Monday, November 28, 2011

We Can Re-Create the Garden of Eden

We Can Re-Create the Garden of Eden
Dr Abe V Rotor
Arch of the Centuries and Fountain of Knowledge, University of Santo Tomas, Manila

What really make gardens beautiful may draw two schools of thought – Romanticism and Functionalism. But a typical Philippine garden for one does not take side on the issue – it portrays both schools in an integrated, harmonious design patterned after the richest and the most enviable biome on earth – the Tropical Rainforest.

And here are gardens to see - the Sunken Garden of UP Diliman QC at the back of the Oblation, and the UST Botanical Garden along España in downtown Manila. And for more extensive gardens, go to San Fernando La Union Botanical Garden in Cadaclan at the foothills of Cordillera. When picnicking at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center visit the vegetation along the lakeshore.

There are striking features of a garden. For example at UST, there are man-made waterfalls.  Trace the flow on a meandering rocky stream that ducks under a footbridge before plunging into the depth of a pond, its bottom murky and cool and rich in detritus. Here clams and snails, and other bottom dwellers, mostly decomposers reside, shy from the sun and ensconced in the very food source that settles down. Such is the niche of these sessile, benthos creatures.

A Garden of Algae and Mosses

The running stream at the UP Sunken Garden keeps the environment fresh and cool, lapping on the rocks and sending spray on its banks. Small waterfalls and boulders lay along its path.  Here thick algae and mosses layer after layer form a carpet on which another niche is found - the domain of bryophytes in Lilliputian imagery, or one depicted in the movie, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

But the ultimate source of water is the sky, from clouds that gather and grow atop the forest.  Transpiration from trees on one hand and evaporation on the other attract clouds, pulling them down in shower or downpour at anytime of the day or night. It is for this phenomenon that this biome got its name - rainforest.

The garden’s design simulates this condition. The waterfall, streams, a large fountain and a series of ponds maintain high humidity in their environs. High humidity and continuous supply of water are crucial in the formation of multi-storey vegetation and subsequently the presence of a myriad of resident organisms.

An Evolving Ecosystem

It may take years for a new garden to approximate the structure of a typical rainforest. In the process visitors may not be aware of the slow transformation, one sere after another until a climax community is formed, a true measure of it is homeostasis or dynamic balance. The scientific and aesthetic aspects are interesting to study. Inference can be drawn on the viewpoint of ethico-morals that governs man of his role in God’s creation – and the transformation of man himself as one good and faithful steward of the environment.

A botanical garden is thus transforming deliberately like an evolving ecosystem. It is Nature’s laboratory and a playing field of biological diversity.

Drynaria fern on a tree in acrylic AVR

Biological Diversity

1. As a field laboratory the garden demonstrates ecological cycles – invasion, colonization, competition, and emergence of dominant species, as well as seasonal and long-term succession patterns. We may not have the four distinct seasons, but there are tropical trees that demonstrate some temperate characteristics carried by their ancestral genes, such as the deciduousness of narra (Pterocarpus indicus) and talisay (Terminalia catappa) simulating trees in the temperate region that completely lose their leaves at the onset of winter.

2. The garden is a living manifestation of dynamic balance in a changing environment with the organisms constantly adjusting to the demands of the latter, but at the end they also change the environment itself. The transformation process or seres always leads towards homeostasis and the result is the formation of a climax ecological system.

3. As a showcase of natural habitats, the garden adjusts to the development of niches and diversity indices. The garden never sleeps, so to speak. It is an arena and the drama of life goes on and on.

Energy Flow

4. When we look at life, we look at it in the realm of physics and chemistry – the flow of energy through the food chain, food web and their hierarchic order, the food pyramid. The light energy of the sun is transformed into chemical energy by plants through photosynthesis, and is passed on one after another through the links of a chain until the remaining energy reaches the ultimate member – the decomposers that transform organic substances back into inorganic forms so that the next generation of organisms can start all over again. We can  witness this among the residents in the pond, and among insects, arachnids, birds, reptiles, and others that inhabit the garden.

Plant Physiology and Animal Behavior

5. The garden demonstrates physiologic responses of plants - tropisms or reactions to light, touch, and the other elements on one hand, and animal behavior on the other. Why do plants grow tall, while others do not - even if they belong to the same species? Where do toads and frogs hide in summer? How do they survive without food and extreme hot and arid condition?
Dragonflies hover low before a rain. A preying mantis resembles the leaf or flower on which it waits for its prey. These and many more demonstrate intelligence among animals.

6. There are biological indicators of the state of the environment. The garden has a host of these indicators such as lichens and fireflies. The presence of both attest to the pristine condition of the environment and clean of air around. The garden itself is a barometer of El Niño. There are bamboo species that produce flowers at the onset of the cyclical phenomenon.
Balete trees atop a church ruin, Magsingal Museum, Ilocos Sur.

Gene Bank

7. The garden is a sanctuary of wildlife. In spite of the crowded environment and high-rise buildings around, a garden is always with butterflies. Some people say, if you see butterflies there must be a garden nearby. It is because the garden is their natural abode with plants they feed on and rear their young. The ponds and streams are a sanctuary of dragonflies as well, and their waters teem with both phytoplankton and zooplankton that students in biology can study with the use of microscope.

8. As a gene bank, the garden is a depository of biological diversity, providing access to genetic studies, propagation and exchange with other institutions. A garden must aim at expanding its collection of species, even those that are thought to be weeds and volunteer plants. In many ways nature is the principal architect of biodiversity. Birds, water and wind carry seeds into the garden. When we design the garden we follow Nature rules. For example, plants are classified according to water regime, type of growth, sunlight requirement, seasonality, etc.

9. In another article I wrote, I mentioned about the garden as a microcosm of the biosphere, the pond a minuscule of a lake – and now, the new the garden is a replica of the Tropical Rainforest.

10. This miniature replica of a Tropical Rainforest, where living organisms – macroscopic and microscopic – live in a state of unity and harmony is man’s way of redeeming a lost Paradise. There is more than just romanticism and functionalism, not even human imagination can describe it. Indeed we can re-create a Garden of Eden is some little corner of the Earth, the greatest offering we can make to the Creator who gave us the capacity to build it. ~

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