Thursday, April 28, 2011

Passion for passion

Around late January 2011, the construction of the steel pipe pergola was finished. With that done, it was ready for some vines to climb over and hide the criss-crossing metal bars, an alternative to the more decorative rafters and purlins.

My plan was to use four Blue Passion Flower vine, one on each of the four corners of the pergola. Then I remembered about the unfortunate fate of our Blue Passion in the nursery, I thought it would be best to get some spare as well. That's when we decided to get seven. Four will be used, and the three will remain in the nursery as spare, just in case any of those in the pergola dies.

One of our Lavender Passion Flower vine is in bloom.

My idea of having a spare was based on our previous experience with the Blue Passion Flower. It was already growing well in the nursery when a storm came and snapped its main trunk just above the ground and it never grew back.

ABOVE: Two more flower buds of the Lavender Passion Flower vine. BELOW: A young Red Passion Flower vine. The Lavender and Red look almost the same when not in bloom, but the Red has notches on its leaf edge.

When my mother called the garden store to place an order, the store owner said they also have other colors of the Passion Flower vine, red and lavender. Mom relayed this info to me via text message. I already know how the red looks like so I was intrigued by the lavender. And so I had another change of plan. We got four of the "Blue", two "Lavender" and one "Red".

One of the four Blue Passion Flower vine crawling on top of the new pergola.

As to where the "Lavender" and "Red" will go, still remains unknown. They will have to slug it out in the nursery for the mean time. As for the "Blue" in the pergola, hopefully they all survive because there is no spare. But then again, the plant store is just a phone call away.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hold your ground

"Summer" is officially here. It's when the north-easterly winds cease to bring cool air from the north. And "summer" ends around late May when the wet season officially begins.

While the succeeding days are still dry there is one project that must be completed before the arrival of the rainy season. There's an area along the dirt road that needs a retaining wall to hold the ground on one side and keep it from eroding into the road.

This path along the row of black bamboos need a retaining wall to prevent the soil from sliding.

My original plan was to use stones for the retaining wall. But as I found out while on a visit to the farm last February, it's impractical to use stones as they turn out to be very expensive. In our place, how stones are sold depend on the size. The big ones are sold by piece, smaller ones are sold in bulk and priced per square meter. Unfortunately, the stones we need do not fit in the "small" category so they are sold by piece and the price per piece is not cheap.

The area getting prepared for the installation of the wall.

Budget, the number one factor in any of our projects, prompted me to think of other options. Thus I decided to choose reinforced hollow (cinder) blocks instead. It may not be as good looking as natural stones but the price difference is very significant. Stone veneer could be used later on to cover the surface of the wall.

For height comparison, our garden helper working near the edge of the area that needs a retaining wall.

Since part of the area that needs a wall is over seven feet tall, Dad said that it would be better and safer to build a two-tiered wall, in a terraced-like form. This will stabilize the soil better and reduce the pressure exerted by the ground on the wall, minimizing any possibility of damage.

A two-tiered retaining wall will also create a planting area between the walls. And I already know which plants to put there. This will be a two part project, the lower and upper walls. The lower wall project has already been funded so now it's a go.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011


"Katakataka" is the local name of this plant. It means astonishing, remarkable or puzzling. According to Wikipedia, its other names are Air Plant, Life Plant, Miracle Leaf, Goethe Plant.

The Kalanchoe pinnata is a succulent and a native of Madagascar. It's widely cultivated in temperate regions because of ease of propagation. In other areas, it can be grown as an indoor plant.

What's astonishing about this plant is its method of reproduction. Tiny plantlets begin to grow on the notches along the margins of its leaves. As soon as the plantlets develop roots they can be severed from the mother leaf and transplanted as individual plants.

The "Katakataka" (try pronouncing it fast if you don't speak Filipino) has become so common in the Philippines that almost nobody cares about this plant anymore. Even I was not a fan of this plant.

As I was walking around the garden last February, I was drawn to this curious profusion of chandelier-like clusters of upside-down flowers that are bell-shaped, reddish in color and dangling like pendants. In my several decades of existence it was my first time to see such a bloom. "How beautiful!" was all that I could say.

Upon closer inspection, it was a revelation. Surprise, surprise! The lowly "Katakataka" does not only reproduce in a remarkable way, its flowers are even more remarkable. This drew out a renewed interest in me. I will no longer ignore or dismiss this plant.

