01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: The Kenyan gardening course continues 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

The Kenyan gardening course continues

Wow. Am loving the gardening course organised by the Kenya Horticultural Society (KHS) and am in danger of becoming a gardening bore. The course runs for five weeks and each week we get a morning’s lecture by different garden experts, on various topics, each time in different locations (ie private gardens or garden centres). I.e. last week the topic was; ‘fertilizer and composting’, this week; ‘garden design, space, form, planning’, next week; ‘planting and pruning’ etc. The thirty students attending are a real mixed bag and I think I can safely say that everyone there knows a lot more about plants and gardening than me. They are honing and fine tuning their skills whereas I’m the class idiot. When the question and answer sessions after our lectures veer off into specialist areas and Latin names I can’t help looking blank and try to blend into the back of the group. With any luck the skills will slowly come and the enthusiasm won’t wear off too quickly. We are so lucky in Nairobi, as the climate is very kind to plants with no frosts or freezing, and apart from the odd year of drought, most of the time plants once stuck in the ground, tend to flourish.

Last week we were all admonished for being late by the garden designer who was hosting the session, which I thought was a bit unfair since that day was a public holiday that day and he’d refused to re-schedule. That really added to the school-ish atmosphere. We all have to bring our own chairs, coffee thermoses and a hat to wear. Half way through the lecture I moved out of the sun into the shade of the veranda and plonked into a nice looking and curiously vacant upholstered armchair.
‘You got the best chair didn’t you!’ my 80 year old neighbour said accusingly at the end of the morning. I then noticed that he had been perched on his own small plastic stool for nearly two hours. Oh dear, how embarrassing.

This morning I thought it might help us if I asked my neighbour who has a magnificent garden and a ten acre plot, if I could go next door with our two gardeners (Jared and Shadrack) to spy on how he operates his composting system, with the help of his team of willing staff. We’ve built ours now with wire netting but it’s looking woefully empty. Explaining a system is one thing, but seeing the process in action is much better and fortunately my neighbour was more than happy to help.

We novices got more than we bargained for and ended up having a fascinating morning learning about not only composting but how to set up a vegetable patch, breed rabbits, geese, ducks (and tortoises?!). I kept thinking to myself, the kids would love this, why aren’t I doing this, why don’t we collect chickens eggs for our breakfast and breed rabbits?! (We did try chickens once, but our dog got into the run and picked them off in the most cruelly drawn out death). The beautiful white rabbits, geese and ducks are actually bred for eating and most are given to the multitude of staff who work on the ten acres. They also have an ample supply of eggs, pumpkins, bananas, dry beans, courgettes and spinach from the vegetable patch. The herbs and lettuces are grown for the boss and his wife. ‘Joyce’ is in charge of the animals and veggies and she’s also a wiz at getting cuttings to take etc. she has an amazing nursery. We also learned about mulching and tricks about planting (like putting topsoil at the bottom of the hole when putting in a plant, then compost, then bottom soil on the top).

There was such a happy atmosphere next door and you could plainly see everyone working well as a team and benefiting from a successful garden. It really put me to shame when I think of how our employees are missing out on free protein rich nutritious food and the ability to have pride in their work. Shadrack and Jared had a real spark in their eyes when we were walking back up to our gate, the first spark I’ve seen for years. I think maybe they’ve been inspired by seeing how you can reap the rewards of a garden and I’m sure that they are hugely relieved that I’ve finally begun taking an interest in the garden. Whether we start breeding rabbits for the pot remains to be seen, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement in my ‘shamba’ (plot).

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