It’s a treat to leave the city for some fresh air, but like any large city, getting out of Kampala can be a trial depending on time of day and direction of travel. A group of international women set off one morning for a trip 50 kms east of the city in a small bus and were relieved to find the traffic was moving well.
Our destination was the Mehta Group, Sugar Corporation of Uganda, compound in Lugazi; a self-contained compound housing a sugar factory, ethanol plant, golf course, sculpture garden and flower growing enterprise, with schools, health care and homes for the workers. The compound roads were all well maintained including painted kerbs and frequent sign posts, but a small misunderstanding about quite where we were going meant we had a tour of the estate, before finding the restaurant and guest house, Villa Anona, which backs on to one hole of the golf course. The garden here was our first glimpse of the owner’s passion for plants and garden design. These strange plants and yellow flowers showed us they were in fact producers of dragonfruit.
Our tour of the sculpture garden began at the top of the hill behind the golf club and wound down through a series of ponds and streams back to the restaurant. Many of the plants have been imported including guava trees, macademia nuts and the beautiful water lilies which fill the ponds.
We followed the sinuous paths past a number of statues, created by a South Korean sculptor, of the Buddha, worshippers offering prayers to Ganesha, Lord Krishna and Hanuman.
Hanuman looks up the valley of the most recent area being developed, with new planting schemes and a viewing platform under construction. The atmosphere created by the garden is contemplative and peaceful. It is a place to wander and wonder at nature. Although nature is here tamed and bent to a design, the background is the natural environment. Inspiration has been taken from around the world, including a famous garden in France – just a shame the lilies weren’t blooming!
The golf course surrounds the garden area and used to be 9 holes, but is being upgraded to 18 holes with 15 greens. The terrain is undulating and some of the ponds used as water hazards, so looks to be an interesting course and is open to the public.
After a delicious vegetarian lunch (the restaurant is strictly vegan according to the owner’s own philosophy) we went to see the flower growing operation. Roses for export are grown in vast green plastic covered tents. Each colour of rose is in one tent of 5,000m². The roses are of the sweetheart variety – these have small flower heads – which are most suited to the Ugandan climate. Neighbouring Kenya can grow larger heads, but the same plant transferred to Uganda only produces a small flower.
New plants are created from cuttings on raised beds and take six months to start production. They can produce flowers for six years. The stems are bent down at intervals to encourage more shoots to develop. The aim is long straight stems in the middle of the plant with side shoots low down to give the plant vigour. Irrigation lines run the length of the beds providing water and nutrients. Workers pick the blooms several times a day and take them to the packing shed for sorting, bunching and storage.
The flowers are first put into a cold room to cool them down, then sorted for length of stem, then for maturity of bloom, before being packed into bunches of 20, divided into two lots of ten, in wrappers of corrugated card. The aim is that flowers in any bunch will bloom together. These bunches are crated with water and put into another cold room prior to shipment. The majority fly straight to the Netherlands’ flower markets.
Packing was winding down for the day and we were allowed to buy some of the last bunches which hadn’t been packed. At UGS 1,000 (25p) a bunch, who could resist!
The trip back seemed longer as we were held up in more traffic – and inhaled more fumes than I wish to remember – meeting the rush hour out of Kampala. When we eventually reached the city the storks were already roosting.
More about them another time!