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Adding Value To your Living and Working Experience

How to Grow Zesty Zucchinis

Zucchinis are also called baby marrows,  Courgettes or Summer squash. Zucchinis are what  is referred to as New world vegetables; they were  not available in their present form  until fairly recently. While they  may be delicious, Zucchinis will require some tender loving care though.

It was the Spanish conquerors who discovered Zucchini in Quatemala and Mexico . They later brought it to Europe in the 16th Century. Zucchini was introduced in the USA  in the 1950s by Italian immigrants where it became a very popular  vegetable .

In Italian Zucchini means sweetest while Europeans use the name Courgette which is a French word.

What are the advantages of Zucchini ?

Zucchinis are fast maturing and will ripen within 2 months of seeding. In addition they have frequent and continuous production. Even from the smallest spaces, you can have your zucchini up close. For the kitchen, Zucchinis are highly versatile. They appear in a wide range of recipes.

Zucchinis for your Kitchen

Zucchinis can be steamed or boiled and served with butter or spices. They are tasty in potjies.

A very healthy and nutritious method to prepare them is to slice them lengthwise, and after drizzling a little olive oil, add salt to taste, grill in oven until lightly scorched.

Zucchins can also be roasted, fried, sliced in salads like cucumber and pickled.

Advantages of Zucchini meals

Zucchinis are low in calories and are therefore ideal for dieters. They are high in vitamin  A and C , calcium and Iron .  The challenge is to be able to eat more Zucchinis and remain slim!

Growing Zucchinis

The following steps will be helpful in growing Zucchins.

  1. Sow seeds in containers, tin cans or flower pots. Place them in a protected warm area
  2. Sow seeds in plastic mini tunnels  closed with soil all round  to keep  them  more or less  airtight. The soil  is  warmed  by the sun  in the day  and heat prevented from  escaping  by the plastic.
  3. Make sunken areas  where  you can sow the seeds and  cover with  a sheet of plastic  level with  the soil –similar to the mini tunnels way.


Soil preparation and sowing

Zucchinis need  good soils that are fertile and well composted for vigour and productivity. The soil  should be free draining. The idea soil should have a pH 6-7


Spacing for Zucchinis should be 60cm-a part  in the rows and  120cm  apart between rows. Spray against cutworms before planting as these can be a menace.  Zucchinis are very productive, so just plant a few. Plant two seeds at a time, and when they sprout, remove the weaker seedlings.

Since Zucchinis are fast growers they require ample nitrogen. Apply nitrogen heavy fertilizer near each plant when they reach 3-4 leaves. Water well and apply mulch around the plant.


You can prevent moisture  loss and suppress weeds by mulching around the stems. Avoid having the mulch too close to the stem as pests can crawl up the stems. 

Pest and Diseases

For Zuchinis pests and diseases will appear   towards the end of the season.  You need hawkeyed vigilance. Powdery mildew can be a problem in later stages. If caught early systemic products can control the disease. Powdery lesions in older leaves should be sprayed immediately. Repeat the spraying every two weeks.

In cold areas pumpkin fly appears later in the season . Organic control this by  making a bait from 80g of sugar  and 2ml of malathion  in 1litre  of water.

Apply course droplets on the foliage and surrounding bushes.

You can also make a sleeve from old newspapers which you can wrap around the young fruit leaving only the end open for bees to pollinate. Various viruses, spread by aphids also attack the crop in late season. Watch out for pale plants and lumpy fruits. Pull out these and spray for aphids.


Harvest your zucchinis before they get too mature. Use a sharp knife to server the fruit and avoid damaging the plant.

Zucchini hacks

Always stack the plant

Keep picking up fruits as they mature. If picked too late, they will grow large and stop producing.

Practice crop rotation. It is better to plant at a site where the previous crop is not affected by eelworms.


Making Creamy courgettees and pasta dish.


20g of ribbon pasta

1/3  cupof sour sauce

Paemesan cheese1/3 cup grated

30g of butter

1/3 cupof cream

4 baby marrowa

Pepper dew and courgeettee flowers for garnish

Cook pasta in boiling silted water until tender,drain

Do not peel baby marrows

Use a vegetable peeler to cut marrows into lengthwise thin slices. Melt butter and add baby marrow slices, gently stirring until tender. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream and cream. Season to taste. Add cooked pasta and return to stove and gently  heat. Do not allow to boil . Remove and add grated permesum cheese and baby marrow slices.

Serve garnished with slice peeperdews and coquette flowers.



It has been a trying season for garden owners. Parched lawns, drooping shrubs and dead filler plants  are the awful sight that you around town.

The rains have delayed and resulted in drought conditions. Gardeners are now forced to choose what to save and what to sacrifice in the garden.

