Industrial education in the Philippines was espoused by the Thomasite teachers because it had a natural fit to the local conditions and needs. Practical in its aims, industrial instruction sought to instill appreciation for manual labor, and by 1913, about 91 percent of pupils in the Philippines were devoting some of their school hours to manual work like sewing, weaving and carpentry.
Still, agriculture, though primitive in method, remained the main calling of Filipinos, and the American educators capitalized on this, emphasizing school and home gardening as an established part of the primary school program. By doing so, the Bureau of Education felt that this will result in an improved diet for Filipinos, and will pave the way for a more scientific approach to agriculture. To promote this idea, school farms were started in different provinces and Garden Days were held in towns all over the Philippines.
Like Rizal Day, Carnivals and Petit Fairs, Garden Days (or Arbor Days) were an American invention, patterned after the state fairs that showcased agricultural products and other articles representing the best standards, in attractive displays for every one to see. These events, held under a merry and entertaining atmosphere, fostered a community’s competitive spirit, spin-offs of the more elaborate national carnivals.
Garden Days were held with regularity in Pampanga and Tarlac, achieving popular acclaim as these events were also occasions to show off, sell and trade goods. Everything--from bottled fruit marmalades, rice cakes, pickled vegetables, molasses, whole baskets of pechay, squash, eggplants, radishes, cabbages and root crops can be found in booths—ready to be ordered or sold.
Corn exhibits became the rage in the Garden Days of Tarlac, starting in 1912, after a campaign was waged for this alternative food staple in schools. Corn-growing contests, corn exhibits and corn cooking demonstrations were held in the province to promote “the growing of corn and for extending its use as a human food”. In one such event in Camiling, 8,000 people turned up to see an amazing innovation being demonstrated—a small hand mill for preparing corn meals.
In Pampanga, the Garden Days held in Capalangan, Apalit were marked with much revelry and variety as side activities—like athletic competitions, calisthenics drills and even a beauty pageant—were held alongside the traditional agricultural exhibits! In 1927, for instance, the elementary school team from San Vicente copped First Prize in the calisthenics contest.
By the mid 1930s, Garden Days became less popular as provincial expositions which were more encompassing in scope, became the more preferred venues for showing off a province’s progress. As community events, Garden days ceased to exist altogether after the war years. Gardening, as an industrial arts subject, remained in the curriculum of elementary schools until the 1960s, achieving short-lived spurt in the early 1970s with the Green Revolution project of the Marcoses.
Today, gardening as a subject is known by its fancier name--“horticulture”--and is now available only as a subject in agriculture schools. Landscaping, a related gardening activity, has even evolved into a separate specialized course—“landscape architecture”, they now call it. With talks of global warming and looming environmental threats, maybe we should revisit the concept of the Garden Days of yore. They might just be the ideal events to create awareness for this planet’s pressing need to go green, before it’s too late.