Green spaces: The best gardens of 2023

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Variety of plants pictured at Kanak Mehta's home garden along Kirawa road, Nairobi on October 4, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

The year is coming to an end and to wrap it up BDLife wants to honour all the people who got the courage to pick up gardening or to continue with it as their hobby. It is said that being a plant parent is no easy task.

I mean if you can master the art of caring for plants, being patient, and waging through the tough times, then you may consider yourself ready to also take care of a child. BDLife got the opportunity to visit amazing gardens this year. Each garden was unique, and the plant parents told the tales of the good and the bad, the highs and the lows and the unwavering love for plants. These are the most outstanding gardens of this year.

The all-potted garden

For Anwar Taher, gardening is in his DNA. “As a child, I used to grow vegetables. Actually, my mum would use all that I grew for cooking. I grew up in Nairobi and I would get those used-up Elianto oil containers and grow plants in there.”

His garden located on an eighth of an acre hosts more than 500 plants showcasing just how possible it is to garden even on a small piece of land. His home is all cemented does his gardening in pots. Now with more than 200 potted plants and over 300 Spanish moss, Mr Taher has transformed his place into his little haven of peace where he goes to unwind after the busy Nairobi hustles.

The best thing for him is the flexibility that comes with having potted plants as he says, “Apart from allowing you to enjoy your hobby even when you only have a small space, container gardening allows you arrange and rearrange the garden as often as you want.”

The 45-year-old father of two grows his plants in large clay pots, small clay pots, plastic pots and even used yoghurt containers.

Comparing plastic pots and clay pots, Mr Taher recommends using clay pots. “Initially, I started with plastic pots. But with time I realised that plastic pots are not good for outdoor plants because when the sun hits the plastic, it heats the soil affecting the microorganisms in the soil and damaging the roots. So I use the clay pots. The advantage is that they are porous. If there is too much water in the soil, it can go through with ease. With plastic pots, there are only two ways in and out; the top and the bottom,” he says.

The Kohli Family and their magical private garden with peacocks and guinea fowls

One of the most beautiful gardens of this year is Maarifa Park Botanical Garden in Kitisuru, Nairobi.

Arjun Kohli’s garden has guinea fowls, peacocks, rock gardens, a bromeliads garden, hanging garden. Not to forget the hedge of the yesterday, today and tomorrow flower that leaves the garden smelling heavenly.

Mr Kohli set up the garden 10 years ago upon returning from his studies in the United Kingdom. Being creative, he embarked on designing the garden on his own and today the two-acre property is a garden with lush foliage and a relaxing ambience that makes you never want to leave.


Maarifa Homes CEO Arjun Kohli pose for a photo during an interview at The Shamba, Maarifa’s Home in Kitisuru on April 24, 2023. PHOTO | KENNEDY AMUNGO | NMG

As he thought about setting up the garden he reasoned, “If I do not start conserving the environment and planting trees, then I am not doing a service to humanity, and I will have nothing significant to leave for the next generation. We have used this garden for sound baths, meditation, and yoga. There is a spiritual element to this garden.”

Such an exquisite garden requires constant care and maintenance. “I have two full-time gardeners who mow the lawn, trim the hedges and prune the plants. For the fertilizer, we create our own compost piles. Every once a year, we top-dress the garden. Now most of the work is in the aftercare of the garden. Over time, the plants get so big and lush so most of the work is to prune to allow each garden to grow,” the avid gardener shares his secret on how to set up and maintain a lovely garden.

Nothing good or in this case, no beautiful garden comes cheap. Mr Kohli compares the cost of building his garden to “the cost of buying an apartment in Nairobi’s Westlands area”.

The Ruiru garden that looks like a resort

When you visit Nyambura Magochi’s home for the first time you will be forgiven for thinking that you are in one of the beach resorts on the Coast. What with the lush green well-mowed lawn and the many traveller’s palm trees that just scream tranquillity and sophistication?

“Having grown up in the village in the tea-growing areas, the love for plants was imbedded in me from a young age. When Covid struck and we started working from home, I experienced a surge of loneliness so I sought to create a beautiful space where I could walk after a heavy day,” explains the human rights advocate the start of her gardening journey.

She designed her garden from scratch.


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

“I did not seek help because I realised when you look for a landscaper, they bring their style to your place. I wanted my style. I wanted something that I have visualised, something that I have created in my mind and put out here.”

