City backyard gives concrete jungle a break


A wide view of Susan Ogeno’s garden in River Drive Nairobi on February 16, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Susan Ogeno’s city backyard is breathtaking. In a city that is rapidly becoming a concrete jungle, her garden is overflowing with flowers and trees in every corner. There is a well-manicured lawn near the display of vibrant colours.

The carpet-like grass and mature trees at Ms Ogeno’s garden at River Drive No 58 off Thika Road, make one feel like taking off their shoes and walking barefoot. The air is fresh. Her townhouse home is now reminiscent of a grower’s paradise, which spends lots of time countering the bleakness of being alone in her house. To her grandchildren, it is affectionately known as ‘grandma’s jungle’.

“Not that I wouldn’t want to put a flat [an apartment] here, I would want to, but when I see my plants, I don’t regret it. I just want to enjoy them,” says Ms Ogeno.


Susan Ogeno at her garden in River Drive Nairobi on February 16, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Two things deepened her desire to turn her land into a happy place. One was her stay in a rental apartment.

“I hated the concrete jungle and the noise coming from everywhere, the woofers and public vehicles...the noise was unbearable,” she says.

The second was when her friend, who was doing photography, suggested she turn her backyard into a garden for photography and events.

“I used to live in an ordinary apartment without a garden. So when I moved here, I saw nature. I wanted a tree, many trees. So I just started like a joke, putting a plant there, a tree, not knowing it could turn out like this,” says Ms Ogeno.

“At first, I was reluctant as I treated it as a family property. Later, I shared the idea with my son, who started a YouTube channel with small projects. So that’s how I got interested,” she says.


A wide view of Susan Ogeno’s garden in River Drive Nairobi on February 16, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

With more than 50 plants, including the elegant palm trees, the adored bougainvillaea, the cyprus tree, the exquisite birds of paradise, the sturdy snake plants and the bright-coloured petunias among others, her impressive collection makes any nursery owner green with envy.

The amount of sunshine the garden receives influences her choice of plants, especially with the trees.

“I have positioned the flowering plants where the sun rays fall and planted green plants everywhere else,” says Ms Ogeno.

“I used to buy small trees then I nurture them. This is purely the work of my hands.”

“I bought them when they were small. To see them this big warms my soul,” says the self-styled plant freak.

For five years, her neighbours, whose compounds are filled with crops, including maize and even cow shades, thought she was mad as she built her mini-forest one plant at a time.

Her love for flowers and trees is undeniable. Even social media does not adequately showcase her passion.


A wide view of Susan Ogeno’s garden in River Drive Nairobi on February 16, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Ms Ogeno says her secret to achieving a plush-looking garden is sticking to the basics.

“I use compost or mix it with red soil while planting, followed by regular watering of at least two to three times a week, depending on the plant type.” To get nice and healthy-looking leaves, she suggests occasional foliage feeding and adding natural manure every three to four months, preferably goat manure.

On pests and diseases, she uses insecticides to keep away diseases that attack the leaves and roots.

Every space in Ms Ogeno’s garden has different trees and flowers.

“With flowers and trees, you have to consider the characteristics of the area. You might find a tree here, which might not allow your flower to grow.”

What is even more interesting is that she says she does not have a lot of land to work with. On a half-acre piece of land, she yarns for a bigger space.

Spending on plants is not something she considers wasteful.

“The same way some people find joy in spending money on expensive colognes, bags, and shoes, is the same fulfilling feeling I get when I spend on plants. Some plants cost me up to Sh5,000 a stem.”


A section of Susan Ogeno’s garden in River Drive Nairobi on February 16, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

To fully enjoy the fruits of her labour, she has created three special outdoor spots that she rents out for events and photo shoots. As a real estate manager, Ms Ogeno sees her home as a canvas on which she can create beautiful and unique spaces.

Sue Gardens has become a popular venue for weddings and photo shoots for prominent and famous personalities in the entertainment industry.

The garden’s privacy has been attracting high-profile events. The trees surrounding the garden provide additional privacy, ensuring the compound is well-secured from the prying eyes of the passers-by.

While most businesses were forced to shut down during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Ogeno’s business thrived.

“The business was booming for me because people wanted small, intimate outdoor spaces, and as usual, Sue Gardens got them covered,” she says with a giggle.

What is her secret? “Blooming flowers in a thriving garden isn’t rocket science. Sometimes the plants die, I buy them, they die, and I buy them again. You just don’t have to give up.”

Our conversation is interrupted by chipping sounds. On looking up, I see birds perched on the Christmas palm tree. This is a regular occurrence for her family as it shares the garden with birds. Just when I thought I had seen it all, she dropped a surprise.

“I have another small garden after the main one. Shall we have a look?”

“Why not!” I say trying to figure out the feeling of coming back home to the nourishing breeze after a long day of being hit by the strong sun’s rays.

Situated just after the last portion of the landscape, banana trees are thriving. What is a garden without edibles?

Relaxing at her gazebo, with red-flowered plants, including the beautiful evergreen anthuriums, you will not lack finger-licking natural sweetness, from avocados to oranges.

The back part of the garden is indeed a show-stopper.

The sound of babbling water creates a relaxing atmosphere. The flowing river is where she gets water for her evergreen plants.

Sue Gardens defies all odds to thrive during a dry season. And no, she is not selling the plants, but she has become a household name, and people consult her when they want to plant.

Overlooking this magnificent scenery, I am eager to find out if she will ever leave the dwelling.

“The demand for events is very high, but the space is small. Since it serves as my family home, I choose carefully the people I allow in. When the time is right, I will leave the garden for full-time business, but it will remain my home,” she says.


A section of Susan Ogeno’s garden in River Drive Nairobi on February 16, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

“I have thought about getting a garden, and start selling flowers, and doing landscaping.”

Certainly, one cannot overstate the importance of a garden for one’s well-being and quality of life.

Pursuing one’s passion can happen at any stage of life, whether it be earlier or much later. For Ms Ogeno, it came when she turned 50.

At 54, she appears to be in her mid-30s, all thanks to her well-maintained terraces that she uses as her gym.

Final words? “If you don’t love a flower, it will not love you, and you cannot do that if you don’t have the passion,” she says.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.