One of the best hidden gems of Kampala is tucked away on Soweto road in Kansanga, across from an unassuming car wash. There you’ll find a little wooden building surrounded by plants and pots, a jungle of cuttings and replantings and recycled containers overflowing with verdant foliage. The gem, though, isn’t the place itself, it’s the woman running it.
Lucky knows each of her plants intimately and refers to them as her family. This is the root of her understanding and care of them- a loving intuition. Nobody taught her to mix soil or start cuttings or how often to water, she just listened to her gut, and to what the plants were telling her, then did as they said. She is pure joy, moving through her roadside oasis, and the care she gives to her growing things is the same care she gives to her customers.
Lucky never meant to start a business, but her adoration of plants got the better of her. She began with a single tin on the veranda, then she “carried away.” For years, people stopped by to appreciate her work, bringing friends and expat customers, lavishing praise, “Wow, wow, wow. Oh my god. What is this? Wooooh!- that’s when I woke up that it’s a business,” she says.
The roots of her interest come from two places, as far as she can tell. First, she grew up in a farming family in Masaka. Even when the rain was pouring down, her father had everyone out working on the farm. She always loved the work, and because she only went to school through P5, she spent a lot of time in the garden watching things grow. She remembers picking flowers around Christmas time to decorate the banana trees in the village- her whole early life was saturated in plants.
Plants are also what caught her attention when she came to Kampala for the first time. When she was still quite young, she got a job as a house maid. Her boss didn’t have any plants growing in pots, but every Saturday, she would put leaves in a vase of water. Lucky used to wonder how they survived like that, and thought they made such a beautiful decoration. Her boss wouldn’t let her into the sitting room for a closer look, “but sometimes when she’s not there, I sneaked,” she admits with a laugh. “So maybe that’s when that mixture [of her background farming and a new appreciation for decor] made me to be what I am now.” She went on to explain that when she visits someone’s home, she doesn’t walk away with nothing. She takes the ideas and goes with them, adding a little here, subtracting a little there until she comes up with something of her own. “I’m creative, that’s what I know. I thank God for that.”
I asked her how to take care of my new green friends as she drove us all home through a powerful rainstorm. “Just love them,” she said. “That’s all.”