By Jullie Y. Daza
Quick, before the sun melts them. Take your last lingering look at the field of sunflowers as you enter University Ave., gateway to the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
Diliman – does the translation refer to something akin to a gathering darkness? – could not be a more fitting garden for summer to smile on thousands of flowerheads named after the sun. What more fitting gift to give the university’s class of 2017?
It’s a tradition that dates back to the ’80s, recalls Eric Tabafunda, UP campus architect, when the then director of the campus maintenance office was asked to work on an idea conceived by the president of the university at the time, Emmanuel Soriano. Following through Dr. Soriano’s inspiration, the office experimented with different types of sunflowers, planting them to coincide with the end of the school year.
This year’s tribute takes up 500 meters on each side of the avenue, each side glowing with the gold of sun-drenched flowers planted several rows deep, cooled by water running through the creeks. Cars stop to park, letting out passengers armed with phones and cameras to shoot a sight so rare in a city choking with four-wheel, three-wheel, two-wheel vehicles whose carbon emissions leave little room for poetry on the run. Every sunflower is not just a small sun, it’s also a little poem (but if I were to explain this simile, it would no longer be poetry, would it?). The only other available view of a similar gathering of sunflowers, though on a disorganized scale, would be along the zigzag road going up to Baguio.
But whereas the mountain-bred flowers grow wild, these ones in UP come from imported Asian stock. Being hardier, their stems, like a tough backbone, will not allow the flowerheads to droop before they have time to be admired. According to Eric, the seeds are procured in January and planted 60 days before the week of graduation. This year’s flowering season began two weeks ago and will end tomorrow, Sunday. That’s when sunset comes to unsettle the flowers, then they begin to die slowly, drooping their heads. Before you know it, the blooming is over, the flowers of the sun have been dimmed, they’re done and gone – for them there is no second chance.