by Vina Medenilla

From a few palm trees and shrubs to a full fledged garden, Lee Majors Fajilan, a hotelier and college professor at Saint Louis University, developed his love and passion for plants, turning his garage into a green paradise. 

Love for plants runs in this Baguio resident’s family, particularly his grandmother, who shared the knowledge and fascination for plants to her kids and grandchildren, including Fajilan. 

Fajilan travels a lot, and when he does, he always makes sure to visit the local botanical garden. During long drives, he grabs the opportunity to hoard plants, often filling his car with them. He once tried bringing tulips from Amsterdam home to Baguio, but unfortunately, they did not last long enough. When looking for plants, he doesn’t just buy them, but also learns each of their taxonomy, families, and genera, which is the reason why he started collecting plants based on their family and genus.

Lee Fajilan, 41, began collecting plants in 2009.

He has a variety of palms, different kinds of Epipremnum, philodendrons, calatheas, maranthas, bromeliads, begonias, ferns, cymbidium, spider plants, Spathiphyllum, crotons, monstera, and others.

He also keeps a dozen of plants indoors including his favorites: calatheas, maranthas, and philodendrons. “They are easy to care for and the foliage is absolutely amazing. They require minimal lighting so they thrive well in our house that is surrounded by tall pine trees,” said Fajilan. He added that these also help in purifying toxic indoor air such as carbon monoxide. In his home jungle office, you can find Silver Satin Pothos, Calatheas, Philodendron Brasil, Pink Princess, Dracaena, and String of Hearts that surround him while working.

On one of his social media posts, he said, ‘I literally had to surround myself with lots of #oxygen and #positivity. My home office is now a jungle office.’

Besides indoor plants, their outdoor garden is occupied with ornamental plants such as crotons, caladiums, Syngoniums, cymbidiums, hibiscus, stromanthe, birds of paradise, as well as fruit-bearing tree seedlings which include langka, avocado, and durian that he shares to his friends. Now, they’re also trying to grow cabbage. In buying plant necessities like fertilizers, pots, and tools, he makes sure to support the local vendors in town. 

Gloomy garage to a bright greenhouse

Fajilan transformed his parking space into a greenhouse where his plants receive better sunlight compared to his previous garden setup. Upon visiting plant stores, he studied how each store was designed and realized that some of them use thick plastic covers and polycarbonate materials so that plants enjoy natural filtered light all day. Adapting this concept, he turned the dark tarpaulin cover in his garage into a skylight with a translucent corrugated roof. Both his indoor and outdoor plants now enjoy filtered sunlight while having protection from rain. This helps his plants grow new unfurling leaves and sprouts.

His daily routine includes spending hours tending to his indoor and outdoor gardens.

 

Every day, he roams the garden to remove fallen pine needles while he drinks his coffee. He doesn’t water the plants every day as it frequently rains in Baguio.  “I keep the rainwater in case there are few days of rain shower interval. With indoor plants, I water them whenever necessary. I have ways to know when they need water,” said Fajilan. He also re-pots plants that become root-bound or when the roots crawl out of the topsoil.

Disjoining the bandwagon

For him, having a green thumb is not enough when tending plants. Time, knowledge, and dedication are crucial to get to know what each plant needs. Otherwise, it can lead to their slow growth or death. In his case, he had to learn things the expensive way. “I used to ride on the bandwagon by buying popular plants. Like when I brought home some fiddle leaf figs and an orbifolia that I always wanted to have. They died because I didn’t study my environment well and how it would be suitable for them,” Fajilan added. To avoid such instances, he stopped getting plants that won’t survive in his environment no matter the hype about them is. Instead, he researches on water type, light source, humidity, temperature, fertilizers, pot size and type, potting soil, and transplanting procedures that play an important role in each plant. Joining Facebook groups also helps him interact and learn from the positive and negative experiences of other gardeners.

Making connections through plants: He recently discovered the art of barter, where aside from his plants, he obtains real happiness from by sharing.

Here are five gardening tips from Fajilan:

  1. Get plants that are suitable to grow in your environment.
  2. Know lighting conditions. Assess if your place has enough morning sun, afternoon sun, or if it is shaded throughout the day. Buy and arrange your plants according to these conditions.
  3. Study plant care, watering requirements, feeding needs, and treatment for pests.
  4. Know how to group plants together. Mimic the natural habitat of plants in your garden.
  5. You must love and must have enough time and energy to take care of your chosen plants. If not, get a goldfish instead, Fajilan says. 

None of the plants in his collection are for sale, but for him, true happiness is real when shared; he recently started bartering some of his plants with his friends in exchange for what they can offer.

Photos from Lee Fajilan.