A city garden exploding with fairytale beauty


Dorothy Marami at her home in Karen, Nairobi. NMG PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • Establishing and maintaining a garden is an expensive affair.
  • You have to think about how you will design it, where to source the plants, how to care for them once they are firmly rooted in the ground and how to mourn and move on if they die after pouring your heart and soul into them.

Establishing and maintaining a garden is an expensive affair. You have to think about how you will design it, where to source the plants, how to care for them once they are firmly rooted in the ground and how to mourn and move on if they die after pouring your heart and soul into them.

But for Dorothy Kiarie, the sheer delight of opening her bedroom window to coloured landscape, the taste of fresh organic strawberries and veggies and a flow of fresh air all from her garden make the costs pale in comparison.

“Waking up to such a surge of nature's goodness starts my day on a high note,” says Mrs Kiarie at her home garden in Nairobi’s Karen. Her love affair with nature began when she was a young girl playing in the dust of the relatively dry Taita.

Her father was big on greenery and his philosophy was, “Always leave a place greener than you found it.” Sitting on a half-acre piece of land, her garden is proof that she made his mantra her own. It has at least 30 indigenous trees and more than 30 species of unique plants, potted or planted.

Our tour of the garden begins at her front door where she has kept a little over 20 pots of flowers in purples, pinks and whites.

Two small-leaf variegated fig trees over six feet tall, in earth-coloured pots, meet your gaze by the two huge front porch pillars. This is the favourite part of the garden because it contains an ocean of her favourite plants: anthuriums.

“I love anthuriums because they’re elegant in an effortless manner with long-lasting flowers, an attractive shine and come in different varieties,” she says touching each of them.

Towering these potted plants is a variegated rubber plant, whose leaves have shades of cream and dark green. Impossible to miss, it adds life to the corner in which it stands.

Looking out from the porch, there are several Traveller’s and Cuban royal palms and silky oak trees. While Mrs Kiarie found the silky oaks on the property, the nine-year-old palm trees are the works of her hands.

The front yard boasts of a rock garden with a great mix of evergreen plants including the New Zealand flax, the African milk tree, snake plants, false agave plant, a Duranta hedge and the ground-hugging Singapore daisy.

She plans to instal a water feature to “complete the look.”


A property developer by profession, Mrs Kiarie knows that a great backyard is essential as it is a home’s extended family room. Hers is no exception. In the wide-open space, she has endevoured to create pockets of colour through plants and flowers beginning with the ground which is covered by a healthy coat of Zimbabwe grass.

“I had initially planted Bermuda grass but it turned out to be a nightmare. It was always pest-infested. Fed up, I uprooted it and together with my gardener, Richard, planted Zimbabwe grass.”

She now walks barefoot and enjoying it. A creeping Bougainvillea does a great job of softening the concrete perimeter wall. Below her windows, she has planted what her husband calls a multicoloured “bush.” There is a dragon tree, woody lavender, Fuschia, hibiscus, Egyptian star clusters, touch-me-nots, a garden/rose balm, fire bush and a huge pink-flowered anthurium, among others.

Alice in Wonderland

In the backyard, there are islands of plant clusters for colour distribution, like the yellow Allamanda and trailing Abutilon. Adored for its bright foliage, the Crotons are also a favourite. Where a plant or tree cannot stand, a potted plant is placed instead.


She draws gardening inspiration from the internet and from the various hotels she stays at when travelling. Next to where we are sitting are two flower stands purchased from Dubai. “I saw them and couldn’t leave them behind. Isn’t this the struggle of every gardener? In fact, one never carries enough money to a plant nursery,” the nature lover shares.

“You enter to buy one plant but end up with a truck after having to decide which plants to leave behind because your purse is empty.”

Her plant collection is from vendors in Nairobi’s Limuru and Ngong roads and is multiplied through propagation. Her favourite nature app is called NatureID which identifies plant names.

Towards the end of the property are Eucalyptus trees, which act as windbreakers and water absorbers. Most of them are dressed because plain-looking trees are just that. Plain. On each is a hanging basket of select succulents including donkey tail, a red pagoda and coleus plants at the base.


Last year, this garden which she shares with her family and dogs became priceless. As a mother of two young children, having a place to run around in made them feel like Alice in Wonderland. It was also when they put up a vegetable garden, currently brimming with leafy produce, for self-sufficiency.

Over the weekends, her family have breakfast or lunch in the sunroom overlooking the garden or underneath the trees canopy. “People eat out for the ambience. We have that here so we just order food and enjoy ourselves.”

This has translated into savings.

Is she happy with her garden’s progress? “Yes. It needs more colour though. The thing about gardening is that there’s no “arrival.” It’s a continuous stream of adding this and removing that. The glory is in enjoying the journey. Always take a moment to stop and stare, smell the flowers and touch the leaves.”

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