THEY SAY there are many lessons to learn from gardening. In this age of multiple distractions, it requires us to take in time, deal with change, be still, and be patient.
It is also often used as metaphor for the cycle of life.
Johannes and Maria Zehethofer’s garden has all the elements of a course on gardening. That I chanced on it added to the fact that a garden for me and you will always remain a bit of a sweet mystery with clues about life and how to live it.
The garden was started in 2005, initially with terrain landscaping on 3,000 sq. m. of a pineapple field and about 2,500 sq. m. of wild and overgrown forest with a lot of coffee plants. The groundwork was simultaneously done with the construction of the house now called Chateau Hestia, a beautiful garden restaurant.
Back in Austria, Johannes already had a fondness for landscaping. However, with the day-to-day demands and the accompanying headaches of house construction, Johannes needed a beautiful distraction—the creation of his garden. The result of that therapeutic activity is now a breathtaking palette of tones and textures of lush layered foliage and assorted plantings from other gardeners, friends, and neighbors.
The sketch of this garden begins with a layout that has nooks and crannies accessible through meandering paths that allow you to have a leisurely conversation with a friend, or a quiet reflection in solitude. The meandering paths create a sense of anticipation of what lies beyond the curve.
It continues with an informal planting of shrubs and flowering plants, a scattering of man-made ornaments suggesting whimsy: a birdbath, a sundial, a wooden bench to provide seating and further reflection. The sounds of trickling water from a small pond and birds chirping add to the multi-sensory experience of being in a garden.
Johannes uses plants endemic to the area that thrive easily in the cool temperature of Tagaytay. He buys plants in the nearby towns of Taal and Silang. He constantly receives an assortment of plant cuttings, but more often than not, cross pollination occurs with birds flying all over the property, and the results are left to grow or eventually just weeded out.
Finding uncommon plants and other organic curiosities along the paths makes you feel all the more you’re in a secret garden.
“As a gardener, I want to create an environment which attracts different varieties of birds, bees, dragonflies, lizards, even bayawak, and other forms of wildlife. I also love to see things I have planted grow and develop into big trees or plants. Gardening relaxes me. To see an area have these various forms of wildlife, where before there was hardly any, creates a sense of renewal. It is fulfilling for me as a gardener,” he says.
For Johannes, the garden is a way of connecting with the universe. Like a form of meditation, it allows him to see the bigger picture and his place in the wider scheme of things. As urbanites, we are detached from this connection. We can only live vicariously through visits to gardens like his, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy our own small gardens. If we only make time to regain our sense of wonderment, gardens, small pocket ones or secret country gardens, will always continue to uplift our moods and inspire.
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