 With limited water, gardens are relegated to the rear in terms of water needs. The result is that in a few weeks the scorching heat will leave our gardens fried dry. And come the rainy season- in April - homeowners will be out on the prowl to replace died out plants.

Yet this need not be the case. You can avoid the gardening sorrows associated with drought if you drought-proof your garden.  By using the techniques outlined below, you can wriggle through drought with your garden still thriving.

Use Indigenous Plants

The easiest way to drought-proof your garden is at the planting stage. Here choose plants that are indigenous to the locality. Indigenous plants are those plants that occur naturally in your local area and have adapted   to the local environmental conditions. As a result they carry themselves through the seasons with less tending-after all they have survived it all; the changing seasons, the severest of droughts and the human impact.  An added advantage of indigenous plants is that they provide food sources and habitats for local fauna; insects, birds and rodents. Though some plants may not be originally indigenous to your area, they nevertheless may have come from areas around the globe with similar environmental conditions as your area.  Such will easily blend in and exert less demand on resources including water.


Plant zoning

Plants differ in their water requirements. Some plants require less water than others. Group plants with similar water needs together. This zoning will ensure that watering is done separately and that no plant receives more than it really needs. An impatiens or Iresine herbastii  lumped together with day lilies or succulents may upon showing signs of water stress trigger a wholesale hosing of a border which may not be necessary.

Plant location and Mulching

Position plants in the garden according to their requirements. Plants that require shade will need frequent watering when grown in full sun thereby using more water than they would otherwise need.

Again note that plants that are healthy and vibrant require less water than sickly ones. You can nourish your garden by incorporating lots compost in the soil. Compost not only feeds the soil with nutrients but also helps in water retention.

Apply mulch to your beds to help reduce water evaporation. Mulch also helps control weeds which use up water meant for your plants. As it decomposes, it breaks down into organic matter that attracts micro organisms, which burrow it into the soil-improving, the soil structure.

Plant drought tolerant

These are plants which by nature are adapted to dry conditions. These drought tolerant plants have certain adaptations that help cushion them against water loss. Such adaptations range from reduces leaf size like lavenders, aromatic oils in rosemary and thyme and grey leaves in for wild olives. Then there are the traditional water savers in garden. Plants like Agapanthus, bouganivilleas, bromeliads, succulents, agaves and cactuses thrive with bare watering. By planting these types of plants you will be assured of less water demand upfront.

All around Nairobi, Bougainvilleas are thriving unpertubed by the drought conditions.

Trenched Beds

When growing vegetables, it is advisable to use trenched beds. Here trenches are dug and under laid with organic matter. The trench is then topped up with soil. This bed system is self contained as little water and nutrients leach out and trenches allow for water harvesting.

Harvest water

While we hope to cope with the drought, harvesting your water during the rains could make your  situation more bearable. If only many households could harness and harvest this water channeling it into tanks, pans  and ponds , many of our gardens wouldn’t be in such a sorry state during this dry spell –and the water bill wouldn’t be such  an irritating expense after all.

Responsible watering

Finally practice responsible watering. A lot of the watering is done casually- alight sprinkling to arouse plants. This shallow watering has most of the water evaporating. Watering should be sustained so that the roots are deep drenched. It is better to water less often but deeply than to routinely water shallowly. Deep watering encourages deeper root development which in turn helps the plant scour for water and nutrients underneath.

If you water shallowly, the roots will come up to the surface to look for water. During drought, these exposed roots will



Traditional clay pots loose moisture through the porous surfaces. One way to keep them moist is to do double planting. Install the plant in a plastic pot, then place in inside a clay pot. There will be less evaporation.

If you apply these approaches   your garden will survive the dry season unscathed.






Space is a precious commodity, so limited and expensive in towns and cities that it makes sense to enjoy every inch you have. If like many of us, you live in  apartments that now define our urban landscape, the challenge is how to engage your children in meaningful outdoor activities. However you need not despair. By using your outside space, no matter how small, you can stylishly extend the boundaries of your home and rope in a play area for the children.


Balconies, basements, rooftops, window sills and flower beds are space options that can be turned into retreat area for the young ones. But why bother with creating play areas for your kids?

Playing is an integral part of a child’s growth. It is at the play ground that children learn and pick up new skills like team work, communication and endurance. Here they learn to explore, to smell-to touch and discover for themselves how the world around them works. Role play flourishes at the playground. It is a critical aspect of a child’s development. More importantly though having a play area at home ensures that not only do you impart these skills yourself, but also the safety of the child is assured.

It therefore becomes necessary that you meet your children’s need for a space in which they can satiate their playful instincts, follow their wild imaginations, daydream or simply unwind.


