By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
The past year has seen a rise in gardening activity due to millions of people being confined indoors for their safety against the pandemic. This provided aspiring plant enthusiasts with the opportunity to finally start or focus more on their gardening pursuits. Among the many plantitos and plantitas who have started gardening are celebrities like Francine Prieto.
Anna Marie Falcon, known as her stage name Francine Prieto, is a half-Filipino, half-Norwegian actress known for her roles in movies ranging from drama to sexy thrillers which she became popular for.
But aside from being involved in show business, Prieto has another interest which she started giving more attention to as a result of the pandemic: gardening.
“I love plants. I will buy one from time to time but not take care of them. Until the pandemic happened and we’re just at home,” she said.
With more time indoors, Prieto slowly cultivated her love for plants. To date, the former sexy actress has around 80 plants in her collection.
Starting easy and learning along the way
When she saw her friends selling plants, Prieto decided to buy an African violet because, according to the YouTubers she watches, it’s easy to grow. But in taking care of this particular plant, Prieto kept moving it from one place to another to provide it with sunlight.
“It turns out, you shouldn’t be moving a plant a lot or else they will get stressed and die,” she said.
This encounter with African violets didn’t deter Prieto from her eagerness to care for plants. She would pursue her interest in gardening by acquiring plants that are easier to care for such as a spider plant and a Hoya carnosa or “Krimson Queen.”
“Unfortunately, my spider plant started dying, because again, on YouTube, they said you just have to water them once every two weeks, but I forgot that they live in the USA (United States of America), and I live in the Philippines so the weather conditions are much different,” Prieto shared.
Prieto’s husband, Frank Shotkoski, who was a farmer and a molecular biologist, scolded her and told her to water her plants often because they need moisture to thrive and it gets dry in their condominium.
“My husband Frank, who was a farmer and a molecular biologist scolded me, he said I need to water them often because it gets dry in our condominium, that the plant needs moisture,” she said.
“Then I asked him, aside from watering, what else is needed to create moisture. He said I need more plants. So the next day, I bought a six feet tall Areca palm, and the hoarding started from there.”
She even uses her love for researching to make sure that she knows everything that she needs to about a plant before buying them.
Turning to pet-friendly plants
Aside from buying low-maintenance plants, Prieto also considers whether or not the plant is pet-friendly before she purchases from online sellers.
“I have two dogs and a cat. The dogs just ignore my plants but my cat Jupiter is a very curious one. So I made a list of plants that are safe for pets,” she said.
But when a friend of hers gave her a Marble Queen pothos, which is not safe for pets, Prieto noticed that her cat Jupiter, who she calls “the plant destroyer,” never bothered it, as if he had a notion that it’s harmful to him.
Eventually, Prieto purchased all kinds of plants that interest her. Now, her collection includes tillandsias, alocasias, cacti, and even orchids.
Some notable species from her collection
Among the 80 or so plants under Prieto’s care, she has developed some favorites and even identified which ones are difficult for her to grow.
“My husband Frank, who taught me more about plants, gave me my dream plant which is one of the Jewel Alocasias—the Alocasia baginda or Silver Dragon. He got them from one of my favorite plant sellers,” she said.
Other than her dream plant, Prieto also has other favorites such as the Syngonium neon robusta because of its blush pink foliage and the Anthurium plowmanii (Wave of Love) which she identifies with for being big and beautiful. Prieto also has three varieties of begonias because she finds them quirky.
“I also have fruit trees: the Sweet Catimon, a green mango variety, and a Meyer lemon tree inside our condominium and we don’t even have a balcony,” she said.
But among all ner plants, Prieto admits to having a complicated relationship with Calatheas which she has four of. According to her, “ they’re gorgeous but difficult and a real heartbreaker.”
Pursuing her soul mission
With her growing plant collection, Prieto shows no sign of stopping as she continues to acquire more species and learn how to properly care for them.
“My husband was surprised that all of them are doing fine. It’s a commitment when you have plants, and there’s something about these little friends, they give you joy. I think everybody should start having plants in their homes, you don’t need many. Just a few of them, and you will experience sublime happiness and it will teach you a lot about patience, humility, adversity, and the cycle of life and death,” she said.
But apart from being a mere plant collector, Prieto is thinking of changing her career to achieve her soul mission in this lifetime: becoming a healer and pursuing herbalism.
Francine Prieto has created a name for herself in show business because of her talent and beauty. This time, she’s shifting her energy and attention to growing her plant collection as she someday hopes to achieve her mission of becoming a healer who relies on the health and medicinal benefits of plants.
Check out Francine Prieto’s plant collection on her Instagram account (@norweirdgian).
Photos courtesy of Francine Prieto
This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s August 2022 issue.