Gardening

Delightful lawns kept perfect with sewer water

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Susan Onyango waters her flourishing garden, thanks to sewer recycled water. She has installed a water purification system by EcoCycle. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • According to Lucy Mutinda, founder of Ecocycle, a company that installs the wastewater recycling machines, water flushed out of toilets or poured down kitchen sinks and collected at the sewer, can easily be used in gardening.
  • The recycling machine installed outdoors has four chambers through which the water goes through. Incoming water is collected into the first chamber where solid and liquid waste separated.
  • The liquid wastewater then flows into another chamber where through airlift pipes, it is pumped into the aeration chamber.
  • Here, the water is biologically cleaned using bacteria before being released to taps or pipes for reuse.

Manicured lawns represent the pride of homeownership in Kenya. But the erratic supply of water and rains have left lawns browning in dry months, an unattractive sight. In cities with scarce water, some homeowners have been forced to reduce their grass and flower spaces, opting for cabro stones-paved yards or artificial grass.

However, there are a few gardeners in Nairobi who have discovered a different kind of clean water source for their perfect lawns—recycled sewage which flows constantly.

Susan Onyango is among the gardeners whose lawn is green, year in year out, weaved with a meadow of flowers, which is very appealing, thanks to using recycled water from her sewer system.

When she moved into her home in 2011, she had already envisioned the kind of garden she wanted—a garden with shade, glorious, and green all year round. To prepare the ground for her dream green space, she began by planting plenty of indigenous Grevillea Robusta trees along the boundary of her home in 2006.

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Susan Onyango’s garden. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

“The trees have grown big, providing the much-needed shade from the harsh afternoon sun,” Ms Onyango says.

Next to them is a vegetable garden and a composting pit.

“The leaves from the trees, other garden waste, and kitchen waste are all bundled together to produce rich-organic manure for gardening,” she adds.

Ms Onyango used a landscape designer, who “brought in the first few trees” they planted, and sectioned the garden, allowing them to have planting pockets.

One feature that is impossible to miss in her compound is the lush lawn. “This area has primarily black cotton soil, which holds a lot of water. We removed the black cotton soil, replacing it with red soil, and planted Zimbabwe grass,” she explains.

At first, she found it hard to maintain an ever-green garden. She started by using borehole water for gardening as her neighbourhood is water scare. Grass is thirsty. Some types of grass require water twice a day.

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Angela Kariuki’s flourishing garden thanks to home recycled water, using a water purification system by Eco Cycle. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

“It was expensive,” Susan says.

She recalls spending Sh6,000 a month on water bills for gardening alone.

Less water also limited the choice of flowers as she had to grow. She had to grow drought-tolerant plants. Five years ago, erratic rains and inadequate supply of water prompted her to install a recycling machine at her home.

Today, her garden sprinklers are turned on anytime and the water expenses are zero. With adequate water, she has planted many types of flowers, even the water-loving ones.

“I water my lawn three days a week. Recently, I replanted a section of the grass. Before, I was at the mercy of the rain, but now I’m not,” she says, adding that the investment was worth it.

Ms Onyango’s garden has over 30 tree and flower varieties from Anthurium flowers, Fig trees, and conifers. She was “very intentional” in the kinds of plants she wanted and took the time to choose and grow them herself. She especially adores a particular Palm tree that she planted for her 40th birthday years ago.

Her hedge is a beauty grown from the white bottle-brush tree.

At her patio, she sits and enjoys the fresh air, sight, and sounds from her trees and flowers.

“During the Covid-19 travel restrictions, my family and I didn’t have to go out. We found happiness here,” she says.

According to Lucy Mutinda, founder of Ecocycle, a company that installs the wastewater recycling machines, water flushed out of toilets or poured down kitchen sinks and collected at the sewer, can easily be used in gardening.

“It’s a resource that many of us are allowing to go down the drain, literally,” she says.

All household wastewater can be used, be it from laundry, kitchen, and toilet flushing.

The recycling machine installed outdoors has four chambers through which the water goes through. Incoming water is collected into the first chamber where solid and liquid waste separated. The liquid wastewater then flows into another chamber where through airlift pipes, it is pumped into the aeration chamber. Here, the water is biologically cleaned using bacteria before being released to taps or pipes for reuse.

“With recycled water one saves freshwater intake costs estimated at 30 to 40 percent. There is also no water shortages,” says Ms Mutinda, whose company has installed wastewater recycling units in 165 homes and hotels so far.

Sewer pollution

Reclaiming wastewater for reuse is also good for the environment. It reduces sewer pollution thus mitigates sanitation-related diseases.

A 15-minute drive from Ms Onyango’s home is the Kariuki’s residence. The gate opens up to a row of different roses planted on both sides of the driveway, up to the entrance of the house.

Angela Kariuki, their daughter, says the roses make her light up every time she drives in.

“This wasn’t like this when my parents moved here in 2001. The land was bare. Not a single tree or even a speck of grass,” she says.

Now the garden is magnificent, with an assortment of colours and flower varieties. It has tall gorgeous trees, from Traveller’s palm, Bottle Brush, Cape Chestnut and banana trees; rose flowers, a vegetable garden and a lush lawn and an artistically designed hedge— a mix of the Kay Apple, climbers and to pink bougainvillea.

Enoch, their gardener, is the man behind the look of the garden. So passionate is he that he has chosen every of the 20 plus plant varieties in the garden.

“We offer our suggestions, assist him in the planting but honestly speaking, he’s the plants man,” Ms Kariuki says.

When their gardening journey began, they wanted a serene place to come home to. The Kariukis wanted a place that was “peaceful, relaxing, and rejuvenating.”

However, creating their mini-paradise for 13 years was not easy.

“Where the green lawn stands used to be a big patch of dry, brown, grass,” Ms Kariuki recalls.

It was anything but inviting.

To maintain the semblance of greenery, they could buy water to pour on the plants, which proved very expensive.

In 2014, they came across the water recycling concept.

“The recycled water concept was God-sent. Not only did it eliminate the water expenses but it finally allowed us to create the haven we had been envisioning,” she says.

Their labour of love has not been in vain. Inside the house, on the table is a bouquet of freshly cut roses, from their garden.

“Every time I walk in and see them, I have a big smile on my face. It’s a sight that I never get tired of,” Ms Kariuki says.

Her daughter is always out picnicking under the sun on the beautiful lawn. Their house is at the end of the compound, allowing a spacious green space to walk, especially in the evenings.

“I’m able to see God in nature’s variety and I feel refreshed,” she says.

So stunning is their garden that it has been used as a wedding photo-shoot and video-shoot venue several times. They hope to add colour and scents by planting more flowers.

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Angela Kariuki’s garden with well-manicured lawns, thanks to use of sewerage recyled water. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

City botanical gardens

As cities look for ways to reduce the effects of global warming, urban green spaces are often cited as a potential solution. Every year billions of gallons of wastewater are discharged, yet it can be used to keep cities green. Green public spaces are far more than merely recreational; they are restorative.

For property developers looking to attract buyers, a perfect lawn tends to play a starring role in choosing a home.

“To make our cities greener, we have to start recycling. We can use the recycled water for irrigating botanical gardens, residential green spaces, golf courses, kitchen gardens, and also for indoor use such as toilet flushing. There is no reason why city dwellers should lack water in the toilet yet we can recycle,” says Ms Mutinda.