Stephen and Agnes Karanja, the ‘Plantcare Gardeners’, were the only horticulturists at last week’s Home and Gardens Fair at Nairobi's Sarit Centre.
And despite their only having one stall to show off their plants (unlike some vendors at the fair who occupied three or four), they were able to turn their far-end of the fair into a mini-forest that looked lush, healthy and deep green in hue.
Agnes says most of their flowering plants were not in season. Nonetheless, the few that they brought from their Tabuga Nurseries in Tigoni, Limuru were swiftly sold before noon on the first day of the fair.
The Karanjas utilised every inch of their stall, filling it with all different sizes and shapes of potted plants. There were succulents, looking sweet yet prickly.
The rest were a wide variety of leafy plants, many of which filled the floor, leaving only a narrow walkway for visitors to slip through and select the plants they planned to take home.
But there were even more pots hanging from the Sarit ceiling and enhancing the feeling that the Plantcare Gardeners had created a sort of enchanted plant sanctuary at their display area.
They grow all the plants for sale on a quarter an acre of land. They have seven green houses on that quarter-acre.
“When I came to the nurseries, Stephen already had two. We have built the rest over the years,” Agnes says.
Our conversation is interrupted by shoppers buying several potted plants at a time. Agnes helps them out with woven bags so they can easily carry their pots home.
It is not yet mid-day and the succulents and others are flying off the table, such that we wonder if all their pots will be gone by the time Nairobi plant-lovers have a chance to see the variety of greenery that the Karanjas have got.
Agnes says there is no need to fret since there are plenty more plants at the nurseries and Stephen is ready to go and get more if need be.
Meanwhile, Stephen is busy making sales and telling visitors about the plant varieties on display. One couple is busy contemplating which plants to buy and in which places in their house will the plants reside.
“I have always had a passion for plants,” Stephen says.
In addition to running their seven greenhouses, Stephen also does landscaping work whenever called. But the green houses are practically a full-time job.
“We only use (organic) compost to fertilise our plants,” he says, adding that since the greenhouses provide a controlled environment, he rarely uses pesticide.
Outside his greenhouses, the Karanjas grow vegetables and fruits for their own consumption. But since the family business relies on the sale of their potted plants, the greenhouses are reserved for them.
Admitting that his plants are fortunate to not have experienced the recent drought which has destroyed so many local farmers’ hopes, dreams and crops, Stephen says he has workers who assist him with chores like watering.
Having grown up on the land that Tabuga Nurseries occupies, Stephen recognised years ago that the best way to maximise the value of his agricultural land was the build green houses. That insight has clearly paid off substantially.
It is why he has gradually plough back his profits into constructing more houses which he also is careful to maintain well.
Stephen says his children are still in school and he is putting no pressure on them to follow his footsteps. For now, he says he works closely with Agnes and they complement each other well.