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On Philippine Gardens, a Stroll

Gardens and gardening are reflections of Philippine culture which have, for centuries, glimmered in their importance to Filipino lives. A garden is a show-off for leisure and strolling through it is what the 16th Century English essayist Francis Bacon wrote as “the purest of human pleasure…the greatest refreshment to the spirit of man.” Gardening, on the other hand, is now an evolving profession; for most of the Filipinos living in the far-flung regions of the country, however, gardening in one’s residence is an exertion of human energy, the planting of herbs or vegetables to complement daily needs for subsistence or to ward off hunger in times of distress or extreme want. The experience gained in both is a reminiscent worth telling about.

A garden, the whole picture of it, has been in our mind since birth, going back to the Biblical time God Almighty created Heaven and Earth; it has intruded in our conscience whenever we think of the folly committed in the Garden of Eden. This was a dark time of imagined failures and neglect; over time, however, the power of the earthly humans to create brought forth shining examples of triumph over blunders, among which are gardens of every size and style, designed and built for anyone’s need for rest, privacy, solitude, or contemplation, attempts to recapture the imagined loss of the Garden of Paradise. And attempts have been made by many living anywhere in globe, the Philippines included.

“Garden” is from an English word “gardin,” used during the Middle Age. Some linguists, however, insist on recorded works that the word is of Germanic origin, from “gart” or “gard”. The present use of “garden” in any conversation, oral or written, refers to an outdoor space reserved for the display and cultivation of flora (such as trees, grasses, and weeds), fauna (such as birds, monkeys, and apes), and other selected breeds from the plant and animal kingdoms. The most common example, mostly seen in the Philippines, is residential garden, built for personal enjoyment, or tended to meet gustatory needs. “Zoological Garden” and “Botanical Garden” are terms used to emphasize what can be seen and enjoy within either enclosure.

Gardens built for private or public display usually use materials from nature, including soil, water, air, and light. Paths, patios, decks, sculptures, fountains, sheds, gazebos, pergolas, or follies—preference for one, combination of one with any, or all—are added elements to heighten aesthetics and functionality. Gardens seen in East Asia, mostly the Zen Garden in Japan, use plants sparsely or none at all; what can be observed are sands beautifully raked over and positioned around rocks on selected patch of land; tourists have marveled at the sight of Shitenno-ji Honbo Garden in Osaka Prefecture. Another example is Kaiyu-shiki, the Strolling Garden using aesthetically-constructed pathways weaving through trees and shrubs.

There are 16 types of gardens built and maintained all over the globe which feature particular plant or plant types, namely, Back, Bog, Cactus, Color, Fernery, Flower, Front Yard, Kitchen, Mary, Ornery, Orchard, Rose, Shade, Wildflower, and Winter Gardens. Or, they may empasize a particular style or aesthetic, namely, Bonsai, Chinese, Dutch, English Landscape, French Renaissance, French Formal, French Landscape, Italian Renaissance, Japanese, Knot, Korean, Mughal, Natural Landscaping, Persian, Roman, Spanish, Terrarium, Trial, Tropical, Wild, Xeriscaping, and Zen Gardens.

In the Philippines, the Chinese Garden, located in Luneta Park in Manila City and almost touching the boundaries of Intramuros, has been for decades properly maintained for tourists’ attraction, a throwback to the botanical Mehan Garden, then located in Malate during the colonizing years under Spain, which was designed and maintained in the early decade of 1880s by the Real Compania de Filipinas primarily to promote the cultivation of cinnamon and nutmeg. Archival records show that in the middle of the garden was the statue of Antonio de Pineda, a Spanish naturalist. Efforts to maintain the garden dwindled in the next decade and later abandoned. Traces of the site are in the parcel of plats now occupied by the Bureau of Plants and Industry.

Botanical gardens in the Philippines which were constructed for public use but which are maintained for commercial purposes, some of them operating as resorts, include those in the cities of Makati, Vigan, Baguio, Davao, Quezon, Cebu, Los Banos, Tayug, and Kalibo; and in the Islands of Bohol and Panglao.

Gardens of any types cannot be maintained without the human activity, called gardening, the use and exertion of physical energy which for ages have been a given in the country’s rural and agricultural regions. At the present, this work can be done by amateur or professional gardeners, guided by an agreed-upon garden design, either roughly sketched on paper by garden owners or drawn in measured plot by professionals trained in the principles of design and horticulture. A workable design carries the elements of layout of the hard landscape, including paths, rocks, walls, water features, sitting areas, and plants to be used, taking into considerations the growth and survivability of these plants during extreme changes in weather condition. Botanic gardens in the Philippine enjoy peak attendance during the dry season, from the month of late September to June of the following year. Most of them, if not all of them, are closed during the rainy season.

The best gardens, whether they are maintained in the Philippines or elsewhere in the globe, grow out of good design and planning. A successful garden is one that is appropriate to surrounding buildings, to the rural or urban landscape, and to its productive, decorative, or recreational functions, for one that is well made and individually styled works best both for the environment and for those who use it. A well-planned garden must be, as one prominent author said, “voluptuous,” a total sensual experience plucking the heart string and titillating the senses of sound, touch, sight and smell.” It must also be a private place affording total retreat from the world. Above all, it must celebrate the spirit of human harmony with nature.

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