Planting the fancy agapanthus

Peter Gachanja, an agapanthus flower grower at his farm in North Kinang’op. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA

What you need to know:

  • Mr Gachanja plants the glamorous, low maintenance flower which can be potted, grown outdoors or exported.

Strikingly beautiful leaves and balls of richly coloured flowers carpet Peter Gachanja’s garden at the dales of the Aberdare Ranges, in the depths of North Kinangop.

On 24 acres of land, he has grown the bold and glamourous agapanthus mainly for export and plans to start selling seeds to those with big gardens.

The flower, also known as African lily, makes a fantastic fitting in bouquets, as a potted plant and can easily survive outdoors, with its cobalt-blue, purple and white colour spreading fast, giving a garden an exotic look.

Owing to its beauty, the flower is mostly loved in Europe, perhaps because the cold climate is not conducive for its growth.

Agapanthus, a Greek name meaning flower of love, is the reason Mr Gachanja smiles each harvest season. The beauty with agapanthus is that they are low maintenance compared to roses and do not require a green house or irrigation.

In his agapanthus plantation, he has built four dams which control flash floods into the farm.

Don’t prune

“By mid-October, the stalks bearing the flower buds will shoot out and we will start exporting,” he said of his plantation which currently has only a few emerging stalks of flowers.

Flowering starts after eight and 18 months. He explains that it is currently the low season for flower growers, but the high season is just around the corner.

Aside from supplying the local market, he said sales peak in the European market especially during special occasions such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Agapanthus shoots three times a year with flowering controlled by not pruning.

“When you prune, the agapanthus breathes easy and develops the need to flower, so we time the peak season with our pruning,” said Mr Gachanja, 46, who prior to venturing into the business had worked in various flower farms.

With experience gathered as an employee at the farms, he figured growing roses was labour-intensive and maintaining them is financially draining.

Peak seasons

The agapanthus only require top dressing twice a year, does well with moderate rainfall and is less susceptible to pest attacks.

With volcanic soil and sufficient sunlight, the agapanthus foliage can multiply wildly within a short time, covering stretches of land. The flowers grow naturally in-between crevices, can withstand stony ground but require soils with good drainage. They, however, don’t cope well in strong winds.

This explains Mr Gachanja decision to grow various varieties of wind breakers around the farm as temperature at the his farm can drop to 14 degrees centigrade.

Portioning the plantations is vital when it comes to backtracking in case a problem is detected in a consignment sent abroad.

He plucks the flowers using a secateurs in a slanted manner to allow effective fluid uptake when placed in a vase.
Mr Gachanja employs up to 70 casual workers at the farm during peak seasons to assist in the plucking of flowers, grading them under the shed and packaging for export.

During grading, the stocks are categorised into batches of 10 before they are packed in boxes of 40 batches each.

Many brokers

The pricing depends on the head size of stock, its length and head size of the flowers.

Agapanthus are easy to propagate as it can be done either through dividing of bulbs or use of seeds collected from pods that turn brown over time.

After the first harvest, the flowers keep coming for up to seven years, after which production drops.

Mr Gachanja who has been in the business for six years now said that the flower market is large and no one can satisfy it at any one point.

To find a market, he had to practice patience and strategically attended flower exhibitions to establish business contacts.

UK buyer

He advises anyone intending to venture into the business that it is a viable one, but one should brace themselves for teething problems.

“In this business, persistence is key. When I started, I encountered many brokers along the way. Then one day I met an interested buyer from the UK and the rest like they say is history,” he said.

Fortunes for flower exporters to the European market plunged following the Brexit, but he said all is not lost.

His immediate plan is to diversify into other markets that are using the dollar as opposed to the euro.

The June 23 vote to exit the European Union by British citizens sent Kenya flower exporters into panic mode following changes in the exchange rate.

The Brexit saw the British pound plunge to its lowest level in three decades.

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