Fortunately, a children’s retreat need not cost the earth. Nor do they have to elaborate installations. Instead, they can be made from simple materials, some improvised that will not only fit frugal budgets, but also adaptable to small spaces. When setting up such a facility, a key consideration is the need to observe safety. As such children’s play areas should be located within immediate reach and at a spot that can easily be watched over from the kitchen window, porch or terrace. Where this is not possible, then a parent or responsible adult must be physically present.


Before setting up any play area understand the personality of your child. Is he sedentary or hyperactive?  Does he have special needs? Hyper active are the rough cut lots; the type that runs all over engaging in exacting activities like riding, skating or ball games. For such hard surfaces in form of paved concrete, bricks or stonework are appropriate. For a lawn, a tough turf of kikuyu or Maadi river grass that withstands trampling is highly recommended.


On the other hand sedentary children are the contemplative types who spend most of their time in one spot absorbed in moulding, drawing or erecting stuff. This group will make do with a few toys, sandboxes, teddy bears, or swings. Some children may have special needs, especially if they are physically or mentally challenged. For these, a minder to lead them through play should be availed. Similarly, the play equipment should be suitably tailored to meet their needs. Physically challenged children will require ramps while those with impaired hearing may require bells and other noise generating equipment to aid in their hearing and sound identification.


If children are discerning enough seek their views as to what they would prefer for play tools so that you don’t install features that are not in tandem with their interests. Climbing heights are almost a universal childhood favourite. So, seek to install heights in form of trees, ladders or raised ramps. Similarly, most children adore dirt which seems to have an infinite allure for them. Rather than risk having them grovelling in unsafe materials, provide cleansed soil or sand with which they can play.


Having identified the nature of your child, where then do you site the play tools?


The roof top

For families in the higher up apartments the roof top can be turned into a vibrant living environment. In the Middle East and the Orient where space shortage is a cute, the roof top is part of the house quarters where children will be seen engaged in play. A roof top play area is ideal for sedentary children. Where swings, ramps and huts are erected it follows that unaccompanied access to the roof top is denied by having lockable access gate. In most cases though the preferred safety measure is to hedge in the play area at the roof top with trellises.



A small space like the balcony or window sill can also be useful to children as a play area. Here a small garden can be set up that will bring the natural world home. They can raise their own plants, relax from school work, play truant and still be able to learn the basics of science. Again, it is here that children can keep a pet.


Spare these for those with seemingly boundless energy, the uncontrollable lot who greatly enjoy the out doors. Thy relish challenge and will do physically demanding games like racing, ball games and athletics.



If you are lucky to have some space, mazes provide an appealing play option for almost all children. Easily 

made from arranging hay bales, the trick is in getting a good designer who can create something to fit your space without having you break the bank. I have seen for instance, members of a gated community pool resources to instal a maze-much to the joy of estate children.


The common refrain that children will always be children is an allusion to their need to vent energy no matter the environment. This implies that regardless of where they grow, they will still need to exercise their playful instincts. As a parent you owe them an opportunity to address this desire in a safe and timely manner.

 Whatever play options you provide, it should be a cardinal rule that a First Aid kit be within instant reach. Bruises and cuts are terms that may be part of your regular conversations.


It is not the Engineers or Actuarial Scientists who gave Nairobi it's famous moniker-"The green City in the Sun". It was the dedicated local gardeners, landscapers and horticulturalists under the leadership of Peter Greensmith who toiled to bequeeth us a City bristling with life, love and nature.


Appointed as the Park’s  Superintendent in the Nairobi Town Council in 1947,Greensmith had been a Royal Navy man posted to Kenya in 1943. Fascinated by the beautiful and diverse Kenyan landscapes, he chose to be decommissioned in Kenya and remained in the country for the rest of his life, rather than return to the cold and drab England weather!

Using his talent and enthusiasm, Greensmith trained and motivated the Council staff and together they established and revamped Nairobi’s gardens. In a rare approach that later landscapers applied, the town’s gardens were characterized by   the wise use of open space and species and varieties that were drought resistant or well adapted to the local conditions.

Because the plants were adapted to local conditions, the landscape remained vibrant and green even with changing seasons-earning the famed label the Green City in the Sun.

Peter’s devotion to share his knowledge and skills saw him train his staff and other horticulturalists and landscapers .He trained many people in plant propagation, management, garden design and landscape maintenance. The impetus he gave was sufficient to see many of his apprentices launch careers in landscaping and for the Council to maintain its public gardens to a high standard for many years after.

In Nairobi, chances are that the fellow selling you plants is a third generation descendant of a Peter Greensmith protégé.

In 1965, Peter left the Council to pursue a career as a horticultural consultant and commercial nursery man. He travelled widely landscaping cities in the tropics. The knowledge he gained at the Council and as a consultant horticulturalist enabled him to produce his greatest achievement; the gardens at Wasaa(freedom). Having bought property off Nairobi-Rongai road, he devoted a huge amount of time, finance and energy to develop a garden that would live to his esthetic ideals.