Ms Nyambura’s garden has 50 palm trees, 500 anthuriums, 300 peace lilies, 20 fruit trees and more than 300 orchids. The mother of five is not done as she hopes to get even more colourful flowers to add to her garden. Not one to shy away from the good things that life has to offer, and for her, the good things are nice and unique plants, the 45-year-old has invested heavily in her garden.

“I didn’t want plants that could be found in every garden. This meant that many of the plants would be expensive. Miniature anthuriums and palm trees are, particularly, very expensive. I have built the beauty space slowly; making some small sacrifices here and there. I would deny myself a dress, a drink and use some of the change to get the plants,” says Ms Magochi. She calls it her labour of love.

Njoki’s fruit trees—the losses and the great wins

When you meet Njoki Njuguna you will meet a woman passionate about life and fruit trees. She will tell you a lot of stories and the best part is you will not get bored. She will tell you about her struggling pawpaws and how she bought the seedlings twice without any growth. She will excitedly tell you about her red guava tree.

“The first harvest we had only one fruit. We cut it into five slices, one for my husband, my daughter, the nanny, the gardener, and me. We all tasted the first fruit. But now we have more coming.” She will also tell you about the generosity of her pomegranate fruit tree. If you are lucky, like we were, she will let you in on one of her biggest aspirations in life. “A time when I will not need to buy fruits and my household can have fruits in season all through the year.”

For Ms Njuguna, her love for gardening stems from her childhood days.

“When I was growing up, we lived on a farm for some time and we had a lot of fruits. At that time my mum had so many fruit trees, even some like the pomegranate and the fig that most people did not know about. I knew then that when I get my own place, I would want to have some fruit trees,” she tells BDLife.

In a world with so many responsibilities, expectations and pressure that could make one sick, being with plats is her cure.

“Gardening is like a drug for me, it is so calming. The days I go around my garden for 15 minutes and the days that I don’t are two very different days.”


Njoki Njuguna poses for a picture at her home in Kibiko, Kajiado County on August 22, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

The 40-year-old mother of one has over 24 varieties of fruit trees and is trying to squeeze in over 30 fruit trees in her quarter-acre garden. Among the fruit trees she has grown are the lemon tree fruit, guava, wild berry, golden berry, raspberry, blueberry, peach, pawpaw, avocado, and mango trees.

Kanak Mehta’s sophisticated garden

The most unique aspect of Kanak Mehta’s garden is the red mucuna vine that surrounds her. When in bloom, which is twice every year, April and October, the red mucuna is bound to capture your attention.

“The mucunas are my speciality. I saw a mucuna plant in a photo and I looked for it for so many years. When we came here, I got the plant, then I planted it and after three years it started blooming. Since then I have never looked back. Once the flowers are over, we just cut and clean everything and wait for the next blooming season. The mucunas are now eight years old,” says Ms Mehta joyfully of her red mucuna.

One thing that will help you identify her home is the more than 80 air plants hanging outside her home. The old man’s beard surrounds the front part of her garden making a beautiful canopy.

“I had bought the air plants from a friend while living in my old house in Parklands. When we moved here, I only had six air plants, I just hung them, and they started multiplying and have come to this level. Now I have more than 80 of them. They love this place, and they grow so well.”


Kanak Mehta takes care of plants at her home garden along Kirawa road, Nairobi on October 4, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

She waters them once a week with a hose pipe.

But it is her all-year blooming anthurium collection that screams sophistication. Outside her front door and around the front wall of the home is her anthurium collection. The anthuriums give her front yard a beautiful dash of red and green.

Ms Mehta who has been gardening for the past 30 years now says that her passion for gardening dates back to her formative years when she lived with her family in Njoro, Nakuru County.

“We used to go for walks with my father when we were little and we got to see a lot of plants. My father also had a friend at Egerton University who was in the agriculture department so he showed us a lot of plants. I grew up with this love for plants. This is why my sisters and I like gardens so much,” she reminisces.

The other unique thing about Mehta’s garden is her expansive bonsai collection of over 30-year-old plants.

“We started the bonsai collection 30 years ago with my late sister-in-law. We went to South Africa and attended a flower show. So we started doing it. Now I don't have any more space to put them, so that is enough for now.” She adds, “A bonsai is like a tree in a pot. So, we re-pot it every year, trim it all the time so that it stays small.”

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