feature, writing

Discovering the secret behind Sonya's Garden

The garden that started it all

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In the beginning, it was never meant to be a business. Back in the 1980s, all it was was an hectare of land full of possibilities. Armed with a great eye for detail, a well-developed artistic sense and a love for nature and gardening, she built herself a house with a huge garden. “Para lang kaming naglalaro noon [We were just playing then],” recalls Neneth Pendon, Country Bed and Breakfast Supervisor and the only employee today that was around during Sonya's Garden's inception. Sonya would invite close friends over for lunch and serve them delectable dishes using ingredients fresh from her garden. They were so enamored by her cozy home, her beautiful garden and her good cooking that they thought it only seemed right for her to start charging them a fee for the food. One greenhouse later, Sonya's Garden Restaurant was born.

Sonya's Garden Restaurant: a business by friends, for friends

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Floored with pebbles and blanketed by nothing but a plastic roof and adorned with simple curtains, Sonya's Garden Restaurant served only one course daily. When asked about her menu, she used to say, “I have no menu. I will tell you what to eat and what's healthy!” Guests would see the garden harvest first-hand and witness Sonya's staff bring it directly into the kitchen and then later on, their plates. Years later, her restaurant still only serves one type of set meal—garden salad fresh from her very own backyard, fresh bread, pasta, and local dessert—and the people who've tasted her cooking have no complaints.

To round up her tried and tested menu, she also recently added braised chicken with potatoes and roast chicken with herbs, available only through special order. For her overnight guests and for special groups of 20 or more, she designed an all-Filipino menu showcasing some of her local favorites to give everyone a taste of her good, home-cooked meals.

A perfect venue for your destination wedding

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Captivated by the beauty, the privacy and overall feel of the place, the son of one of Sonya’s friends expressed his desire to propose to his girlfriend in her garden. Despite being in business for a short time and with limited space to offer, Sonya and her staff made it happen, resulting in a very happy yes. Word spread and pretty soon, restaurant reservations started piling up, especially for that year's Valentines Day. To accommodate all the wedding reservations that started coming in, a second greenhouse was built. In December 2010, Sonya's Garden was the chosen destination of over 36 weddings, and reservations for the new year have already begun pouring in. They have an available wedding package catering up to 300 guests, including her famous and unchanging set meal.

Sonya's Country Bed and Breakfast: A refuge for friends

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The more Sonya developed and beautified her private world, the more people desperately wanted to stay.  Friends who frequented her home stayed long because of its relaxing ambiance.  It became a silent sanctuary, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. One day, one of her friends playfully suggested she build a new structure for guests to spend the night in, since the number of visitors who had no intention of leaving was rapidly growing. Sonya thought it was a good idea and had a cottage built for her friends to call their second home. Soon, one cottage became two. Today, there are now 17 cottages within Sonya's Country Bed and Breakfast, all named after her favorite herbs. Decorated with a hint of Italian, Balinese and Filipino design, the Country Bed and Breakfast truly captures Sonya's personal taste. One of the most unique features of the rooms is the batalan, an outdoor-style bathroom that has loose pebbles for its flooring.  It is placed indoors, giving the guests a unique feeling of being out in nature while in the privacy of their own rooms.

For bed and breakfast guests, Sonya provides “Art of Doing Nothing” lessons for free. It has almost everything, from basic gardening, compost making, plant propagation, and making natural pesticide to flower arrangement, wreath making, walking, and trekking. Other activities are also available, depending on the schedule and season, like firefly watching (during mating season), cooking lessons using herbs (to be scheduled upon reservation), and yoga lessons, courtesy of Sonya herself.  Given this wide array of things to choose from, you have the option of enjoying the quiet and relaxing atmosphere or turning your stay into an enlightening experience.

The revitalizing comforts of Sonya's Sensuous Spa

To complete their ultimate experience of relaxation at Sonya's, people who would spend the night would bring with them their own massage therapists from the city. Like all the other wonderful ideas of her friends in the past, Sonya took this one and made it happen by adding it to her growing empire. She started training her own massage staff and provided her own spa services to guests.

