Every day at 11 o’clock, Polly Taylor sits on a wooden chair underneath a flamboyant Delonix regia tree, surrounded by flowers, enjoying a cup of coffee while listening to the flutters of bees and butterflies.
She is at her three and half-acre piece of land, inside the 5,000-acres Gogar Farm in Nakuru, known for top-quality cattle and a house built by Denys Finch-Hatton, of ‘Out of Africa’ fame.
Here, she has created an exotic garden. It has large flower beds at the front, a veggie garden, and an orchard at the back.
“When we moved here 20 years ago, the garden wasn’t there,” Polly says, adding that her house will be 100 years next year.
“It was bare save for a few agapanthus beds and some trees planted by the previous tenants.”
Her mother laid the foundation for the garden when she started “pottering around in the garden” and dug a few beds around the house that had a cottage garden feel to them. When Polly moved back to the house in 2014, she decided to get serious about making the space beautiful.
“I love trees and flowers, and enjoy hours of pleasure watching birds and butterflies,” she says.
Because the area experiences prolonged dry spells, Polly wanted a garden for all seasons.
“I decided to have flower beds to provide colour in different seasons.”
Polly who studied Forestry and specialised in Tropical Forestry knew what she needed to bring her envisioned multi-seasoned garden to life. With the help of her trusty gardeners, Elijah and Robinson, she succeeded to create a garden that is gorgeous no matter the weather.
She has a large succulent bed at the bottom of the garden, under an enormous Eucalyptus tree, which provides colour during the dry season, a tropical garden planted with palms, ferns, and canna lilies to hide the natural swimming pool she built and to keep her mother's original planting around the house, she has an English country garden with lots of different annuals and perennials, roses and daisies. In total, she has over 200 different species of plants, watered using harvested rainwater.
It must have cost you a fortune to buy all those plants, I say.
“Not really. I’m a great believer in growing plants from cuttings and seeds and I am forever foraging in friends’ gardens and begging cuttings or seeds,” she says, adding that another reason she does this is when the plant grows, she has a connection and memory of the person she got it from, something she considers special. Besides that, Polly gets her plants from nurseries.
“I’m spoiled to have friends at Mandhari Plants and Designs, who have a fabulous array of plants!” she says.
As a trained forester, Polly has too many favourite trees. After a (rather) long time thinking, she finds one.
“My favourite tree is Delonix elata. It has the most beautiful cream and yellow flowers, with long, slender stamens sticking out from the centre of the flower. You see it in Northern Kenya and Tsavo.”
Joy of gardening
The tree carries great memories of road trips to the Coast and of her surrogate grandfather, who was in the Kenya Forest Service.
Unfortunately, she has not grown it in her garden, because it prefers lower altitudes and warmer climates.
The garden is Polly’s happy place. She is appreciating it more during this quarantine time, especially because she struggles with depression. Gardening gives her a joy that she cannot get from a gym or a jog.
“When work is particularly difficult, I take a walk around the garden. By the time I get back, I’m able to work better,” she says, adding that she does not use chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
Want to start a garden? Start small and start with succulents, she advises.
“Succulents are easy to handle and a small garden allows you to be inspired and not overwhelmed by the work that comes with managing a garden,” she says.