New homeowner on designing her own garden


Catherine Wangui. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG


  • Catherine Wangui loves vibrant colours.
  • The thought of moving into her new incomplete home in Ndeiya, Limuru County was not really exciting.
  • The only colours in the compound then were black, grey and white.

Catherine Wangui loves vibrant colours. The thought of moving into her new incomplete home in Ndeiya, Limuru County was not really exciting. The only colours in the compound then were black, grey and white. It was at the height of Covid-19 and the world was gloomy, that she and her family needed to live in an enchanting home.

Seven months later, Ms Wangui, her husband, Alex Maina and two children are happy to be home. The gloomy black, grey and bright white colours are now complemented with yellows, oranges, purples, greens and pinks from the flowers and trees they have planted since they settled here in July 2020.

“This is our Covid-19 garden,” Ms Wangui tells me when we settle down. She calls it so because it was a project that was birthed during this time.

“We’re a family that does not like being at home idling. We’re always out taking road trips to discover new places,” she explains.

Unfortunately, the pandemic struck and they found themselves at home and with no places to visit. A nurse by profession, a drop in hospital emergency cases gave her some free time.

“To keep my 13-year-old son busy, and add life to my home, I decided to start planting flowers,” she says.


Strapped for cash and in no hurry to have a perfect garden, she did not hire a landscaped designer.

For one who has zero experience in the world of plants and flowers, she has outdone herself. She has turned her front and backyard into beautiful spaces. It is the front yard that the family is most proud of.

Theirs is an elevated garden that runs along the perimeter of the wall. Here they have planted several African daisies in yellow and orange colours, several Australian pine and evergreen conifer trees, purple Coleus among others. All these blend to make the space pleasant to look at.


They are also hardy plants that can withstand the harsh climate of Ndeiya. At the entrance to her living room, Ms Wangui has potted two Australian Umbrella trees.

“Why an elevated garden?” I inquire. “The area here was very sloppy. By designing it like this, we were able to control the flow of water. Plus it’s more beautiful than if it were flat on the ground,” the mother-of-two says.

On the path leading to the backyards, they have planted five Thika palm trees. Known for providing wonderful shade, she looks forward to reading a book under one of them. In the backyard, she planted several cypress trees, hibiscus and when I arrived, Mr Maina had just finished planting Kikuyu grass. It is the backyard that has taught them many life lessons and tested their patience.


When she went to buy grass, Ms Wangui did not know which type to buy hence sought the advice of the seller.

“What I wasn’t aware of was that the vendor was keen on making a sale than actually advising me on the best grass to buy,” she says.

He convinced her that the Paspalum grass was the best.


“We faithfully planted and watered the grass but later on came to realise that it doesn’t compete well with weeds. Since we’ve planted it, not a week goes by without us weeding it,” she says.

Their only saving grace was that they had not planted it on the whole lawn.

One of the greatest challenges they have faced is water. “Ndeiya is dry. Choice of plant is extremely important,” says Ms Wangui. In fact, every time she goes to buy plants and flowers, the vendors are always pessimistic when they know where she comes from. “They always wonder if anything they recommend will grow.”

Now she is happy to show the plant vendors of her progress perhaps to encourage them that their investment in her was not in vain. Much of what they had planted earlier died very quickly. Before she stumbled on the flowers in the garden now, which do very well in extreme weather, she had even tried planting vegetables. All of them died except the tomatoes, which she says “did extremely well”.

Even though the garden is still a work in progress, the Mainas have derived so much from it already. It has given them colour, satisfaction, something to do, peace of mind and strengthened the family’s bond. Ms Wangui who is a lover of cats and dogs equates the feeling she gets from gardening to the companionship of a pet.

“Just like pets are life-giving and therapeutic, so are gardens. They’ll give back more. Much more.”

Every Saturday, you will find them in the garden trying to plant something.

“We’ve become hooked to planting now,” Mr Maina chimes in. Every time Ms Wangui hears her husband making such statements, she is amazed because getting him to the garden, in the beginning, was akin to bottling the wind.

And they have a vision they are working towards. “In about two years, I want this place to be an oasis of colour and scents with luscious green grass that I can bask under and shade from the trees my family and I have laboured to plant,” Ms Wangui says with confidence in her voice.

For anyone who is trying to start a garden, Ms Wangui has a few words of advice for you: “If you’re willing to do it, you can do it. Plants will give you what you’re looking for. Just be patient. You also don’t have to be an expert to begin. YouTube and Google are very good friends to start you off.”

In the Headlines