Many have turned to gardening over the last few months. This may be for herbs, spices and vegetables for the table, but that is not the only reason. Tending to plants helps not just the stomach but also the mind.
These next few weeks, we will feature gardens and their owners who have thrived in quarantine.
For this first of the series we visit three women. Two have connections to National Artist IP Santos. The third is the daughter of noted author and publisher Gilda Cordero-Fernando.
First we visit with Zenaida C. Galingan in Alabang. Zeny is the director of the Landscape Architecture Graduate Program at the College of Architecture. She is also head of the National Committee for Architecture & Allied Arts at the NCCA. Zeny was also IP Santos’ associate at his firm for 30 years.
Paulo Alcazaren: Do you have any favorite plants or trees?
Zenaida Galingan: I don't have any particular favorites. I am more interested in each plant’s characteristics and how they will fit into the garden for a pleasing composition. Generally, I select plants that are easy to maintain, like the Costus woodsonii (red button ginger), Hymenocallis littoralis, (Beach Spider lily), Asparagus sprengerii, Epipremnum aureum (Devils ivy or water plant), and Alpinia purpurata (red ginger).
Do you use native plants?
I love native plants and use them in combinations for their colorful blooms. Some of my gems include Cobretum indicum or Quisqualis indica (Niog-niogan), Hoya carnosa (wax plant) and the Cymbidium finlaysonianum (jungle orchid or just cymbidium). They are all easy to maintain and flower constantly.
What did you learn from IP Santos in terms of gardening?
IP Santos taught me to give plants space to allow them to grow naturally. It is necessary to study each plant’s natural characteristics, or habit of growth, for this purpose. That’s why plant spacing is key to good landscape composition. I also learned from him not to plant around the trees like as if "it was wearing a skirt," to design plant beds en masse to give impact, rather than filling every little nook with so many varieties, resulting in a design with no focus.
How often do you tend to your plants?
Before the lockdown, I used to do my gardening once or twice a week. Since the lockdown, I’ve gone out to my garden every morning. This is also where I do my daily exercise regimen.
What benefits have you seen in regular gardening?
It has reduced the stress of being cooped up. Gardening takes a lot of time and focus. You must watch for new growth, insects, or if birds start coming more often. I don’t think I could have done without my garden in these trying times.
Next we say hello to Gigi Santos, who lives in an apartment in Seattle. Gigi is one of four daughters of IP Santos, whose love for plants has obviously rubbed off on her. She has done a wonderful job of turning her 7-foot x 14-foot patio into her private green world.
What’s the inspiration for your patio garden?
Gigi Santos: When I was growing up in Manila, our home was known as the “jungle house” in the neighborhood. You literally couldn’t see the house from the trees and plants. When I asked dad why he couldn’t thin out all the greenery, he explained all the benefits of our forest, especially how it cooled down the air during the hot summers. So now I’ve got my own microclimate in my tiny patio garden. There’s no place like home.
Did your dad share plants with you?
About 25 years ago, I went home and saw a plant hanging by the garage. I told dad I really liked it, and then we walked off to look at his other plants. While I was finishing packing the night before my flight back, dad handed me a small box of candy, all taped up. (When I got to the States and opened it) there was a cutting of the plant I liked inside the box! So now it’s only right that I have a Pink Wandering Jew (Tradescantia) in my collection. I named the plant “Daddy-o”!
How often are you in your patio garden?
I’m out on the patio daily, except when it’s raining particularly hard (it is Seattle). On the weekdays I’m out tending to plants about an hour at most. When I feel like redoing things — repotting, moving things around — I can be out here for about three hours. But time always goes by fast. Neighbors kept coming up near my fence (I’m on the ground floor), curious about what I was growing. An elderly lady said she could smell the honeysuckle, adding that her mother used to have it in her garden. This is what it means to have physical — but not social — distancing.
Finally we get back to the Philippines and venture up to Antipolo to the home and garden of Wendy Fernando-Regalado, publishing maven Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s daughter. Wendy was a schoolmate at UP and an architect. She has, however, been always inclined to the green agenda and is active with the Philippine Horticultural Society.
How often do you putter in your garden?
Every day. With more time on my hands, I propagate what I have been wanting to and manage to fix areas I have neglected. I have put in so much time in the garden because I enjoy it.
What else has changed in this quarantine?
I have planted more edible plants so we can have fresh herbs and vegetables. During this quarantine, I let the edibles go with the ornamentals. The papayas I allowed to grow for future tinolas and achara. The edible ferns are for fresh salads. Readily available fresh food is a must during quarantine.
What are your favorite plants?
I love my ferns, but since everyone is crazy about their aroids, I have propagated those, too.
What do you love about your garden?
We eat our meals under a canopy of a white bougainvillea (when it isn't raining). The leaves and flowers drop onto your plate occasionally. Assorted butterflies get nectar from the scented flowering vine nearby. The sunbird drinks from the flowers of the Leea. The dogs frolic on the blanket of fallen flowers.
As you can see, gardens make a difference in keeping us sane and grounded.
(Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at [email protected].)