Elmo's House
Artist Residency

Batan, Aklan

Curating the Land with Coleen P. Sucgang

Curating the Land with Coleen P. Sucgang

Banika, Ambolong
August 2017

Coleen P. Sucgang is a native Batangnon. Her family has lived in Batan for several generations and the Sucgang family name is an integral part of Batan legacy.

After dedicating 15 years in a science and technology company in Miagao, Iloilo, Coleen returned to her hometown in 2013, the year Typhoon Yolanda shook The Philippines and its people. Though Tacloban was the most affected, Batan also experienced the Typhoon’s power which took the town almost five years to completely recover.

Filipinos have endured many natural disasters and have honed the ability to persevere and move forward. In the process of rehabilitating property and contemplating great loss, a beautiful rebuilding begins.

RainForest Botanical Garden is a project Coleen started on her family’s ancestral land. The garden is located in Banika, Ambolong, which sits at the foot of Iyaw mountain. Though once used as rice fields, the property had sat dormant for many years before Coleen’s rejuvenation project. During its dormant state, neighbors used the overgrown land as grazing fields for cows and goats and as a cut through when walking. It can be said with confidence that birds and other animals contributed in the making of Rainforest Botanical Garden.


Though the garden is still in its construction phase, it is easy to see the beauty already developing. Pathways of coconut tree trunks lead visitors through a meandering walk around flower beds and trees. Channels have been carved into the soil, ready to receive water from the mountain, to wash it into the ponds already plotted at various parts of the site.

The whole property has been laid out by Coleen herself. Construction started a year ago, and as the landscape architect, this garden is a direct expression of Coleen’s imagination. The flowers are slowly coming in, fruit trees are gearing up to bloom and shrubs are filling in. Native as well as exotic trees and flowers share the same earth, some species are unidentified but familiar in its beauty. 


Batan has rich fertile soil and an even richer history.


There are fire trees next to papaya trees, star apples, Palawan cherry blossoms, apple mangoes, mahogany, Pili nut, Molave and Ilang-ilang. The Philippine national tree Narra or Red Sandalwood tree, can also be spotted around the garden. Traditionally used for furniture and various applications, Narra is currently an endangered species. But with a government sanctioned cutting ban, the respect for the Narra tree is backed by policy.

Everyone who has a bit of space in and around their home, has at least a dozen plants and flowers. A green thumb is not required in Batan because the earth is kind and fertile anyways. It is easy to take for granted the natural beauty that grows whether effort is exerted or not. This also means the standards are ridiculously high and gardening is about controlling life that will sprout despite the smallest of chances. In creating this sprawling botanical adventure, Coleen is re-contextualizing the garden as an event. It is a part of life to be experienced and not just for beautification. RainForest Botanical Garden is a curated wildness that makes for a great introduction to the Batan forest. 


There is a resident owl in the high branches of a mango tree. Flocks of different species of birds rest in the field. Now that we have fenced much of the periphery, dogs, chickens and goats can no longer chase them away.  Our gardeners see more halo (monitor lizards).  Possibly more will become visible later.  At night, we do see more and more fireflies.


What inspired you to build this garden in the first place? Where did your love of nature come from?
Batan has rich fertile soil and even richer history. Unfortunately, its been left out as having tourism potential compared to other places in Aklan and the rest of the Panay Island. I grew up here, and went to school in Batan. I did not appreciate nature back then while growing up. Now that I have seen numerous gardens all over the Philippines and in other countries, a unique botanical garden will definitely be appreciated by the community and its surrounding areas. Hopefully it will spark a trend that will make Batan as a go to destination.

What has been the most difficult part of creating RainForest Botanical Garden?
Everything was difficult at the start. It still is. The uneven terrain, the cows grazing in the rice field, the brushes and wild trees, were all nuisances. Unwanted grass regrows back in just a few days, while fencing and flood control needs to be built and reinforced during the rainy seasons. The basic infrastructure of power, water supply and drainage canals have to be planned for the long term. Building a team of carpenters, welders, masons and support staff was a major challenge. Perhaps, the most difficult is finding an overall concept that will make the botanical garden unique.


Coleen's Photos


The building currently under construction is inspired by Japanese design. It is true there is nothing like that in Batan. But why Japanese design specifically? 
I think RainForest is more a fusion of the old and the modern. It will be a fusion of Asia rather than just one country. We take the best of each country and create something uniquely Asian, yet practical and simply pleasing to the eye. A touch of Japan, a little of Bali here and there. Interconnecting ponds will create a different atmosphere for the visitors and enhance the beauty of plants and flowers as they roam the gardens. For kids, there will be toy sail boats to play with in the shallow ponds. There will be nooks and crannies where couples can sit together under the trees. RainForest will be a unique place for the family one day soon.

What are you most excited to see fully grown in your garden?
Actually, everything! I'm excited with everything that can grow under the sun and provide shade for the forest. There will be areas with beautiful flowers, and I'm sure there will also be those parts you may hardly appreciate but are integral to the place. Each one has a place in RainForest. I would love to have a rose garden too.

You mentioned butterflies appear at a certain time of the day. Have you noticed any other curious things that happen in the garden? 
There is a resident owl in the high branches of a mango tree. Flocks of different species of birds rest in the field. Now that we have fenced much of the periphery, dogs, chickens and goats can no longer chase them away. Our gardeners are seeing more halos (monitor lizards) these days. Possibly more will be visible in the coming months. At night, we are seeing more and more fireflies.


What is most inspiring is Coleen's passion to create something different; a new path to appreciate and experience nature. RainForest Botanical Garden is a unique venture set apart from beach-centric destination spots interspersed along the coast line. It is a garden that celebrates the understated beauty of nature and the possibilities of the curated land.

Learn more about Coleen's project
RainForest Botanical Garden
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