Gardening

Creating a garden oasis on the balcony

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Mr Rhys Mirindo. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

Summary

  • Rhys Mirindo’s former house was a dream.
  • It had its compound, with a large, beautiful lawn, a kitchen garden, and live fences for him and his dogs to revel in.
  • Unfortunately, due to sewage problems, he had to trade the house for an apartment with a 3 metre by 1.5 metre balcony.

Rhys Mirindo’s former house was a dream. It had its compound, with a large, beautiful lawn, a kitchen garden, and live fences for him and his dogs to revel in. Unfortunately, due to sewage problems, he had to trade the house for an apartment with a 3 metre by 1.5 metre balcony.

“Having moved from such a house, the apartment looked so plain with no life, especially the balcony. It was a harsh reality for my dogs and me,” Mr Mirindo, a sales executive says.

As he led me to the balcony, I wondered what one could do with such a small space. I was not prepared for what I saw. Mr Mirindo’s balcony is not for drying clothes nor is it plain and boring. It is a colourful oasis for relaxing and meditation. A place one enters and emerges from; an ecosystem of its own. In one word, he describes it as peaceful.

How did he get here?

“My balcony garden started small. I never planned on it at all,” he says.

“I stumbled upon an advertisement for turf grass, and thought it would look good on the balcony. My neighbour had it too. I bought one and that marked the beginning of my gardening journey.”

On the window to the right, is a line of growing herbs; basil, rosemary, apple mint, spearmint, and chocolate mint.

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Balcony Garden by Rhys Mirindo at Emara apartments in Nairobi on December 28, 2020. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

“Does it taste like chocolate,” I ask, and he responds in the affirmative, adding that he gets to enjoy the fruits of his labour in his eggs, salads and steak. The rest of the space has an exquisite mix of 30 different plants and flowers with over 15 different varieties. Succulents, coleus, hydrangea, just to mention but a few. These are neatly arranged in rows by the railing and on the floor.

When he started, Mr Mirindo had no clue about how to bring the outside in a balcony setting. Therefore, he turned to the worldwide web.

“I drew a lot of inspiration from Pinterest and YouTube. Going through dozens of heavenly balconies gave me an idea of what I wanted,” he says.

He gets his plants and flowers from different shops in Nairobi and also from roadside sellers.

To create more gardening space, he had to be resourceful. He decided to make use of the balcony railings. On them, he has hang planters, where has grown more flowers.

“I took measurements of the rail, and fabricated planters that would fit in here,” Mr Mirindo explains.

Additionally, he has made use of the vertical space.

“This was a shoe rack that I had fundis repurpose into planters,” he says, pointing at a raised bed where he has grown some more plants.

Overlooking his balcony to the right, instead of looking down at parked cars, he has a row of tall trees as his view. Smack in the middle of this goodness is a camping chair and table. This is where he seats and takes it all in.

“I spend my days, nights, and weekends here. From here, on a good day, in the morning, I’ll see and hear the SGR train as it snakes towards Mombasa, and in the evening, I’ll catch the sunset,” he says. When he has friends over, Mr Mirindo entertains them with a couple of cocktails, made with fresh mint from the garden, of course.

His balcony has won him many friends in the gated community where he lives. Every short while, he will get someone at his door asking to have a look at his balcony as well as advice on how to begin. The same happens on social media too. He usually uploads his food photos on his pages, with the garden as the background.

“I’ve had people inbox and call me to find out which ‘joint’ I’m eating from. They are quite shocked when I tell them that the ‘joint’ is my house,” the avid foodie shares.

This has turned out to be a business opportunity for him as he is now a self-taught ‘balcony garden consultant’ in his free time. He supplies people with the materials needed to set up their gardens. Unfortunately, some people are not willing to put in the resources required and neither are they patient.

So far, he has invested a little under Sh50,000 in the garden.

“I did this over time, not in one day.”

But success notwithstanding, he has had some challenges from not getting the soil quality right or overwatering some of the plants. Then there is the dying of plants.

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“There are times where I’ve just bought flowers because they’re beautiful, only to have them die on me because they can’t grow here,” he says.

Though the balcony is already the envy of many, he is not yet done. He plans on adding some hanging baskets to create a sort of a hanging push and to complete the look, he intends of having a monkey pendant light.

“That is a fitting final piece,” he says. Any tips for taking care of a balcony garden that he can share? “When buying plants, get guidelines from the growers on which plants would best thrive, without the need for too much maintenance,” he says.

I ask him what his name means. “Rhys, pronounced as ‘Riz’, is a Welsh name that means loving and caring,” he says. He clearly has a big heart for people and the planet.