Archive | May 11, 2009

Finding Peace in the Hills of Caleruega

Just recently visited Caleruega with my family last January 15-16, 2009. I have heard so much of this place from some friends who have been there on previous visits. I was as excited as a child when I saw it after more than two hours of traveling by car. It’s out of the way, alright, but it’s the seclusion of the place that makes it appealing. Staying overnight allowed us not just to see but to explore the place. Awesome! Beautiful! Serene! Peaceful! No words could exactly describe how I felt upon seeing the place finally after dreaming of it for quite sometime.

I spent few precious minutes alone at the Chapel of Transfiguration. God is everywhere, I know, but I felt His presence more in that place that very moment. It was truly soul-uplifting. I am an avid gardener so Caleruega is a paradise for me too. I’ve taken shots all those familiar plants and flowers in the various gardens of the place. I even chanced upon a gardener planting Salvia and I felt like digging my hands at the rich earth and touching the texture of the soil. It was a disappointment though that no one is allowed to visit their Nursery. My daughter took a shot of it from above and I was envious that they have several varieties of plants in their early stages of growth. Anyway, looking at the lush gardens and the different flowers in bloom truly gave me an inspiration to overhaul my own garden at home. There is a certain fulfillment in watching things grow. It’s the renewal of life at its best. Have you ever wondered that you just have to look at the flowers all around you and see how wonderful God made everything? Feel the texture of a petal and observe the combination of colors and you’ll simply be amazed. Trekking! Loving the mountain air and feeling the caress of the cold winds on your face. What more could you ask for? The hubby, my two kids and I went trekking, going up the highest hill beyond the hanging bridge. What a sight to behold! You would really feel you are close to nature and closer to God.

You can check the pictures I took of the place at this site:  Welcome, Let’s Share and Be Friends

The White Gardenia

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the lone gardenia shrub that I planted more than two years ago is finally in bloom.  Oh, oh, to smell the sweet scent of the gardenia flower!  One could say that gardenia has that truly intense fragrance which is a little better than the scent of roses.

The merry month of May usually gives us all those wonderful and beautiful flowers all around.  I remember when we were kids and still living in the province, Mom had several gardenia  shrubs planted in rows in front of our old house and every time they bloomed, we were rewarded with that heady scent that lasted throughout the day. Mom used to arrange the flowers in several makeshift vases and put them in all areas of the house.

Gardenias are smooth branched shrub that grow as high as two meters.  The leaves are about 2-6 cm. long, narrowed and are pointed at both ends.  They are shiny dark green.  The flowers are large, and occur in the upper axil of the leaves.  The white blooms last for a day or two then turn yellowish to brown before they die.  Studies show that the fruits of the gardenia seem to possess antioxidant property.

I remember this story published in the Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul.  I used to collect the Chicken Soup for the Soul series back in the late nineties.  It was shared by Marsha Arons and named the article, The White Gardenia.

Every year on my birthday, from the time I turned 12, one white gardenia was delivered anonymously to me at my house.  There was never a card or note, and calls to the florist were in vain because the purchase was always made in cash.  After a while, I stopped trying to discover the identity of the sender. i just delighted in the beauty and heady perfume of that one magical, perfect white flower nestled in folds of soft pink tissue paper.

But I never stopped imagining who the sender might be.  some of my happiest moments were spent in daydreams about someone wonderful and exciting, but too shy or eccentric to make known his or her identity. In my teen years, it was fun to speculate that the sender might be a boy I had a crush on, or even someone I didn’t know who had noticed me.

My mother often contributed to my speculations. she’d ask me if there was someone for whom I had done a special kindness, who might be showing appreciation anonymously.  She reminded me of the times when I’d been riding my bike and our neighbor drove up with her car full of groceries and children. I always helped her unload and made sure the children didn’t run into the road.  Or maybe the mystery sender was the old man across the street.  I often retrieved his mail during the winter, so he wouldn’t have to venture down his icy steps.

But there were some hurts my mother couldn’t heal. A month before my high school graduation, my father died suddenly of a heart attack. I became completely uninterested in my upcoming graduation, the senior class play and the prom – events that I had worked on and looked forward to.  My mother in the midst of her own grief, wouldn’t want me missing out on any of these things. she cared how we children felt about ourselves. she imbued us with a sense of magic in the world and she gave us the ability to see beauty even in the face of adversity.

In truth, my mother wanted her children to see themselves much like the gardenia – lovely, perfect, with an aura of magic and perhaps a bit of mystery.  My mother died when I was 22, only 10 days after I was married.  That was the year the gardenias stopped coming.

My Dish Garden

So far, here’s what I’ve done three months ago and I’ve changed the plants since then. I intend to replace some of the river stones with small white rocks and pebbles  for contrast. It’s quite easy to do a miniature garden but I am not that artistic enough to present it in such a way that is more pleasing to look at.  Will overhaul it again when I find other miniature plants!