He acquired a vast collection of tropical plants and rare horticultural varieties. These specimens became the mother plants from which he propagated more plants.

Again, chances are that among plants in your home or office, or nursery, there are some whose germplasm was imported through Peter’s effort –like the yellow Nandi flame and white Jacaranda, or he actually developed them himself-like the case of bougainvilleas.

He had a great passion for bougainvillea . He produced over 250 varieties, naming some after his family members. As his signature plants, he applied them in hedges, arches, towering displays and colourful cascades-as may be seen in City park.

His skill to combine colour, contrast, massing and open space to maximum effect-visible in Nairobi’s early gardens was also evident at Wasaa.

For many decades, Peter Greensmith nurseries at Wasaa were a plant lover’s Mecca. You had to have gone there to know you are a serious plants man. Or woman.

I did my pilgrimage in 1997 and boy, wasn’t I wowed!

Peter died in 1992 and in 1994 his heirs entered into agreement with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for the continued preservation of the gardens and the existing indigenous forest on the land.

Yet, for his legendary reputation as a distinguished landscaper in East Africa and the Tropics, and a trainer of landscapers, Greensmiths had no formal training in horticulture, agriculture or landscaping.  He was a soldier. But what he lacked in training he made up for in enthusiasm, hard work and willingness to learn.

I have no idea how the gardens are faring presently but like the ancient monuments of Rome, Wasaa shall remain a monument to the legacy of individuals who worked together to make Nairobi-The green City in the Sun!




Got a small garden?


The smaller the garden the more important the vertical surfaces around it. Vertical surfaces consisting of wallS, pillars, poles 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.


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.
















Yours could be the perfect postcard garden complete with a glistening velvet lawn, flourishing beds draped in arresting colours. That is until you acquire pets in form of dogs and cats. Then the whole garden scenario changes!

How do you keep creatures that are essentially wild in an environment that is generally artificial and hope to tame their latent animal instincts.?

Slouched on the couch, your cat or dog may seem harmless.


However their sojourn into the garden portends serious challenges for the gardener.  Dogs will lumber over fragile plants or young seedlings. Terriers specifically bred for retrieving- have a knack for freshly disturbed soil in which they will frolic and roll uprooting newly planted flowers or seedlings. This is particularly for vegetable garden where newly planted seeds are soon exposed.


Although dogs have distinct urinal habits, the urine affects garden plants. By instinct male dogs like their human counterparts urinate on vertical objects, mostly trees and flowers.

Female dogs on the other hand use the centre of the lawn. Because their urine is high in nitrogen it scorches plants and causes brown coloration in the lawn. Such scattered patches cause despoliation, stealing away at the aesthetics.


Then there is the question of dog faeces.  Like wild oats they pop up in every corner of the garden reducing its appeal to visitors and children. Worse pets stool, particularly dogs is a fertile breeding ground for bacteria, parasites and diseases. As such handling the stuff requires observance of basic hygiene.


Although challenges associated with pets may seem daunting, they should not deter an avid pet lover and gardener from enjoying the better of the two worlds. By application of simple time tested techniques one can have a generally trouble free homestead. Two approaches are normally used to manage pets in the garden. Input methods rely more on training your pets to attain certain desirable behavior patterns while output methods are restrictive in nature; leaning towards barring your pets from certain areas.


A lush garden is ideal for training your dog. Where a thick shrub or grasses exists, you can train your dog to urinate or defecate here, out of view.  This is achieved by taking your dog out every morning to the desired spot. In due course the dog gets used to the routine and the spot.

Occasionally the dog may relieve themselves outside your preferred area. This shouldn’t alarm you as it is normal dog practice which is referred to as “marking”.


Similarly, you can direct your dog to quarry only in specific areas rather than ruining your flowers. Pile up mounds of soil and if possible bury pieces of dog food. It will not be long before the dog takes the cue.

Sometimes a dogs messing may be due to boredom. Regularly taking your dog for an exacting walk will limit their restlessness. A dog tired to the bone will be less inclined to dig around. All it may need is a rug upon which to nap away.

To safeguard the safety of your pets, avoid using pesticides. Rather use organic inputs that are environment friendly. Whichever inputs you use, dispose them off by burying. Also avoid plants that are harmful to your pets. Spathiphylum (peace lily) is poisonous to cats as it damages the liver while seed pods of the sago palm are also toxic to dog livers.


You can reinforce the above measures with deterrent options. Ring fence your fragile plants, seedlings or vegetable  garden by using wire, poles picket fences or thorny pruning  from prickly plants, you keep the pets off limit.

