The koi pond is the focal point of the property. Peruvian ferns on the eaves act like a canopy. The pond is enveloped with date
palms, assorted bromeliads, white bougainvilleas, dwarf “pandanus sanderianas” and golden crinums.
This Pampanga garden is a colorful, serene paradise
Passing through this quiet setting feels as if one had discovered a mysterious pool, serenaded by chirping birds
The lady of the estate sits contentedly in her favorite spot, the porch, which overlooks her fish ponds, filled with tilapia and giant freshwater prawns. Her estate in Macabebe, Pampanga, has views of Mt. Arayat, mountain ranges in Zambales, Clark and Cagayan.
Layered with lush plants, the porch invites anybody to relax and savor the countryside. Peruvian ferns, dangling from the eaves, lend a soothing effect. The tables are decorated with sculptural cacti while the corners are softened with air-purifying indoor plants—anthuriums, Zanzibar gems (welcome plants) and rare fortune plants.
Every sunset, the owner gazes at the flock of birds that has picked up their catch from the waters.
The estate, comprised of two houses built with architectural salvages, is surrounded by artistically composed gardens that make her home a world of its own.
A lover of antiques and plants, Macabebe Vice Mayor Annette Balgan tapped landscape artist-contractor Shirley Sanders to transform her property into a tropical showpiece. Sanders chose plants that were not only easy to maintain but could thrive in brackish water since the ponds exposed them to seawater and saltwater.
At the entrance, a colorful explosion of low-maintenance bougainvilleas and adelfas welcomes guests. Bougainvilleas are one of Sanders’ favorite flowers because these don’t need much watering.
The visual journey begins at the fork of Balgan’s property which leads to two houses. The façade of the older house, whose character is enhanced by the patina of aged wood, is dramatized by tall pandanus sanderianas with flowing ribbon-like leaves, and palm trees. Hedges of dwarf pandakaki and rosewood act like living screens. Red and white lilies and crinums offset the green plants. The fragrance of orange jasmine drifts through the air.
A bridge over an inlet leads to the main house which is partially obscured by bougainvilleas, hibiscuses and banderas españolas. Their exuberant colors stir up happy feelings.
The estate’s main feature, the koi pond, is enveloped with rocks and travesias or old railroad tile, festooned with bromeliads and sumatras, delicate golden lilies, dwarf pandanus and date palms. Agaves emerge from giant kawas or antique metal pans. The sight of sculptural bonsais—bucidas, ficuses and camachile—atop the travesias brings a sense of calm. Passing through this quiet setting feels as if one had discovered a mysterious pool, serenaded by chirping birds.
While most visitors would be naturally drawn toward the garden compositions near the ponds, Sanders created vignettes, using Balgan’s accessories, to entice visitors to look at other parts of the landscape.
Across the pond, an old seater made of aged mahogany is decked with hibiscuses and philodendrons. Large clay jars are surrounded by flowering rosewoods, white crinums and foxtails that play against ornamental travelers and Manila palms.
The carved entrance door of the main house is protected by a statue of St. Padre Pio standing amid the Chinese evergreens, forest anthuriums, welcome plants and poinsettias. The icon is juxtaposed with other antique finds and foliage that add a play on scale and textures. The fragile asparagus plants temper the roughness of the giant metal pots. An aged sugarcane grinder and Oriental ceramic jars are clustered with spiny-leaved cycas and asparagus ferns. Cacti and curly ferns clamber down the Vigan jars.
In another part of the garden, an old wooden cart showcases colorful bougainvilleas. An old mortar, the lusong, becomes a plant holder for bold Chinese evergreens, jade flowers and ferns.
A pocket garden becomes a serene paradise with a statue of St. Francis blessing the flowering red gingers and heliconias.
Seifrizii palms, cone gingers and papaya trees add a layer of privacy to the main shower area.
Giving equal importance to indoor plants, Sanders cites snake plants, Chinese evergreens, fortune plants, forest anthuriums, selloums, licualas or ruffled plants are therapeutic as they clean the air and quiet down your nerves. Aside from displaying them in the right spots, she arranges plants in odd numbers and uses different shapes and sizes for an organic look.
When Balgan is asked if she gets bored living alone (aside from the helpers), she replies, “I’m surrounded by plants, and I read books. I don’t need to go out and risk my health.” CONTRIBUTED