Sonya’s Garden is the stuff that dreams are made off. Decades ago, spoken reverently in whispers, “have you gone to Sonya’s Garden?” it seemed like the lost city of gold where romantic dreams are fulfilled amidst gastronomic wonders in an epicurean setting. People spoke of eating rose petals, of a beautiful garden with flowers that smelled like butter, and best of all, how everything was so personalized from the charming Sonya who made conversation with you to the fine china and linen.
My friend Tony and I used to go to Sonya’s almost every weekend. We were such main stays that the staff recognized us (and still recognizes me; Tony having since moved to the US) and at one point, when we asked for the bill, were given a piece of paper that said, “My compliments, Sonya.” During those times, there weren’t too many people then and the place was a pure explosion of blooms and foliage. Bright colors, mis-matched furniture, and quirky decor lent an atmosphere of artistic homeliness. It was the kind of place that you would like to bring people you love so you can share the experience. I brought my entire family there to celebrate one of my birthdays and my close friends for a quick escape from all the stress in the city.
As years wore on, the place became bigger and bigger. Additional dining places were set-up and the garden expanded. More people could be accommodated and on some weekends it sometimes resembled a pit stop for everyone escaping to Tagaytay (Sonya’s is actually in Buck Estate, Cavite).
Yesterday, I was back at Sonya’s with my sisters. If the bags for sale displayed on a table by the outdoor receiving area were any indication of the changes that had since taken place, then Sonya’s Garden had now been a full enterprise.
The conservatory was bright and airy as usual. It had long been renovated with a more permanent ceiling and floor but I still miss the bamboo slats and the pebble wash-out. A path had also been cut into the patch of flowers and plants. We still dined on wooden tables covered with crisp white linen with floral embroidery. Yummy still was Sonya’s Secret Sauce and the salads and pasta condiments were just as I remember— plentiful, tasty, and fresh. There has been little change in the food and some people have been a little put-off with it. But I never really minded as long as the freshness and deliciousness remain consistent. What I minded was that the beautiful floral mismatched plates, cups, and saucers had been replaced with restaurant-look plain white, the kind with a silver line around the edges. “What’s happening?!” I thought out loud. “Where’s the burst of color?” Even my sister commented on it. “Perhaps the dish washers were breaking all that precious china so she might as well keep them or use them for the bed and breakfast,” I rationalized.
As we posed for pictures in the garden outside, something different struck me. I couldn’t place my finger on it until I looked up and saw the sky. It dawned on me that there seemed to be less plants. The day bed on the corner was gone and some of the canopies seemed to have been removed. Yeah, it was brighter and more spacious but it was also less intimate. I remember shaded walks and hidden corners.
As we headed to the parking lot, I saw Sonya with a group of elderly guests. She was as charming as ever, joking with them and taking them to walks around her property. So many have copied her but none have come close to equaling her and her concept. Maybe because while others have simply set-up places, Sonya had set up a haven whose concept include herself. Going to Sonya’s was like visiting the private haven of a gentle and wonderful person. Perhaps it was that concept of the place that I had always held dear; and seeing all those big additional dining places, the plain white china, the cemented floors, and the over-all seeming modern look, made me yearn for that romantic vision of Sonya’s Garden. It was after all, everyone’s own secret garden. The vision of that secret garden crumbled before me as I saw Sonya in brown blouse and pants. I almost fainted with tears in my eyes. “Where’s your white linen dress and your big straw hat?” I wanted to tell her. Sonya was supposed to be an ethereal flower fairy hovering mystically over her guests and her domain. She was not supposed to be in pants and blouse and a brown one at that!
I still enjoyed our lunch and still found pleasure in wandering around that afternoon but I wish those days of my secret garden.