Gardening

A lovebirds garden

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Naishola Gardens, at Gathoni Farm, Limuru, Kiambu County. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • With relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, wedding investors will get back in business and become extremely inventive about seating and crowd control.
  • In the era of social media, Naishola, which charges couples Sh100,000 onwards for use of the gardens, has benefited immensely.

The carpet-like grass and mature trees at Naishola Gardens in Limuru makes me feel like I should remove my shoes and walk barefoot. The air is fresh. There is a tea farm next to a gate, adding to the greenery, and an English-styled colonial house, which is part of an investment cultivated over the years.

Five years ago, it was a different story.

Segeni Ng’ethe, the owner of Naishola Gardens says at first the land had coffee, then avocados, then beehives, all which failed to sprout into successful business ventures.

“My dad bought this place in the 1970s and it sowed my love of nature,” he says.

Two things deepened his desire to turn the land into a place of happiness. One was his stay in the US. “I hated the concrete jungle, the lights, and the noise,” says Mr Ng’ethe.

The second was when he transformed his friend’s abandoned house in Ngong’, Nairobi into an ecological haven. A sight for sore eyes. Convinced that his green thumb, creativity, combined with his Bachelor of Commerce degree would make him good money, in 2015, Mr Ng’ethe asked his father to give him the land.

Unfortunately, he went into the venture unprepared. While Naishola looks like a perfect idea that happened overnight, it came after several failures.

“They say that ignorance is bliss,” he says, stroking his long beard, a result of social distancing from his barber. “In my experience, ignorance is expensive.”

First, he tried beekeeping. He got experts who set up beehives and assured him of a gold mine of honey. A few months later, an army of safari ants feasted on the beehives, leaving them empty.

“They literally ate away my sweet dreams and hopes in under 48 hours, which were worth Sh200,000,” he says.

Feeling down but not yet out, he decided to try avocados. “That went up in flames too. A family of hungry, merciless porcupines descended on them leaving me with nothing and Sh1.5 million poorer.”

In 2018, having learnt hard lessons, he settled on Naishola Gardens and brought in Peter Maina as the business development manager and David Wafula as the property manager.

At first, it was not obvious that they should turn the land into a wedding and photo-shoot venue. But as they cleared the avocado remnants, he looked up and saw the beauty of the trees.

“We decided to plant grass, extra trees and flowers to add colour,” Mr Ng’ethe says. Their efforts paid off as Naishola became a popular wedding and photo-shoot avenue. Since launching in 2018, they had been hosting two to four weddings every month. Then Covid-19 cut the number of wedding guests and extravagant nuptials took a back seat. Since March, they have done only two weddings. There are over 50 tree species at Naishola. All of them indigenous save for one, the Araucaria Columnaris. From a 100+-year-old Mugumo tree, the Bhutan cypress trees to the parasol tree that specifically grows in Limuru, to the young Red bottle brush and the flowers like hydrangea and yesterday, today, and tomorrow shrub.

“People come here to hold church ceremonies under the trees, which provide shade. The tea farm is a beautiful backdrop,” Mr Wafula says, adding that the house on-site hosts bridal parties and bars.

When Covid-19 struck and events cancelled, they converted part of the garden into Gathoni Vegetable Farm, named after Mr Ng’ethe’s grandmother. It has rows upon rows of sukuma wiki, spinach, terere and managu, a greenhouse for broccoli and cabbage, and a tree nursery.

They started hosting all-day picnics, charging Sh500 for a farm tour that includes a bunch of vegetables to carry.

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The farm boasts green lawns with trees, some as old as 100 years. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

“The picnics business is not as profitable as the wedding or photoshoot business, and we doubt whether it will ever be. It’s a business that goes well with what the location is, but not a substitute. Picnics work well with volumes,” he says, adding, “picnics are just the beginning, we would hope to expand to host a yoga site and spa.”

Also, Mr Ng’ethe is looking to work with schools on farm trips, when they open.

“Exposure to farms will ensure today’s generation will feed the nation,” he says.

Normalcy returns

With relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, wedding investors will get back in business and become extremely inventive about seating and crowd control, with outdoor venues set to record more bookings than those that are enclosed.

“We are back in business, with bookings already in for October to December. More people will be comfortable planning for their weddings now that the number of guests is at 200,” Mr Ng’ethe says.

In the era of social media, Naishola, which charges couples Sh100,000 onwards for use of the gardens, has benefited immensely. Mr Maina, who speaks fluent Spanish, says they have increased their reach thanks to Instagram.

“Our photos are conversation starters. However, what sells us is physical site visits. When people come, Wafula shows them around and by the time they leave, they want to sign up,” he says.