You can discourage dog from digging by inserting paper in new holes- which sends the dogs packing at the first instance.








Pruning is the removal by trimming or cutting off parts of a plant that are old, dead, diseased or not needed for a plant’s growth, or whose continuous presence can be injurious to the plant’s health.

 Acalypha above requires restrictive pruning as it is encroaching on the path while at right is formative pruning at work

Why do we prune plants?

Plants are pruned to maintain good health.  If a plant becomes too dense or bushy, it is likely that air circulation within the shrub will be lacking. This forms dark, damp spaces that encourage pests and diseases.

In the course of growth some plant parts become diseased or die off. These are removed during pruning so the plant doesn’t waste energy sending food to dead parts. Pruning is also done to encourage growth of vigorous bushy growth. A plant that looks lethargic can be reenergized with a heavy pruning that spurs fresh new growth. Strong young growth is desirable for production of quality flowers and fruits.

How to prune a plant

When you want to prune, first assess the overall shape of the plant. Start off by cutting down any diseased, dead, dry or damaged wood. This will promote good health.

Second cut off any inward facing branches. Branches are supposed to grow out, not into each other. Inward facing branches create a dense, dark environment which fosters diseases and pests. Ideally a plant should grow out like a glass-narrow at the bottom and widening at the top with space for air circulation within the foliage.

Keep in mind that a healthy plant, when pruned harder grows back more vigorously. Similarly, if you prune, lightly the regrowth will be limited.

Principles of pruning

Plants are pruned principally to achieve three purposes; format the plant, restrict its growth or renovate/renew the plant.

  1. Formative pruning

Formative pruning is done in order produce a sturdy plant with well-balanced framework. It aims to have well-spaced branches for air and light to reach the whole plant. Shrubs like Hibiscus require light formative pruning to ensure balanced growth. If you have deciduous plants, the right time to prune them is either at or soon after planting when they are dormant.

At the onset you can train your young shrubs to have a balanced framework. Cut back severely, and then select 4 branches that are evenly spaced to form the new framework. Remove all the other branches.

Note that not all plants require formative pruning. 

  1. Restrictive pruning

Restrictive pruning is done to prevent a plant from encroaching on to a space it is not supposed to occupy. While it is always good to allocate a plant in a space it will fit, it is not always possible to know the eventual size of a plant. Restrictive pruning tends to be more severe so that the plant does not regrow fast to cause the same problem. Like in all pruning strive for a balanced well-spaced open framework.

  1. Renovation/renewal pruning

For old plants or shrubs that produce new growth   from the base or from old wood, they can be rejuvenated by hard pruning. Overgrown shrubs too benefit from renewal pruning as a drastic cut down to 30-45 cm above the ground spurs new formative growth. Pick 4 healthy shoots that will sprout from each stem to produce a new framework. Cut out the rest.

Sometimes it is better to stagger the pruning over two years so that the place does not remain bare.

Whatever reason you have to prune, always make sure your tools are clean and the blades sharp. Blunt tools make ragged cuts that take long to heal and can be potential entry points for infections. Secateurs are best deployed for cutting small branches. For larger branches use pruning saws to avoid crushing plant tissue.



Hydrangeas are flowering shrubs with colourful globe-shaped blooms. They are native to Asia and the Americas. They were first cultivated in Japan.

Although they occur in 75 species, your common hydrangeas are more likely to have come from the more common six species; smooth, big leaf, panicle, climbing, oak leaf and mountain.

Hydrangeas differ in both leaves and flowers. Some hydrangeas produce flat or conical blooms while others are rounded. Oak leafs have their leaves lobbed like those of an oak tree. Other hydrangeas have oval leaves.                                                                                                                 

Types of hydrangeas

Big leaf hydrangeas


Botanically known as Hydrangea macrophylla. These are the common types of Hydrangeas.

They are also known as French hydrangeas. They have large leaves and occur in several cultivars but the common ones are mop head (H. macrophylla and lacep (H.macropylla normadis).

The main difference between the Mop head and the lacep hydrangeas is that the mop head has rounded flowerheads while the lacep flower head appear flattened. The mop head flowers tend to last longer -almost six months compared to those of lacep. Besides even though both occur in pink, blue, and sometimes white flowers, the less common lacep tends to attract pollinators and therefore are good for wildlife gardening.


Panicle hydrangeas(H.paniculata)



Panicle Hydrangeas are the easiest to grow of all hydrangeas. Distinguished by their conical flower clusters which are huge football sized blooms, the flowers are hardy and pretty. Panicle hydrangeas change their hues from green to white to lilac to pink in the fall and finally to brown.

