Taking baby steps: Dos and don'ts as you start your gardening journey


Nyambura Magochi attends to her plants at her home garden in Kimbo, Kiambu County, Kenya on July 17, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Is gardening part of your new year resolution? Many gardeners will tell you that gardening is a form of therapy that helps keep them calm and relaxed. Seasoned gardeners share tips on how best to navigate the gardening field- the dos and the dont’s.

Njoki Njuguna advises that the first step in gardening is to “First decide why you want to set up a garden. Is it because you want to grow your own food do you want beauty? Do you want natural flora and fauna?”

Ms Njuguna adds, “If you want both food and beauty, you can then focus on herbs. Herbs like sage look beautiful and still give you food. Even the pineapple sage attracts birds, and you can use it for tea. At the same time, it makes the place appealing.”

Herbs are low maintenance and Ms Njuguna says that newbies will not get disappointed when they start with growing herbs.

Consider the space

“You need to consider the space that you have. Even if you live in a balcony, you can still have a garden. The larger the space the more gardening you can get to do. Whether you have a small or big space, you’ll be better off doing individualised gardening beds.”

Giving her own experience she says, “When doing my garden beds, I bought the red oil and mixed with manure because it had already lost its nutrients. You can even do fruit trees in containers. You can put them in your balcony.

You can also reuse containers. This way, gardening does not become so expensive. I reuse a lot of containers from the ones I used for painting the house. The yoghurt containers I use them in my nursery. The used large soap containers, I use them for strawberries.”

If you intend to do fruit gardening, Ms Njuguna says, “Keep your fruit trees short and pruned because that way you will get more space for them. Mulching is also important because it can be rainy today then dry tomorrow.”

Companion planting

Companion planting is where you grow two different plants together such that they are benefiting from one another.

“If you go to the internet you will get to see what can grow together, what will fight each other. An example is basil and tomato, they can grow well together. The basil makes the tomato to taste better. It also helps the tomatoes fight some diseases. Marigolds is also grown alongside many plants as it helps in keeping away pests due to its strong scent.”

To save money, Ms Njuguna recommends embracing propagation. She says there is no need to go buying all the plants at once as once the ones you have establish, you can then propagate.

Join gardening groups

Ms Njuguna says, “Something that has helped me in my gardening journey is joining groups where sometimes we exchange seedlings. You also get to enquire about some plant diseases and get so much information.

Nyambura Magochi, an avid gardener in Ruiru adds, “In gardening groups you also get an opportunity to visit people’s homes and get ideas of what to do differently. You learn how you can make beautiful gardens from locally available materials. You don’t have to buy expensive pot. You can only get these ideas only by visiting other people’s gardens.”

Have a reliable water source

Ms Njuguna warns that water can be very expensive hence it is important to get a sustainable water system that will work for you.

“The first time we had a bill of Sh7,000 because of watering the grass. You need to figure out what works best for you. You can set up a drip irrigation system. People tend to assume that it is expensive, but it is not as you don’t have to deal with the manual labour and still get to save water.

Research first

Prachi Shah from Prachis Creations advises that as you begin your gardening journey, ensure that you research on how to grow the plants.

“What are the characteristics of the plants? Are the indoor or outdoor plants? Do they grow from cuttings or seedlings? Is it a flowering or non-flowering plant?” She says.

Ms Shah also speaks on organic farming and suggests that, “Research on how you can make your own home- made manure. Look into how you can use banana peels, onions, eggshells, rice water. These are minute things that can help you start from scratch. With research you can be able to mould your garden the way you want.” She adds, “Be ready to deal with pests that may sometimes kill your plant.”

Vision of the garden you want

Ms Magochi says sthat the starting point in your gardening journey is to visualise what you want?

“What is it that you want to see when you wake up? You visualise your garden from the start to when it matures. Do it yourself. Buy the plant yourself, design the garden yourself with that mental picture in your mind? Be patient with the plants. Try out different plants because some are seasonal.”

Learn the weather patterns

Philip Otieno has grown his green space at his home in Athi River and he advises, “Understand the weather patterns in your area then let it guide you on what to plant. In my case, my area is dry so I know rain is a challenge, therefore, I will incline towards drought-resistant plants. If I was in an area, like Kikuyu in Kiambu County, I would go for the lush vegetation.”

Work with someone

Mr Otieno advises you to get someone to take you through the gardening journey especially if you are new to it. “You can have the landscaper coming in at the beginning. For the first year you need the guy to help you. This will help you plant the right plant at the right time.”

Finally, “Take it easy. It’s never that serious. If you plant a yellow plant with a red plant and it does not look nice, it is not the end of the world. You can always uproot and replant it elsewhere. Just enjoy the process,” Ms Njuguna concludes.

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