The gardening boom during Covid-19 may have bust, but there are some like Freshiah Njeri who deeply fell in love with plants that they cannot stop growing the showy monsteras and the elephant ear flowers.
Ms Njeri transformed her backyard into a beautiful garden to host guests, and ever since she has been adding more plants.
Nairobi’s Syokimau area is dry and dusty, but when you enter Ms Njeri's home, you are welcomed by serenity. This is where she connects with nature.
“I call this my Covid baby because I started gardening then. I wanted something to fill up my time. I started with one plant and I was like, ‘Oh, it's not that bad.’
Unfortunately, they all died. What you see here is my second attempt,” she says.
All her plants are in 50 pots, scattered around her an eighth-acre piece of land.
Recently, she set up a Sh68,000 pergola that covers her backyard. As her creepers grow, she has hung artificial plants to give the pergola a green appeal.
“I started with an Elephant ear plant and some flowering plants. They didn’t do well. I gave up on flowering plants because they don’t do very well here. They also need a lot of care. The pergola is a new addition. It gets very hot and since we entertain a lot, we need a serene and shaded place where we can host our guests,” the 41-year-old tells BDLife.
Her second attempt has seen monsteras, philodendrons, snake plants, money plants, ferns, anthuriums and palm trees thrive in pots lined up in her backyard.
“My favourite is the monstera, that is why I have a lot of them outside and inside the house. I love them because they are easy to maintain, don’t need a lot of work and they fill up a place,” she says.
Caring for the garden
She waters the plants at least three times a week because Syokimau is a dry place. She, however, cautions against overwatering “If you overwater plants, they die.”
She has a borehole, therefore a constant supply of water for the plants.
To stimulate growth, she prunes often and moves the potted plants around.
“I keep moving them around to where there is sun or where there is no sun. I also put fertiliser on the plants at least three or four times a year. Then I shower my plants with a lot of love,” Freshiah, who is a baker, adds.
Her plants had been blooming in plastic pots but now she is transferring them to concrete pots.
“They are not cheap. I get them from a certain seller at discounted prices,” Ms Njeri says. Some of the pots cost Sh4,000 a piece.
Plants that transform spaces are not necessarily the most expensive. She says the most expensive plant is the Heartleaf philodendron which she grows in her bathroom.
“It cost me Sh3,000. My cheapest is a Sh100 bougainvillaea growing in a pot outside the front door," she says.
Her backyard is thriving but her front yard is struggling. “I think maybe it's because the space is small and limiting,” she says.
But her backyard is also still a work in progress. At the edge of her backyard, she has two Australian umbrella trees growing in pots. She is not happy with it yet.
“It looks very empty and I never really know what to do with that corner. It sort of feels abandoned. I would like to do an outdoor kitchen with a proper barbecue place, with sinks,” she says.
But she has gotten creative and added an old bathtub that acts as a table in her backyard.
“We recently renovated our master bedroom and removed this old bathtub. I decided to put it to use at this pergola. I put soil in it and at the edge of the bathtub, I have grown turtle vines. When they grow fully, they will overflow from the bathtub and provide a good cover.”
To create a table at the centre of the bathtub, she has tiled it. It is in this bathtub that she serves us water.
She has added artificial grass to cover the area. “I tried natural grass and it did not work, so I decided to use artificial grass. It is also easy to walk on. ”
Her home has many plants, but she has joined the plant-holics club whose appetite for flowers is insatiable. She gets some of her plants as gifts from friends and family members. Others are hand-me-downs. Then she buys many more from roadside sellers and plant shops in Nairobi.
“For the monsteras, I get cuttings from my mother’s house because she has very nice monsteras. Some plants are hand-me-downs. When someone is moving out I am usually like, 'I am willing to take anything.’ I have many plants but there is always room for more plants,” the mother of two says.
Just like many plant lovers, she has had to endure the pain of watching plants die.
“The hardest time was when I started gardening. I could see a plant doing so well, flowers blooming, making my home so beautiful but after some time it dies. Then I am left wondering why, and what did I do wrong. When you pick the plant from the seller, they usually look so healthy and beautiful but when you take them home they start dying. To minimise the heartbreaks, now I look for plants that can survive for a long time,” she says.
To get this right, Ms Njeri has had to get gardening information from mobile apps and Google.
“I take a picture of a plant and the app tells me why my plant is yellowing or has white patches. The app tells you whether the problem is a disease, overwatering or the plant is healthy. These days I don't rely on the apps as much, because I can look at a plant and tell whether it needs water, fertiliser or some spraying.”
On shopping for the best plants, she advises: “If you want outdoor flowers, the roadside sellers tend to have more variety. If you're looking for indoor plants, go to flower shops.”
Her pride is “when people come to visit her and they find this serene and calm place to relax and rest.”