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From Kitale to the city, with love for growing flowers

Saturday July 13 2019

Victor Malesi

Victor Malesi, a floriculturist in Lavington, Nairobi. He sells outdoor and indoor plants for homes and commercial locations. PHOTO | BETT KINYATTI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

BETT KINYATTI
By BETT KINYATTI
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I don’t know about yours but my mother, like all mothers in our neighbourhood, had a money plant. It sat lonely in a corner of the living room, the area around it hallowed as the holy ground. My father hated it. She had wrapped the plant’s pot — a white plastic Kimbo container — in shiny wrapping paper. As if it was a gift to herself.

I don’t know what became of that plant but my mother is retired now and farming in Kaplong. Her urban interest clearly matured into something greater than what was contained in that Kimbo plastic. She speaks to her plants.

I think about my mother when I’m down at Sarevic Flowers; the firm sells indoor and outdoor plants for residential and non-residential areas. Victor Malesi, 31, owns it. I find Victor and his team conversing in hushed tones. Plant ground really is holy ground.

This is Victor’s story:

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I was a tree farmer in Matunda (Kitale County) for several years until 2013. I don’t recall the year I first went into it, though. My father left us when I was young so I learnt early to do manual jobs for money. I, with my wife, farmed trees for sale — bubblegum, cypress, pine, fig … She still farms in Kitale, it’s what takes our three kids to school and puts food in their plates.

MATURE PLANTS

There’s an app my assistants and I use to get the name of a flower. It’s called ‘What’s that flower?’ You simply open the app, select the category then take a photo.

The app will show you the English and scientific name of the plant, plus other fun details about it. Before this app came about, one would have to sit at the feet of experienced floriculturists and take the names to heart. It’s how I mastered them.

We only sell mature plants. Some take three weeks to mature, others, like the hibiscus, take up to two years. The maturity period is equivalent to how quickly I can get a return on my capital investment.

Clients kill their own plants through neglect and ignorance. Some forget to water their plants on a regular basis, others put an indoor plant in the outdoors, a handful put too much water in the plant, drowning it. We teach our clients how to care for the plants and not kill them.

We have paid a guard to watch over the plants at night. Yes, they can be stolen, ha-ha. You wouldn’t believe the type of people who would steal these plants. I’ll tell you but promise me you won’t publish it in the story.

OUTDOOR PLANTS

There are indoor plants and outdoor plants. Indoor plants include philodendron, calatheas, ferns, snake plants, hydrangea and succulents. It’s a lengthy list. A plant like a fern can be both an indoor and outdoor plant. Calatheas are thirsty plants, and must be watered adequately three times a week. Hydrangeas mature with colourful flowers, snake plants hang over their pots.

I continued farming trees after relocating to Nairobi in 2013. I left after a few months to farm flowers and get into landscaping.

I opened this floriculture business in 2015, that’s when I began to make real money from selling flowers. I have casuals who run things here when I’m doing house calls.

These plants can grow in different ways. We can buy seeds we plant ourselves here, in these plastic bags that have soil and compost pit manure. You could also layer the stem, where you bend it down and plant it so it can sprout its own roots to start a new plant. Or you can graft them – you cut off a branch from the main plant and plant it elsewhere.

Aside from selling these flowers, I also do other jobs like landscaping, regular maintenance of the flowers and ‘consultancy’, showing our clients how to style the flowers in their homes.

SNAKE PLANTS

Outdoor plants include ferns, crotons, ficus tree, daisy, snake plants, palms … there are several. Each plant – indoor and outdoor – has its own regular maintenance regimen. The state of the leaves will tell you whether you’re watering them too much, or not enough.

Our middle-class clientele buy these plants for different reasons. Most buy them to beautify their homes – their corridors, balcony, backyards and kitchens. Others buy them to purify the air; the fern is popular for this. Plants such as the lemon geranium are a repellent for houseflies. Rosemary and mint are used as herbs for seasoning food.

I moved here – to James Gichuru Road, Lavington – in late 2018. You will find us here on all days of the week, Monday to Sunday, from 8am to 6pm.

We also sell ceramic and clay pots to our clients to hold the flowers. The pots are hand-made for us by artisans in Karen and Wangige. Our clients can tell the difference between the two. Ceramic pots cost more but they are also more beautiful than the clay pots.

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