- There are over 20 planted and potted plant varieties with dark green, light green and in-between green colours.
- The vines cover the wall, its evergreen leaves and white flowers.
- Gardening with foliage has allowed the shaded areas to be teeming with life.
The sun was slowly fading into the horizon when I walked into Grace Lewa’s garden. Right from the entrance, I knew that I was in for a treat because this garden was unlike others I have visited before. Ms Lewa’s garden was a foliage garden. While flowers tend to outshine everything else in all gardens, in this urban garden located in Lang’ata, the foliage plants are most prominent.
“I moved here 16 years ago. Welcoming me to the neighbourhood was the dying green grass and the dust,” Ms Lewa tells me as we walk around the intimate garden.
“To keep the dust off my doors, window sills and furniture, I decided to go green.”
This was a natural choice because Ms Lewa had grown up surrounded by people delighting in what nature had to offer. An aunt of hers was so in love with plants that she had a greenhouse garden. It was through her that Mrs Lewa developed an affinity for all things green, literally.
The first plant that sunk its roots into her soil was the variegated Duranta. There are two varieties of this brightly coloured plant occupying various spots planted by her hand.
Not only are they a source of colour but she has let them grow into a bush that can be contoured, making natural canopies. One is shaped like an umbrella and it is here that she and her husband have breakfast on weekends.
The most dominant colour is green. You would be mistaken to think that it would be dull but it is not. In its different gradients of colour, forms and textures, green becomes appealing.
There are over 20 planted and potted plant varieties with dark green, light green and in-between green colours among them the white-edged Swedish ivy, spotted bulbous Drimiopsis, pigmy weeds, orchids, anthuriums, the small-leaf jade, graceful ferns, evergreen hibiscus, cacti comprising a medusa plant, rows of the resilient snake plant, and the wandering Jew.
All these had different leaf textures ranging from rough and smooth, and varied leave shapes and sizes, small or huge, smooth edges to serrated, plain to spotted ones, straight or twisted, ground-hugging, short or sun chasing, and all these combinations melted together to make a delightful space.
Why so much green?
“When it’s hot, like now, my garden still looks refreshing. It doesn’t dry out,” she says. Plus, one never fails to spot this soothing colour.
Ms Lewa’s garden is also scented. Her favourite plants are the climbing perennial Queen of the Night and the white-flowered, fragrance-carrying star Jasmine vine, two of the few flowering plants.
Others are a bromeliad, a red bottlebrush tree and a recently added climbing rose. The vines cover the wall, its evergreen leaves and white flowers. She shares that it took four years before it began flourishing. It has been rewarding because, in the evening, the air around the home is concentrated with its fragrance. I did not even need to take a deep breath to catch the scent. It was all around us.
“The Queen of the night kept me up at night for five years as well,” she says and bends down to touch it. “Amazing. My TLC and patience paid off. It finally flowered.”
There are many advantages to having a foliage garden. The hassle that comes with dead-heading flowers is removed and the garden remains interesting once flower blooms are long gone. Furthermore, gardening with foliage has allowed the shaded areas to be teeming with life.
Part of her garden is hidden from the touch of the bright, yellow sun. Here she has planted plants with large thin leaves like the must-have Monstera. Next to her door are succulents of different colours. These colours were achieved by adding food colour to the soil of the growing succulents.
Having a foliage garden does not mean toning down on the care given. Activities such as watering, pruning, pest management, and manure application are a must-do.
“I use manure from goat and chicken droppings matured in a drum for at least one year. It’s best to apply it right before the rains begin,” she says, explaining that the one year in waiting is to allow the acidity level to go down.
Her gardener, Musyoka, comes in two to three times a month for maintenance, and so does the water truck that she buys to keep her plants hydrated especially during the dry seasons.
The return on investment in a garden cannot be articulated nor monetised. Times spent in it are still as special as those in a flower-packed one.
“So much happens in this garden. It is where I commune with God during my quiet time. Conversations are sweet when held here, to the background of music made by rustling leaves on a warm, windy day and chirping birds,” she says. It is her happy place, a therapeutic space, and one that she appreciates after a long day from work where she works as an assistant manager.
It is also a place for letting go. So much so that her sister has christened it Mawazo Gardens. “She always leaves here lighter than when she arrives. Being around nature is an unrivalled relaxation treatment technique,” the nature lover says.
At this point, she is walking barefoot since “your feet need to touch nature”.
As I bid Ms Lewa goodbye, I am amazed by the flair foliage plants can add to a garden.