A Morning Visit at the Katipunan Garden Center

I’ve long been planning to visit the garden center to buy some ornamental but Josef is always busy with work so he could not accompany me there to buy plants.(Call it the handicap of not being able to drive, I never tried learning, that’s why). So when the hubby came home, I got myself a permanent driver, haha!It’s really a gardener’s paradise !  Go green! I could stay here all day long and just stare at the flowers.
I am planning to make a dish garden for indoor decor.  I have a spare clay pot, it  was previously used for our water fountain but since I could not find a replacement for the “buho” arrangement that was  part of the set-up, I might as well put it to good use in some other ways.
They have a sizable collection of ornamental here. So pleasing to see familiar plants that I’ve seen in Caleruega. Bulacan Gardens sells theirs a little more expensive than the rest but they have several varieties of palms, indoor plants, different sizes of clay pots and some garden decors too.This  area is still part of the Bulacan Gardens. There are several garden stores here lining up the road of Katipunan but some are so expensive. I wish I have time to go to Manila Seedling  Bank to look for some cacti plants.These are large pots of garden accessories , corner accents, different hanging plants and they  have bamboo torches  too.A feast for the eyes!  We bought a pot of bougainvellia for our corner fence, six pieces of cucharita, ruella plants (I am glad they have them in light pink and white, Kyoto grass and spotted aglonaema. The hubby looking at some ornamental – white angels, santan, agaves, aglonaema, you name it, they  have them there.

How To Get Rid of Ants In Your Garden

There are basically three types of ants usually found in one’s backyard, the black ants, fire ants and red ants.  Black ants are considered monogyn, their colonies have a single queen. They nest underground and are commonly found in rotten deadwood or under stones.  This type of ant is a problem to most gardeners. Black garden ants often explore their surroundings during the summer months to search for more food for their queen and their young.

Some common names of fire ants are Ginger Ants and Tropical Fire ants.  They are mostly found in open areas in large mounds. They feed mostly on young plants and seeds.  They nest in most areas like riverbanks, pond edges and watered lawns.  They produce a painful sting which is similar to what one feels when burned by fire.  Red ants are known as leaf-cutter ants and usually invade a vegetable garden by the thousands.

About two days ago, I found the hubby twisting some old newspapers and lighting them to get rid of those unwanted pests in our backyard.  I used to get rid of them by drowning them with boiling water.  They come back after a while though as long as the queen ant is still alive.  One surefire way of course is to spray them with insect repellent but do you know that there are several ways of killing them by using other natural remedies which are usually found in our cupboards?

The first step is of course to follow their trail and get rid of those left-over food which they are attracted to like sweets, grease or food rich in protein.  Chemicals may be harmful to pets and children so we have to find ways to get rid of these pests without harming the environment.  We can use the following:

– baby powder or other scented talcum powder
– black pepper or cayenne pepper
– salt
– cinnamon
– boric acid
– cream of tartar
– coffee grounds
– paprika
– ground bay leaves
– vinegar

Planting mints around one’s house or garden also helps.  Ants usually follow a scent trail so make sure that when you see a lone ant strolling across your coffee table, don’t let it make it back to their nest alive.  Vacuuming them up also helps.

So why do ants kiss when they meet? Is that their way of communicating with each other?  Do they emit signal messages telling each other where to find food?


Ever since I can remember, this Duhat tree was part and parcel of the landscape near our house.  It has withstood several onslaught of typhoons, earthquakes and such natural calamities but it has remained sturdy throughout the years.  And every time I see this one, home is just a few meters away. As always, I feel so much in awe of nature. It reminds me of the poem by Joyce Kilmer entitled TREES.

by: Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

    • THINK that I shall never see
      A poem lovely as a tree.
      A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
      Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
      A tree that looks at God all day,
      And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
      A tree that may in Summer wear
      A nest of robins in her hair;
      Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
      Who intimately lives with rain.
      Poems are made by fools like me,
      But only God can make a tree.

Growing Hoya

Some gardeners say that they are the easiest to grow. Yes, you could cultivate them from cuttings but it would take years before they would reward you with a bloom. Hoyas are great as hanging plants. They have thick waxy leaves and the blooms are clusters that are shaped like stars.

They are called shooting stars. If you want lots of flowers, don’t cut or remove the part they came out of because they will continue to bloom from the same spur.

This is how an umbel/cluster looks when the flowers are not yet in full bloom. Pink-white blossoms, with a waxy feel, an umbel produces an average of about 15 to 20 small star-like flowers.
Hoyas can grow very fast and they will wrap around themselves be it a hanging pot or another living plant. They are best planted in a place with very good sunlight.

I love this variegated one, the leaves are somewhat pinkish at the center and they have green hues all around. This plant reminds me of childhood, back when we were growing up in the province, my aunt has lots of these hanging in trellis and I remember we used the flowers for earrings.

Coming Home Again

There is always something nostalgic about going on a long trip and coming home to one of your favorite places even just for a few days.  One feels recharged just seeing the beauty of the countryside, compared to the pollution and crowded places in Metro Manila.  Last week was another such opportunity to commune with nature. Not much has  changed really since the day we went there and met an accident at NLEX more than a month ago.

