Got a small garden?

The smaller the garden the more important the vertical surfaces around it. Vertical surfaces consisting of wall, pillar, pole and tree surfaces offer as much growing space as the ground area, sometimes even more. Climbers, also referred to as creepers or vines, provide the quickest and most efficient way of attaining vertical coverage.


A tree could take five years or more to reach maturity, but most creepers will cover a wall in two years, or even less if you use fast growing climbers.

thurnbergia laurifolia 2Thurnbergia laurifolia used to soften a wall

Where to grow the climbers rests squarely on the design problem you wish to address or the effect you wish to create. Generally most people grow creepers to soften hard surfaces and introduce a touch of greenery to an otherwise bare surface. This is mostly applicable to the perimeter or house wall where the rough and rugged finish needs tempering.

Screens in form of trellises or fences   meant to demarcate sections in the garden or screen out unsightly views rarely achieve their purpose unless backed by creepers. Their foliage creates a barrier while the flowers serve to detract from the plainness.

For decoration, climbers come in handy. A profusion of foliage and flowers clambering up pillars or around your window bars will not only give your house a graceful look, but also bring colour to your doorstep. Some like Jasmine have the added advantage of emitting delightful scents. In putting up sheds, carports and pergolas one needs to set up the framework as creeper foliage provides shading.

You can also raise climbers that provide fruits like passion or grape vines.

Choosing a climber

In selecting a climber, knowledge of how it anchors itself against a surface is vital. While some climbers are clingers, others will need to be supported up a wall or pillar surface. Some  clinging  climbers like honey suckle use the  growing tips of stems  to grip, while  clematis, grapevines and sweet peas use tendrils growing like side shoots an. Ivies and  ficus have aerial roots for cling.

Clinging roses use their thorny stems for hugging surface although they may occasionally need tying up. These clinging types are appropriate for high walls, as they will propel themselves.

Wires, hooks, nails and netting along which the climbers will be guided need to be installed before the planting is done so that the young plants are not treaded upon.

Protective measures

When using pillars or poles, growing climbers need not present difficulties. Never tie them unprotected, as this will cause chaffing whenever there is a strong wind. Similarly, use of a hard metal strips is discouraged as they can cut into the plant stem. Instead, tie a leather strap or soft clothing around the pole and attach the climber to it with a loose note.

Some climbers grow very fast and will colonize a given area in no time. For a small garden, this could be a nightmare and your options could be limited either planting  in a container to limit root growth  and consequently its upward growth or regular pruning so that it lies flat along the surface.

Watch out for ivy and ficus as the two are known to pull out mortar from the wall, hence weakening the structure.

To get the best out of your climbers, particularly the flowering and fruiting type, ensure that you regularly fertilize them with potassium rich fertilizer.




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Plant a tree Today !

Hope is when an old man plants a tree knowing very well he will never sit under it’s shade-anonymous

When was the last time you planted a tree?

Few of us go out of our way to plant  trees, yet according to Tachibano Toshitsuma, an 11th century Japanese gardening guru, trees  and plants bring the heavenly  magnificence to the human realm”.

With the short rains just about, its time you stepped out and put up a living monument-to yourself and the future!

Of course the advantages of trees go beyond this. Besides raising the value of the property, trees also add a feeling of timelessness, stability and continuity to a garden. They also absorb carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen, modify micro-climate,  and provide habitats for garden wildlife.

What factors then should one consider in  choosing a tree for  the garden?


The amount of space determines the type of tree to plant. You need to know a tree’s full size at maturity so that later it will not encroach on other garden features like the house, walls and paving. This is particularly important in small urban gardens where small to medium trees like Thika palm(Felicien  decipiens), Bauhinia, Tipuana   and Cape chestnut are highly recommended.

Type of shade

If you want a tree that will provide shade, it is important to know the type of shade the tree will cast. Is it light or dense? Plant a tree where it will cast enough shade when you need it. Keep in mind the fact that under dense shade few plants or grass types will thrive.

Growth habits

Know how a potential tree specimen grows particularly its root system. When planting closer to a building, plant trees with a deep root system rather than lateral ones like Ficus Benjamina which has a vigorous root system. If let loose, Ficus is known to damage foundations, walls and car parks. On the other hand trees with shallow roots pose a safety hazard as they can be felled by wind storms, wreaking havoc on property and people.

