At Ronald’s glorious city gardenFriday May 13 2022
Under three old, evergreen trees, the Whistling, Cedar and the Podo trees, and between two live hedges made from the Duranta variegeta and the orange trumpet vine, you will find Ronald Arao’s garden.
Christened ‘Zoki Garden’, after his daughters, it is a playground for them after school. Over the weekend, under the radiance of the soft morning sun, the family teases one another over breakfast served on the outdoor table that sits somewhat in the middle of the garden.
On most afternoons than not, you will see their family and friends gathered together, enjoying each other’s company over freshly barbecued steaks and grilled Brie cheese.
And once in a while, Mr Arao will be having daddy-daughter time, while counting the stars as they camp under a warm starry night, much to the chagrin of their mother who is not obsessed with the outdoors.
To him, Zoki Garden is more than its trees, plants, and flowers. It is a collection point of memories that no one can steal away from them.
“This is why I love gardening. It’s not a woman’s thing. Everybody should plant something because plants are life,” the 39-year-old tells me when I arrive at his ten-year-old garden.
Our conversation is punctuated with the melodious sounds of birds chirping.
“First of all, we were designed to eat plants before we started eating meat. But beyond this, gardening provides me with a sense of balance in life, and peace and is an excellent way of sustaining the environment,” he says.
He speaks passionately about the environment. He remembers his late father as a man deeply immersed in agriculture. He cannot forget the six huge bookshelves that contained over 2,000 books on the subject.
“My dad used to send us out to water the plants. At the time, it was just a chore. I saw no value in the plants I was watering. I came to see it as an adult,” the father-of-two says.
He has been a gardener for 16 years now, after buying his first plants while in university— two Monstera plants. From seedlings, they have grown into a monstrous size.
You will find them in his current garden which features more than 20 varieties of ornamental plants. His outdoor space— the patio, veranda and balcony — is a jungle, which he is quite happy to share with me and others.
“While people tell me that I have more than enough plants, I keep finding space to add more. There’s always room for one more plant,” says Mr Arao, who works at Electrolux, a company that shares his values on environment and sustainability.
Near the house is a rock garden which he developed during 2017/2018 politically fuelled violence. Since he could not go outside, he brought the outdoors home. This provided him with much-needed refuge and a change of scenery.
The lawn is not just one large space planted with grasses and plants. To spice it up, he has created what he calls ‘mini-gardens’. Some are dedicated to various people in his life. I found this extremely thoughtful.
There’s ‘Nkita’ named after his mother whose highlight is the honey suckle, which he is patiently waiting for it to flower. There’s ‘Jebet’ dedicated to his wife of ten years. Then there are four potted dracaena kinds of grass. To make it stand out, two flamingo statues with adorning Maasai necklaces have been incorporated.
A third plant island, ‘Alice’ is a bicycle flower box, dedicated to his sister. It is a Cinderella concept created using the lipstick plant with bright red clusters of blooms, the fantasy Venice and lastly the goldfish plant with orange flowers.
His most recent creation is ‘Famille’, paying homage to his Congolese heritage, and has four potted plants adorned with a belt and three necklaces signifying himself and his girls.
“My daughters love orange and yellow hence the colour of their necklaces,” he explains.
The garden is also dotted with woodworks that he has either bought or designed himself. The bar section, ‘Rupple’ is a wooden bar countertop for drinks that also doubles up as a cooking section.
This is where the party is because nothing brings people together faster than a good meal. The use of trellises not only holds up more potted plants, but they are also a delightful addition to the décor.
I know one should not have a favourite corner in someone else’s garden but the ‘Tree of Life’ section was eye-catching. It had Angel’s trumpet tree with various kinds of plants hanging on it such as the unmissable fire-tail, asparagus, narrow sword ferns, and the wandering Jew plants.
“My choice of plants is influenced by the amount of sunlight received in the garden, especially with the trees. I’ve positioned the flowering plants where the sun rays fall and planted green plants everywhere else,” he says adding that he began with a spider plant theme. Spending on plants is not something he considers wasteful.
“I’ve spent Sh15,000 on plants at a go. People spend money on expensive colognes, bags, shoes, and drinks. It’s not any different.”
His secret to a plush-looking place is sticking to the basics. When planting, use compost alone or mixed with soil. Water regularly, at least two to three times a week depending on the type of plants, occasionally do foliage feeding to get nice and healthy-looking leaves, and finally, add natural manure every three to four months, preferably goat manure.
According to him, people are shocked when they realise that he has invested so much in a property that he has rented.
To this, he says, “Where you live is your home. You’ve got to make it your own, comfortable, beautiful. I’ve lived here for ten years. How unhomely it would have been for me if I had such an attitude. But when I move, my potted plants are coming with me.”