This time I told the hubby to just keep his distance from the endless 10-wheeler and 16-wheeler trucks plying the route at NLEX. Thank God, it was a safe trip going there and coming back here in Metro Manila.

My five-year old niece was quite ecstatic when she saw us and immediately asked how long we were staying.  She doesn’t have playmates around the place so she is always happy to see us.

What was left of our fruit-bearing trees after typhoon Cosme were a few banana plants, our sturdy jack fruit tree, coconut trees and some uprooted mango trees which  bore fruit despite  the branches  touching the ground. It is so nice to see them laden with fruits and ready for picking.

So we brought home almost two full sacks of mangoes, a large jack fruit and a few shoots of plants for our garden.I wonder why they don’t eat jack fruit there except when cooking guinataang langka.  I like to eat them fresh from the pulp, so delicious!  A large one would probably weigh almost ten kilos so what we did is to give all our immediate neighbors several slices of the ripe langka.  There is only so much you can eat with fruits like these and I am glad my two kids consider it one of their favorites.  I saw this saba type variety of banana but according to mom it was not yet ready for harvesting so I took some shots of it instead.

Life in the province is still that simple although they have all the amenities that an average household in Manila has.  They are using satellite discs instead of cable connections, a few more channels are in store. I call it sosyal, haha!

It was so easy to pick these mangoes since some of the fruits are touching the ground.  Heaven!  I was thinking of mango a la mode or refrigerator cake. Have you tried eating a ripe mango fresh from its skin without using a knife?  I know, that is a messy way to do it but if you want to enjoy eating a ripe mango, that is the best way to eat one.  I asked mom why they don’t sell their produce in the market, sayang naman. And she told me that a kilo nowadays only fetch a measly P15 to P20 per.Pangasinan is known as one of the largest producers of commercially grown mangoes.  Everywhere you look, they are lined up along the highway. And yes, I saw those large watermelons alongside several kaing of mango.

Summer usually brings several fruits in season.  I am looking forward to see siniguelas in the market soon.  And star apples  are plenty nowadays, they are best eaten cold from the fridge.

Coming home again – touching the leaves of the past, taking with you a bit of provincial life back to the noisy and busy cosmos of  what you call city living.

Growing Azaleas

On one of our trips to Baguio City two summers ago, I bought a pot of azalea.  I was reassured by the garden owner (I bought it at one of the houses near my lola’s place) that azalea is easy to grow and cultivate. She even said that it needs full sun and a little watering. I believed her, not knowing that this particular plant needs tender loving care for it to bloom.  I waited for two years for some shoots, until a month ago, I saw those little pink spikes at the end of the tender leaves. They didn’t bloom, the flowers died looking like how they look in the picture.

What’s wrong with this plant, I asked myself. I had mistakenly pruned some of the small side branches. What a big mistake!  I later learned through some research that pruning can help promote bushy growth but it is advised never to prune established plant since it may not bloom again for two or three years.

Azaleas are members of the Rhododendron family. They are grown from seeds, cuttings or grafting. Most home gardeners do not start Azalea from seeds since a new plant can take two to ten years to produce flowers. They are acid loving plants and grow best in light shade. They prefer a moist, well-drained soil. Using plenty of inorganic matter does help.  The weather is cold in Baguio so plants thrive even in full sun.  I have transferred the pot near our dwarf kalamansi trees and it is showing little pink blooms in almost all of the branches. How nice! I can’t wait to see the day when they would all grow into those wonderful flowers just like I’ve seen in some gardens.  I’ll take pictures, promise!

How to Recognize a Female and Male Plant Seed

In our trip to Zambales  a few days ago, I learned some interesting facts about growing things in one’s backyard, very common of which is the papaya plant. Papaya is a soft-wooded perennial plant that has an average lifespan of 5 years and would grow about 4 meters high. The flowering stage is from five to eight months after planting and harvesting comes around five to six months after that.

My sister-in-law is a certified farmer, she underwent a complete 6-months seminar given by the Dept. of Agriculture.  She shared with us what she learned and gave us some seeds of different vegetables which are quite easy to grow, given a small space ,even just in pots.

I was not even aware that you would be able to know whether that papaya tree in your own backyard will bear fruit or not. Most of us just wait for papaya to produce flowers before we will be able to detect whether it is a male or a female.  Papaya flowers are just like jasmine blossoms. The flowers of female papayas are close to the stems while that of the male ones produce long flowers. But we really don’t have to wait for six months before we’ll be able to know if they are worth cultivating or not.  That’s a waste of time and space, according to my sister-in-law. We know for a fact that only female papayas produce those sweet and delicious fruits. One sure way of knowing is this, papaya male plants have one straight root while those of the females are branched-out, producing two or more roots, they’re the only ones that you have to transfer and plant.  Interesting!

Tomatoes are capable of self-pollination so they grow fruits on their own. Same goes true with squash. We have planted some squash  and tomatoes in our small backyard and  they’re growing  by leaps and bounds everyday.  We also planted pechay (Pak Choi) in small pots. Eggplant seedlings are sprouting like crazy. I can’t wait, I am quite excited waiting for everything to grow.