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How I turned my gardening passion into a business

By Jasmine Atieno
Thursday, July 15th, 2021 00:00 | 3 mins read
Janet-Mwadilo, left, and her garden layout. Photo/PD/JASMINE ATIENO

After Covid-19 spelt doom on her hospitality job, Janet Mwadilo turned to her old-age passion to make ends meet with positive results.

Jasmine Atieno @sparkleMine

While the pandemic might have brought to a standstill too many businesses, it also allowed so much creativity to come to life.

The work-from-home policy and lockdown forced a lot of people to find alternative activities to stay busy and active. Loss of jobs also opened more doors to self-employment through creativity. 

For, Janet Dali Mwadilo, 43, CEO of Bustani Arts, gardening, one of her favourite things, became her new source of income.

“My cousin who I used to stay with loved African decor pieces and her garden was well planned, and that’s where I got my inspiration.

But again, my mum loves flowers, so I think my love for flowers comes from her,” shares Janet, who was born and raised in Mombasa to Nellie and Willie Mwadilo, both of whom were in the hospitality sector.

After finishing her secondary education in 1996, Janet joined Kenya Institute of Management the following year for a diploma in management and graduated in 1998 before leaving for Cote d’Ivoire to study French at the University De Cocody.

It is while in the West African country that her passion for art was ignited. 

“West Africans love art and I got inspiration from their rich culture,” she says.

When she returned to Kenya in 2001, she followed in the footsteps of her parents and started her internship with Pollmans Tours and Travel.

Six months later, she was employed by the company as a tour consultant in Mombasa for the next 20 years.

The hospitality industry was among the worst affected by coronavirus, and with no business operations, most businesses had to send their workers home. Janet and other Pollman staff were not spared.  

New lease of life

“We were forced to go on leave since the tourism industry had been hard hit. I had so much free time, so I started taking care of my little garden outside my house with the help of the internet.

I did what my friends and family call an amazing job and that’s when my friend gave me a job to work on her garden and that’s when my side job started,” Janet says.

Through her business venture she provided employment opportunity for three other people including a florist who has also taught her a lot about the flowers she plants in different people’s gardens. 

“Amani Tuva is an amazing guy. He has a flower garden where I buy all my flowers from and has taught me so much about plants those that grow well indoors or outdoors under a shade, and that all plants that flower need the sun to bloom.

For the garden tools, I buy the fork and spade from the hardware and I have a welder and welding machines to fabricate the tools.

I started with a capital of around Sh20,000. Felix Simiyu does the wielding work while Rashid Kandokando helps with some art,” she shares. 

Plan B

The gardening services provided by Bustani Arts includes, land tilling, spreading manure, planning the garden, planting grass and flowers.

This also includes two visitations to check on the state of the plants and grass and advise on how to care for both the garden and plants.

If a client requests for garden arts and potted plants it comes at an extra cost.

This venture has had its own fair share of challenges including the high level of salinity when using the borehole water.

There is very short supply of fresh water yet the plants need to be watered every day or on alternate days, or else they will die. The other challenge is that some plants do not do well in the hot weather.

“Another challenge is the mentality most people have towards gardening. Most of them believe landscaping is for the rich.

The truth is that it’s for anyone who has a home and loves art. Also there are people who just won’t allow you to do any follow up on the plants, but the plants need to be followed up and well maintained if they are to grow well.

Gardens are like relationships it needs a lot of care and nurturing,” she shares passionately. 

Aside from the gardening business, Janet also creates beautiful African décor, most of which were also inspired by her stay in West Africa.

“I decorated a balcony for my client Maxwell of Maxwell Cakes and realised his kitchen wall was bare.

I asked him if I could do something for him, he trusted and believed in me and accepted my request. In return, he marketed my work on social media and that’s how the deco and the gardening became a full blown business,” shares Janet. 

Her deco work has also created employment for one other artist who helps her with production.

Wall hangings range from Sh1,000 to Sh1,500; table runners cost between Sh1,200 and Sh1,500 and the mirror sets cost Sh4,500.

“I basically come up with the idea and she helps me bring it to life. For the Ankara art I get the fabrics online and from Biashara road,” she says.

The one important lesson that she has learnt in this new business is that one should always have a plan B in life. An extra source of income is very important.

Jasmine Atieno

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