Published April 21, 2004
As urbanisation gallops across Kenya spawning a mushrooming number of town dwellers and concrete jungles in its wake, there is a growing demand for recreation in the natural environment.
People are yearning for quiet parks with lawns, flowers, shady trees, and ponds for their soothing, refreshing, peaceful, and therapeutic nature.
Studies show that mental, physical and emotional health of humans improves even if their contact with nature is just seeing trees, shrubs, flowers and birds from a distance.
Nairobians may delight in the colour, aroma, sounds and tranquility of beautiful gardens and homes nestled among trees and along tree-lined avenues but few of them can afford such luxuries.
Economic pressure is changing the face of public gardens like Uhuru Park, Jeevanjee Gardens, Nairobi Arboretum and City Park, which are now perceived as unnecessary financial burdens on the cash-strapped Nairobi City Council. Perhaps the worst affected people are children who lack recreational facilities as any available open space is illegally allocated to land speculators. It is against this background that Nairobi families are likely to welcome the Nairobi Botanic Garden as a venue where they can spend time relaxing, savouring in the aromas and sounds of the garden and learning about nature.
Lying between the Nairobi National Museum on one side and Hotel Boulevard, University of Nairobi and Norfolk Towers on the other, the Nairobi Botanic Garden is managed by William Wambugu who explains that it is designed along themes, each section focusing on a specific conservation subject. Botany and habitat, for instance, are the focus of the Children’s Garden which is landscaped with an amphitheatre overlooking Nairobi River. This setting enables youngsters to see the forest structure for educational purposes while weddings, picnics, and meditation (quiet times) are also held here.
To make the garden even more child-friendly, Hawa Artists will in October raise money through their annual Reaching Out exhibition to help beauty the garden with recreational art under the awe-inspiring Sycamore and Amarula trees; this will complement the existing set of wooden and metal sculpture that act as seats and illustrations for learning about food chains. Hawa, whose goal is to nurture creativity in women, focuses on family issues, hence their aim to create an environment that is friendly to children.
To survive, experts contend that botanical gardens must be recognised as integral to a nation’s heritage and culture as their collections only differ from those in an art gallery by being alive, hence the choice of the Nairobi Botanic Garden to be located next to the museum which preserves material culture.
The Nairobi Botanic Garden aspires to provide more facilities and activities to the public, execute exhibitions on a variety of themes, and change garden design to provide both emotional and intellectual stimulation to Kenyans.
Worldwide, botanical gardens are attracting more visitors than ever before. For example, it is reported that more Americans go to botanical gardens than to professional football games while the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, UK, is attracting at least 1.3 million visitors each year.
Can the Nairobi Botanic Garden help Kenya to achieve what US America and Britain have?