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HOW NAIROBI BECAME THE GREEN CITY IN THE SUN

 

 

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, Greensmith 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.

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

Greensmith 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"!

 

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