The sun was piercing through the clouds when I rang the doorbell announcing my arrival at Caroline Dimba-Abwoga’s home in Lavington, Nairobi. It was only a few seconds before she opened the door but I almost missed her invitation as I was busy studying her front garden.
Fitted within a 5 metre by 1.5 metre rectangular space, it breathes life into the grey hardscape that characterises most city homes.
The front garden is the most visible part of a compound. It’s also the most frequented. Yet designing this space which is the bridge between the harsh, outside world and the warm, loving home can be challenging.
As a professional landscaper, Caroline has transformed hundreds of gardens – big, small, shady, sunny, residential and commercial – into living and thriving artworks under her company Carol’s Landscapes.
Because impressions matter, Caroline shares with us what it takes to create a spectacular front garden, one that we can enjoy when we come home after a long day, impress visitors and look over from our front windows on those lazy Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons.
“I have a passion for green spaces. They’re wells of calm, peace and fulfillment,” she says. They’ve always been, for the mother of three girls who inherited the love for gardening from her mother. Together with her siblings, they mowed the grass, pruned shrubs and watered the garden using buckets, a process which when she reflects on now was “very tiring”.
“Thank God for water sprinklers and hose pipes,” she says handing me a tall glass of pineapple juice. After fifteen years in the banking industry, Caroline resigned to turn her gardening hobby into a business.
She pursued an entrepreneurship course at Strathmore University and undertook several online courses on Landscape design to enable her run Carol’s Landscapes.
“Front gardens are not like back gardens. They’re the face of where you stay or work in case of a business. Therefore, we want it to reflect what we desire to communicate to those that interact with it,” the landscaper says.
“It’s important to first determine the garden’s theme since the purpose we want the garden to serve influences its design. Generally, homeowners tend to focus on the aesthetics to boost the appeal or attractiveness of the property while businesses are more concerned with how well their brand will be portrayed by the landscape design.”
One may choose a recreation garden for relaxation, a pollinator garden to promote environmental stability, an oriental garden for deep contemplation or a xeriscape garden that requires little water to maintain.
For her garden, she wanted an environment that allowed her family of five to escape the pressures of modern-day life right from the entrance. For this, she chose a tropical theme and design characterised by palm trees, geared to turn on a holiday mood in you.
With the theme determined, think about the location. An excellent theme will fall on the axe of a bad location and barren soil.
“One of the challenges we face is location. A garden may have either full sun, partial shade, shade or deep shade. The chosen design should take into account the sun as this influences the type of plants chosen,” Caroline, who has a Master of Science degree from the University of Liverpool explains.
Most importantly, assess the suitability of the soil. One way to do this is through a soil test to check for soil nutrition, acidity and alkalinity. Healthy homes equal healthy plants. Thin soil can be fattened by adding amendments such as animal manure or organic fertilisers. Where needed, level the land.
Early on in the planning, one must decide how plants will function in the garden so as to choose plants that work for you. Plants can be used in a multitude of ways. They can provide food, a beautiful scenery, add perfumed notes or block and enhance views.
“At Carol’s landscape, we ensure that there’s a balance in functionality, aesthetics and environmental sustainability, such as the use of low maintenance and indigenous plants such as cactus and local grasses,” the gardener shares.
Pay attention to detail such as visuals in forms, textures, colours and shapes of plants, scents and blooming times to enhance the experience you’re creating.
For a circular design, for example, create a focal point in the middle using a unique plant or structure. If the background is a wall, use the layering system with tall plants at the back and shorter ones in front. Additionally, use ornaments to create points of interest.
To create a sense of privacy for her home, she’s planted palm and ornamental banana trees that extend a few metres above the ground. The landscape is spotting hot and cool colours from flowering and foliage plants such as roses, crotons, white and purple petrias, agaves, red-tipped bromeliad and allamandas, and soil-hugging plants such as the spider plant and Snow Mountain.
A purple cuphea (false heather) plant hedge which she never lets grow beyond one foot tall, adds texture and shape to the garden.
Dotting metal works such as sunflowers, flamingos and pelicans typical in a tropical garden, a populated garden arch and rocks lend height, structure and a rocky character to this urban curb. Such details contrast and complement each other creating a captivating landscape.
“Pots are also excellent in creating impact especially when you have a small front space,” Caroline notes. By her door, several elegant terracotta pots have been incorporated into the design. Hers are custom designed into different shapes, clay turtles and swans which carry different plants.
For a heightened impression, plant stands and hanging plants have been made use of. Since the area is shaded, plants like Anthuriums, Philodendrons, Xanadu, and the green Ivy transform the front door. Concrete slabs with live spaces filled with Paspalum grass make up the short pathway.
For those whose front garden is a balcony, the same principles apply. Hers bears a relaxation theme, an environment one enters into. Green is the major colour displayed in the ground and hanging plants, and the turf grass carpet. A bench and a swinging chair complete this calming setup.
But all this will last the length of a blink of an eye without proper maintenance. “Water depending on the weather, prune and fertilize plants to maintain healthy, lush gardens and use integrated pest management measures to control pests.”