The Art of Landscape Design

Over the last 20 years, ornamental expert Nilo Moncayo, manager of Hortanet Ornamental Plants, has seen the evolution of landscape designs in the country. Though his company is engaged in the mass production of ornamental plants which he supplies to the big developers and landscape development companies, he admits to have keenly observed how the ornamental industry has developed over the past two decades.

We met Mr. Moncayo when we recently visited the Los Banos Flower and Garden Show last October. Together with UPLB professor Dr. Naranja, Mr. Moncayo made the breathtaking Balinese design of the garden show’s centerpiece.
During the course of our conversation, he gladly answered our questions as to the latest goings on in the art of landscape design in the country and did his fearless forecast on the directions of the industry- in the next coming years.

Excerpts:

How would you describe the continuing evolution of landscape designs in the country?

As the evolution in design carries us further into the art and science of it, we will eventually begin to see less and less plants. As the cost of maintaining them goes higher and higher, as the cost of the inputs goes up, as people begin to have less time to spend pottering about the garden and tending to the plants, as people become busy, we will get to see more items into the garden aside from plants. Of course you might have heard of the minimalist designs which are gaining more and more ground. As the name denotes, there is much lesser use of plants.

There is more use of non-living components in the garden like the use of aggregates like sand, gravel, boulders, pebbles and driftwood. Of course most of us know the minimalist arts that started mainly in Japan. Although in Europe, I could see that there are certain schools there who are also espousing minimalist ideas although a different line of development as the Japanese. In South America, among the Brazilians, there are also minimalist groups. But then aside from these developments on the artistic perspective, people will have more understanding of the environment, the ecosystem and we will eventually learn at a faster pace what a reasonable and practical garden should be like.

Let’s talk about landscape design trends. What have you observed lately?

We’re quite late with design development. There is a small group of what you want to call trendsetters who start new designs. They do this among their projects that belong to the creme de la creme of our society. Talking about the trends, maybe we have to classify the scenario into two. First is the design development in the bigger land development projects. Here in Laguna specially, I should say by my reasonable estimate, around 80% of the volume of businesses here, whether it be quantity wise or peso wise, the plants being traded pass through the big land development projects. These are the projects of land development firms like the Ayala Land, Inc., Lucio Tan, just to name a few. They have projects in Region 4— Laguna, Cavite, Batangas, maybe all the way into the Alabang area.

Second are owners of private homes who are garden enthusiasts. These are small scale projects. The trends that I see are first, there is more widespread use of trees unlike before. When they were starting just about any tree would do. It’s easy to understand why. You cannot develop a design or jumpstart a project thinking or using materials which are not being produced by the growers. But there came at least two big companies who are working on probably more than 10,000 hectares of development area who began thinking in terms of domestic tree species. These are trees which are endemic to the Philippines. For some very good intention, they begin looking for new trees.

We also get to see a more widespread use of bamboos. Almost everybody else is growing bamboos here in Laguna. And of course, there’s more use of rocks and boulders so there’s intensive quarrying operations in areas like Zambales, Cogeo, Antipolo—marble, feldspar, etc.

Is there a dearth of landscape designers?

I don’t have the statistics. I think that’s one of our problems whenever we have industry consultations. But from what I had observed, we could see that a lot of our landscape architects are going out and are absorbed by the more lucrative foreign companies in the Middle East, Asia, Singapore, Taiwan,
Malaysia, Australia.

Are we at par in terms of landscape design?

I have the impression no. That’s from my own perspective and I am not an authority on landscape design because my main line has been mass production. But from that perspective, we could see what’s going on. It is sad to note for me that the designs that you see around are basically culled from the plant shows abroad, from the architectural digest, foreign magazines. It lacks originality which is commercial art in the first place. Well we can always argue that it’s dictated by market tastes… what designs would grow where. Like in the previous years, the market would like to see colors, because that is what the market perceives to be beautiful. Even though we come up with avante garde designs, they would say that they’re only for museums.

What to you constitutes a great landscape design?

Judging from how Dr. Naranja describes it, it has to be a good mix of aesthetics and function. It should not just be beautiful but it should be livable and practical.

What kinds of ornamental plants sell these days?

For big developers, what’s saleable are trees. Plants that are durable in the sense that they are hardy they are not the favorites of insect pests, it can withstand reasonable periods of drought and neglect.

And what is your forecast for the ornamental landscape industry?

We are simply along a normal evolutionary path. It should be easy to see where we’re growing. There will be the development of more tree producing companies. Until about three or four years ago, there were no tree growing companies. There will be the development of very specialized service which will maintain the landscape development projects in the next five years. I refer to such companies as tree pruning and maintenance companies, irrigation companies, manufacturing companies which will specialize in gardening tools and equipment.

author:  Ronald G. Mangubat, Marid Digest

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