Category Archives: Rwandan gardens

Before and after: the lower lawn

It has been two years since I made a number of significant changes to our Kigali, Rwanda, garden, and I thought this would be a good time to look back with a series of “before and after” pictures.

Today, I’ll focus on the “lower lawn” — the largest part of the garden, which is parallel to and just below the “upper lawn.”

(You can read about the upper lawn’s “before and after” in my July 25 post here).

Before

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Fall 2011 - lower lawnPhotos above and below:  late 2011.

Then and now, looking down on the lower lawn from the front of the house, you see grass and a clipped bougainvillea hedge along the front of the property — and then the view above.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, late 2011 - lower lawnThis is to the right of the previous photo; that’s Mt. Kigali over the front hedge — seen from the center steps that align with the middle of the house and terrace.

When you go down the center steps and stand on the lower lawn, the views of the city and hills are hidden and the flower/shrub borders are all you see.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Fall 2011 - lower lawn

Back in 2011, I thought it was all too straight, too wide (the grass), too dull.  And the bright white Victorian lampposts lined up out in the grass drove me crazy.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Fall 2011 - lower lawnThere is a slight slope to the lawn, toward the front hedge. Along that hedge (shown above, right) was a very narrow planting strip, into which a variety of nice shrubs were wedged.  I always had a feeling that they and the lawn could just slide down under the hedge.

The practical purpose of the lower lawn area is holding large events.  And from that standpoint, it was already working well.  The occasional need to put up tents meant that we could not remove a lot of the grass, but, as you can see in the picture just above, there was enough room to create a wider, much more interesting planting bed along the front hedge.

After

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2012 - lower lawnAbove is the same area of the previous photo in the summer of 2012, soon after we started making changes.  At this point, we had already painted the lampposts dark brown.

All the borders in the garden on the north side of the house (next post) and along the upper and lower lawns were re-cut in irregular curves — echoing the forms of the surrounding hills. The curves also provide a counterpoint to the long straight lines of the parallel lawns, borders, walls, and front hedge.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove:  the same section in late June 2014.

While I couldn’t remove a lot of grass in the center section of the lawn, the curvy borders can swing out a bit at the north and south ends.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: the full lower lawn, looking from the north.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, April 2014 - lower lawnAbove: standing on the upper lawn, looking across to the front border in April 2014.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: standing at the center steps, looking across.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: the full lower lawn, looking from the south.

Before

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Fall 2011 - lower lawnAbove: on the house side of the lawn, the old 9′ heliconias in the border between the two retaining walls loomed down. . .

11 2011. . . and were pretty tattered; I think we had had a hail storm not long before I took the photo above.

After

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: the same section, in late June 2014.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: the grass-level planting bed was extended out to contain the lampposts.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: from the center of the lawn, looking at the south side of the retaining walls.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, April 2014 - lower lawnAbove: looking north in April 2014.

The transition

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2012 - lower lawn

The first garden renovation task we did in May 2012 was to remove sod on the west  side of the lower lawn (left, above). We took this grass up to the area in front of the house’s terrace to create a larger “upper lawn” there.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2012 - lower lawnThen, we began to remove bushes and perennials from along the terrace and re-plant them in the new border; the above photo was taken about June 2012.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: AFTER, in late June 2014.

In this new front planting bed, we’ve both left in place and added a lot of shrubs and even some small trees.  They now have room to grow into large natural shapes that emerge out of and contrast with the flat-clipped bougainvillea hedge behind them. I think this makes the still rather narrow planting strip seem more substantial, relative to the lawn and the opposite borders.*

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove and below:  AFTER, looking north, June 2014.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, April 2014 - lower lawn

I think I would describe the planting style of the lower lawn as “grandmother’s garden meets the wilderness.” The perennials and bushes are mostly rather common old-fashioned flowering plants  —  although, some of them more “common,” perhaps, if you live in Florida or South Africa.

