Grace Mwangi had a plot of land in the upmarket Karen area but could not, at the time, afford to build a house on the five acre piece of land.
As she waited to get enough money to embark on construction, she started planting trees.
Cutting down most of the blue gum trees that filled the land, she replaced them with the over 150 species of trees and plants now found there.
What began as a small time project to keep the land utilised has now turned into a money-making venture. The Langata Botanical Gardens in Karen are a popular venue for weddings and garden parties. With bookings for 2014 already in her diary, Grace is happy that she thought of turning her land into this profitable venture.
â€œI started this project 17 years ago,â€ she says, â€œeveryone else was building but I did not have the money at the time. So I started planting trees,â€ she explains.
At the beginning, Grace had two gentlemen working at a golf club who would provide her with seeds and seedlings for her venture. They would source them from a gentleman who grew indigenous trees and resell to her.
To complete the look, she filled in the bare patches with different types of grass. At the gardens, she has planted three main types of grass; namely Zimbabwe or Pemba grass from the coast which very good for planting in shaded areas especially in the nature trail which is well-shaded by the trees that make up most of the vegetation.
The gardens, with the lush green grass where events are held, are a mix of Paspalum and Kikuyu grass. Kikuyu grass is good for all weather situations as it has no preference on the climatic conditions. The two types are a bright green and intertwine to create a carpet-like layer over the soil. A square foot of the grass costs Sh100.
During planting, Grace mixes the soil in the area she is planting with sand which provides better drainage for the soil during the rainy season. The topography of the area also allows for the water to drain thereby stopping the grass from drowning and turning to a pile of mush.
Though advantageous for the wet season, the sand in the soil is usually an issue during the dryer season. The soil drains too fast and if not constantly watered, the grass ends up wilting.
In the hot season, they rely on irrigation, getting water from the natural dam/waterhole at the edge of the property. Using the intricate piping system in the ground, sprinklers are connected on a daily basis to ensure that the grass is well-watered to keep looking lush and healthy.
â€œWe have to maintain full-time stuff for the garden,â€ she says. â€œGrass is very sensitive and weeds spread quickly and destroy it. We have to root them out,â€ she explains.
At the edge of the property is what looks like a miniature dam which, she explains was originally a quarry. As the settlers in the 1800s mined for stone in the area, they hit the water table which filled up the gaping hole. The area has not been a dam since.
To utilise the readily available fresh water, there are fish in the pond where visitors come in and fish. â€œWhen I started off, I went to Sagana and came back with a thousand fingerlings that we added to this fresh water dam. Now we have thousands of fish that visitors who come to the gardens can fish although you have to bring your own fishing equipment.â€
The gardens which have a parking area in the lush vegetation for 200 cars have been open to the public since 2006. With the limited parking area and the tending needed for the gardens, Grace only takes one wedding per day. â€œbecause of the limited parking, we cannot have too many people here at a go and we also have to adhere to NEMA noise regulations,â€ she explains.
The serene suburb does not welcome noise. To host noisy events such as weddings and parties, a license must be processed from the body. â€œThe trees help keep the noise within the compound,â€ she says.
To make sure that the tents and anything else erected on the grounds does not damage the well- maintained grass, the management is the one that provides the tents and sets then up.
â€œWe do not want people destroying the grass by hammering tents into it and then uprooting it when they dismantle them,â€ says Barasa, our guide around the nature trail.
Within the gardens are benches and bandas where nature lovers and birdwatchers can sit and enjoy the environment. With a man-made waterfall, the sound of rushing water and birds chirping serve as a relaxing background.
To visit the gardens, it costs Sh500 or a meal at the restaurant within the premises. Apart from the large garden where weddings are held, there are five smaller green patches along the trail ideal for a picnics or smaller parties.