Gardening

City gardens that became a lifeline

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Gardener Hemed Said takes care of his Plants at his Mtwapa Farm in Kilifi County. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG

Summary

  • Hemed Said’s frontyard is to lust for.
  • Overflowing with flowers in every corner, everything from pots, sacks or recycled containers are a display of colour.
  • To counter the bleakness of the pandemic, Mr Said found joy in beautifying his front and backyard, now similar to a grower’s paradise.

Hemed Said’s frontyard is to lust for. Overflowing with flowers in every corner, everything from pots, sacks or recycled containers are a display of colour. To counter the bleakness of the pandemic, Mr Said found joy in beautifying his front and backyard, now similar to a grower’s paradise.

With more than 200 plants, from the elegant croton, the adored coleus, the exquisite begonias, the sturdy snake plants and the bright-coloured petunias among others, his collection makes any nursery owner green with envy.

For three years, his neighbours thought he was mad as he built his mini-forest one pot at a time, right up until the Covid-19 pandemic started.

“Suddenly, my neighbours started asking to buy my precious plants,” he says.

Not wanting to sell his prized possessions, Mr Said started a plant nursery with Sh10,000 and became an entrepreneur in a field simply borne out of passion. Though slow at first, sales are gradually picking up.

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Haworthia Coarctata Plant at the Mtwapa Farm in Kilifi County. NMG PHOTO

The Mombasa resident is one of the many gardeners-turned-entrepreneurs. 

During the lockdowns, gardening gained millions of new participants globally seeking an escape from a litany of deaths and bad news. Many have remained converts. 

The new surge of interest in gardening has now spilled over to entrepreneurship.

“I’ve always been gardening but the extra time and money saved during lockdowns provided me with an opportunity to add to my plant-family. It’s also been a time of bonding with my children,” says the father-of-two.

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Echeveria Agavoides Plant at the Mtwapa Farm in Kilifi County. NMG PHOTO

“The sight of these marvellous flowers is enough to put your mind at ease,” he says. 

The impact of his garden has been felt publicly as his neighbours enjoy the garden’s beauty while passing by his house.

Brenda Wanga from Nairobi’s Ongata Rongai is another garden-preneur. She put time and intention into her garden and ended up overhauling it for about Sh140,000. 

With two children, gardening offered her a perfect mindful activity for them and the much-needed rest and therapy from her work.

“I wasn’t deliberate about gardening, only doing it when I had the time,” the journalist says.

“However, as I muddied my hands tending to plants whose flowers I watched grow and die, I saw how finite our lives are. This prepared me to face the imminent fear of death that threatened to close in on us.”

The result was a tiny, serene garden where her children play. On it, she has grown long-lasting flowering, scented plants and coloured foliage such as geraniums, daisies, canna lilies, elephant ears and climbing roses.

The demand to connect with nature was evident to plant sellers as well. Gardening courses prospered and the websites and social media pages of online plant suppliers had a stunning year.

“We’ve seen a more than 50 percent increase in orders for our plants since last year,” says Danson Seet, marketing manager of Ythera, an online shop that sells indoor and outdoor plants and fibreglass and self-irrigating planters.

A majority of their clients were those looking to add to their existing plant collection, with gardens and balconies, and commercial clients working on interior ideas for apartments and restaurants.

For Dotty Maina, a mother-of-four and passionate gardener, 2020 was a year of redesigning her two-year-old garden that is bursting with swathes of colour from marigold, crotons, carnations, hydrangea, and poinsettias, among others.

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Dotty Maina at her garden in Kahawa Sukari. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

The experience begins at the gate. Her choice of plants and flowers makes for a magnificent entrance.

The chemical engineer with a love for the outdoors made raised beds for her flowers, moved around plants, added outdoor custom-made swings and benches, fruit trees and potted plants and flowers. This was an investment of between Sh150,000 to Sh200,000. She also increased the quantity and variety of vegetables she grew for her family’s consumption.

“It’s been a year since we bought leafy vegetables, onions, lettuce, and herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,” she says.

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Dotty Maina's garden in Kahawa Sukari. NMG PHOTO

To these gardeners, however, their bountiful spaces have not just been healing balms from the pain of being separated from family, soothing distraction for their anxious children and a source of food. They have also turned into sources of income.

After she redid her garden, Mrs Wanga began sharing pictures of her new-faced beauty on social media.

“Someone messaged me and asked for advice on designing their garden,” she says.

This was three months into the pandemic. More pictures later, a client called seeking to purchase a plant. Before she knew it, she was receiving questions from people who had just gotten into gardening or were redoing their homes.

Noting the opportunity presented, Mrs Wanga and a friend registered Libre Plants_Ke, a company that offers plant concierge services.

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Brenda Wanga at her garden in Rongai, Kajiado county. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

From offering advice to upcoming gardeners, the company is now providing indoor and outdoor plant solutions to offices, homes, balconies and gardens. “Whether someone wants indoor plants and flowers for their outdoor garden or a balcony garden design, we’re able to meet their need,” the new entrepreneur shares.

So far, Libre Plants_Ke has redesigned three gardens and dispatched hundreds of unique plants and pots to homes and offices.

They started the business with Sh400,000. Their best-sellers are indoor plants particularly snake plants and succulents, with most of their customers being newbie gardeners or nature lovers. 

A small potted plant goes for Sh400 while large pots range from Sh12,000 to Sh15,000, depending on the flower type and size.

“These particular plants rarely die no matter the neglect, making them popular,” she says, adding that the business’ uptake has been “good.”

Part of the reason Ms Wanga started the firm was her own experience with landscapers who “are expensive for budget buyers.”

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Ms Maina has also been reaping from her garden as the co-founder of Doch Limited, a company registered last year.

Apart from selling flowers, people also buy her fruit and vegetable seedlings.

“Gardeners buy seedlings that die because they are not given proper information on how to maintain them,” she explains.

“Sometimes, the seedling is just wrong for the climate one intends to grow it under. Yet the vendor will not tell you.”

Mrs Maina only sells what she has grown and eaten. Doing this enables her to understand the challenges presented by the plant.

Prices begin from Sh3 to Sh25 for vegetable seedlings, Sh200 to Sh600 for herbs and spices and Sh50 to Sh3,500 for flowers. Planters are sold for Sh100 to Sh300.

She was also driven by the desire is help people optimise space, especially in city homes. On an eighth of an acre she has avocado trees hanging heavy with fruit, miniature fruit trees whose produce she has already harvested yet the trees are no more than one metre tall. Her vegetables are grown in multi-storey gardens, vertical gardens, pots and planters.

“My multi-storey gardens design has been patented and I’ve installed 20 of them,” she tells me over a cup of hibiscus tea prepared with hibiscus flowers straight from her garden.

But that is not all. Recently, someone approached her and requested to use her garden for her wedding photoshoot. 

“I was visibly shocked.”

She realised the mini-paradise she has created after the happy couple took photos sitting on her Arabica grass, and on her outdoor furniture against a colourful background of her plants, trees and flowers. 

Her garden has also hosted a musician shooting a video. Talk about nature taking with one hand and giving with the other.