My love for gardens

Wednesday July 28 2021
By Joan Salmon

Gardening was a hidden love for Jane Ziriana Nakiryowa, an accountant; a love which she says caught her by surprise. “I once lived with an uncle who adored his garden that he played classical music for the plants. He preferred having his meals in the garden and we had to make sure he didn’t find weeds or littered leaves anywhere. The grass was slashed regularly, edges had to be trimmed perfectly and shrubs were properly pruned,” says Nakiryowa. She got accustomed to living in a very neat home surrounded by a beautiful environment that Nakiryowa started noticing unkempt gardens as well as appreciating the meticulous ones. Nakiryowa started wondering how people live without gardens and with that, she realised her loved for gardens.

Watching her hands work through shrubs and flowers makes you want to have a garden of your own because she treats each with dignity and seems to will each plant to blossom.

Despite never being taught about plants, Nakiryowa became a garden critic that drew her friends in  and who who turned her into their garden dictionary.

“The journey was a learning curve as I began learning the names of plants, behaviour and propagation,”  she says. However, Nakiryowa drew more inspiration when a friend asked her to find a gardener whom she was willing to pay good money as long as the garden looked exotic.

“That got me out of just admiring and commenting to becoming practical with my knowledge. I booked the job and that was the beginning of my gardening journey as a business,” she recalls.


When setting up a garden, Nakiryowa’s checklist consists of several aspects:

 The first thing is doing a site visit to look at the size and soil type, among other things. “That enables me to know the plant types and the number needed to set up the garden,” she explains.

The next consideration is the client’s budget as that determines if she can get all she thinks is needed or some adjustments must be made. “Irrespective of the need seen when I do the site visit, the budget at hand is an overriding factor. Depending on what the client has, we determine how to work around it to achieve a beautiful garden,” she adds.

Nakiryowa will then demarcate the compound into different spaces for pavers, lawn, hedges and ground planters. This, she says, make it easier when planting because there is a flow as to how the garden should look, ruling out last minute changes which sometimes leads to losses when uprooting the planting.

Determine the garden aesthetics to incorporate in the garden design for example plants, pots, stones, hanging baskets, logs, garden furniture.  “Depending on the location of the garden, we can work with different aesthetics. However, keep the budget in mind. These aesthetic components will enhance the garden in various ways as well as allow for plants where they would otherwise not be, such as the veranda,” she says.

In gardening though, there is nothing like one-size-fits-all unless the job is in an estate and the client specifically asks for uniformity, which rarely happens. “What I have worked on so far are custom gardens such as where a client has a very small space and the only plant space available is along the wall or fence. In this case, we can decide whether to plant a hedge, shrubs or flowers. On the other hand, there are those that have huge spaces with unlimited budgets where I go with all recommendations. Another example is schools which usually need basic gardens consisting of field lawn, hedges, trees and a few planters,” Nakiryowa elaborates.


Nakiryowa has also designed gardens for bars and private homes.

As a painter loves the feel of a paintbrush as they stroke the canvas, Nakiryowa feels alive when working the ground to prepare for a garden or while looking back at what she has done. She has come to appreciate that when  a garden is newly set up,  you may not see its beauty immediately. “The plants may seem limp and scattered in the start and the garden only starts taking shape after six months while most shrubs will grow to their desirable height after three years. So my journey with every garden is pegged to the owner and my desire for it to flourish to the client’s expectations,” she says.

Recently, Nakiryowa visited her first garden, and could not believe how beautiful it looked with well kept hedges, full potted plants, a healthy lawn, and more fruit trees. “The space was fresh and inviting and just like this garden, my journey with any garden never really ends because I avail myself for any advice,”  she states.

According to her, gardens can be tricky needing specialised attention once in a while. “They can get attacked by pests, become overgrown, need a revamp where some plants are replaced with new ones, pruning, and manure. This is what you need to do to give the garden a fresh look. My people are always on standby whenever needed,” she smiles.

The self-taught gardener is constantly reading about plants and is grateful for the internet from which she gets lots of information. “I also have  friends who have been in this field longer, including an agronomist, so I am constantly consulting them about different plants. The learning never ends and it helps me serve my clients better,”  she says.

However, this work is not without challenges, chief of which is  defaulting clients. “They are usually friends who take advantage of the friendship. However, plants and their inputs cost money as well as their transportation plus the labourers that must be paid daily. I also need pay for my supervisory work. With all these costs, if a person refuses to pay for finished work, it becomes frustrating,”  Nakiryowa shares.