The planting arrangement, however, is very close and mixed, and allowed to get little shaggy. I let “wild” vines come up onto the hedge and the crowns of small self-seeded “junk” trees push through it. When the trees get too big, I just chop them off at the place where I want the next crown to grow (I did that today, actually).

Birds and insects seem to love it; the borders are full of them.

I am not yet satisfied with the front border on the west side of the lawn. I’m still trying to get the curves of the beds right at the two ends. And there are some shrubs and other big plants that will need a year or two more of growth for the planting plan to achieve its full impact.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: AFTER, standing at the north end of the lawn, looking south, June 2014.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: AFTER, the north end of the lower lawn.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: AFTER, looking south from the north end of the lawn.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, April 2014 - lower lawnAbove: AFTER, looking down to the north end of the lower lawn from the driveway.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2012 - lower lawnAbove: in the summer of 2012, we enlarged the planting beds on the east side of the lawn and cleared out the tall heliconia between the retaining walls.

Then, we replanted the shrubs and perennials saved during the upper lawn renovations.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: AFTER, in late June 2014.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove and below:  AFTER, the south side of the retaining walls.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawn

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove and below: the north end of the retaining walls in June 2014.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawn

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, April 2014 - lower lawnAbove:  a closeup of the red and cream Russelia equisetiformis in the same area, April 2014.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: AFTER, the south end of the lower lawn, June 2014.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Summer 2014 - lower lawnAbove: we relocated the tall heliconia that used to be next to the center steps to each end of the retaining walls border.

All the plants and shrubs that are in our garden now were here in 2011 — with the exception of a few palm trees and a few perennials that I grew from seed. Of course, we have divided and moved around almost everything once or twice — or at least it feels that way.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, Fall 2011 - lower lawnAbove: BEFORE, at the far south end of the lawn are a row of pine trees.

I haven’t wanted to dig around their roots, so we just mulched them with fallen pine needles and placed two tall pots among them.

6a IMG_2520Above: AFTER, looking to the south end of the lawn in June 2014.

To scroll through larger versions of these photos, click on ‘Continue reading’ below, and then on any thumbnail in the gallery.

*The bougainvillea is left to grow naturally on the street side of the hedge. Occasionally, we do give it a trim; otherwise, it would fall into the road.

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Our garden: after two years

It has been two years since I made a number of significant changes to this garden, and I thought this would be a good time to look back with a series of “before and after” pictures.

I’ll start today with the area I call the “upper lawn” — just in front of the terrace off the front door.

Before

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden 2011 - upper lawnThis space — photographed in the fall of 2011 — used to be composed of (left to right) 3′ to 4′ high sheared shrubs, a grass path, and a second border of shrubs and perennials.  Further to the right was/is a stone retaining wall (just visible in the foreground above), another planting bed about 3′ below, and then another stone retaining wall.

Bright green 8′ to 9′ Heliconia rostrata  or  lobster claws were growing in the lower planting bed between the two walls, on either side of the center steps that lead to the “lower lawn.”

It was all very pretty, but with some important problems.

The tall Heliconia created a wall of large foliage right in front of what should have been a wide view from the front door.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden 2011 - upper lawnThe grass path was not really wide enough to be a good seating area, as you can see from this picture of the aftermath of a rather messy large lunch event.  The chairs had to be lined up, and the large bushes on either side created a tunnel effect.

After

The primary practical goals for the upper lawn were to expand our room for entertaining and open up the very good views of the city and hills on the west side of the property (the house is near the top of a ridge).

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnNow, two years later, the lawn is an extension of the terrace and is wide enough for groups of tables and chairs.  Most of the plants in the border are low.

The pictures above and below were taken at the end of last month.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnAs soon as we* removed the old shrubs and the Heliconia, I was thrilled with the increased sense of light and air.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnI still feel happy every time I walk out the front door.

