As a majority of Kenyans living in cities craves greenery, few public spaces offer a welcome respite from their busy schedules, and even fewer gardens attract tourists.
But there is one garden with thousands of bats, boasting of beautiful trees and flowers, that is drawing tourists in droves.
During the rainy season, Uhuru Garden in Mombasa blossoms magnificently. Adjacent to the famous tusks, the garden compared to others in the city is loved by dwellers who visit to catch a breeze or shelter from the scorching sun at the coast.
At the garden, chirping sounds of birds like Indian crows and the common chaffinch are soothing and overshadows the hooting sound of the vehicles on the busy road.
A colony of more than 3,000 bats that invaded the garden owned by National Museums of Kenya also adds harmony to the birdsongs and one cannot help but stare at the hanging animals that have made home the tall and leafy trees.
Hassan Yawa, the supervisor at the garden says foreign tourists come there to watch the bats fly out at 6.30pm and return at 5am the next day—an impressive sight.
He adds that foreign guests take pictures of the flying creatures as others videotape the bats chirping.
“Locals think that the bats are a bad omen and want them got rid of but these creatures draw foreign tourists to this garden. They marvel and enjoy watching them. But locals used to stone them but now they are bound by strict rules,” Mr Yawa says.
Bat tourism might sound creepy, but there are many places in the world to see the flying mammals by the millions.
Mr Yawa who has worked at the garden for more than 12 years now says Kenya Ports Authorities (KPA) has made a huge stride in rehabilitating it.
“In 2006, we were requested to rehabilitate and maintain the garden by the City Council. We have more than 1,000 trees and flowers now,” says Alex Kambi, the assistant environment inspector at KPA.
At the garden that sits on three and half acres, there is a strategic corner with an artistic water point shaped like the African continent. To save water, the fountains are let to flow occasionally.
There is a borehole for watering the trees and flowers during dry seasons.
“We plan to better the garden to attract more visitors,” Mr Kambi says.
Mr Yawa adds: “During the rainy seasons, the plants blossom to the fullest. During the dry season, we water the plants early in the morning or late in the evening.”
Some of the plants in the garden include agapanthus commonly known as lily of the Nile, Nerium oleander, kassod tree, African olive, jacaranda, Indiana oak tree, tall old mango trees and more than five types of palm trees.
A no-smoking garden
At one section of the garden is a tree nursery where Mr Yawa has put different trees that he collected from various places at the Coast.
“Maintenance is key. We remove the dead plants and replace them every now and then. Grass is mostly planted from April to September, the rainy months,” say Mr Yawa, adding that flowers and trees picked from different places are blended in the garden.
The supervisor adds that the stipulated rules in the garden makes it easy for every visitor to enjoy the greenery.
No one steps or sits on the grass. Smoking and loud noise is also prohibited.
In the garden, one is allowed to take pictures. “It is a way of advertising the garden to other people visiting the city,” Mr Kambi says.
College students love coming to sit on one of the concrete benches at the garden taking selfies and enjoying lunch.
The garden is safe compared to others which are not well maintained.
Mr Yawa says that people are allowed into the park from 6am to 6pm, for security purposes. At night, security guards man the garden.
A few years ago, the park was messy. “People used to relieve themselves in the garden,” Mr Yawa says, a common practice in many gardens in Kenya which have been deserted due to filth and insecurity.
“The country should make the small parks hospitable for people who want to rest,” a concerned Mombasa resident said.