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2017
Panagbenga Flower Festival
 
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Green thumbs make Baguio parks bloom
by Liza Agoot

EVENT FLOWERS -- Agriculturist Erlinda Diwas says propagating flowers is a tedious job as they care for the plants from the time these are seedlings until they bloom and become a source of happiness . -- Liza T. Agoot

Luther Burbank, an American botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer in agricultural science said, “Flowers make people feel better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul.”

The abundance of flowers in Baguio, either potted and planted on side streets or road islands and parks aside from the bouquet of fresh assorted ones sold are among the things that make this city a top tourist destination north of Manila. Aside from the trees, the weather, and the good natured-Baguioans, people find comfort in strolling in the parks abundant with flowers.

But what does it take to make the flowers bountiful in the parks?

Erlinda Diwas, an agriculturist of the City Environment and Parks Management Office (Cepmo), the office that maintains the “heart of the parks,” said maintaining the park takes a lot of time of planning and teamwork among the employees.

From A1 seeds or replants from cuttings, it takes the warmth of the hands of nursery employees to grow a seed until “butterflies” appear, ready for pricking and transplanting to an eight-centimeter pot.

Like a child ready to be sent out to the real world, the plants are distributed to the different parks, and “adopted” for planting on landscapes. There, they continue to grow as the park gardeners tend to them, rearing them like their own “children” until they show their inner beauty, slowly opening from a closed bud to a beautiful bloom of different colors, sizes, and scents.

Erlinda said researches revealed that music helps plants bloom. But at the nursery and the parks, the blistering hands of those who tend to the plants are what make them bloom.

The nursery personnel prepare plants for the parks and road islands within six months to one year. There are no fungicides or chemicals used to make plants bloom faster. Compost fertilizers produced from the botanical garden are used in almost all the plants. “It’s not like a balloon. They don’t grow overnight. It takes a long time of planning,” she said.

Erlinda said they grow plants naturally, not because there are no supplies, but because Cepmo advocates an environment-friendly way of nurturing plants and flowers.

In producing compost, top soils are mixed with carbonized rice hull, sometimes added with horse manure gathered at Wright Park, including the garden waste at the Botanical Garden. Among the plants propagated at the nursery are marigold, xenias, salvia, azalea, blue ginger, dahlia, mother-in-law’s tongue, and impatiens, and other flowering plants.

Erlinda said the December flower, poinsettia, goes through a long process before they bloom. During the rainy season, she said they apply fungicide to prevent the rusting of the leaves, to make sure that the plant blooms in time for the Yuletide season. Simultaneously, the flowers needed for the decorations to set the Flower Festival mode for the roads, islands, and parks are also being propagated.

The city nursery does not only produce flowering plants for the parks and islands. Personnel also continuously propagate cutflowers used as decorations for different city events. Dwarf anthuriums, spotty phylum, and bird’s nest ferns are the year-round supply used in festivities and other events. During the oath taking of the new set of officials in 2016, Erlinda said the nursery produced the mini roses that were used in the stage decoration.

Planning

Carlo Alafriz, supervisor for the City Hall park, said the flowers distinguish Baguio from other cities in the country where parks are equally maintained. “What sets us apart from other places are the flowers. Ang inilalagay are the flowers that are in season.”

The planning of the kind of flowers and plants and how the landscape would look like is always dependent on the season. “There are plants na dapat akma sa panahon and events. We have standard events like the Flower Festival, Christmas, and even Holy Week and we plan appropriate cutflowers for the season.” Leafy plants are always part of the landscape to accent the surroundings.

He said the nursery is the heart of the parks. The successful propagation of flowers at the nursery ensures the beauty of the parks, which usually captivate the hearts of visitors who go back to their homes with photographs of them taken beside the flowers.

A financial management professional whose appreciation for plants comes in handy, Carlo conducts researches. While he did not study Horticology or Agriculture, Carlo said team management is crucial in making the park bloom.

“To see a living thing from the start is rewarding, ang sarap ng feeling.” He said nothing can beat the joy they feel as they witness the plants grow.

In his work, he and his teammates are attached to nature. It is rewarding to see people appreciating your work and to see thebeauty of the plants.”

He added, “We are known for landscapes but what sets us apart from landscapers from other places ay ‘yung flowers natin. To see them taking pictures with the flowers, tuwang-tuwa ka na, knowing that they will have memories of this park or a certain landscape and they will talk about the beautiful flowers which are fresh and real.”

The gardeners in his area are given the leeway to be creative. They take pride in their work and they take the initiative to make new designs. As a team, their reward is the appreciation of their work by city officials, the visitors, as well as the parents who sit and relax at the City Hall park while waiting for their children to dismiss. Alafriz said the suggestions of gardeners are important as what he does as the planner and manager.

“They know what is going on in their areas.There are incidents also na hindi mo pwedeng i-rely lang sa sarili mo, they are the ones doing the actual work, you have to listen to them para alam mo ang problema nila.You have to have a focus of your section, know your role and know what the gardeners can and cannot do. Beautifying the park is a team effort, and the output of everybody is important,” he said.

Aside from the flowers that bloom and help make the environment green, cleanliness and beauty are also important aside from the ability to decrease the mortality rate of flowering plants once they are used on the park’s landscape.

