Globe trotting for love of sacred trees


Plants along a walkway leading down to the Kabete dam in the Barrow's garden on May 24, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

A different ambience engulfs us as we get into the driveway to our garden for this week. It is no longer bare concrete we see but plants on both sides of the driveway.

Blooming fuchsia and plumbago flowers are to our right and a fence of yesterday, today and tomorrow flowers on the other end.

Our garden tour this week takes us to Edmund and Rosie Barrow’s garden on Lower Kabete Road. In their backyard is their wild and green garden with chirping birds to welcome us.

“If you come here early in the morning, it's like a chorus. All the birds are chirping away,” Edmund tells us.

Edmund Barrow has been in the nature conservation field for more than 40 years. He has traversed the globe travelling to more than 20 countries to engage communities on how to conserve and benefit from nature.

His love for sacred trees is unfathomable. Not only does he have different species of the popular and sacred fig tree (Mugumo and Mukuyu) in the garden but he has also written a book; Our Future in Nature: Trees, Spirituality and Ecology, a book that explores the spiritual, historical and scientific literature on trees and sacred landscapes.


An old man’s beard plant hanging down a tree in Mr and Mrs Barrow’s garden in Lower Kabete on May 24, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

In the book, he writes us a note: “May your spirit connect to all that nature surrounds you with.”

“It took me a year to finish the book and 10 years to do all the research for the book. I have learnt more about trees from elders in Turkana and Baringo than from books. Trees don’t talk to us but they communicate. I feel the calmness coming with me when I am among trees,” says Edmund of his fondness for sacred trees.

“My father was one of Ireland’s first organic farmers so I learnt all about trees from there,” he explains to us how his love for nature was cultivated.

On the half-acre piece of land, the couple has transformed a steep and bare area into a place surrounded by nature and lush green vegetation.

How did they reclaim it?

“We moved in here over 12 years ago. This place was a bare hillside after the house construction and we had to cover it with some vegetation as soon as possible. We put some very rough terracing first. We then covered it with grass, irises and other greenery going all the way down to the bottom to make sure there is no soil erosion. We then managed the trees that were down there,” says Edmund.

Reclaiming is not a new concept to Edmund as he helped in improving vegetation cover in northern Kenya.

“In Turkana, we would create catchment areas and when it rained the water would sink and be stored there. Then we would plant the trees and the roots would follow the water,” he tells BDLife.


Mr Edmund Barrow holds an air plant growing in his garden in Lower Kabete on May 24, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

The grass lawn in the garden is Zimbabwean grass, which also helps prevent erosion when it rains. “When it rains, the soil comes down so we use it to stop the soil erosion,” Rosie tells us.

The garden has more than 40 species of green vegetation including cypress trees, African ebony, the broad-leafed croton (mukinduri), jacaranda, eucalyptus, cherry, fig-trees, loquat, warbugia (muthiga), podo (muthengera), snake plants, ferns and avocado trees. This makes for a green natural garden.

Despite being surrounded by the Kabete Dam, Edmund does not use the water for irrigating the garden.

“Most of the plants that we have here are drought-resistant. We want the garden to be able to take care of itself. But on the occasion that we have to water, we have a borehole that we can use. We do not use the water from the dam as we want to maintain our garden as an organic garden and the water contains residue,” says Edmund.

Our garden is self-managing so we do not have to plant all the time. We don’t have it as a manicured garden. We prefer to keep it wild and natural as much as we can,” Edmund tells Business Daily.

The wild and green garden has also attracted wild animals including harmless green snakes and monkeys.


Mr and Mrs Barrow pose for a photo during an interview in their garden in Lower Kabete on May 24, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

“They are harmless green snakes. They cannot compare to the dangerous serpents we encountered when we were living in Baringo and Turkana,” Rosie tells us as she shows us a video of a green snake that had visited their garden a few weeks ago.

Still, waters run deep but also provide a good breeding ground for mosquitoes. The couple has planted citronella trees at strategic points near their house to act as mosquito repellent. It has a very wonderful, citrus scent.

He shows us his fig trees. “Fig trees are sacred everywhere. Fig trees in Kenya, China, Ghana and Thailand are sacred. I have a mugumo tree that is about 10 years old. We trim it every year because if we let it grow it could grow very tall overshadowing all the other vegetation so we cut it back. “

Rosie, who does the planting, says that she never had to buy any of the plants.

“Everything here was given to me by friends. I just wanted a calm and rejuvenating place. So when we moved here I mixed water with soil to give the concrete walls some natural colour,” Rosie tells us as she shows us her reddish walls.

“We wanted a garden that could take care of itself, help us relax, and give us a place to sit and enjoy the sound of nature.”

Edmund explains how they make fertiliser: “We make our compost from weeds, grass, leaves and potato peeling and shredded pieces of paper and leave them there to make our organic fertiliser.”

Just when I thought it was all over, Rosie takes us to a more tamed side of their garden.


An upward view of the Barrow's garden in Lower Kabete on May 24, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

“This is our tamed garden. We have planted lots of beans to get the nitrates to the soils. Here we have various herbs and some flowers. We have basil, rosemary, parsley, mint, and chilli. And there is fuchsia and queen of the night to provide some colour.”

Just like in the wild, this part of their garden also has Zimbabwean grass planted to prevent soil erosion.

“You do not have to have a large garden, you can equally have nature in a potted plant. Everybody is lifted by nature,” says Rosie.

“Our son just got married in Karura Forest. For table decorations, he used indigenous tree seedings rather than flowers. They will plant all the trees at Karura in due course.”

Edmund is not one to shy away from conserving the environment.

Currently, he is pushing for the Nairobi River conservation and wants all people moving into the neighbourhood to plant indigenous trees rather than exotic ones.

“We have tended to assume that exotic trees are the best at the expense of our indigenous trees,” he says.


A view of the Kabete dam from the Barrow's garden in Lower Kabete on May 24, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

“Being among trees de-stresses you, relaxes and calms you.”

“Trees exude certain chemicals into the air, which we breathe in and this can help in killing cancer cells. Edmund says this has been proven scientifically.

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