Smooth hydrangeas

They are also known as Wild hydrangeas. In cooler areas, smooth hydrangeas are planted as substitutes for the mop head cultivars. Its identity is the flowers clusters. They are giant white, blue, pink or green. The leaves are deep green and heart shaped. The leaves turn yellow in fall.  They are fast growing. Due to their spreading nature, they are ideal for erosion control.


Oak leaf Hydrangea




It’s lobed leaves resemble those of the oak trees hence the name. The leaves turn bronze to red to purple or bright red. In summer, oakleaf hydrangeas burst into an elongated, conical clusters of white flowers which later turn into pink or red. Oak leafs prefer shade but will survive hot seasons.


Climbing Hydrangeas (H. petiolaris).


This hydrangea is distinct because it trails through aerial rootlets that cling to surfaces and clings to walls and pergolas. It can be used to aesthetically frame windows creating a romantic façade with its large ,white flattened flowers. Its blooms are similar to those of lacep hydrangeas.

Although a slow grower at first, and takes time to establish, it rapidly takes off and may need to be controlled. You need to prune out crossing branches to prevent bruises occurring from regular rubbing against each other. Such bruises are entry points for diseases.

Mountain Hydrangeas (H.micropylla serrata)

If you live in cold areas, this is the hydrangea to go plant. Their tolerance for cold conditions is attributed to their cold native ranges of Korea and Japan mountain regions. Although their flowers may be small, their saving is the fact that they are constantly in bloom. Like the lacep they have flattened flowers.

How to feed your hydrangeas

The best food for hydrangeas is cow manure. It contains lots of humus like grass and plant leaves. Cow manure is also naturally acidic and does not increase the PH of the soil. It enriches the soil with natural humus.

Fertilizers for hydrangea

There exist in the market commercial fertilizers formulated to meet the nutritional needs of hydrangea plants. You are advised to use organic products fpr long term results.



 Avoid this as it makes hydrangea less hardy.

Newly planted hydrangeas should not even be fertilized. Deny them feeding to enable t development of a well branched, well developed root system that enables them to actively search for nutrients. A deep root system is also the best defense against drought conditions.

Fertilizing potted hydrangeas

Potted plants have a limited space for root development. They therefore need regular feeding to meet their nutritional needs. Potted hydrangeas can be served with the same fertilizers like those of Camelia and rhododendron. You can also use nettle manure. Thin this manure with water to a ratio of 1:5 and apply.

Watering hydrangeas

Hydrangea require fertile well drained moist soil. Their leaves are large and thin and therefore they lose moisture very quickly. In the dry season, it is not uncommon to have to water them twice a day.

Hydrangea flower colours

In hydrangeas the colour of the blooms is affected by the amount of aluminum salt in the soil. Most soils contain large quantities of aluminum. However, in alkaline soils, the aluminum is “tied up” chemically and plants cannot use it. When the soil is acidic or neutral-with PH ranging from 6.2 to 7.0, the flowers will be pink. Truly acidic soil with a PH of 4.5 to 6.2   will produce mauve -coloured flowers.

If you want to make your soil more alkali to produce pinker flowers, add limestone to your soil. To get a soil that is more acidic and therefore give you bluer flowers, water the soil with a solution of 1 ounce of iron sulphate to 1 gallon of water and apply it six times at 10-day intervals prior to opening of blooms. Please be aware that the goal is to enhance the colour and not to change. Attempts to change colour say from pink to blue while the plant is in flower will give you a muddied plant with an identified colour.

It should be noted that these changes in flower colour are mostly  for the big leaf hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas come into their glory between March and May-and retain the colour for long periods as long as they are given the right conditions; ample indirect sun and a moisture-laden soil.


It is the season of lawn troubles!

 Whenever there are drought conditions, lawns planted without consideration reveal themselves spectacularly. And even more, poorly maintained lawns announce themselves unhindered, bearing the ugly truth; that your lawn could have done with a little more care! Unfortunately, a good lawn can’t be faked. You either have a topnotch lawn or your lawn is  “a has been”

This leads gardens to having a fickle relationship with lawns. It’s a joy and pride to have a lawn on which you can laze out in the afternoon Sun, but quite another when the costs of maintenance rear their ugly head.

A good lawn begins with the basics. Choose an appropriate grass type, good ground preparation and sound maintenance practices. If you practice these, you will be rewarded with a lush green lawn against which other garden plants will form a breathtaking tapestry of floral and foliage colour.


Choosing a grass type

This is the most interesting part of lawn growing. And it never ceases to amaze how homeowners are taken in by “the grass I saw somewhere”.  All things being constant, the grass you saw somewhere may be fit for your place, but it is not always so! The grass you choose depends on three key considerations:

Utility-refers to the end use you need a lawn for. Is it for outdoor entertainment, a playground for children for a sports ground

Resilience. The ability of a given grass to withstand adverse conditions is its resilience. These adverse conditions could be climatic, pest and diseases or rough usage.

