- Despite Kenya being a gardening paradise due to the almost all-year-round sun, he observes that most people are yet to fully embrace it.
- The garden stands next to the River Sosiani where he constructed a river landing.
Two decades ago, 57-year-old Neil Lawrence arrived in Kenya to spread the gospel. He settled on a patchy land adjacent a river in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu.
“It was a bushy thicket with over-grown four Acacia trees that still stand up to this day. It was an unpleasant place, and you couldn’t imagine it is now a beautiful place,” says Lawrence, one of the pioneering lecturers at Discipleship College in Eldoret.
He recounts moving from one rented house to another because the property owners discouraged setting up a garden.
“I had moved like 20 times and I was looking for a permanent place where I could nurture a beautiful garden,” he says.
First, he invested about Sh500,000 in landscaping, putting up retaining walls and irrigation systems then bought plants from Nairobi (75 percent of them) and the rest in Eldoret.
It was while growing up in Miami, in the US, where he worked as a gardener that he fell in love with nature.
Today, this eye-catchy Eagles’ Wings garden at lower Elgon View is dotted with more than 100 different plant species mainly ornamental such as Princess palm, Traveller’s palm, Christmas palm, Desert Palm, black-leaf banana, St. John’s Wort (Hypericum spp.), miniature bamboo, Green and English Ivy, blue hydrangea and ladies slipper vine, donkey’s tail, the prayer plant (Maranta) or ten commandments plant, Butterfly Flower (Poor Man’s Orchid or Schizanthus) and Monstera.
Some of the plants have turned into bushes.
So how did he pick the flowers? “First, I judge a plant by how much flower it blossoms and the size of the plant, the shape of the leaves and how it looks like. I put them in different places in the garden to make them beautiful.”
In 2005, some visitors paid a visit to the garden and influenced his decision to start charging for photography.
“They paid Sh3,000 after taking photos and that is how I started allowing people to come here for photo sessions.”
Over the years, the garden that sits on 0.9 acres has become popular for newly-weds who want to capture memorable moments. In a month, he gets on average 88 customers. On a good day, about six clients pay Sh6,000 per hour to take pictures at the garden.
“Demand for the garden is higher in April, August and December. At the peak season, we get 104 clients a month, some coming from Nairobi and even London,” says Lawrence, who has a Master’s degree in Divinity and a Bachelor’s in Business and Economics.
“Gardening not only beautifies, but it also feeds your eyes and importantly your soul and your heart and it is priceless. It also feeds your wallet as you will not run out of coins,” says Lawrence.
Despite Kenya being a gardening paradise due to the almost all-year-round sun, he observes that most people are yet to fully embrace it.
The garden stands next to the River Sosiani where he constructed a river landing.
“This is my favourite spot in the entire garden. I come here, sit and listen to the water flowing and enjoy the quiet and beautiful nature,” he says.
It is also home to over 30 bird species. From duck weaver bird, hornbill, wagtail, Goliath Kingfisher, Bee-eater, blue fly-catcher, sun-birds to African Sacred Ibis.
In the middle of gardens, in 2014 he set up a greenhouse where he propagates some of the specialty tree plants mainly for the sale of flower cuttings for the floral shops in Eldoret town.
The proceeds from the garden, help him support his missionary work.
“In gardening, every investment is worth every penny you put. Even if it takes many years, you will get your investment back,” says Lawrence who has employed one permanent worker at the garden. He pumps 60,000 litres every three-hours to irrigate his plants during the dry season.