The Secret Garden
In the fast-clipped pace of city life, we are often hard-pressed to find ways to keep our snity for just one more day, to find a measure of beauty and goodness amidst the chaos and struggle of daily living. On days when the world becomes too much to bear and it seems that the walls are caving in, it’s time to stop to smell the pro-verbial roses. Do you have somewhere to go to take long deep breaths to fill your lungs with clean air? Are you able to recharge your body system when it’s sputtering on low-bat? For Mr. Arthur Aguilar–better known as Mang Art–all he has to do is climb his staircase and retreat into his “hideaway” deep in the heart of UP Diliman. Looking at the cramped houses lined up facing each other across Manansala Street in Amorsolo, where else would one put a garden here? Amorsolo is a very busy place and a garden right smack in the middle of it would just be out of place. But Mr. Aguilar’s garden grows on top of an unassuming hardware store. Mr. Aguilar’s hardware store, has three floors. The ground floor holds plumbing fixtures, electrical and landscaping supplies. On the second floor you would find lumber and cement. In one corner of the second floor, a small dark opening leads up to the third floor. The dark opening resembles a cave-like structure, which leads to a spiral staircase which ends at the edge of the rooftop garden. There, right in a busy street atop a hardware store, was the most magnificent garden. It was as if God decided that He would create another Garden of Eden and this was just the right place to grow it. Trees and shrubs were in full bloom filling each corner and space of the roof, some in their natural state, and some in bonsai form. Crossing a small bridge over a pond adorned with a small pagoda leads to the middle of the garden. The pond is home to several fishes and one very shy pawikan. Scattered in the pond are a few lotus leaves. A small structure on one corner of the garden acts as the “mini-bar”, the name which is written in neon lights is Adam and Eve. An unpaved cement pathway brings you deeper into the garden where a stone living room set is situated at the left surrounded by shrubs and at the right of the stone garden set is a carefully shaped bush with one lamp post in the middle. A small platform opens up to reveal a pond full of lotus leaves being watched over by a stone mermaid and if one looks closely at the foot of the rock where the mermaid sits, one can find miniature lamp houses lined up along the side of the pond. Surrounding the lotus pond are several flower bearing plants, rare species of birds of paradise, orchids, common house ferns and several fuit bearing bonsai trees of calamansi, camachile and guava. Mang Art is a father of 3 children and is the owner of 7 branches of A.J.A Trading. At the back of the hardware store in Amorsolo, is the main house where he and his wife live in and 3 smaller houses, one for each child. Looking around, Mang Art saw that between the hardware store and the houses, there was no more room for a garden. Being a plant lover and an agriculturist, he must have a garden where in he could take care of the plants that he loves and give them room to grow. But where in the world was he going to put it? A trip to Thailand solved his problem. He discovered that most houses in Thailand had vegetable gardens on their roofs. He brought that knowledgeback with him and thus almost 4 years ago, his rooftop garden was born. Most of the people he knew were skeptical of this idea. “Paano mo gagawin yun?!” they would ask. He studied what type of materials he would need in order to create the garden and what type of plants would grow in this garden and how making a rooftop garden can be accomplished. And with much hardwork, he was able to start his garden. His garden serves as a retreat when the business and the hustle and bustle of living in the city gets to him and since he is the one who mostly takes care of the garden, it also serves as therapy. He laughingly states that his wife does not help him with the garden. “Eh kung basta saan nalang niya itutusok yung tanim eh, hindi mabubuhay yun!.” As early as 3 in the morning, he is already in his garden, meditating and at the sme time tending to his plants. He does not buy the plants that he grows in his garden. He either picks the flower and tree cuttings thrown away by some of his neighbors or the plants just grow naturally as the birds and some insects drop the seedlings from time to time. He has a way with plants. What his wfe cannot do when she just sticks the plants anywhere, is Mang Art’s talent. He seems to make the plants grow wherever they may be. Mang Art is also an artist in his own right. He alone designed and landscaped the garden only by instinct and an eye for what looks beautiful. “Gusto ko kasi natural yung itsura” says Mang Art. So he lets the plants grow as they would grow in the woods. Twisitng and turning evry which way and growing over stones. Listening to Mang Art talk about his garden, you can see the love that he feels for these plants. A garen such as this will never grow unless one has love for plants, and Mang Art has an abundance of love for his plants. He believes that God created these plants as a gift and is a sign of his love for us, and we in return are the caretakers of these gifts, giving them our love and attention. “Sayang lang,” Mang Art muses, “kasi hindi na-a-appreciate ng iba itong mga tanim. Bigay ito ng panginoon sa atin, kaya dapat natin pangalagaan kasi may buhay din naman sila.” To a few that have been to the garden, the reaction is all the same. Awe and admiration. One foreigner guest of Mang Art said that this garden was “the only one of its kind in the world!.” Some of his guests offer a sort of trade for some of Mang Art’s plants. They would give him a plant that he does not have or another specie of a plant that he grows in his garden. Mang Art’s secret garden is far from being finished. There’s a lot more to be done. Next year, Mang art will be retiring, handing the reins of managing the hardware store to his children and going full-time tending his garden.