Because of its unusual but easy way of reproduction it has become an invasive plant in other parts of the world, especially in Hawaii. It's so easy to grow and as a succulent it even thrives on neglect. One leaf alone can produce several plantlets in no time.

In a sparsely populated garden like ours, plant invasion is still a welcome event.
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Monday, April 11, 2011

Garden Structures: The gazebo in the hill

"It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is best from the top."
- Arnold Bennett

The hill is the highest point in the farm. It accords a view of the river below and the valley beyond. In the afternoon while the rest of the farm is exposed to the heat of the sun, there is a refreshingly cool breeze that blows gently in this area. The river below must have a cooling effect on this gentle wind as it crosses this body of water on its way up the hill.

It's so nice to spend the rest of the afternoon in this area if only there's a shady place to stay under, like some leafy trees perhaps. However, only Cogon grass and other weeds grow here. Early last year we built a small and crude tin-roofed hut. This temporarily solved the shade problem. Unfortunately months later a passing storm carried the hut away.

The hilltop view, a new temporary gazebo and some newly installed plants.

The simple gazebo in these pictures was not originally a gazebo. It was recycled from parts of the structure that used to house the goats after they were relocated to their new and better house. When the nasty October storm pummeled the farm, it destroyed this abandoned goat's house but luckily it left the roof intact.

The hilltop cleared of the Cogon grass that dominates the place.

Since the crude hut at the hill is gone and there is this perfectly good roof that has no use at the moment, my father thought of using it to build a new shelter to replace the old hut that seemed to have suddenly vanished into thin air.

New plants on the slope of the hill. More will be planted soon to make this a 'greener' place.

After the structure has been erected, the surrounding area was groomed with plants from the nursery and some of the plants that were removed from the entrance to the farm when the landscaping there was completely redone. More plants will be installed soon and hopefully stunt the growth of the Cogon grass.

And what is a gazebo without a place to sit on? The wooden chairs below were just sitting in the storage so why not use them instead. They need a bit of refinishing but since this is the outdoors their weathered look fits perfectly with the surroundings.

An old Narra furniture set from the storage.

All in all, I consider this project "eco-friendly" in that the materials used were all recycled, from the roof down to the furnitures, and even the plants.

What I'm afraid of is that this structure might get blown away again once another strong storm comes. It's the wind that would actually cause more damage than the rain. I have something else in mind that should solve this problem, a different type of gazebo that can be "folded" whenever necessity dictates it. But the rainy season is still a couple of months away so for now this structure will do.
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Where trees are fallen there is grief

An old gazebo behind a towering tree.
"Give me a land of boughs in leaf,
        a land of trees that stand;
where trees are fallen there is grief;
        I love no leafless land."
A. E. Housman

In my "Gimme shelter" post, I mentioned about my plan to rebuild or resurrect a long gone gazebo in one corner of the farm. Apart from having a crude bamboo trellis built and letting a Red Jade Vine climb over it, I really haven't done anything else to rebuild the gazebo. I was biding for time until I can personally see the area and discuss with my father about a good replacement.

Come to think of it, I'm relieved that I didn't immediately go full blast with this particular project. My procrastination this time was a blessing in disguise because several days after I published that blog entry something unthinkable happened.

The fallen tree over the ruins of the old gazebo.

This tree which used to stand tall and proud was humbled by the strongest storm that ever hit the farm. During the clean-up after the storm they chopped off its branches thinking that it's a goner. But after a few months it began to sprout tender branches and new leaves. Despite its almost horizontal position it's still alive, it's  a survivor. I could have the trunk cut into pieces if I really wish so, but I feel sorry for this tree.If it's alive then it deserves to live.

And this is not just any tree, it's a Narra tree (Pterocarpus indicus). The Narra is the Philippines' national tree. It's a hardwood so hard that it's termite-resistant. The wood is reddish in color and very much sought for in house constructions and a valuable raw material in the furniture industry. A furniture made of Narra is very expensive.

Another view of the downed Narra tree.

I don't know if Mother Nature is telling me to back off, or forcing me to think things over first or challenging me to be creative in dealing with this unusual situation. Whatever solution I can come up with later, one thing is for sure, if it survives I will not sacrifice the life of this precious tree just so I could build a new structure there.
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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Waiting for paradise...

Three very long years. At last our first Bird of Paradise has shown us that truly, good things come to those who wait.

Our very first Bird of Paradise is about to shower us with gifts.

The first flower bud is almost ready to open.

Three more flower buds in various stages of development.
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