Flowers and foliage

Colour in the garden commands attention. First get to know the type of flowers a tree produces and how long they last. The Nandi flame, Cape chestnut, Casia senna, Cassia spectabilis and Australian frangipani remain all time favourites in gardens owing to their excellent flower displays. Some trees like Golden wattle (Acacia podalyrifolia-Mimosa tree) have attention holding leaf colours that help to add colour long after the  blooms have faded.  Plant trees with massive foliage away from water features like swimming pools and ponds to avoid leaf fall litter.

v\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);}
o\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);}
w\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);}
.shape {behavior:url(#default#VML);}

Shape of trees

Trees come in a myriad of shapes. Indeed tree shapes give character to the garden. Rounded or umbrella shaped trees like  like Terminalia, Bottle brush (Callistemon viminalis)  and ornamental cypress are ideal as front lawn specimens while  columnar shaped trees like Italian cypress and Polyantha(Ashoka) are useful along property lines. Pyramidal trees are excellent for lawns and along streets ,although they shouldn’t be planted under windows as light hardly  penetrates through.

Resistance to pests and diseases

Some trees, especially conifers like cypress are highly susceptible to pests while others may be prone to fungal attacks. Monitor your trees very closely.

Planting a tree

The planting process will have a great bearing on the future progress of the tree. When buying a tree from the nursery, select one that has a single straight stem. Prepare a planting hole that should be one metre wide and one metre deep. As you dig the hole, keep the top soil, which is dark grey and extends one foot deep, separate form the sub soil which is red in colour. Then mix the top soil with generous amounts of compost/manure, bone meal and humus and back fill  to a level where when you place the tree the soil level will  be the same as it was in the bag. Firm up the soil with your feet to remove air bubbles. Tear out the plastic bag and place the stake i.e. if the tree needs staking. Back fill with the red soil.

Note that tree roots grow at 60 degree angle; therefore it is important that at the very least your hole should be wider than deep and narrow.

Two approaches can be used to minimize water uptake of a tree. First you can deluxe plant. This involves placing a hollow water pipe at the base of the tree during planting. The pipe directly channels water to the roots. Alternatively you can mix the soil with a moisture retainer (absorber) that drastically reduces water requirements of the tree. Water a newly planted tree every other day until fully established.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Pets in your Garden

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wildlife Gardening

How do I attract wildlife to my garden?

This question regularly crops up when discussing garden plans with our clients.  It seems that as we barricade our selves into concrete jungles in the name of urbanization, we still hunker after things natural; the plains, the forested areas and the grasslands in which our ancestors once roamed freely.

This also explains our fascination with recreating nature in our settlements through landscaping. Although no human handiwork can recreate the artistic wizardry of nature, it is possible to have a natural garden with a vibrant wildlife community that not only adds value to the garden but also performs beneficial ecological functions. This is especially vital in urban areas where extensive urban sprawl has diminished their prevalence through destruction of their habitats and breeding grounds.

Yet for most wildlife enthusiasts providing a bird table or creating a garden pool is as far as they will go to actively encourage wildlife in their gardens-believing,  that getting anything else on board could be courting trouble (undesirables). Certainly there is a thin line between attracting caterpillars that are going to devour your plant leaves, and butterflies that you can watch and enjoy at close quarters. It is a thin line that keen naturalists willing to tread are rewarded with a thriving community of diverse organisms; small rodents, birds, insects, reptiles and mammals.

Conventional gardens characterized with smart velvety lawns, tidy formal beds and splendid shrubs sticking out in isolation are hardly ideal for wildlife. Such are too artificial as to appeal to the natural order of things. Instead they want to forage in debris, feed off decaying fruits and have cover from danger. The tidy post card perfect garden and wildlife don’t just mix.

However this does not mean that to attract friends from the wild one should abandon all hope of having a descent garden. Rather it calls for striking a balance with nature in a way that while not compromising standards will nevertheless amenable to these organisms.

A good starting point is to have a well constructed compost heap. This will besides providing you with regular supply of compost also offer a home, nesting site or food sources for a variety of creatures like toads, robins, thrushes and hedge hogs. Bird species like olive thrushes are particularly attracted compost as they forage for worms, snails and grasshoppers.

