Noble Hotel and Conference Centre in Eldoret is full of lush vegetation. As we enter the compound, the words that come to mind are picturesque, serene, and even paradise.
Over 100 different plants, both exotic and indigenous, from climbers along the fence, accented plants, various species of grass, bamboo, flowers like roses and herbs like rosemary, mint and lemon grass to trees like acacia are at home in the five-acre piece of land.
But this little paradise was not always so.
Up until 2006, it was patchy and rocky. Cows used would freely graze in the field. Then Kevin Okwara, 54, who owns the hotel embarked on a transformation journey.
The investor ploughed Sh2 million into rocks evacuation, landscaping and sourcing different plants for the garden.
“I decided to embrace this concept because I was running away from having a brick-and-mortar hotel like what we have in most towns. Gardening does not just make a place beautiful but therapeutic,” he explains.
“We have plenty of bamboo here for fresh air and in fact, people tend to tell us that this place is cold because bamboo gives a lot of oxygen,” he notes.
He sourced most of the plants in Eldoret, Nairobi and Mombasa. He brought some from Uganda.
“Most of these plants I got from specialists. When I travel and I see a special plant, I bring it here. There is no formula I use to select plants, I tend to integrate different plants because what makes a forest beautiful is the diversity of plants,” says the entrepreneur.
The lush and natural environment supports the ecosystem as it offers a natural habitat to over 50 different bird species including yellow weavers and doves.
“Birds have built their homes on trees across the garden,” he notes adding that a birdwatcher who spent time at the hotel made the bird species count.
Besides birds, there are also insects such as bees, worms and some small reptiles like chameleons.
The garden is also spinning cash. Noble Hotel first hosted a wedding photo session in 2010. Since then it has become a favourite spot for weddings, engagements, anniversaries, and bridal parties.
Mr Okwara says the charges depend on time spent. For instance, it costs Sh7,000 to host a party for two hours.
“The peak seasons are during holidays April, August and December when schools are closed. There is good money in gardening,” says Mr Okwara.
Some of the frequent visitors come for meditation and to reconnect with nature while others visit to take advantage of the serene environment that does wonders for creativity.
Mr Okwara says one of his regulars is an author who has penned five books at the garden.
To ensure the garden keeps its allure, he has employed five gardeners on a permanent basis to tend the plants. They occasionally replace the plants as they age.
What is his secret to maintaining a garden that is a money-spinner?
He argues that most people have not mastered the art of tending plants which often leads to disillusionment.
“Plants are like babies or sick people; you have to look after them throughout. Most people just plant them, leave them to grow on their own and expect them to grow. Most of the time they end up being disappointed,” explains the hotelier.
He adds,“You have to invest in protecting them against diseases, feeding them, watering, applying fertiliser as well as weeding. People tend to plant these young plants and forget about them . . . the devil is in taking care of these plants that you have to spend money in gardening. . . for instance, whenever it is cold, they are susceptible to blight so you have to spray them regularly,”
So where did he learn about gardening? “It is all about passion. . . I do a lot of research on the internet. Whenever I visit places with good gardens, I pick lessons and come and implement them here. . . it is also important to understand what plants need and what soils they grow on . . . there is no miracle in gardening.”
Some of the challenges, he says, include water scarcity during dry seasons as well as the fact some visitors are yet to fully appreciate gardening.
“Sometimes, someone comes here and admires a plant or flower and just plucks the plants,” he laments.