Monday, September 20, 2010

Back to a life I thought I knew

My sincere apologies for a lack of updates. The high season always seems to get away from me, but this past summer has been a difficult one as I had to take some time away from my usual activities to go back home to the Philippines and be with family.

Realizing that I may often share too many personal matters online, I gave it some thought and figured, "it's who I am and as long as I'm not intentionally trying to hurt someone or put myself in a exceedingly vulnerable position, I will be fine." Plus, I aim to try my best to relate and reach out to others they way many people have reached out to me.

On August 11, my father passed away at the age of 67 due to complications related to diabetes. Once we learned of the news, we made immediate plans to return to the Philippines where he had decided to stay and retire to look after the land that he developed as a homestead and a remarkable fruit plantation heavily planted with mango as a primary crop along with bananas, coconuts, and other tropical crops.

Mountain Views

Coming home was a remarkable experience and as hard as I tried not to think about work, I couldn't help but soak in and study the flora that I once crew up with as a kid. Being in my papa's plantation in Pampanga Province was probably my first exposure to nature and plants.

Riz Climbs Coconut 2 Crop

It was such a treat to be there with my siblings and my sister's family as it was their first time actually getting to experience how we grew up. Without the many amenities we're all used to now (ie, internet, cell phones, clean running water, reliable electricity, etc.), they learned to adapt and enjoyed the rewards of the hard work their grandfather put forth. From drinking fresh coconuts right off the tree to bathing in a river where my brother and sister and I used to play as kids, the activities seemed endless and Papa would have been so pleased.

Pao with Coconut Gretchen Papaya

Botanically, the Philippines is filled with plants that have sentimental value more than anything. Sadly, I never got to inhale the scent of fresh Sampanguita (Jasminum sambac) or Ilang Ilang (Cananga odorata), but I did get to savor the flavors of fresh fruit I haven't had in a very long time such as this chico (Manilkara zapota) picked from my cousin's tree:

Manilkara zapota Chico

After the funeral, we were treated to a trip further north to Aurora Province in the city of Baler, my brother-in-law's hometown. It was a long exhausting drive, but we were able to stay at a resort close by a beach and spent a day in the white sand beach where I sampled a delectable local delicacy, fiddle-head fronds known as "Pako". Gently sauteed with red onion, mango, garlic, crispy dried anchovies and lightly dressed with a vinaigrette. Served with deep fried pulled pork and steamed rice, it was amazingly good.

Beach Fiddle head ferns aka Pako

One of the last crops my father put in turns out to be something that caught my attention as a potential ornamental. The palmate foliage reminded me so much of Schefflera, but the striking foliage with bright red petioles of this plant turns out to be Cassava (Manihot esculenta). A member of the Euphorbiaceae, the thick wood-like tuberous roots are used as a starch and also used to make tapioca. I've actually grown the variegated form as an annual, but the large stature of the straight species was stunning to see. Though not hardy, I got a supposedly hardy species (M. grahamii) that's still in a pot that I might just baby over the winter and plant out next spring.


I'm not really sure what Papa would have thought about all this. Since I got back from the Philippines, it's been a long process of grieving, catching up with work and all, but I can't help but question everything nowadays. He always seemed concerned and worried that all the hard work and sacrifice to pursue my passion for gardens and plants at a young age wouldn't amount to a career that would support me financially and it felt like I've spent my whole life trying to convince him otherwise. One thing I wish he could have seen these past few years is the wonderfully supportive and encouraging community I'm surrounded by and that no matter what, there are people who truly care and love; people that follow and admire my accomplishments and wish for only the best for me.

I wish I could have said, "I'm going to continue to work hard and everything will be all right."

Flowers and Etched Logo


  1. Riz, Thanks for sharing your interesting story.
    Sorry to hear of your loss.

  2. Hi Riz

    I also enjoyed Pako when in Baler, but I didn't know its name. Mine were cooked in coconut milk and were delicious.