Then consider the choice of plant materials. Indigenous trees and shrubs will draw a variety of wildlife as they are traditional hosts and food sources for local fauna.  Petrea for instance draw lots of mouse birds while the Acacias attracts lots of weavers. Similarly the dense tapestry of small dark leaves of the Cotoneasters make good nesting places for small birds and the insects upon which they feed. You can use targeted planting to attract your favourite organisms.  For instance lavender, sedum and pentas are popular with butterflies and bees as they are good sources of nectar.

Aquatic plants can be brought along by the use of simple water features like pools and ponds. Frogs, toads, fish and countless worms flourish drawing in other organisms up the food chain. However for a pool to attract wildlife ensure the banks are not too steep but rather gently sloping.

Fencing in form of trellises, walls, hedges or chain links with creepers are also good for attracting wildlife.  Creepers running up the wall provide a dense mat which serves as a nesting place for birds and small rodents. Where such creepers have fruits or berries birdlife becomes even more pronounced

Tapestry hedges where the hedge is made of a combination of different plants is particularly good for attracting wildlife as each plant acts as a niche for different species . For small creatures like lizards, insects and frogs introduce natural untreated timber in your garden. These could be used as border edgings for flower beds, paving, or stairs. Wood attracts many creatures which hibernate under it including boring insects.

To attract birds, the use of bird tables and birdbaths is highly recommended. These are  lure a wide range of birds. Although ecologists  discourage feeding  of birds as it could lead to a dependency syndrome, in an urban environment where  food sources have diminished, birds will find this food most welcome. Another opportunity to have a wildlife settling in is by having laying pavement. Rather than having the paving stones tightly squeezed, leave generous spacing in between so that wildflowers, lichens, and mosses can grow between them. For flower beds use live mulch instead of leaving the surfaces exposed. Such may include ground covers and bark mulch which provides refuge for small insects and other organisms.

Adjust the management aspects of you garden if hopes of attracting wildlife are to be realized. For a start you will need to adopt organic gardening practices. Thus instead of reaching out for the spray can at the earliest on spotting  a beetle you should let nature take its own course where pests are consumed by their natural enemies in the food chain. Use of chemical sprays in the garden not only harms the targeted pests but also harms beneficial organisms. In truth most wildlife rarely causes serious damage.

In gardening for wildlife it is vital to know that rather than be a potential source of frustrations, a community of organisms will generally take care of itself. Each organism is kept in check by its prey. For instance an explosion of aphid populations will be countered by a corresponding rise in the number of lady birds that feed on them. Where intervention becomes necessary, products that are naturally derived should be used. Most synthetic pest control agents are ant-wildlife as they build up in the environment gradually poisoning the organisms.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shade tolerant plants

Growing plants suited for shade is the easiest way to garden under shade. If you are lucky your ground will have dappled or light shade where a building or some trees cast moderate shade. However if your shade occurs under Ficus, Conifers or other trees with dense foliage you will have to battle the constraints presented by shade.

These challenges include inability of the sun’s rays blazing the ground, and worse even when it rains, the ground is hardly soaked well. In addition, if the trees have shallow root system the roots will compete for water and nutrients with whatever you plant. The result is a cold, dry, shady and impoverished spot.

Another challenge with shade is the occurrence of some damp or soggy spots, mostly under trees in a lower end of the garden. Here the twin challenges of shade and wet ground can seem arduous.

Faced with such a seemingly impossible situation it is not uncommon to find home owners giving up in despair; one side of the garden well tended and lush, but a bare   spot at the corner with no growth whatsoever!

The solution lies in growing plants adapted to shade. While these plants will not garland your garden with fabulous colour like their counterparts in full sun, they nevertheless compensate for this by having glossy leaves, some green, others variegated. Some plants like begonias, impatiens, clivias and spathiphylums will still give remarkable flower colour.

Initially you can enter this lopsided contest by thinning out the canopy to allow more light and rain to reach the ground. But this comes with its own hassle-seeking the landlord’s authority for example, and City Council approval. Then improve the soil by adding lots of compost. If you desire to have a lawn in a shaded area, go for Zimbabwe grass, a thin dark green variant of Paspalum that survives dense shade.

Alternatively where tree roots dominate, you can create a shade garden. This will involve adding more compost and a little soil to make a raised bed. The raised bed accords plants soil to anchor in, and with compost added, your shade garden will soon flourish.

In watering shade gardens, water deeply to avoid excessive evaporation. Avoid light quick sprinkles which further encourage surface root growth by the trees.

