Is this Nairobi's most unique garden? - VIDEO

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BDLKanakMehtaw

Kanak Mehta's home garden in Nairobi screams sophistication. It is like a rare oasis in the city that now has little beautiful flowering plants.

It is the red mucuna surrounding the pergola, which is her parking space, that captures our attention.

The mucuna has spread out to her neighbour’s parking spot.

“This is my special area,” she says of her blooming mucuna. The mucunas are my speciality and have spread out even into my neighbour’s place. My neighbours are okay. Who would not be happy with such beauty? So twice a year, I get these flowers and they stay for a month,” the avid gardener tells BDLife.

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The red mucuna plant at Kanak Mehta's home garden in Nairobi on October 4, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

Her search for the mucuna plant was lengthy but she was patient.

“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. It is a creeper and it blooms twice every year; April and October. 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,” Ms Mehta says.

The Old man’s beard

She has tried to plant cutting of the mucuna plant with no success. She says the best option is to buy the plant and grow it in the soil.

One thing that will help you identify Kanak’s home is the over 80 air plants hanging outside her home. The old man’s beard surrounds the front part of her garden. 

“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.” She waters them once every week with a hose pipe.

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Kanak Mehta's home garden in Nairobi on October 4, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

Bonsai plants

She has over 40 bonsai plants that she has grown for the past 30 years. Her bonsai collection is well arranged on her front porch. The bonsai plants variety including the ponytail palm and the bougainvillea are held in pots.

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Bonsai plants at Kanak Mehta's home garden in Nairobi on October 4, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

“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.”

Mugumo trees

Ms Mehta’s lush old man's beards hang on two Mugumo trees situated a distance apart from each other.

“I settled on this house because of the sacred mugumo trees. I hadn’t seen inside the house but I saw the trees and I told my husband, ‘Lets buy this house.’ I just love the way they are majestic. It was my luck that we got this space. When we moved to this house 12 years ago, the mugumo trees were completely barren, so I worked and beautified everything over the years,” Ms Mehta tells us.

Her two mugumo trees are not barren but are surrounded by ferns and orchids growing from them. She also has potted orchids hanged with wires from the branches of the mugumo tree.

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

“When we moved here, I had lots of plants from our old home so I decided to put them on the trees because even in my old house, the ferns and orchids were on the trees. I started planting creepers and everything that you now see covering and surrounding the mugumo trees. It is not a one-day job."

Anthuriums

The areas surrounding her mugumo trees are covered with monsteras, peace lilies, and ferns making this the centerpiece of her front yard. In between the two mugumo trees, she has put up a Buddha (Religious teacher of the Indians) statue.

Is this Nairobi's most unique garden?

If there is an art that Ms Mehta has mastered, it is that of having blooming anthuriums all year round. Outside her front door and around the front wall of her home is her anthurium collection. The anthuriums give her front yard a beautiful dash of red and green. “I grew my anthuriums over the years from our previous house, so I moved here with them. We fertilise them once a month.”

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BDLKanakMehtaj

Ms Mehta also has succulents growing in pots and on hanging milk bottles on the side of her home. The back of her garden is where her water-thirsty kikuyu grass flourishes. She confesses her undying love for the ponytail palm trees, that she has growing all around her garden in pots. The back also plays host to her hydrangea collection and her fuschias.

Seated outside on her patio, the view of her garden is stunning and it is impossible to ignore the chirping of the birds who have made her garden their home. She recently purchased two large bird baths where she puts millet for the chirping birds at least twice a day. The other bird bath holds the bird's water. “Normally, I get two crowned cranes coming in the morning and the evening to eat. They have chosen this as their home,” says Ms Mehta clearly excited by the fauna that she attracts to her garden.

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Birds at Kanak Mehta's home garden in Nairobi on October 4, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

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 in 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,” Ms Kanak who is a mother of three reminisces.

Biggest challenge

To get started, Ms Mehta, who is a member of the Kenya Horticultural Society did a Know Your Garden Course-courtesy of the society many years ago. She says this set her up on the path to starting her own garden.

“I also do a lot of browsing and Pinterest and I have learnt more about gardening over time. When we came here the grass was only halfway covering the ground, so the first thing was to restore the kikuyu grass and do a few trees,” the 69-year-old says.

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

She gets all her plants from the roadside hawkers. “I don't buy the very expensive plants, I just like to support the local people because I am very much Kenyan. When leaving the house, there is nothing like having a plant in mind for me. When I go to the plant nurseries or flower exhibitions, if I like something I pick it and bring it home.”

Her biggest challenge has been water. “Last season we were not allowed to water because of the drought. We were only allowed to water the side plants with cans, not pipes. My grass was yellow at that time. Now we are only allowed to water twice a week. I am really waiting for the rain.”

Ms Mehta relies on borehole water and city council water for her garden. During the rainy season, she takes advantage of fertilising her garden.

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Variety of flowers at Kanak Mehta's home garden in Nairobi on October 4, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

How much did it cost, I ask: “There is nothing like cost for me. I haven't calculated the cost. However, some of these plants like the ponytail palms and even the pots have been costly."

Now retired, Ms Mehta describes herself as a woman of leisure. “Now, I just sit and enjoy the garden. Our house is glass windowed so even from inside the house, I get to enjoy the flora and fauna outside.

As we leave her home we all agree that Ms Kanak has developed her half-acre plot to create breathtaking scenery for herself, her family and her visitors.

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