“Life begins when you grow a garden,” Confucius says. I am happy to say that I’ve always lived with a garden.
In the old house where I was raised, we were spoiled and had access to a garden as big as a small park. This was the in thing at the time—architecturally as well. One built a bungalow and set it in the middle of a sprawling garden. So this was the way it was for us, a family of six children. I truly think our parents wanted us to get lost in this garden, and I mean that in a very fairytale sort of way.
This garden would find many permutations and our family’s creative spirit’s first blank canvas. There are pictures of how the garden began—faded photographs of brown earth slowly turning green. My mother would try many variants of grass and eventually settled on “naturally-occurring” carabao grass. I have many pictures in my head of trucks coming with soil and plants, my mother’s feet planted firmly in the middle of the garden as she decided on what should go where. Planting is something I will always associate with my mother. We would plant many things together—trees, mostly, her in her middle age and I in my adolescence.
In this garden, we biked, went horseback riding, made our performance theater, and had camping nights with cousins. In the summers, we’d loll around in bed reading or writing, and my father’s voice would bellow at some point: “Children, garden-time!” It was a call for exploration. Manang Pransing would prepare the fried saba and calamansi juice, and no other place was more perfect for Agawan Base than our garden.
I have a sensorial memory of rubbing Johnson’s Baby Oil on the leaves on our terrace, to make them shiny and splendid for a party. Inside the house was yet another garden, which led straight to our parent’s bedroom, and we called this one the Court Garden. I loved this small garden best, I think, for its tiny-ness. A bamboo stood court in the middle of this garden, and it was our Christmas tree for many, many years, when Christmas trees were not things you bought in a mall.
In the province where we spent our weekends, my mother was a frantic farmer. Our first stop was always at WLAC, the center in the north that took charge of reforestation. My mother would buy massively, and her greatest achievement, she claims is not just her six amazing children, but the many mountains she has reforested in her lifetime. My summer mornings are filled with memories of waking up to the murmur of conversations between Ma, Pa, and her head farmer: plotting, conjuring, dreaming of what trees would best suit the mountains.
My mother’s favorite colors are aptly green and brown, and on most days when I cannot fathom her, this memory of her planting all throughout my life is what comforts me. Much like plants, I never fully know what they will be without the passage of time. Perhaps this is the way it is with my mother and I. The future’s fruits have not yet arrived.
Half of this childhood garden would be the land where I would build my own house when I married. I made sure that I would have enough space for a garden as well. One side I called Teodoro’s Garden after our son, and the other, Margarita’s Garden after our daughter.
I had much to learn from my first garden. On the first day, I ordered the grass and haphazardly chose plants, based more on beauty and preference and not adaptability. I was stupid too, thinking with such naivete that I could build a garden in a day. I plotted out the grass, planted the plants, and will have to admit it looked sorry. It looked like it didn’t know who it was. Who knew a garden was a metaphor too? Those first months with a child, I didn’t know who I was.
It was my husband who taught me more about gardening as a grown-up activity and as an act that required knowledge of the elements. He knew how the sun moved in our space and pointed out to me the differences between morning sun and afternoon sun. He knew the wind too, and the seasons, and altered the way our plants were placed on this knowledge. I would insist on flower-bearing plants, and he would tell me to have pity on them for they would never grow in our space. Ah, such heartbreak! So he taught me about ferns and palms and cactuses. These were more for us, he said. Hardworking, resilient, sturdy, variegated, used to deprivation, if necessary, and resolute in growing. And all this time, I thought I was a rose.
One could not be just a romantic in a garden, his greatest lesson. A garden is an act of responsibility. It required that one knows what a plant was meant to be—what a plant craves for and will need, literally with every fiber of its being. And this too—he taught me that some plants do die in order to bloom again. It is part of their design. I love that truth best.
And so when I had my own garden in the province, I was better, wiser, and ruthless. I always choose on the side of my garden and not on my aesthetics. In the summers, the tree cutter comes, and we cut and trim, confident in the knowledge that the trees and the plants under the trees are relieved. They will need to work less to reach the sun. We hold lovingly our plants’ new children and re-plant them on the borders of the farm to keep away snakes. I recently planted eggplant, and they all died. A good lesson: eggplants not here. The husband planted kalachuchis
, and they sprung with such good spirits. Another lesson: kalachuchis
here. Right smack in the middle of this garden is the siniguelas
tree. It dies right before summer before it bursts into full fruit season. I cannot help the romantic in me. I go to it and hold its bark, transmitting my gratefulness for her dependability.
I cannot help but remember the first time I ever swallowed bubble gum. I ran to my mother in a panic. I told her that my siblings were scaring me with the dire consequences of swallowing gum! She said, “It only means that a rubber plant will grow in your heart.” And then she laughed and held me close. Perhaps it was the truth, and there is a garden in me. (Photo source: sxc.hu--watering can; flowers)