Gardening

City garden full of colour and scents

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Emily Candice Omuga. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • At Emily Candice Omuga’s home in Nairobi, it is like walking through a mini-Eden with lots of colour and scents.
  • A gate opens up to a townhouse with a cottage-styled garden that is extremely appealing. It combines great swathes of colour with abundant plants.


Her love for flowers and ornamental trees goes without saying. Not even her photo collection on social media accurately showcases the beauty of her charming garden.

At Emily Candice Omuga’s home in Nairobi, it is like walking through a mini-Eden with lots of colour and scents.

On a Thursday morning, I am eager to spend time with her in this coveted garden.

A gate opens up to a townhouse with a cottage-styled garden that is extremely appealing. It combines great swathes of colour with abundant plants.

How does it feel to come home to such a beautiful space? I ask. “Zen,” Emily quickly responds. “It’s something I look forward to every day. It doesn’t get old.”

She has seamlessly blended colours, textures, structures, and fragrances, all in form of plants.

What is even more interesting is that she does not have a lot of land to work with.

She has made up for this with differently-sized pots. I count over 40 pots, some on trees, some woven, others placed in the middle of soil-grown plants, making them stand out as a work of art.

Why pots?

“Pots bring character to the garden and break the monotony. Even before you put a plant in them, they’re already works of art,” says the plant-lover, who is in her 40s.

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Emily Candice's garden, where she has created an oasis using pots, layering and flowering plants of all seasons. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Close to the gate is a golden-edged Duranta. Normally used as a hedge plant, she has let it grow into a neatly trimmed tree.

Hanging on its hardy stems are several potted pots, bearded air plants and orchids, which add beauty to the otherwise bare stems. Beneath the tree is a small table for two, with mustard yellow cushions.

“This is where my husband and I sit to have breakfast on weekends,” she says.

Along the walls of the front yard is the landscape garden. It seems to lack any conscious design yet it is controlled.

“I wanted a pattern that achieved harmony and expression but wasn’t repetitive. All while adding colour with foliage and flowers,” she says.

In this small space, she has over 30 types of flowers planted or potted. Roses, Persian shield, red and green caricature plants; several varieties of coleus; anthuriums; red, white and pink mandevillas; pink and red Pentas whose flowers last over two months, among others. Then there is the Toucan plant — known for its radiant spikes of bright scarlet-red flowers —and the two golden bamboos, which are dramatic additions.

Along her veranda are more pots bearing more plants. The potted cycads are 18 and 10 years old.

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

The back part of the garden is another show-stopper, with a relatively small, well-manicured lawn and more plants in giant pots. To soften the hardscape, she has invested in a climbing fig – the Ficus pumila.

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The star of this section, though, is the Ficus triangularis variegate, a rare variety of the Weeping Fig, which she bought for Sh1,000.

To fully enjoy the fruits of your labour, you need a special outdoor spot to kick back and relax. Emily has two such spots, where she also holds her business meetings. She is a lead interior designer at Marigold Interior Designs, and her house is her palette.

“When potential clients see what I've done with my space, the conversation shifts from whether I can do the job to what I can do for them,” she says.

Our conversation is interrupted by rat-a-tat-tat sounds on the outdoor tent. On looking up, I see birds perched on the Christmas palm tree, enjoying its red berries.

This is a common occurrence for the Omuga family as her garden is shared with birds and butterflies too. Just when I thought there could not be more to see, she drops a surprise.

“I have another small garden inside the house. Shall we have a look?”

“We certainly must,” I say trying hard not to look too thrilled.

Situated centrally in the house and underneath bright light coming from the transparent glass ceiling, this indoor garden with a water fountain is an inviting sight.

The sound of babbling water creates a relaxing atmosphere.

To Emily, however, plants are what makes her tick. Even if the fountain was not there, she would still love the space. Within the rectangular-shaped garden, she has placed a variety of leafy ‘friends’ to make a bold statement in the room: Anthuriums, Chinese Evergreen, ferns, and bamboos for a forested look. To make it river-like, she has added seashells and river rocks on the fountain and the garden’s bed.

Overlooking this magnificent feature, I am curious to find out if she will ever move from this house.

“No,” she quickly responds.

“This is our forever home. Even if we retire to the village, I’ll keep this home for us to stay in.”

At the moment, she has spent over Sh200,000 in the garden. It would have been more but she is a bargain hunter.

Fourteen years ago, this place was bare, save for two trees.

What does it take to create such an ecological haven? I inquire.

“Know that plants are like children. You must care for them, showering them with love and attention,” the mother-of-three shares.

“Two, a garden has to be designed. Don’t just plant. Consciously think about what you want; type of plant, colour, height, and sun requirements. Finally, work to bring it to life,” she says.