Before

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden 2011 - upper lawnI did consider leaving the rather romantic vines on the columns — shown above in the fall of 2011.  But they only gave us a few flowers at a time, and, on the terrace side, they were mostly a tangle of brown stems.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden 2011 - upper lawnThe effect was a little grubby and very claustrophobic.

After

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnNow, more light, air,  and space.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawn

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnWe have very wide, beautiful views, and now our guests can really appreciate them while sitting on the terrace.  (Unfortunately, when I took these photos last month, they were somewhat obscured by the light of the setting sun.)

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawn

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnBright orange red hot pokers punctuate all the borders at regular intervals.

The transition

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden 2011 - upper lawnThis, above, was the starting point in the spring of 2011.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, summer 2012 - upper lawnAbout May 2012, above, we first cleared out the shrubs and vines on the terrace side.  Most of them were temporarily planted in a newly dug flower garden at the side of the house.

We had also just cut out a long border on the lower lawn (next post), so we brought that grass up and almost instantly made a wider lawn area.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, summer 2012 - upper lawnThen, we cleared out most of the shrubs on the other side, as well as in the planting beds between the retaining walls. (We moved most of them, as well as the bushes stored in the side garden, to the new lower lawn border).

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnAbove and below are the mature results,  at the end of June 2014.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnThis border is full of little sunbirds and butterflies.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnI planted the same coral and grey Graptopetalum in all the pots.  The terra-cotta tones of the clay and of the edges of the succulent’s leaves repeat those of the roof tiles in the view.

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnI planted yellow-blooming day lilies, Rudbeckia laciniata, and roses in the narrow border along the top of the stone retaining wall — and mainly blue and purple-blue flowering plants in the bed just below. 

The yellow holds up well to the bright sun in this exposed spot and echoes the pale yellow paint on the house exterior (and on the living room walls just behind the front door).

enclos*ure: our Kigali garden, June 2014 - upper lawnThe blues pick up the same tones in the hills on the other side — particularly in late afternoon.

You can scroll through larger versions of these and some additional photos by clicking on ‘Continue reading’ below and then on any thumbnail in the gallery.

*The “we” was me, the gardener, and, briefly, three extra helpers.

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July Bloom Day: my caladium

Sorry, I’m a day late for Bloom Day. . .

caladium bloom

The most interesting blooms in the garden this month are on my caladium, almost entirely hidden underneath its leaves.

caladium leaves

I never considered that caladiums could bloom — I think their showy leaves are usually thought of as substitutes for flower color.  However, when they do, online advice says to cut off the spathes to keep all nutrients going to the leaves.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is the 15th of every month. To see what’s blooming this week in other bloggers’ gardens, visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Follow Up is today, the 16th of every month. Check out more beautiful leaves at Digging.

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Wordless Wednesday: the mural

U.S. Embassy-Rwanda LGBT Pride Mural, June 2014U.S. Embassy-Rwanda LGBT Pride chalk graffiti mural, created June 24, 2014.

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Bloom Day in May: Mugongo

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Last week, my parents were visiting us, and we took an overnight trip to the north of Rwanda. We made a stop at Mugongo, the former home and plantation of long-time American resident Roz Carr, who founded Imbabazi Orphanage in 1994, reworking her old farm buildings.

You can read about Roz’s life in Rwanda, from 1949 to 2006, here.

The long English-style flower borders looked particularly colorful as we near the end of the rainy season. Among the many plants blooming were calla lilies, hybrid tea roses, crocosmias, cannas, calendulas, fuchsias, violets, ageratum, hydrangeas, borage, sedum, Santa Barbara and Shasta daisies, azaleas, irises, dahlias, begonias, and day lilies.

It is a credit to Roz’s good strong design and to the continuing dedication of the gardeners she trained that the garden is still so beautiful, almost eight years after her death.

Click here for more information about the Imbabazi Foundation and how to visit the Mugongo garden.

You can scroll through more (and larger) photos by clicking on ‘Continue reading’ below and then on any of the thumbnail images.

Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day (the 15th day of every month). Continue reading

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