Above: Orchid bloom in Hanging Gardens of Malindi – Copyright Rupi Mangat

Published: 20 October 2018

Everyone’s heard of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – but the hanging gardens of Malindi had me intrigued. Malindi is more famous for its wide bay, protected by three reefs that make it totally safe for swimmers and ocean sport fanatics. From March till December the monsoon winds create the perfect conditions for kite surfers, so much so that this tiny little historical town where six centuries ago a ‘Malindi lad’ showed Vasco da Game the Portuguese sailor the sea-route to India, is now doubly famous as the ‘Mecca for surfers’.

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Humpback whale in Watamu, Kenya coast, Indian Ocean, doing its back flip Copyright Jane Spilsbury/Watamu Marine Association

Away from the ocean, the drive through town to the mystical hanging gardens of Malindi has the statue of, who led her people, the Giriama to rebel against British colonial rule from 1913. She was arrested on 17 October 1913, and imprisoned in Mumias, western Kenya, 1,000 kilometers away. She continued to oppose colonial rule even after she returned five years later.

Mekatilili died in 1924 and is buried in the 32,000-hectare Dakatcha woodlands near Malindi that’s another place to put on your bucket list. It has the naturally eroded citadel of Marafa nicknamed Hell’s Kitchen. It’s also in the wetlands of these woodlands that the discovery of the nesting site of Clarke’s weaver the endemic bird, was made by Fleur Ng’weno and her team from Nature Kenya and Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group on 23 March 2013 that raised the woodland to become an internationally recognized Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA).

IMG_046Mekatilili wa Menza, the fiery crusader against colonial rule. Statue in Malindi town square Copyright Rupi Mangat 0 (800x800)
Mekatilili wa Menza, the fiery crusader against colonial rule. Statue in Malindi town square Copyright Rupi Mangat

Hanging Gardens of Malindi

Past the old town square and the seafront, the road to the hanging gardens is through a leafy residential area on a murram road. Lush lichen droop from the trees and hanging pots. Lichen, nicknamed old man’s beard, is more seen growing on mountain trees thriving off the cloud moisture. Lichens at sea level is a first for me.

Lichen and orchids -Copyright Rup Mangat
Lichen and orchids -Copyright Rup Mangat

And it gets better. The garden is a cacophony of colours – loud bursts of yellow and scarlet mixed with soft hues of pinks lilacs. And these are all orchids – more than 200 kinds.

Nick Conway creator of Hanging Gardens of Malindi -Copyright Rup Mangat
Nick Conway creator of Hanging Gardens of Malindi -Copyright Rup Mangat

When Nick Conway the orchid alchemist first arrived in Malindi in 1987, he noticed how everything grew with speed in the tropics. So he tried his hand at orchids which had been a hobby for many years. The orchids sprung up with a healthy vigour. There was no turning back.

Strolling in the midst of heavenly orchids and lichens, Conway points to some spectacular beauties – like the Cattleya and Dendrobium, including his collection of bonsai that boasts the gigantic baobab in miniature.

Gigantic baobab as a bonsai - Copyright Rup Mangat
Gigantic baobab as a bonsai – Copyright Rup Mangat



The orchid family is the biggest family of flowering plants, growing in forests where they use the trees to anchor on as epiphytes, getting all the food they need from the rain and air. These beauties have been around since the time of the dinosaurs – some 100 million years ago.

With over 25,000 natural species recorded in the world and over 100,000 hybrids, anyone can get hooked on orchid-mania because they are so different in looks, character and temperament.

Orchid in show - Copyright Rup Mangat
Orchid in show – Copyright Rup Mangat

Easy way to tell an orchid

If you count up to six, you’re on your way to becoming an orchid expert.

An orchid flower has two petals, three sepals and the one lip — 2+3+1=6 — a configuration which differentiates them from other flowering plants.

Globally, orchids are threatened because of habitat destruction. Every day, an indigenous forest the size of a football pitch is cut down to make way for our own habitat, as human population increases.

Each orchid has its own specific pollinator and the lip of the orchid is the landing platform for the insect to pollinate it. When an orchid species disappears, so does the pollinator.

Kenya has 283 known species, half of which are rare or endemic and the rest widespread.

Hanging Gardens of Malindi - Copyright Rup Mangat
Hanging Gardens of Malindi – Copyright Rup Mangat

Some species of orchid are extinct in the wild but found in private collections.

So make time for the Hanging Gardens of Malindi and discover a world of orchids and maybe even a new hobby.

It’s by appointment – Tel: 0717 074987.

Join the Kenya Horticultural Society for amazing gardening trips and safaris, talks, plant sales and shows. It’s another way to discover Kenya.

Stay at Driftwood Beach Club that has a beautiful beach and ocean shores. It’s got great grounds and is old world charm. It’s an ideal place for fishers and golfers, sea-surfers and families.