Art of creating a plant paradise

David and Diana D’Souza’s Rock Garden pictured on October 10, 2023, at their home in Lavington, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

When we arrive at David D’Souza’s home in Lavington, Nairobi, he is quick to point out that his garden is not as beautiful as others. But as they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and in our eyes, his garden is neat, orderly and almost perfect.

The enchanting view of the garden is the result of the passion and care of its owner.

David grew up in Kolkata, India and he always watched his mother tend to their kitchen garden. Now 30 years in Kenya, his love for plants and gardening has stuck with him.

“My mother used to have a small kitchen garden and I used to spend most of my time with her. I did an internal auditor's role for a multinational organisation that entailed travelling the height and breadth of India and I saw so much greenery and so much beauty around me. This also piqued my interest in gardening," says David.

All the while, he was helping his mother with her garden. And then they moved to Kenya in 1993, to a townhouse where they grew some plants.

A section of David and Diana D'Souza’s garden on October 10, 2023 at their home in Lavington, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

"The people would be amazed by the amount of time I would spend in the garden. The good thing about Kenya is that you get to work at around 7:30am and leave at 4:00 pm, so you get to enjoy the garden and work on it.

"This is unlike India where I would get in at 7:30 am and leave at 9:00 pm," the father of three tells the Business Daily.

David is a financial controller at Kenton College.

At the entrance to his home is a large variegated cactus which is hard to ignore. “Everyone who comes here wants a piece. It is a very special one. It was short when we bought the house in 2006 but now it has grown very big,” David says.

Covering his perimeter concrete wall is the Dutchman’s pipe creeper and the bow tie vine, which is a climber with green heart-shaped leaves and bright pink flowers that look like a bow tie.

It is also at the entrance to his home that you find a large, lush monstera which he says is a standard plant in many homes. “It grows so easily. It is like the best beginner plant that you can find. It is very difficult to kill it and it is decorative,” he explains.

“One of the first tricks of gardening is to first fix what is immediately around your house, so I worked on the areas within two or three yards of the walls of the house first before spreading to the other parts of the garden.

"The first thing I did was to put those four oleanders, one begonia and two poinsettias outside the compound. It identifies the house for friends and it gives you a chance to marvel at the beauty before you even enter the gate,” he says of his gardening journey since they moved to this home 17 years ago.

A section of David and Diana D'Souza’s garden on October 10, 2023 at their home in Lavington, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG


David beams with happiness and pride as he shows us his orchid collection.

“Lately, orchids grow easily for me, this has not always been the case. Orchids are air plants and do not require soil," he says.

He has a variety of orchids including the epidendrums, dendrobiums, and the Singapore Vandarum. “I first saw them in an orchid garden in Singapore and got them. It grows very easily. You just take a piece and tie it to a moss and the roots will gather around the moss. When watering it, we put water through the hole in the moss and it dips into the flower pot. We can also spray because the leaves of the orchids do not get affected by water,” David explains.

“You can spray the flowers in the morning because they will dry out if you do so during the day. But avoid touching the flower in the evening as they will die,” cautions David’s wife, Diana.

“I have got plenty of air plants growing on a piece of wire mesh. I have a white dendrobium. It is an unusual colour. You do not usually get too many whites," David adds, noting that dendrobiums are easier to grow orchids. The easier they are to grow the more he appreciates them.

"Nowadays, I resist buying exotic orchids because when I bring them home, follow all the rules on watering, and feeding, I still get disappointed,” he says.

He has put aside some orchids that he will take to the Annual Orchids Show next week.

“If you want to keep the flowers blooming a little longer you put them away from the sunlight. So I put them here in the shade and I am hoping that they will still be alive next week for the show. He grows his orchids with his ferns as the latter helps with humidity and orchids like to be close to ferns.

He controls the height of most of his plants by regularly trimming them. “I do not want them growing too big and breaking up stuff, forcing me to spend money on cement and cabro and other repairs. I have grown most of these plants from cuttings,”says the financial controller.

