The walkway at the parking lot of Dinham Gardens is paved with the grass peeking out in between the tiles.
The young cypress trees on either side of the walkway will bloom to a tower of green, outliving most of the other trees, plants and flowers on the path. The parking lot was the concept of Elizabeth Mungai, the owner of the property.
Initially, the just over two-acre piece of land had been set aside to put up a few rental houses that would hopefully bring in some income for Ms Mungai, an idea she soon trashed.
“I thought it would be quite a nuisance to have rentals so near my home, and I thought I would do a conference facility instead. We created a garden first to complement it,” she explains.
The three-level gardens located next to her home in Tigoni, were not the picturesque sight they are now. It took a Sh3 million investment to hire a landscaper, create the different levels that the gardens sit on, purchase plants and put up the structures on it.
On your right as you stroll into the garden is the catering area.
“As part of the agreement, we are the ones to do all the catering for those wishing to hire the grounds,” Ms Mungai says.
The guests are given the option of a set menu or coming up with their own. The catering concept came in later in the business after constant issues with the catering crews brought in by the guests.
On the other side of the path through the gardens is a small gazebo area used as a ceremony ground. The gazebo acts as an altar for weddings.
The path leads to the main reception area which seats 500 people restaurant-style. At the end is a large gazebo that is usually used by the guest of honour or the bridal team.
The entire lush garden relies on irrigation, especially during the dry months.
Even during the low season, where only one or two bookings are received in a month, the gardens still maintain the lushness.
“Care for the gardens is an all-year affair because it has to look presentable anytime prospective clients come to view it,” Ms Mungai says.
In the months of April, August and December, all weekends starting Friday are usually booked out at a fee of Sh90,000 per day, not inclusive of the catering. For peak season, one must make the booking well in advance, but in the other months, business is much slower.
For Ms Mungai, the garden is an art piece that needs to be perfected every single time, and when passing the knowledge to someone else, she must ensure they can actualise her vision.
“Once the initial phase is done, you have to keep improving it. I added a fountain and also the horse and carriage on one end of the garden,” she says.
To keep track of client needs, she reads magazines and listens to feedback. The young generation, she says, has very evolving tastes, but they are willing to spend money to have their dream wedding.
Pointing out to a fountain in a pond at the edge of the garden, she explains that the concept was borrowed from a magazine. She brought in a stone mason to help her set it up.
“Landscapers cannot be with you every step of the way. It would be too expensive,” she says.
Though the fountain was made through trial and error until it was just right, she later added white swans on the sides which create a contrast from the browns and greys.
The grounds and surrounding tea farm as well as a nearby dam are also available for photo sessions, for which she charges Sh15,000.
To run such a facility, one must be financially prepared. The cost of electricity and water is a constant due to the need for an irrigation system.
“You must be willing to spend to get a return,” she says.
In order to stand out, there are also the personal touches that she must add. According to her, anyone can copy a garden, but it is those personal nuances that will set one garden apart from the rest and that is what she strives to do with her gardens.
Weather sometimes can be a menace. In July and August this year, her plants suffered severe burns from the cold.
“It takes a lot of patience to care for plants but mine talk to me and let me know when something is wrong.”
Plants have signs of lack of water, drowning, or even when being choked by weeds. The garden is made of Paspalum, Kikuyu and Zimbabwe grass. Areas with shade have Zimbabwe as it is the best in low sunlight while Paspalum and Kikuyu grasses do best in the open areas with plenty of sunlight.