Maintenance refers to the activities undertaken to keep its beauty and health. These include mowing, weeding, water requirements and feeding.


For grass growing, the following varieties are grown in east Africa Kikuyu grass

Kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum)syn Cenchrus clandestinus

Indigenous to Kenya, it has thick blades and is bright green.  Kikuyu grass was first properly identified and described in 1903 by Emilio Chiovenda in Kiamba area of Kiambu county, an area settled by the Kikuyu community, from which it derives its name. 

It grows rapidly. It is cheaper and more drought tolerant. You can use it as fodder for your livestock. For wildlife gardeners, Kikuyu grass is ideal as it provides food for many bird species including the widowbird.

Kikuyu grass is a popular grass that is to be found in Australia, New Zealand , Southern California and South Africa where it dominates homes and golf courses.

Preferred for  home, playgrounds and heavily used public spaces.


Pemba grass

Also known as St Augustine or Buffalo grass.  It grows naturally in North America. It has broad green leaves, much wider than paspalum. It is low growing and the blades are curly.

It is highly adapted to low rainfall areas and withstand cold seasons.

It East Africa, it is a popular lawn grass in the Coastal areas due to prevalent warm conditions.



For many years, paspalum dominated lawns in Kenya and east Africa until it was displaced by Zimbabwe grass. Paspalum has thick blades with dark green colour.  Even though it establishes slowly, it tolerates adverse conditions like shade and wet soils. It is almost weed resistant and grows in sunshine and partial shade. If you garden has lots of trees but clear canopies openings, you can use paspalum under them.


Cape royal

It is a fine , thin and narrow leafed grass that forms a tick spongy mat. It tolerates sandy soils and has rapid regrowth. It is quite tolerant to extreme weather including drought and heat. It is a creeping grass that can grow in light shade and full sun. It is ideal for high traffic areas, homes and playing fields.

Zimbabwe grass

It is similar to paspalum but has thin fine blades and sprigs/stems/. It is fast growing and soon colonizes a given area. Its greatest advantage is that it thrives well in both full sun and dense shade.


Ground preparation

Having settled on a grass type, the next item is to prepare the ground . A false step here will result in poo quality lawn, which may necessitate a repeat job, with the attendant costs and inconveniences.

Initial digging must be deep   preferably 150mm to remove all weeds and deleterious materials. In this soil incorporate compost or manure to a depth of 1 inch and work this into a fine tilth.

For heavy soils such as clay, you can sprinkle 250g of sand per square meter to improve drainage.

Red Soil

Red soil is good for lawn establishment because you can use it to backfill your garden to the desired level, or if the underlying ground is poor. However it is not a must you add red soil if your ground is relatively fine.


Whatever soil you have the important thing is to enrich it enough to support lawn growth.

Rake your ground well to the desired slope. It is recommended that water should drain away from the house.

Lawns can be sown from seeds, cuttings (sprigs) or sods (carpets). Normally grass is planted from sprigs due to faster establishment. Each grass stem is planted at a depth of 1 inch and firmed up.  Water immediately after planting.


A newly planted lawn should be watered daily  until it establishes. Then cut down the watering to twice a week.

For mature lawns mowing should be done every other week during the rains. Cutting height varies with grass type but generally do not cut more than 1 and half inches off. . If you cut too low, the soil will be exposed and weeds will invade. Cutting high is recommended as because taller grass grows deeper roots, which better withstands drought and out competes weeds. Also taller grass looks thicker.

Top dressing

This is done annually and it involves applying a thin quarter inch layer of  a mixture of sand ,compost, DAP and bone meal to the lawn to give it a head start against weeds and pests.

The top dressing matter is mixed in the ratio of  4 parts sand,1 part well-rotted compost, DAP and bone meal which is sieved and then spread over the lawn.

Whenever lawn challenges arise avoid the temptation to blast your lawn with chemicals.  Though weeds, pest and diseases may occur, they are a symptom of a bigger problem. A few weeds in the lawn are perfectly normal. But a particular weed is overtaking your grass is a sign that your lawn is not competitive to choke out the weeds.

A lawn appears healthy when it has no weeds, apparently. But in reality, a lawn has no weeds because it is healthy.

Oxalis is major headache for Kenyan lawns. It pulls nitrogen from the air and appears where grass is sparse and soil is low in nitrogen. Dig up rather soil to remove it and feed the soil with compost to increase soil fertility. Replant the bare patches. Remember vigorous turf is the best weed control.

















If you want to be remembered, build in stone, write a book or plant a tree!

