In September 2021, waterfront township development Mandani Bay by HTLand Inc. received a five-star Building for Ecologically Responsive Design (Berde) rating from the Philippine Green Building Council.

This rating, the highest and the first in the Visayas and Mindanao, is a testament to Mandani Bay’s adherence to world-class standards in green building. It scored high in land use ecology and innovation with its protection and improvement of ecological features, as reflected in its well-vegetated amenity deck and interconnected foot bridges and tunnels.

“Here at Mandani Bay, we’re not only building condominiums but we’re also promoting the environment. That’s why we were very eager to get that five-star Berde rating,” said HTLand project director Gilbert Ang.

“One of the major components that got us that rating is the landscape that we’ve put in the development. If you go around the condominiums in Cebu, I don’t think you’ll find 187 trees planted on the podium level of a condo. Most of the condos here grow shrubs because they did not provide an area that is deep enough for a tree to grow whereas here, we’ve provided that,” he said.

In line with this initiative, Mandani Bay invited landscape architect and gardener extraordinaire Jaime Chua to stage an exhibit at its Show Gallery. Dubbed “Blooms and Greens,” the exhibit ran from Dec. 9 to 15, 2021 and featured some of the exquisite ornamental and flowering plants from Jaime’s collection.

An architect by profession, Jaime’s passion for plants started as a hobby about 40 years ago.

“My first plant was an orchid. I remember when I was still a kid, since I was influenced by my grandma and I loved plants, every time a (housekeeper) would go home to her province, she would always return bringing a plant. I was still six years old at the time,” he recalled.

“I practiced landscaping, starting with friends’ houses in 1994. I never advertised. It was all by word of mouth. Even until now. I love plants so from there, the passion grew,” Jaime shared.

This same passion drove him to build a 1.7-hectare plant nursery in Busay in 2000 that now houses over 1,000 plant varieties. “I had been collecting rare plants even before but it was during the pandemic that there was a boom,” Jaime said.

Plant prices did soar during the pandemic. One example would be a 1.5-foot-tall Philodendron spiritus sancti which Jaime had and a customer offered to buy for P150,000 before the pandemic. Now it would set you back about P300,000 or higher. In September, a friend of Jaime in Manila was able to sell the same kind of plant for P1.2 million.

While Jaime also sources other plants from Bangkok, Hawaii and the Netherlands, his plant nursery is home to a lot of native orchids, and it has one of the most complete collections in the entire Philippines. The most sought-after is the waling-waling (Vanda sanderiana) which is in season from August to October. “We have about 5,000 plants and at least six variations for the waling-waling alone,” said Jaime.

He said: “The price depends on the quality, just like diamonds. A breeder plant may cost up to P1 million but an ordinary one will cost about P500. People who do breeding, they know what a good-quality plant is. What makes any breeder plant expensive is when it can give good traits to its offspring—if it can make the flower bigger, the color more vibrant, or maybe there will be fragrance, a nicer shape.”

In the case of the P1.5 million Philodendron billietiae on display at the Mandani Bay Show Gallery during the exhibit, Jaime said it’s variegated, which means the leaves appear green and white or green and yellow instead of plain green. “What makes it rare is that if you have 50,000 plants, for example, only one will be variegated. This is a trait that collectors treasure. Variegated plants cannot be propagated through tissue culture. They will produce green plants only. It can happen but only rarely and when it does, the price goes down,” Jaime said.

For those looking to start their own plant collection, Jaime says you’re never too young or too old to do so and having a green thumb is not necessary. It’s more on interest, observation and knowledge.

“You really have to research. Passion and knowledge should go hand in hand. Surprisingly, some of the new collectors know new techniques which I also learn from them. You will learn from experience and through reading especially now when you can Google everything,” he said.