Alex Bell Dry Gardening

The KHS had a fantastic turn out on a very wet morning to see Alex’s dry garden in Langata area, Nairobi. Luckily whilst it rained throughout the rest of Nairobi, Langata held off (neatly demonstrating why the need for dry gardening is so needed at Alex’s). 

A group of about 50 Nairobi District members gathered to hear Alex’s journey as a landscape architect, pioneer of organic farming in Kenya and the unique way she approached creating her dream garden at her plot bought 20 years ago when it was just scrub land. 

Nothing the garden is watered with a hose. Every plant is carefully selected to be suited to the dry environment. When new plants are added to the garden Alex uses old wine bottles filled with water and upturns them into the soil near the plant so they get water but without any waste. This continues until it is established and from then on the natural weather patterns determine the future. 

Some of Alex’s top tips when landscaping your garden

  1. Create ‘rooms’. Think about how you want to use your garden and shape the space accordingly. If you entertain have open lawns for gathering and putting up tents. If you like walking around the garden create pathways, prefer the garden as a place to get away from it all? Add little nooks to sit and reflect. 
  2. Plant feature plants in groups of three to draw the eye ‘triangulating’ and prevent ‘landscape full stop’. This is Alex’s term for when your eye hits a feature plant and has no-where to travel afterwards. By avoiding planting feature plants in straight lines will also help prevent this. 
  3. Listen to what your garden is telling you. Alex doesn’t replant a dead plant with the same variety. If it doesn’t work, it’s not meant for you garden. Look at what is successful and plant more of that variety. In the case of Alex’s garden this is often Aloes, Agaves and other native succulents. 
  4. Plant for future – you need to be patient and wait for plants to grow into their spaces. Don’t be tempted to over pack the space as you’ll waste money pulling things out in the long run. 
  5. Don’t mushroom your hedges. You want to aim for an inverted ‘V’ with a flat top. A mushroom shape will mean light can’t reach all areas and you’ll end up with a top-heavy hedge that looks ugly. 
  6. Garden for your reality. If the grass species needs to change across a length of lawn as light levels do that is fine! Chasing perfection means less enjoyment. 
  7. Work with the natural environment around you. Retaining the natural scrubland vegetation is perfect for a low maintenance, low water garden as it’s perfectly aligned to the environment already. 
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