Sonya's Sensuous Spa offers all kinds of massage, from Swedish, Shiatsu, Tuina (Chinese) and Thai to Sonya's Signature Massage, a combination of all types of massage featuring Sonya's favorite massage strokes. There are various packages named after Sonya's favorite flowers, all including a type of body scrub, full body massage, facial and hair spa. All-Filipino Spa Services are also available, including hilot, the traditional Filipino massage technique. They use a wide variety of oils and essences, all of which are also for sale at the Beyond Scents store next to the spa.

The tale of the Panaderia

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Sonya doesn't only take inspiration from her own interests and ideas as well as her friends'—she also makes it a point to help bring out the best in the people she employs. After getting lost a couple of times during their trips, her driver expressed his desire to do something else. “Ano naman ang gagawin mo [What will you do]?” “Magtatanim po [I will plant]!” Sonya was so delighted by this that she agreed.

After further prodding, Sonya found out that her driver had a lot of experience working at a bakery. During a time when the restaurant's kitchen ran out of bread, the ex-driver used the only small oven they had to try and bake some.  The resulting loaves turned out to be so good, the guests asked for more. With only a small oven and almost a hundred people to feed, he would have needed to bake for 24 hours straight! It was then that Sonya decided to get more ovens and put up a Panaderia and left her former chauffeur in charge. He began experimenting in the kitchen. He started making Spanish bread originally meant to be sold to the staff, but the guests loved it so much, they would fight among themselves over it just to be first in line. To this day, the Panaderia's Hispanis Bread is one of their best sellers. Along with it are the super luscious chocolate cake, and Lola Liling's Sans Rival cake.  Lola Liling is Sonya's mother, an accomplished cook herself.

Sonya's Panaderia also offers baked goods for the health-conscious. The oatmeal cookies that are made without egg are perfect for vegetarians, while sugar-free breads are well loved by those afflicted with diabetes.

Sonya shares her passion

Do you like the china used at the restaurant? Fancy the curtains in your room at the bed and breakfast? Does the scent of the massage oil used at the spa relax your nerves? Ask the staff about them, and they will tell you that the wonderful trinkets, artifacts and other beautiful items and products around the compound are treasures Sonya has collected from her many trips out of the country. Most of them are sold at the Country Store.

Aside from sharing her immense love for art and design through the foreign products she sells at the souvenir shop, she also shows her desire to help the community by actively supporting and promoting Filipino entrepreneurs through the local, all-natural products her store carries.

The secret

Sonya's Garden is an enterprise that springs from one great idea after the other. Most of them may have come from her friends, but she always manages to put a little something of herself into each one.  Everything you see in this breathtaking piece of paradise—from the perfectly placed flower boxes in her garden to the expertly managed and beautifully decorated bed and breakfast—is a manifestation of Sonya’s personality.

A well-tended garden full of flowers in bloom. A healthy lifestyle free from illnesses fostered through fresh and nutritious food. A community of service-driven and nature-loving people. Those are the things that make Sonya happy and content, and those are the secrets that make her garden such a joy to visit.


How to get to Sonya’s Garden:

From South Superhighway exit Santa Rosa and turn right towards Tagaytay. Upon reaching main Aguinaldo highway, turn right toward Nasugbu, Batangas. Go past Tagaytay Rotonda and proceed for 10km. After Splendido Golf course and Sunrise Hill make a right turn on the Buck Estate. Drive for 2km and watch out for Sonya's on the left side. Use the first gate and drive towards the end of the driveway and make a right towards parking lot.

For reservations:

Call/text: +63917.5329097 / +63917.5335140 / +63917.5231080

Email: info@sonyasgarden.com

Website: http://www.sonyasgarden.com

Published in Batulao Magazine, March 2011 issue

Photos by Jason Kotenko