Drought did not only affect the farmers whose crops dried out and were not able to revive when the rains finally came.
Even gardeners experienced severe damage from the lack of rain. But for some of them, the rains that followed sporadically often compounded their problems, especially if they grew flowers that required more sunshine than downpours.
Hansa Patel was fortunate in this regard.
“My Heliconia blossomed right after the drought,” she says shortly after winning a number of awards for her plants at the recent Plant and Flower Show held in Nairobi.
“Once they flower, they are sturdy enough to last at least three weeks,” she adds, acknowledging that the Flower show arrived just in time for her heliconia—all six varieties of which she displayed—to win a first prize.
It was one of the three firsts that her flowers earned this year.
“I won three firsts, three seconds and one third,” says the proud gardener who admits she adores horticulture. “I’m a member of the Kenya Horticulture Society (sponsor of the Plant and Flower Show), the Orchid Society and I also belong to the Kenya Floral Arrangement Club,” says Hansa.
Normally she says she exhibits with the Floral Arrangement Club, but when they are showing with the horticulturists (as they did this year and last) she sticks with the latter.
“I also exhibit at the annual Orchid Show,” she adds noting that one of her second prizes was for her display of a single indigenous orchid.
Hansa has lived in Nairobi’s Kitisuru for the past 30 years. She and her husband bought two and a half acres at a time when most of her neighbours lived on five-acre plots.
Since her husband passed on three years ago, her sons strongly suggest that their mother move to smaller, more convenient quarters.
“But I tell them I simply cannot leave my garden,” this devoted plant-lover says.
“Not a day goes by without my working in the garden and tending my plants. It’s what keeps me feeling young,” adds the diminutive 74-year-old. Hansa says she is not the oldest member of the Horticultural Society. “But I am the oldest active member.”
Last year, she recalls she had a major challenge. She had a fall and broke some bones. “I did my gardening while seated in a wheelchair,” she says.
Fortunately, she has an excellent assistant whom she instructed on everything from planting, pruning and trimming trees to watering and making the compost.
“I only use organic fertiliser which I make with various plant materials from my kitchen,” she says.
The wheelchair did not keep her from attending last year’s Plant and Flower Show where she also won a number of trophies. Fortunately, this year she was spry as a spring chicken, displaying her agility as she leaped up to collect her many awards and trophies.
“I don’t garden to make money, but I do get a lot of satisfaction from displaying my plants.” There can be little doubt that her plants also feel the love that Hansa has for her garden and thrive in light of all the attention, water and nutrients that she shares with them.
She is especially fond of her trees. “I have more than 50 eucalyptus trees in the garden, some of which are 100 years old,” she says.
She recalls that the first European farmer to live on her land was a Mr Davidson who had a 100 acres of coffee trees. But Davidson is not the person from whom her family bought the land. Nor was it the German who built the house she currently lives in.
“We bought from someone else. Before we moved there, we lived in Westlands, Nairobi. I was also gardening back then. And I also was a member of the Horticulture Society,” says Hansa, who admits her house is too big for one person.
“But I wouldn’t be happy living anywhere else. This is my home and I love my garden,” she says.