The world of Landscaping
Come to think of it, the world as we know it is a stage, God is an artist and the smallest of flora to the biggest of fauna make up all the colourful characters that sums up life on earth.
How incredible is it then to ‘play god’ in your own small way and transform wild and open spaces right before your eyes?
What makes a designer tick?
Well, welcome to the world of Widson Ambaisi, a landscape designer, environmentalist, horticulturist and a taxonomist all in one.
“The passion I have for this field cannot be underrated, I do it so passionately that I spent quite a lot of time just thinking about how to be better so that next time I won’t advertise or market but use my goodwill and solve as many problems as I can that every client is having.”
Scan through his twitter handle and you will be met with a wide array of different plants, landscaping projects at different stages to fully grown green spaces that screams of life.
Looking at it, Widson sure got his hands full and so one cool evening in ‘the city in the sun’ i sat down with him over Cappuccino to try and understand his world filled with plants, soil and wild crazy ideas.
Here are excerpts of our conversation:
GT: For someone who is hearing about you for the first time, who is Widson in a nutshell?
WA: I’m a horticulturist cum landscape designer born and bred in the village but found my way to Nairobi after graduating from Egerton university, where I work as a professional landscaper full-time. Widson is also a student of Environmental studies at the University of Nairobi.
GT: Do you have a daily task or job description or you are a jack of all trades and everyday is different?
WA: Being a full-time employee at one of the corporate institutions here in Nairobi, I already have my job cut out where I oversee all grounds and garden operations in the 50-acre plot. However, to be of more use to society, I’m a freelance landscape designer who practices it through my company, Botanical landscaping. For the freelance job, I have to plan it so carefully that it doesn’t collide with the mainstream job.
GT: How did you land in the botany world? Is it something you always wanted to do since you were a kid, take us through the journey?
WA: I’m not sure I wanted to be in the field of botany, but by tracing back, I can say, there are so many things that I did which can be used to connect the dots. I wanted to be maybe a teacher. Or just someone with some corner office. However, in joining Egerton university, my interest began to develop. I have to mention that after high school I had been involved in teaching at several schools and one subject that dominated was Science (primary school), Geography and Biology (Secondary schools).
GT: Since you became a landscaping artist what has been your biggest milestone and proud moment?
WA: Since becoming a landscape artist/designer, I would say one of my biggest milestones is having been able to shape my niche of clients and develop key entrepreneurial skills that guide me every day through the industry. Being able to create goodwill through past clients and sticking around with them is such a great achievement for me. It’s through this group of clients that I have received numerous referrals which implies that the business is slowly and steadily gaining traction.
GT: I am sure, it has not been a walk in the park so what kind of challenges have you faced and continue to face everyday?
WA: Like any business out there, mine hasn’t been an exception. Scientifically researched, many startups close their doors in their second or third year but I’m grateful this is my fifth year which means I have had a fair share of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is having to agree with a client and honour any pledges made until the project is done. I have had several cases, where clients request your services and completely become unresponsive. Some have even failed to pay despite engaging you for a long time with site visits, designs, reviews, and quotations only for them to disappear. Another challenge is getting the right (paying) clients who understand my work and are willing to spend their good money on such services. For this to happen I have to rely on goodwill and do a lot of marketing and convincing.
GT: There are many landscaping companies in Kenya doing what you are doing so what makes you unique from the park?
I bet this is well balanced garden. I terms of color, height, collections and everything!
? . Courtesy pic.twitter.com/wPXc129fIH
— Botanical Landscaping® (@widson_ambaisi) October 17, 2022
WA: I understand there are so many landscaping companies in Kenya, however, I have packaged myself as not just a landscaper, but a consultant who will sort out your living spaces from trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, fruits, pests and diseases as well as give you a 3D Design walkthrough impression which you can DIY in case you run out of cash to carry it out at once. Being a horticulturist by profession and a student of environmental studies, I believe I’m more equipped to handle any ‘problem’ that my diverse clients could be having. To help a client better understand what to expect, I always develop 3D design views that will guide them in terms of budgeting and determine the most accurate scope of work based on the impressions.
GT: Who are the kind of clients you get to serve mostly and who are your target clients?
