Tuesday, 22 May 2018



By margaretta wa gacheru

Judging of the 120th Flower and Plant Show, organized by the Nairobi district of the Kenya Horticultural Society (KHS) is taking place today at the SSDS Temple on Lower Kabete Road. That’s so everything will be ready for the opening of the Show tomorrow morning at 10am sharp and run through Sunday at 2pm.

“The judges are all award-winning gardeners who have years of experience judging flower and plant shows,” says Mrs Balinder Ahluwalia, chairperson of KHS/Nairobi and organizer of this year’s show.

“There are nine judges and one pre-show judge who helps ensure the participants don’t get disqualified over small infraction of the rules,” she adds as she shows me the booklet containing detailed rules and lists of cups, prizes and special awards that KHS gardeners take quite seriously.

In fact, Mrs Ahluwalia is an avid gardener in her own right and one who’s participated in KHS shows for the last twelve years.

“In the past, I’ve entered my flowers and plants in many more categories than this year. It’s because I’ve been so involved in getting other gardeners to exhibit in this year’s show,” she says as she escorts me around her home garden just days before the show opens.

The rains have been rough on many gardens in the city, especially those like hers which specializes in flowering plants. “The rain is good for growing plants, of course. But it’s hard on my flowers,” she says almost apologetically.

Normally, she claims her garden is more colorful. But as I gaze out over her backyard garden and the rainbow array of potted- and hanging-plants that occupy nearly every spare space on the other three sides of her town house, I can hardly imagine her place looking more colorful.

“My children laugh at the way I fill up pots with plants every chance I get,” she says, noting that her pots come in all sizes and materials, from terra cotta and cement to plastic.

But perhaps even more impressive than the number of potted plants she has is the way she remembers all their names

One of her most impressive flowers is the ‘Heliconia’ which is a hanging red and yellow flower that she plans to display at the show. I can’t begin to name all the plants and flowers that she reeled off as we walked around. A lot of them were exotic, like the ‘Holmoskiodia’ which also has a red flower shaped like its nickname, the Chinese man cap.

But Mrs Ahluwalia also likes the local indigenous plants since she says they are the ones that attract the bubble bees and the birds. Like clockwork, she says the birds come around at 4 in the afternoon. So if she’s sitting on her veranda, looking out on the backyard, she can watch the bees go for the African daisies as well as the Euphorbia, Salvia, Abutilon and even the Russelia which is mainly frequented by birds with long beaks since they’re the only ones that can reach the choicest pollen from inside the Russelia’s blossom.

The plants I remember best are ones known for their nicknames, like the lobster claw, torch lily, lollipop plant and air plant (also known as Tillandsia). She also has Hibiscus in her garden, which come in handy since someone recently gave her a four-year-old tortoise which loves to eat Hibiscus petals.

Mrs Ahluwalia doesn’t only have flowers in her garden. She also has trees and black stem bambusa, succulents like aloes, herbs like Rosemary, Indian basil, assorted mints and even Vanilla vines. Nonetheless, she’s a specialist in ornamental flowers since she’s seriously love their natural beauty.

“Plants have feelings too. And if you nourish them with love, they feel it and then they thrive,” she says. However, she adds there are other steps that must be taken to ensure your plants are healthy.

For instance, she fertilizes her plants and flowers regularly with a combination of organic compost and animal manure. Plus she doesn’t use any chemicals (not even pesticides) on her plants.

“You don’t need pesticides if you keep your plants and your soils healthy because then they’ll be strong enough to resist any intrusive pest,” she explains.

During the plant and flower show, there will be exhibitions and awards for everything from orchids and bromeliads to climbing plants and succulents, fruits, vegetables and culinary herbs. There will even be displays dedicated to balcony gardens, which is one of the few events Mrs Ahluwalia will participate in.

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