A section of David and Diana D'Souza’s garden on October 10, 2023 at their home in Lavington, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG


At the entrance to his front yard garden, there's a bed of beautiful red amaryllis. David says he is now looking to get the white and yellow amaryllis plants. It is also at this seedbed that we are exposed to his mastery of growing bromeliads.

All around his home, bromeliads are visible and are in different varieties. He tells us how he cares for his bromeliads.

“You water bromeliads by putting water in here (the bulb) and leaving it with water at all times.

This helps them to grow well and have large flowers. The downside of water standing on the bromeliads is that mosquitoes breed there, we have Rentokil (a pest control company) coming in every once in a while.”

A section of David and Diana D'Souza’s garden on October 10, 2023, at their home in Lavington, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Wine bottles

To provide a border in his garden, David uses wine bottles. “I get these wine bottles from the church. The Sister says to me "Now David, what will I do with all these bottles?" I say, “Give them to me, I will put them in my garden,” explains Mr D’Souza who is also a Sunday School teacher, adding: “I am solving her problem by recycling the bottles.”

The trees

David's garden is also dominated by a variety of trees that are spread out. He shows us suesesculans, which are the envy of all their visitors. It is an outstanding tree with red leaves that is always full when in bloom.

“Every time my wife has her Bible study, members come over, they all want to take group photos under this tree. At the moment, it is not looking so good because of the weather. It is a creeper type of plant but because we do not want it to grow out of control we control it.”

He is proud of the cherry guavas tree which he says is loved by his grandchild, the birds and the flies. He hangs some compact disks on the trees to reflect the light and keep off the birds. “However, the birds have gotten clever and they ignore the CDs now. We keep it trimmed and small at all times.

A section of David and Diana D'Souza’s garden on October 10, 2023, at their home in Lavington, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Fruits and herbs

The cherry guavas, he tells us, are good antioxidants. “When I am having a gout attack, which happens often because of my age, and the fact that I don’t eat healthy all the time, I just walk out to the garden, chew on the leaf of a cherry plant and it is good,” says the 68-year-old.

Most of the trees he has grew out of cross-pollination, courtesy of the birds.

“This Thika palm and this neem tree grew out of cross-pollination by the birds. We found the trees growing and we just left them there. They now provide a nice shade for my plants. I can even hang orchids under them. The neem tree is also an effective pesticide. My wife takes just a few branches, boils the leaves and then pours the water into a spray bottle and uses it as an insecticide.”

That one is a Mukinduri tree. It was so tall when we came that we had to cut it, but it grew again and I did not have the heart to cut it completely. So now I grow many orchids and ferns on it. At the back, he has avocado trees, papaya trees, and a large variegated ficus tree which he bought in 2003 thinking he would use it as a hedge. It grew so fast and now provides a conducive place to grow shade-loving plants that cannot survive in the sun such as begonias, bromeliads and peace lilies.

Rock garden

David is building a rock garden at the centre of his lawn in a bid to reduce the lawn area which he laments takes up so much water.

“The problem is that lawns are very difficult to maintain and are quite water-thirsty. So I am gradually reducing the lawn with features like this rock garden. Over the years, due to global warming, the grass is not doing very well, so you get upset because how much water can you use on the lawn?" he posed.

David has a gardener who comes in twice a week to help in clearing the dead leaves and pruning.

They also have a rainwater tank for watering the garden before using fresh water.

“My wife and I work on the garden together. While she doesn't grow, she helps with the maintenance. She gets around with the small garden shears, cutting off dead leaves and flowers, then water everything.


David tells the Business Daily: “We do not assign a value to the garden as its value is priceless to us. Normally, I go to a place, see some plant that I like, check my M-Pesa balance and buy. However, we haven't been silly with the spending on the plants."

Taking their plants to the flower shows is a great way for the couple to interact with other gardeners, and seeing people buy their plants is an assurence that they're doing things right.

David, who is a member of the Kenya Horticultural Society, advices potential gardeners not to despair.

“I think I have killed more plants than I have grown. So many of my orchids have died but I did not despair because I tried. There are other places where I have succeeded.”

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