My garden of solace

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

It isn’t solely mine. Bobbie and I gradually made it into what it’s today, but since I have tended it through the years she calls it “your secret garden.” Because it has rewarded me abundantly with psychic boons I consider it my Garden of Solace.

It’s really an open-air bathroom with adjacent garden. A shower, toilet and washbasin are placed amid the plants and you can contemplate nature while doing your thing. The high adobe wall-fence and the old trees in our neighbor’s yard assure our privacy.

Our friends wonder, “But what when it rains? You’re going to get wet!” And of course we do, that’s what a bathroom is for. Not only kids can enjoy taking a bath in the rain! (Actually, we could also use another bathroom inside the house.)

The place is also where we do our laundry. The metal pipe that serves as curtain rod separating the laundry area doubles as my chinning bar.

This is a very low-maintenance bathroom: no tiles to scrub, as water simply seeps into the ground through the gravel. You don’t even have to sweep after cutting your nails, for right away the ants arrive to happily carry away your debris.

White beach pebbles, some curiously shaped rocks, stones from the seashore, seashells, and gravel crunching underfoot (I love walking barefoot on the gravel!), comprise the setting for the lush greenery.

Each object evokes family, friends and places. Elements of the mountains and the sea teem with memories of revolutionary struggle and romance, indelibly etched into our life as a couple. It was at a small mountain waterfall where, during the “days of living dangerously,” we first experienced the delight of bathing au naturel. That gave us the idea of an open-air bathroom.

At night, showering before going to bed, the moon glows on us and the stars twinkle benevolently, as if to say that it has been a good day and that another one awaits tomorrow.

Along the wall, clusters of Japanese bamboo frame the small mirror that also holds our toothbrushes, their leafy green tips arching upwards and interweaving.

Three orchids hang side by side, their roots tightly clinging onto the mossy wall. Another, mounted on driftwood, sits above them. The orchids have grown lush — but only after I’ve painstakingly nurtured them during the hot season, year after year, with frequent watering and whispered verbal encouragements. Who knows, maybe one of these days, they may just surprise us by bringing forth flowers.

Amazingly a tiny orchid plant that Bobbie inserted into a crevice has held on for over two years. It hasn’t grown much, but how tenaciously it struggles to survive!

In an earthen pot atop the shower, there has grown a young tree, now five feet high, along with two tiny ones that have sprouted, and healthy clumps of grass — all of them managing to thrive together in gracious mutual accommodation and reinforcement.

Not a single one was planted by us. Rather, they are spontaneous growths that have been nurtured through regular watering and occasional composting. Every now and then the young tree, its base now about two inches in diameter, has to be trimmed to keep it from getting blown down by the wind.

A source of amusement for me upon waking up is to watch a white cat (one of many roaming the neighborhood) walking atop the fence and stopping at our tree in a pot. It would gaze at the treetop then gently shake the trunk with its paw. Whenever I make a sound to warn it against doing any harm, the cat would look at me in acknowledgment, then jump over to the roof, there to bask in the morning sun.

On the ground below the orchids there’s a clump of bandera espanola and an old, stubby fern tree from Los Banos, Laguna which continues to produce one tightly curled stalk at a time, each one opening up and spreading out like a giant lace umbrella. Maybe because its original habitat is the rainforest, the fern needs regular watering. If I am not able to water it for a few days (such as when I go out of town), the stalks start to droop, but perk up amazingly fast after a good dousing.

It’s a wonder to see how some of the plants manage to live on very little soil, and even very little space. Other wild plants, some bearing flowers, keep emerging from the soil underneath the gravel. I observe them completing their life cycles without our intervention. It’s a live-and-let-live policy in my Garden of Solace.

Every morning I check on the plants. I clean their stems and foliage of debris, talk to them, then water them. I gather the dry leaves and twigs that fall from the tall trees in the neighbor’s yard whose branches spread above the roof of our house. (I love the avocado and tyesa trees that have been generously dropping their delicious fruits like manna into the garden.)

Whenever I feel tired while reading or writing, I step out into the garden, take a few deep breaths, swing on the exercise bar, and talk to the plants. After a while I feel relaxed, reinvigorated.

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Published in The Philippine Star
November 1, 2014

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