Jessy Roy's balcony garden gets a creative touch

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For the past year, Jessy Roy has been an anxious plant parent, keeping a close eye on the blossoms at her not-so-little balcony garden in Nairobi's Embakasi to rekindle what she once nurtured, but this time in a different environment.

Mrs Roy recalls what her plant paradise looked like when she lived in Arusha, Tanzania four years ago. In a way, all urban spaces reflect the eradication of the once vibrant plant population that once dotted her landscape.

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Jade plant growing from a sea shell at Jessy Roy’s house in Nairobi on March 10, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG  

"I started with succulents and some flowering plants, which can stand water for a long time. They didn't do well at first, but it's getting better, considering I water them only once every three days," she says.

At her house entrance, she has masterfully used green to give a calming setting.

The mother of two has turned her balcony into a constant source of creative inspiration.

"I like to do it with my own hands, not always in vases, but I like to make my unique creations," she says.

She has hanging plants made from coconut shells, reeds, clay, and wood.

''I don't get much satisfaction in just buying a pot and planting, I always have the urge to make something out of it," she says.

Before using the coconut shells, she makes sure that the opening is even, breaks them, dries them for a day after which she smoothens them with sandpaper and then fills them with soil.’

Her pots

In her living room is a tree trunk with some greenery. Out of curiosity, I ask.

"I use old wood that has been abandoned and just by looking at it, I can tell you how it needs to be cut to make it look impressive,'' she says.

"After cutting, I clean it and line the area with plastic so that water and soil do not get into the wood when I plant my pothos," she says.

Mrs Roy also makes plaques with Bible verses from the remaining pieces of wood.

Like most plant parents, she loves her 'babies', but some more than others.

"My favourite is the jade plant, so I have lots of them. I love them because they're easy to take care of, they don't need a lot of work and they can grow in different shapes,'' she says.

She has had to endure the pain of watching some of her plants wilt.

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"I had a hard time taking care of most of my plants when I first started. After I moved from Arusha, I found that many of my plants were wilting because of the intense sun, especially in the morning,'' she says.

But she found a way to make them survive.

She explains: "I move them indoors where there is no sun, also while I am planting I have to take them in one of my rooms so for the first week I will keep them indoors.’’

Cocodema

As well as pots and vases, Mrs Roy makes soil balls cocodema ( a Japanese potting method that involves wrapping plant roots in moss), which she learned online.

"To make the ball, you mix soil, manure and water to make a round shape like a dough. Then you divide it in half and put the plant of your choice inside, with the plant hanging out, before closing the ball,’’ she explains holding one of the balls.

On top, she has covered the ball with coconut fibre and thread to prevent the soil from disintegrating, especially when the ball is dry.

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Jessy Roy at her house in Nairobi on March 10, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG  

How does she water the ball?

''I can easily tell when it is dry because the ball becomes lighter. With cocodema, I immerse it in water for almost five minutes every three days for the ones inside the house, but for the balcony cocodema I do it once a week,'' she says.

Bread flowers

In her kitchen, I noticed several small colourful flowers and got curious about the variety.

''I make them with bread and glue. First, I flatten the bread so that I can make them into the flower shapes I want, and I like them small so that they look natural. When they are dry, I fix them on little stems and paint the flower in any colour I want,'' she laughs.

The outcome in the vases has a natural flower appearance.

Besides sourcing her plants in the farms she visits, Mrs Roy also buys them from the roadside vendors.

Living in an apartment while slowly changing the face of her balcony with a minimalist approach to gardening, Mrs Roy admits she has her challenges.

"Even though I love gardening and I always want to buy more and more plants, I end up being limited because I don’t have the space to go all out like I did in Arusha," she shares.

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She also adds that because the place is so hot, some plants don't adapt to the sunlight.

She waters the plants at least three times a week and makes sure the balcony is kept clean.

To encourage growth, she says: "I move my fragile plants around the house to places where they do not get sun and I add fertiliser every time I plant them."

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