimanlig of HEDLA; The Vertical Garden by architect Efren Aurelio, principal of EALA; A Zen Garden by this writer, as head of PGAA Creative Design; A Water Garden by architect Vic Dul-loog, Head of SGS Designs Landscape Architecture; A Play Garden by architect Cecilia H. Tence, partner at Green Edge Environmental Consultancy, Inc.; and A Poetry Garden by architect Anne Espina, a principal of Espina, Perez-Espina and Associates.

Horacio Dimanlig designed this Healing Garden as a central space connecting the other garden installations at the festival.

We visited each garden in a clockwise direction starting from the center of the atrium space.

Horacio “Ace” Dimanlig’s Four Rivers of Heaven: A Healing Garden anchors the middle. Ace designed the garden to be a convergence point for the other installations. Its four “rivers” are functional connectors to the others and have different treatments underfoot—pebbles as in a dry creek, concrete pavers, and natural stone slabs.

Vic Dul-loog's Water Garden is blessed with timber decks perfect as seating alcoves or for al fresco dining.

The yin-yang gardens in between these connectors are designed as seating alcoves. One features water features such as fountains, bubblers, and even a birdbath. These, as well as people walking on the crushed stone and pebbles, provide a soundscape to enhance the experience of the gardens. Trellises were incorporated to lend an upper plane, while vertical elements of bamboo screens provide privacy for the alcoves. These bamboo enclosures start at the ends of the gardens and progress to rise around the seating areas to provide an organic embrace.

All these elements combined to provide a healing experience of the installation.

The Play Garden's circular geometry is emphasized by cushioned paving used for children's playgrounds.

Next to this central garden is The Vertical Garden by Efren Aurelio. His garden highlights vertical landscapes or green walls, which are now a popular way to bring the landscape to tight urban spaces. This strategy, says Aurelio, mitigates the heat-island effect, a buildup of temperatures in urban areas.

Explains Aurelio, “For decades, advocates of sustainability have been clamoring for solutions to environmental problems. Our installation highlights examples of green walls, to show people how a professionally designed and constructed space can produce a convivial and pleasing urban garden. Green walls in actual projects can vary from small, individual terrace gardens in a condo environment up to extensive coverage on a building wall similar to that of the Podium Mall in Ortigas, Mandaluyong.”

Bright colors and quirky accents enhance this Play Garden's vibe.

Adjacent to these green walls is A Zen Garden (designed by this writer). Zen gardens are meant to represent nature and bring calm into homes. This is not a recreation or attempt at an authentic Japanese Zen garden, but an installation inspired by its principles of abstraction, the use of raked sand to represent water, boulders as “islands,” and a bamboo background to mirror the Japanese garden concept of shakkei, or borrowed scenery.

Key to this garden’s success were three Japanese garden lamps provided by The House of Precast, the premier purveyor of cast-stone accessories for gardens and industry pioneer in precast architectural and landscape architectural ornaments. For added interest and visitor interaction, I asked my artist sister, Marita, to provide mannequins in Japanese dress. Everyone loves selfies.

Efren Aurelio shows how vertical greenery can define and soften a space.

Beside this Zen garden is the Water Garden by Vic Dul-loog. Vic notes with this installation that “water is now an integral element in many designed landscapes. Natural ponds and pools, supported by swales and rain gardens, are designed to eliminate the need for chemicals and high cost of maintenance. Wildlife is also becoming part of such water features, mimicking and inviting nature.”

His water garden is an inward-looking space designed to instill calmness and serenity amid the bustling world. He points out that “the sound of moving water masks the noise of the surrounding areas and the diversity of plant species attracts wildlife such as insects and birds into the garden.” He provides seating and al fresco decks, providing a pleasant setting for conversation among friends or with nature.

Anne Espina's Poetry Garden embeds lines from three short poems onto terraced decks punctuated by greenery.

Next is the joyous Play Garden by Cecilia H. Tence. Play, says Cecile, is any activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose, but it can also be a conduit for the imagination. “Gardens are the canvas, the four-dimensional space where creativity, recreation, and the enjoyment of space itself can be had.”

Cecile maximizes the engagement of the user with elements in the site, tapping into several sensory and creative experiences through the use of non-conventional play equipment. The colorful swirl pattern on the floor, accentuated with a LED strip light, leads one to explore the garden.

She includes a maze to invite curiosity, boulder climbers to engage nimbleness and dexterity, and the music wall as a respite from the active areas. Cecile notes that the wooden kumintang is handcrafted by the father of Nissan Kalanduyan of the indigenous Maguindanaoan tribe. “Its inclusion in this play garden is deliberate, intentional, and purposeful, to introduce indigenous instruments and its other possible uses, and how it can be incorporated as part of the sense of creative play.”

Japanese stone lanterns from the House of Pre-Cast make perfect accents to the Zen Garden.

Cecile’s garden also provides a rest area, necessary to calm oneself after active play and for others to engage in conversations. The area is an oasis for conversations amid the busy site.

Finally at the western end of the atrium is Anne Espina’s literary landscape, the Garden of Poetry. She explained, “The Garden of Poetry carries the concept that indoor gardens are pockets of healing spaces… providing users an ambiance that inspires creativity and spurs contemplation. These gardens provide much-needed places for respite from the daily grind of life… important as we continue to face the challenges brought about by the pandemic.”

Ohayou gozaimasu and welcome to my Zen Garden.

Continuing, she further pointed to poetry as a product of inspiration and contemplation, drawing from the images of the natural environment. “Indeed, one can make poetry in an indoor garden. And we can see the mind—a place of creation—as a garden within us, the same way an indoor garden is within a building. As we cultivate gardens, we should also cultivate the landscape of our minds.”

The wavy platforms of the garden reflect “the fluidity of thought.” Lines from three poems are inscribed on these platforms. “The main poem, entitled Sunday, talks about a shifting landscape. A short poem, perched on the side, was inspired by the event of the sighting of an endemic bird—a Philippine Coucal—with beautifully rufous wings.” The third poem, Lost in Thought refers to the pandemic, during which many of us, says Anne, spent a lot of time in deep reflection.

The festival was a success and drew thousands a day. Plans are afoot for an expanded Garden Festival next year, hopefully with an outdoor component and longer duration.