By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted June 2018)
The rains came just in time for Geraldine Robarts’ gardens. They drank in the rain like thirsty children.
Fortunately, it didn’t rain on the weekend that she had her ‘Art and Soul’ exhibition at her home in Karen. But they had come in time for all the art-loving visitors who arrived at the veteran artist’s Kibo Lane house in Karen to feel refreshed by the ultra-green ‘paradise’ that the rains had revived.
“We had lots of children painting out in the garden during the exhibition and they loved being out there,” says the former art lecturer who’d taught both at Makerere in Uganda and at Kenyatta University as well.
Geraldine recalls that when she first moved into Kibo Lane in the late 1980s, there were no gardens. “The place was a dust bowl,” she says bluntly. “The previous owner had been a horse trainer who also loved racing horses, so she had little time to look after the land,” she says suggesting that the horses had trampled the land without anyone giving the grounds much attention.
“There was rubbish everywhere and just one or two sorry old lemon trees, but that was it. I had to start from scratch,” says the lady who now finds loads of inspiration from the garden grounds that she planted herself.
Geraldine had been happy that at least there were lemon trees. But since then, she has planted a myriad of fruit trees.
“Right now we grow mangoes and oranges, avocados and passion fruit, grapes, strawberries and raspberries,” she says, admitting she is more preoccupied with her painting than with her planting and reaping the fruits these days. “We have always had many banana trees, the fruits from which are mostly consumed by the people who tend the garden,” she adds. “Otherwise, our household is virtually self-sufficient when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Back in the Eighties when her family bought the place from the lady horse trainer, they were able to obtain quite a substantial acreage. “But then came the children’s school fees and so we sold the land, acre by acre,” she says.
“Today, I would say we have around two acres of solid gardens,” says Geraldine, noting there are several gardens on the grounds. “We have an Aloe garden which has many species of aloes in it,” she says. “We also have a palm garden with a wide variety of palms, and then of course, we have many succulents which survive in times of drought,” she adds. “And we also have a large herb garden.”
But looking out on Geraldine’s garden from her house, one can see that she also a big fan of beautiful flowers. Not that she has much time to look after them now, since she literally paints around the clock.
“Just because the exhibition is over hasn’t meant I intend to stop painting,” she says, speaking as if the idea of stopping was anathema, inconceivable to her.
But she admits that her gardens are a great comfort to her. More importantly, they are a tremendous source of inspiration as one can see from the look of so many of her paintings. Inevitably, flowers find their way into the vast majority of her paintings.
“Every day since the exhibition, I have been out in my garden painting,” she says, aware that working outside amidst the greenery and the rainbow array of flowers has to feel like paradise.
The one person Geraldine counts on to keep up the gardens is her husband Mike. He’s a lifelong gardener and an Englishman who is happy to look after the flowers as well as the fruit trees and all the other green things growing in their yard. He even looks after the green house which one might not even notice as one passes by upon entering their extended driveway.
The green house is where most of their vegetables are grown. But all those cabbages and tomatoes are primarily the purview of Mike. For Geraldine, it’s the greenery, the flowers and the delicate fragrance that pervades her whole yard that she appreciates. “I also love being surrounded by all of these living things that I see growing before my eyes. It is the next best thing to Paradise.”