What you need to know:
- Anwar's home is located on an eighth of an acre, a half of which he has set up his potted garden.
- According to Anwar, container gardening allows you to rearrange your garden as you please.
Anwar Taher was born with green fingers. He says it is in his DNA.
“As a child, I used to grow vegetables. Actually, my mom would use all that I grew for cooking. I grew up in Nairobi and I would get those used-up Elianto oil containers and grow plants in there. I used to be a very cheeky boy. I would walk around with water containers, always looking to plant things in the soil. I have always had a passion for gardening,” Mr Taher tells the BDLife.
Now in her home in Nairobi’s suburbs, Anwar has set up an all-potted garden with over 40 different plant species, 200 potted plants, and at least 300 Spanish moss (Old Mans Beard).
“The beauty of Spanish moss comes in when you have of them, not when they are few,” he says. Inspired by his mission to reuse and recycle, he grows plants in large clay pots, small clay pots, plastic pots and even used yogurt containers.
His home is located on an eighth of an acre, a half of which he has set up his potted garden.
“Before we moved here, the place was all barren and filed with cabro paved. Now, four years later, I have been able to fill it up. Using pots was a necessity. This being a rented place, I could not grow anything on the soil; the pots came in handy so that when I move out, I can leave with my plants,” Mr Taher tells us of his container gardening journey.
With an 8am to 5pm job in the travel industry, Mr Taher is left with the nighttime and the weekends to work on his garden.
Pot gardening advantage
Apart from allowing you to enjoy your hobby even when you only have a small space, Mr Taher says that container gardening allows you to rearrange your garden as you please.
“The advantage of pot gardening is that you can arrange and rearrange the garden as often as you want. Every six months I change the arrangement of my pots because, remember, the sun keeps moving. I am not talking about sunrise and sunsets, but every month, from January to September, the sun hits a different part of the garden. So, there are those plants that are sensitive to the sun, which I have to move to the shade and those that love the sun, I move them to where the it hits best.”
Plastic pots v clay pots
Pot gardening has a lot of advantages but also some disadvantages.
“Plants growing in pots need more care than those growing in the ground. For my gardening experience, I learned everything through trial and error. Initially, I started with plastic pots. But with time I realised that plastic pots are not good for outdoor plants because when the sun hits the plastic, it heats the soil affecting the microorganisms in the soil and damaging the roots. So I use the clay pots. The advantage is that they are porous. If there is too much water in the soil, it can go through with ease. With plastic pots, there are only two ways in and out; the top and the bottom,” the father of two says.
“However, clay pots are expensive and very heavy, so moving them is very tiring. The most that I have spent on a clay pot is Sh3,000. Clay pot prices depend on the size of the plant,” he adds.
Repotting and pruning
Mr Taher tries to avoid repotting his plants by utilising the root pruning method.
“It is not always that when the root grows too big, you have to change the pot because how big can the plant possibly grow? You reach a point when you have to stop. Otherwise, you will have a gigantic pot. So I prune the roots once my plants have reached the height that I desire.
"For instance, my golden palms have reached a height of 5 feet, and I am okay with that height. So when one of the palm trees’ roots outgrows the pots, I take it out of the pot, prune the roots, then I change the soil, and I put it back into the pot. If you want to make gardening affordable, you can."
Attempt at bonsai
“I am also trying to grow trees but it is a little tricky growing them in pots. I have been trying to grow some bonsai trees. With my few trees as they grow, I try to trim the branches to grow in different shapes. I am just teaching myself this craft.
"Most of my learning is done online. There are so many resources. There are also a couple of local governmental sites that teach you. On Facebook, there are a lot of pages where people share gardening tips. I also rely on YouTube tutorials. Of course, you don't just see something on YouTube and then jump onto it, you do some research on your own,” he advises.
How he grew the garden
Mr Taher began his plant collection with palm trees.
“I started with the palm trees. You see, I have a trick that I use; I am patient, and you know all gardeners need to be patient. Gardening is not exactly a cheap hobby, but you can choose to make it either an expensive hobby or an affordable hobby. I bought palm seedlings when they were very young, just a year after they sprouted. I got them for Sh200. This is the trick that I used to make it affordable.”
The 45-year-old gardener invested in the garden in the initial setup.
“My initial investment was in buying the pots and the plants but maintenance has been manageable because I prefer to do things as organic as possible. For the soil, I would rather use proper compost. The trick is I don't buy in small packets but in big sacks to save money. I also like to reuse and recycle as much as I can.”
Over and above that, he has propagated all the plants he has in his garden, helping reduce on the cost of buying the plants.
“I believe in having things as symmetrical as possible. So if I have a big plant in the middle on the side there will be two small ones,” Mr Taher tells us of his gardening style, adding, “If this place were mine, I would have even a fountain.”
On watering his garden, he says, “I collect rainwater and try to use it during the dry season. But right now, with the rains, I don't need to do much watering.”
Mr Taher emphasises the importance of having edible plants in the garden.
“Much as I love ornamental plants it is important to have plants that you can eat. For a long time I loved ornamental plants, but then I realised I could not eat any of these things. It is good for the eyes but I also need something to nourish the body. It is challenging to grow fruits in pots but I am very resilient, and I don't give up easily.”
He has a fruit trees collection comprising guavas, two varieties of pomegranates, sweet and Williams bananas, macadamias, dragon fruits, and lime.
“I wish that during this nationwide tree planting day, we suggested to the government that we grow fruit trees too. I visited Morocco and the streets were filled with fruits all over. I wish we would adopt the same concept in Kenya. Imagine having mangoes, avocados, oranges growing on the streets, it would make a huge difference,” he tells the BDLife.
His advice to those having the green fingers itch is to “be willing to start small and comfortable. Learn about your plants. It is not just about putting a plant in the soil and saying that I am gardening. You need to know what you are growing, you need to know which soil works for which plant. Know that there are plants that need a lot of water and those that thrive when you ignore them like the Chinese evergreen. Remember that it is a learning curve. Nobody knows everything. You learn something new every day.”