As a solution, Nakiryowa always requires clients to pay a deposit before work commences.

The other challenge is cost shock where a client feels like you are trying to cheat them! “People actually think gardens are cheap yet they are not, so when I draw up a budget for the recommended garden design and aesthetics, they simply cannot comprehend it,”  she explains, adding that usually, garden lovers want the most exotic look for their gardens, wanting a particular plant they saw in a plush hotel or some grand garden somewhere but the cost implication is usually a shock. “For example, simple plant stands cost no less than Shs50,000, a beautiful durable clay pot is no less than Shs50,000, a classic porcelain flower pot costs at least Shs250,000. Usually, exotic gardens need decorative stones, wood features, garden chairs, water features, and exotic plants. While you can have it all, it will cost you. I usually advise my clients to do it in stages so they do not get overwhelmed,” she elaborates.

Nakiryowa also grapples with damages which result in high costs, especially pots. “If a client pays for pots, they want them delivered safe and sound, so extra care has to be accorded when delivering them owing to the cost and their nature. Usually, I direct the clients where the pots are sold. Plants also have to be handled with care because they can suffer shock during transplanting thus stunted growth or death. As such, I engage skilled workers to plant and properly supervise them,” she shares.

Plant care is another issue because a happy garden shows and Nakiryowa says just because one spent a lot of money on the garden does not mean that it will automatically look good.

“Clients who refuse to pay for a retainer service should be willing to manage their gardens well. Weeding, pruning, spraying and replacing plants should be done when the need arises. My joy is to see a happy healthy garden because I feel so frustrated seeing a garden that I planted looking unhealthy and unhappy,” says the gardener.  Nakiryowa has also been greatly affected by the lockdown because her employees live far away and with public transport closed down, it is impossible to work.

Garden tips

1. Every home should have a garden; no excuses. It could be a strip of garden along the wall and there are lots of flowers, shrubs and trees that do well in small spaces such as ashoks, cane palms, msaenda, cordylines, crotons, and alpinias. If there is really no space to plant flowers in the ground, then make use of the veranda, balcony or get some good house plants such as snake plant, peace lilies, and ferns.

2. Some plants, especially those that flower can be bothersome for people with allergies. To remedy that, you can go for colourful plants that do not flower such as crotons, cordylines, now on the mountain and some succulents.

3. It is important to incorporate fruits trees in your flowers and my campaign is that if you are going to plant a tree, let it be a fruit or medicinal tree because it does not pay to suffer sweeping leaves of trees that only give shade and yet you could have trees that give fruits on top of providing shade. Mango, lemon and orange trees look so good in the garden and pomegranates are my favourite as they fruit all year long.

4. Watch out for trees and plants that become a menace as some trees need space because their root system is very wide such as jambula trees while others, such as jackfruit, litter a lot. If you must have one, plant it at the edges of the garden, at least two metres from the perimeter wall.

There is also need to watch out for plants that overtake their surrounding such as aramanda and bamboo. These should be trimmed back often to manageable sizes.

5. Watch out for poisonous plants and if you have young children and pets, you may have to get plant stands so that the plants are out of reach for children.

6. Every garden should have herbs and vegetables and the easiest herbs are rosemary, thyme, oregano, mints. The vegetables can include spinach, green peppers, kale/ sukumawiki and cucumbers. I always plant these separately so that they do not get sprayed.

7. If you are going to grow a tropical garden near the house, you have to tussle with mosquitoes. You thus have to make sure you spray at least once every two weeks with pesticides such as Rocket and also ensure the doors and windows are closed before dark.

8. Lawn weeds are a big challenge so there is need for constant weeding otherwise they will take over and you will have to replant the grass which is so laborious and costly. The best way around is to weed constantly and avoid mobile lawn cutters as these bring all sorts of weeds from various gardens.

Having started gardening 10 years ago, she is so enamored by gardens because apart from giving her an income, they are healing. “After a long day, sitting in my garden is therapeutic,” she says. Moreover, she would rather sit in her garden and sip at a cup of tea rather than attend a wedding.

Nakiryowa says while she might not be able to draw, she can surely design a garden. “Gardening invokes the art maestro in the gardener. When you receive a plain ground, coming up with ideas for the garden is art in itself,” she says.