Juster Miriti's 25-year labour of love

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Maintaining a garden can be pretty expensive. There is the cost of designing the garden, sourcing the plants, and maintaining them once they are in the ground. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your beloved plants die, leaving you heartbroken.

However, for Juster Miriti, the joy of walking out the front door to a vibrant, colourful landscape, the taste of fresh organic herbs, the fragrant aroma of blooming flowers and the fresh air flowing from her garden make any cost seem insignificant.

"Waking up to such a surge of nature's goodness starts my day on a high note," says Juster at her home garden in Nairobi's Karen.

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Her love affair with nature began when she was a young girl helping her dad in a bushy vegetable plantation in Meru. Besides normal farming, her father did agricultural extension farming.

"We grew up knowing the beauty of farming. We were the only ones doing flowers in the neighbourhood," says Juster.

Her brother was also a navy gardener, and wherever he went, he returned with plants and flowers. "I can't remember a time we didn't have flowers."

A father's legacy

Now, as an adult, Homestead Designs, her garden, which blooms with indoor and outdoor plants, and even some for balconies, green wall installation, and landscaping, stands as the fruit of her father's labour.

Situated on three-quarters of an acre of land, her garden is proof she is carrying on her father's legacy. It has over 20 indigenous trees and thousands of unique plants, potted or planted.

"I don't just plant. Maintenance is the biggest part of any gardening, and installation is the smallest thing you can do," says Juster.

The BD Life's tour of the garden begins at her gate, where she has kept more than 10 pots of purple, pink and white flowers. Her choice of plants and flowers makes for a magnificent entrance; spring of dolphin, a succulent that makes you instantly fall in love with the garden. 

There's also Schwarzkopf, also known as Black Rose or Black Beauty. The setting complements the wooden and metal gate, welcoming one to the ambience that awaits inside.

Along the perimeter wall, she has created a harmonious, visually pleasing scene through the play of heights, using pots of different sizes and shapes, as well as flowers and foliage in different colours.

Along the footpath, the stunted ornamental kales stand out. "They turn purple in the cool season," says Juster of the plant easily mistaken for purple cabbage.

Bespoke mosaics

She has moved the plants around and added outdoor bespoke mosaics, handicrafts, fruit trees, potted plants, and flowers.

It was an investment that cost her an amount she cannot remember. For her, "I would rather buy a plant than shoes, jewellery and clothes".

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The front garden has a great mix of evergreens, including snake plants, green giant agave, spider agave and duranta hedge, also known as angel's whisper.

And what is a garden without a rose? David Austin, named after the person who created the hybrid, and iceberg, add red and pink beauty to the garden.

Inside her hanging garden, made of wood and a few pots, a pot of sword fern, also known as petrea, a snake plant, and an angel wing begonia add a green touch to her space. The sandpaper vine palm and the 15-year-old palm speak to her maturity as a gardener.

Moving on to another part of the hanging garden, it feels like we've been ushered into an entertainment area.

"It's the idea of my gardener, Gerald. The compact discs hanging on the plants are not just a decoration but scare birds away through the reflections," she explains.

As a landscaper, Juster knows that a great front garden is essential as it is the family's living room. Hers is no exception. In the wide open space, she has endeavoured to create designs for garden rooms through plants and flowers, starting with the ground that is covered with healthy, fluffy Kikuyu grass.

Structural design

The cordate structural design, covered with Algerian ivy, a climbing evergreen woody vine, is an eye-turner.

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"I had originally planted Zimbabwean grass, then uprooted it all out and planted Kikuyu grass, but I was still not happy. I decided to plant something else that dried out, and then I went back to Kikuyu grass."

Juster has always relied on books and the internet to take her gardening skills to the next level. Her local and international travels add to her garden.

Sourcing plants

Apart from collecting her prized possessions from as far afield as China, where she bought the China cactus, Italy and South Africa, she also buys from roadside vendors and nurseries.

Besides the obvious Google image search, her favourite nature apps are PuctureThis, PlantNet, and PlantSnap, which identify plant names.

"I have read a lot about gardening from books and the internet. I always want to do something different. Every time I travel, I first look for a nursery and a plant show, trying to look for a unique plant. I always come back with a new plant," she says.

Next to her house, she has built a greenhouse, which also houses several plants. Most of them are succulents. But why succulents?

"I buy plants that I can propagate and share. Some are quite expensive, but as long as they can reproduce, I don't mind," she says.

Unconventional wisdom

Conventional wisdom has it that one should only buy a plant if they know where they're going to put it. For Juster, the opposite is true.

"When I buy a plant, I think about the design. I buy it and then think about where I will put it," she says.

The 25-year-old garden is also home to the Kigeria africana, commonly known as muratina, which is used to ferment pan wine, the fruity fig tree, air plants, edible hibiscus, yellow bamboos that purify the air and the stunning Aeonium Schwarzkopf, which costs up to Sh1,000 a plant.

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Along the way, the gardening enthusiast has picked up valuable gardening tips. She shares a few.

"Most gardeners are wary of keeping plants and pets together. Well, you don't have to choose between the two. Train your pets to live with plants," says the owner of three dogs, 'Bonga', 'Wolf' and 15-year-old 'Fluffy'.

Pest management

To keep pests at bay, she rarely uses chemicals on her plants.

"I mix baking soda, neem oil and a bit of dish soap. Compared to chemicals, this mixture is strong on the pests but mild on the plants.

Snails and slugs are the biggest pest challenge. The slugs come out when she waters the plants.

"They serve a purpose in the garden, so we just mitigate them, not destroy them. If you kill them, you will kill the other microorganisms," she says, elaborating that they are part of the ecosystem.

What keeps her flowers blooming is Kiambu's black cotton soil and fish waste, which she uses as an organic fertiliser. Eggshells, which she crushes and mixes with potting soil to give her plants calcium.

Home Designs has 108,000 litres of stored water. However, this is still limiting and one of her biggest challenges. Her garden takes up three-quarters of her one-acre homestead.

Smart irrigation

Her Kikuyu grass conceals three irrigation systems. An automatic irrigation system with six pop-ups.

"I have an irrigation pipe used to irrigate a specific port. But the pop-up system has made my job easier. It is connected to the internet, so I can control it from my phone and water my plants from wherever I am. It also has a rain gauge, so it doesn't work when it's raining," Juster explains.

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With gardening best enjoyed when done in a company, Juster has joined gardening groups to broaden her understanding. She says that as a gardener, you should go and see other people's gardens to know what you might be missing.

"Nothing is fulfilling like belonging to a community of gardeners. Gardening communities are vibrant spaces where knowledge is freely handed down," she says.

Her love for plants led her to discover and later join the Kenya Horticultural Society in 2021.

As a gardener, she envisions turning Homestead Designs into a tour site and hosting small parties to share the serene environment with others. She clarifies that her aim is not commercial but just to enjoy and share the cool environment with other people.

"I am so involved in the world of gardening and landscaping," says the 57-year-old, who is also a local exhibitor.

When she's not tending to her garden, she is also a contractor who does landscaping and builds roads.

For her, gardening is a peaceful pursuit that she finds therapeutic.

"It's not just a cliché; it gives me something to do," she says.

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