WA: Most of the clients that I get to serve mostly are the ones in residential homes and they range from middle to high-income earners. However, I am not subject to any of them as the treatment is the same. I Can say I do not have a specific or constant price tag so I get to serve whoever comes my way and is willing to pay for any services rendered.
GT: So if a Kenyan out there wants to book you for a landscaping job, how do they go about it?
WA: Any Kenyan in need of my services always reaches out to my WhatsApp or direct messages or calls on my business line (0720861592). But most of the clients I get are from Twitter where I’m very active as well as referrals.
GT: What are some of the trends in the Landscaping business in Nairobi and Kenya in general that affects your business and continually shapes the industry?
WA: Some of the trends in the industry is the emergence of new plant varieties that keep coming to the market which requires one to be on the lookout always to ensure that he’s not left behind. For example, there are new grass varieties which are more resistant to weeds and require little maintenance.
Every single client out there is looking for a solution that will not drain their pockets so I have to be very conversant with my peers to find out what is new and then make it newer and more relevant to my clients.
GT: If you were to speak to the Nairobi County Government and the Kenyan government to fix one thing about landscaping and botanical industry what would you wish to be addressed?
WA: Given an opportunity to speak to the Nairobi County Government, I would suggest to them as advice to tap into new and professional city planners and landscapers like myself to help make the city a more hospitable city that is filled with fresh air from the ambient environment. For the national government, through a design proposal I once developed, I would advise them to encourage the creation of botanical gardens in every major town/city in Kenya which will help not just conserve endangered plant species but design them in a way that income will be generated to support them in revenue collection. I believe this is where we got it wrong.
GT: There is a belief out there that Africans don’t embrace gardens and landscaping as much compared to white and Indian people . Based on your experience, is this true and how can you encourage more Kenyans and Africans to appreciate beautiful spaces?
WA: It has been true, which seems to be changing, that most Africans do not appreciate and embrace gardens and landscaping as compared to whites and Indians. This notion, however, is slowly being debunked because with the increasing disposable income, many Kenyans are investing in building the most contemporary houses and so they will always try to make sure the areas around the house also match the standards of the houses. The best way to encourage more Kenyans to embrace the beautiful spaces is to prove to them that it’s not wrong to plant trees but if you plant them in a certain order, they’ll be so beautiful to watch and seat under them.
GT: If you were to pick one public figure of your choice to come see your work and give you an opportunity to landscape their yard, who would you pick?
WA: I have come to realise from my research that the current President, Dr William Ruto loves golden palms among other potted plants just as I do. This is the man I would wish to meet and maybe the best way he can see my work is at the Statehouse gardens. Him being a botanist like myself, I believe we have quite a lot in common as passionate plant enthusiasts.
GT: If you were to reincarnate as a plant/tree, what species would you love to be and why?
I would reincarnate myself as a royal palm. Standing so tall and able to grow in diverse soils with almost no maintenance costs. Once established, royal palms will be dropping dead fronds and growing even tall and stronger their beautiful trunks shape like Coca-Cola bottles. I wanna stand out in this field and be innovative every single day while expanding my niche and serving as a model in the industry to the new wannabes
GT: Where do you want to be in the next 3 years, individually and as a company?
WA: As partly mentioned in the previous question, I want to shape the field of landscaping in Kenya and beyond and make it more professional just like engineering, teaching or medicine, where our services are taken seriously and offered professionally. In the long term as a company, I wish to grow bigger and accommodate as many as the company can hold and become a model of teaching pure landscaping in Kenya and beyond where internships will also be offered.
GT: For someone out there who dreams of being a landscaping artist what is your piece of advice?
WA: Anyone who wishes to join the landscaping field, must be prepared to burn the midnight oil and work under diverse environments and people. I would also advise them to enrol in leadership programs where they’ll learn how to manage any type of client and their teams of staff.
GT: Parting shot….last words
WA: Being a young entrepreneur as a landscape designer, people of goodwill are out there to support us to help put the business in the mainstream in terms of getting the necessary equipment and tools so that we can also support enough people whom we use to execute our clients’ projects.
I also wish to ask the government both national and county to embrace this field and bring us on board to help them make rational decisions related to our living spaces.
Finally, I thank every single client out there who has ever engaged in our services and trusted us to deliver their projects. I don’t take it for granted!