But like any person who does his best to maintain a good and beautiful park, it also disappoints them when park goers pick flowers and even uproot the plants despite the presence of security guards.

He said that while Baguio is equated with roses, the flower variety is difficult to manage because this plant is very delicate. The flowers are destroyed when soaked from continuous rains. This remains the challenge in the desire to make them bloom in all parks.

In maintaining the parks, the experience and technical knowledge of gardeners, the supervisor, and even the office workers who do the paper works are all added up, especially with the changing weather condition and climate that affects the beautification of the parks.

At the Botanical Garden, Anton Ocampo, park labor foreman, said they have started to grow and include in the landscape vegetables in support to the urban gardening program of the city government. These food-plants are added with the red salvia, which are sturdy varieties that continue to bloom. There are also dahlias, yellow marguerite, blue ginger, mums and foliage, impatiens, and others that abound the almost 10-hectare park.

Park operations

Cepmo Chief Coleen Lacsamana said their department has 142 personnel, most of them distributed to the seven major parks – Burnham Park, Bayan Park, Botanical Garden, Diplomat Hotel, Wright Park, Mines View Park, and the city cemetery including the different street islands, tending to the areas assigned to them to make sure that the parks will continue to provide a respite to the residents and the visitors.

Lacsamana said they also encounter other challenges, such as the procurement process in purchasing seeds for planting.

“The new types of seeds are commercialized and they can only last for two years.” There are times when the Cepmo buys from commercial establishments, as they are prohibited from importing, even if these are expensive. They are sold at about P80 a packet with few seeds and have low germination rate. Their 2015 procurement plan is also still in the pipeline. This is one of the reasons they re-use and re-propagate the existing ones.

She said parks at present are endowed with the yellow marguerite variety, which has proven to adapt to the changing weather conditions. But Cepmo does not stop discovering and re-discovering varieties that adapt to the effect of climate change.

“We are trying to slant the choice of ornamental plants with the real environmental program,” she said.

They plan in relation to the season but the reality is, maintaining floral landscapes during the rainy season is a challenge. They mix leafy plants with flowers, as they have proven to withstand strong winds and typhoon. The yellow marguerite has been propagated for the longest time but the Cepmo is also trying to propagate white and pink marguerites, which, while very attractive, are easily destroyed by rain.

The Cepmo also maintains the services of known local landscapers who advises the office on what to propagate during special occasions. They also maintain linkages with seed suppliers, as contingency, to make sure that there will be blooms around the city.

“Landscaping is not just wanting to put something there which eventually will bloom because we feel that it should give an experience in the park, the open space should always create memories. They create stories, create something pleasant, where people can find res-pite from the hard days’ work.”

At the City Hall grounds where clients transact with the government, what used to be a dump area was converted to a mini park where air filters, ferns, anthurium, marguerite, spotty phylum, dahlias, Indian song, bromeliads, and Malaysian mums are also grown and displayed.”

Mentoring and training on landscaping techniques incorporating science are annually done as a capacity building measure for the persons who till the soil and make the plants bloom.

Effects of climate change

The parks and the city’s nursery are almost completely using all-natural fertilizers for growing flowering plants because fungicide use has been lowered.

The changing weather also affects the blooming time of plants, thus the importance of mixing foliage so that the color of the soil will not overtake the greens and blooms in parks.

Erlinda talked about the importance of plants, especially at the central business district, which she said absorbs carbon dioxide from vehicles then emit oxygen, cleaning the air we breathe. “Uray nabannug ka, ma-rejuvenate ka nu adda makitam nga mulmula ken sabsabong,” she said.”

Caring for the gardeners

A group of ladies who call themselves “Mums,” who are members of the Baguio Chrysanthemum Lions Club have lived up to their group’s name.

Quarterly, or as often as possible, the group visits the gardeners of Burnham Park, treating them with simple snacks and providing basic health monitoring and check-up under the club’s diabetes awareness program.

Pat Tizon, immediate past president of the club, said the program started about seven years ago after past president Marissa Marilla, who resides near the park realized the beauty of the area, which relaxes her whenever she walks from her residence to the market or Session Road.

Tizon said the group conceptualized the program and realized the need to take care of the persons who care for the plants that make Burnham Park bloom.

A birthday celebration of a member or a special occasion in the member’s family leads to a few hours of simple treat for the park gardeners. They also provide protective equipment for the gardeners like jackets, hand towels, or decorated hats to protect them from the heat of the sun and to protect the  hands that make us all feel good while strolling at the park.

“To us, the gardeners are special people. They contribute to our well-being because their hands provide the healing that comes from the plants and flowers that they maintain at Burnham Park,” Tizon added.

Making them feel special, the Mums also include a few hours with the gardeners during the visits of exchange students from Japan where they do the clean-up activities, picking of litter, and a snack with the visitors.

Like the Mums, many others, appreciate the beauty of the park, the tranquility provided by the greens, and the smiles that emanate just by looking at the flowers that bloom.

Maybe the next time we go to the park, let us find the time to look around and maybe we would soon realize that the hands and hearts of persons are part of beautification of the park that we all admire.

Let us be reminded that “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Like the gardeners who can plant a seed and become a flower, sharing their knowledge and giving smile to others, small deeds, can radiate to positive effects, which we can adopt as a spiritual exercise.

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