By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

In the film industry, titles such as Magnifico (2004), Ang pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2006), and On The Job (2013) have one thing in common:  they’re all award-winning films written by Michiko Yamamoto, a Filipina screenwriter.

Hailing from Bulacan, Yamamoto is more than just a writer–she is also an urban gardener. 

“I grew up in Bulacan where my uncle had a piggery and poultry business. I remember we also grew plants in our backyard like tomatoes,” she said. 

By early 2004, she moved to the metro for work and hasn’t been able to garden until she moved to the south from Quezon City 10 years later. 

Now, Yamamoto lives with her husband, Erik Matti, a notable director with whom she has collaborated with for projects such as Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles (2014) and Honor Thy Father (2015), in a house where she has space to grow plants. 

“I started with growing ornamentals at first to add to the existing landscape design. We had several empty pergolas so I purchased different flowering vines for them,” she shared.

Yamamoto first grew high maintenance plants and ornamentals.

However, like with most beginners, the screenwriter encountered trouble in growing her plants. Eventually, she got the hang of things and settled with cultivating rangoon creepers and bougainvillea in their front yard. 

Starting with high maintenance plants 

Yamamoto’s gardening efforts were really a trial and error at first. 

Their house had a landscaped front yard because it is where the only area that gets full amounts of sunlight. Meanwhile, the back of Yamamoto and Matti’s residence has a small lanai with a pocket garden that gets sun from 9AM to 4PM.

Their front yard also has plants growing in it.

“This is where I placed most of my ornamental plants [and] where most of them died because I didn’t give them the proper light or water requirement,” the screenwriter said.

By 2016, they had the backyard landscaped so Yamamoto can have a vertical brick wall with a trellis. She planted a Rangoon creeper there. 

“After a lot of reading articles and watching Youtube videos, I finally figured out that I needed a shade net for my plants to survive in summer,” Yamamoto said. 

Shortly after, she wanted to grow flowering plants that require large amounts of sunlight while taking care of shade-loving plants. As a result, she took care of begonias and carnivorous plants. 

However, she had to let go of caring for high maintenance plants because this conflicts with the other varieties that she grows.

“It’s always easier and better to group plants according to their light and water requirement. It’s hard to care for succulents when they have a different watering need than my other plants. They end up being overwatered which is the reason most of my succulents died, except for the tall varieties which I still have,” she shared. 

Currently, she only has one high maintenance plant left: the Sarracenia which is a pitcher plant also known as “Scarlet belle.” This particular plant requires close supervision in order for it to thrive. 

This plant is characterized by dazzling red and white pitchers. During the summer, Sarracenia needs to be watered everyday with rainwater.  

“We have a rainwater tank for this specific purpose and for mixing my organic fertilizer. We also collect air conditioner runoff water which I also use for the garden,” Yamamoto said. 

Their house has a rainwater tank to provide rainwater for the screenwriter’s Scarlet belle.

Converting to a vegetable garden 

Since last year, the screenwriter decided to convert her garden into a flower and vegetable garden to make better use of their space. 

I [have] purchased a few wood palettes and made myself a do-it-yourself nursery table where I start my seedlings like tomatoes, basil, pechay, arugula, and sweet potato. We also have calamansi and rosemary which I’m trying to propagate. These are what we usually use in the kitchen,” Yamamoto said. 

She also has flowering plants like sunflower, cypress vine, rain lilies and hoyas because she read that having flowering plants next to a veggie garden helps deter pests. Only recently, the screenwriter has also started planting zinnias and cockscombs. 

Yamamoto is a writer by profession and works at home so she has enough time to look after her plants every day. 

“Even when I have a deadline, I do something garden-related like make my own fertilizer or tend to my worm bins. Then I go back to my computer and work. It’s both exercise and meditation for me,” she said. 

She added that she’s happy to do the physical work since it gives her a break from thinking. Additionally, gardening provides them with food that they know is safe to consume because they grew it themselves. 

‘Black thumbs’ are but a myth 

Having gone through the struggle of being a newbie as well, Yamamoto has armed herself with the experience and knowledge she can get a hold on to become a better plant mother. 

“I’m a Google and YouTube student. When I want to learn something, I just go online and read everything I can find about the subject. Nowadays, there’s no excuse for not learning especially if you have internet access,” she said. 

The screenwriter added that she also joined Facebook groups for plant lovers where they help each other out when they have problems. Most of the plants she collected are even bought from online sellers. 

For aspiring home gardeners, she advises them to start small and take things on step at a time.

“If you have gardener friends, you can ask for cuttings or seeds so you won’t have to buy your first plant. Gardeners are usually generous and friendly. I’m blessed to have neighbors who share seeds and plants with me,” she said. 

Another thing that Yamamoto said is to not be afraid of killing plants during the first time of gardening because she does not believe in the fabled ‘black thumb’ among gardeners. 

“Everybody has the capacity to love and be in a relationship, right? It’s the same with having plants. You need to understand your plant, what it wants and what it doesn’t like. You have to always listen to it,” she said. 

Still, there are times when no matter how much a person listens or puts effort in making a plant (or relationship) grow, it’s not enough to keep it alive. 

In this scenario, Yamamoto said that maybe it’s just not the perfect match because the plant might be too high maintenance or so. 

“You need to move on to another one and try again. Before you know it, people are already asking you for gardening advice!,” the screenwriter said.

This article appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s July to August 2020 issue.