For all my primary school years, we only had two head teachers. But I knew of a third, who had left long before I was born. The giant gum trees that ringed the school were his legacy. Whether there were others before or immediately after him, I do not know. But he is the only one whom I had never met but remember because his name was repeatedly mentioned in relations to the trees. He planted a tree!

The best time to plant a tree was yesterday. The next best opportunity is today. The golden rule with trees is to plant them small and soon.

As the largest and most prominent of all garden plants, trees establish the basic, long term frame work of the garden. They are slow but cheap and easy to establish.  If you change your mind about a particular tree, you can always chop it down. A decades old tree can be felled in a couple of minutes.


Given their unique forms, flower and foliage colour, trees influence the selection of other plants in the garden. For instance if you cant do without the  hot flushes of the    Nandi flame, its likely that you will pick other plants whose colours temper  it down. Similarly the showy foliage of the candlenut tree (Aurea molluca )can be a determining factor as to what other plants to use.

Trees occur in almost every region of the world. As such, ample varieties exist to suit any garden site on earth.

What are trees?

Trees can broadly be defined as long-lived woody perennial plants. They can be deciduous or evergreen usually with a single stem although some do have 2 or 3 stems. Trees differ from shrubs in that while shrubs have many stems that branch from below or near the ground, most trees will have one stem. Trees vary in sizes, from cultivars of 1m to tall trees of 90m high.

Most trees are flowering and bear their seeds in an ovary, a protective chamber that that forms part of the fruit when seeds ripen. This group is known as Angiosperms. Some trees like Conifers produce seed that is partially covered by tissues from the parent plant. These are Gymnosperms.  In other words the former have their seeds covered while the latter have naked seeds.

Tree Shapes and Sizes

Tree shapes vary greatly. We have   spreading, conical , columnar or rounded trees.  Weeping trees appear graceful, whereas   tall narrow trees give a formal appearance. For a relaxed informal setting, the trees to plant would  ideally be open and spreading.  The cypress family will give you strong and sculptural trees.

But it is one thing to like a tree, and quite another to know if it is the right tree for your space. It pays to note which tree types grow well in your neighbourhood. Clay soils, dry sand and stony soils all have suitable species. Most trees will grow in average soil, but a coastal tree grown in a highland area will struggle to survive. This explains the pitiful shape of Ashoka trees that dot Nairobi gardens while in Mombasa they are spectacularly huge.

In choosing trees take note of its size at maturity and growth habits. A rubber tree will overwhelm a small garden and its root system will cause trouble to nearby plants. Yet in another space it would great and help hold the soil.

Ornamental features of trees

Many trees have attractive flowers with a wide range in colour.  A gardener looking for flowering trees will be spoilt for choice from the small clustered blooms  to large single flowers .

Trees leaves are also a major ornament. Tree leaf colour occurs in  green, yellow, purple and various hues and when used properly can complement other plants in the garden. For texture, tree leaves can be glossy, wooly or hairy which creates further   interest in the garden.

Using trees in your garden

An important use of trees in the garden is for wind breaking or as sound barriers. On more than one occasion, I have visited places where winds were strong enough as to interfere with outdoor conversation. In urban settings, traffic noise can be a major nuisance. In both cases, mass planting of windbreakers or sound barrier species will be a priority.

In most gardens trees are grown as specimen plants, standing out in the lawn or under planted with groundcovers. For year round effect, have different types that keep coming into season at different times showing off arresting flower colour or decorative foliage.

You can also use trees to frame or screen out a view. While you cannot control what your neighbor does on their balcony, you can ensure yourself some privacy by screening your property with trees. Some trees are especially good for your                                                                                                                                                                                   farm. Agroforestry trees add nutrients to the soil and provide fodder for livestock.

For wildlife gardening enthusiasts trees are a sure bet to attract birds, bees, butterflies ,squirrels and other small animals that hang around  them.

 Planting your trees

There are a few unbreakable rules about planting trees. First the planting hole must be wider than the root ball. Most tree roots grow at 60 degrees, so you are better of with a wider whole than necessarily a very deep hole. Dig a hole 2-4 times wide than the rootball and 1 and half times as deep. Add organic matter to the base. Nail the stake off –centre . Plant the tree, backfilling with soil and organic matter. Always ensure the level at which the soil was in the planting bag is the same level at planting. If you plant shallowly you risk exposing the roots and your tree will be constantly required watering. If you plant too deep, the buried part of the stem may start rotting under the soil.

Firm up the tree with your foot to remove air bubbles so that the tree won’t lean sideways after watering. Secure the tree to the stake and mulch if you can. Water newly planted trees regularly but not everyday, until they are established.

Site your trees away from utilities like pipes, power lines, drains, walls and buildings as the roots or branches can cause damages.

 Given good soil and the right climate, your trees can live for decades, some even for centuries.

And you will be remembered!










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