For shaded soggy grounds, the solution lies in raising aquatic plants that also survive shade like zantedeschia (calla liliy), canna lilies, umbrella plant(cyperus) among others.

Shade tolerant groundcovers include aptenia, spider plants,wedelia, liriope, vincas, English ivy, spider plants and yellow arch angel.

It is the perennials however which will give your garden under shade a distinctive look through their attractive and interesting foliage. Maranthas, cannas, sanseveria, dracaena, anthuriums and philedendrons, herbastii, caladiums and calathea are some of the common shade tolerant plants.

Should it prove difficult to garden under shade due to poor soil condition and shallow tree roots, you can give it one last stand by planting desired plants in pots and placing them around the tree trunk. Besides camouflaging the ugly spot, your potted garden will also be easy to manage.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Flowers for the Garden


            Flowers in the garden

Living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.

Hans Christian Anderson.



They raise our moods, add colour to our lives and give a picturesque appeal that can be soft and gentle or warm and inviting.

Whatever the case no garden should be without flowering plants; some  sprout naturally while others need the tending hand of man. The avid gardener on the prowl for flowering plants will be spoilt for choice. They comprise over 90% of the plant kingdom with over a quarter million species already described. They come in all forms imaginable; as grasses, groundcovers, non woody (herbaceous) and woody shrubs and trees.


This means most of the plants you have encountered are flowering plants, though you may not have seen some of them in full bloom! Indeed the magic and allure of gorgeous blooms has seen some home owners blow their entire season’s budget on the first trip to the nursery.


What is it about flowers that tug at our being? What is it about them that holds our imagination? Few have found answers to these questions. But man in his ingenuity has found use for flowers at every occasion in his life; births, expression of love, weddings and funerals.


Flowering plants occupy every habitat on earth; water bodies, grasslands, tropical forests, mountain moor lands and sun baked deserts. For practically every conceivable spot in your garden there is a flowering plant that can thrive there. The trick lies in knowing which it is.

For the home gardener cutting through the maze of flowering plants on offer can be be-wilding. Should you take the snazzy snapdragon or the dramatic amaryllis both of which have just unfurled their beauty?


Start with what you like.


Obviously you have some favourites. And then think of utility. Maybe you just interested in a tapestry of colour for visual delight. Or perhaps you long for cut flowers grown by your own hand.  Maybe you want a mix of both.  Find out if these will thrive in the conditions existing in your garden. (dense shade, drainage, soil fertility). If not you can work to improve your garden   so as to accommodate the plant’s requirements.

In a nut shell whatever your need you may have to narrow down your choices into the following categories.



These are the small ground hugging plants. There are lots of flowering ground covers that you can use to create interest in your garden floors. Some are suited for shady spots while others bask in full sun. Ideally you could use some to serve as temporary in fillers as you await the maturity of the main plants. The list of ground covers is long but a few of them include, gazania, allysum, vincas, verbena, portulaca among others



These are the ticket to a colour packed flower garden as they have long blooming periods. Unlike annual plants, which grow and die within a season or a year perennials live for more than two years. Though trees and shrubs may be perennial nature, in gardens speak perennial normally refers to non woody plants such as geraniums, hamerocalis(daylilies),begonia, lavender, irises,lilies, strelizias,clivias among others. Their advantage is that they come in exciting variations in flower colour and size. Besides many of them are easily propagated through root stock and have long life span. If you are out for a cutting garden, it is inevitable that most of your vase flowers will come from perennials-and perhaps some roses.



Shrubs are bigger than groundcovers, are woody, have multiple stems and usually reach a height of about 7 metres. A sizable number of flowering shrubs like oleanders can grow into trees. Often, this depends on the growing conditions and or the human intervention that controls growth. Small low growing shrubs like thyme, lavender and periwinkle are referred to us sub-shrubs. Flowering shrubs include the all popular rose, bougainvilleas, hibiscus, and gardenias, among others.



Trees in bloom can be spectacular. Consider the mass of purple that abound when Jacaranda trees in Nairobi come into season. Flowering trees occur in a variety of sizes to fit every space; smaller, medium height, to giant trees. Examples of trees for the homestead include Cape chestnut (Calendron capense) Cassia spectabilis, Callistemon (bottle brush) Theveita agonis (Australian willow)

Whatever you go for, remember flowering plants present endless possibilities in the garden; combinations, uses, longevity.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment