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Peter Greensmith: The man who created City Park

By Kamau Mutunga | Thursday, Mar 16th 2017 at 08:26
The bandstand at City Park Photo: File

He is credited with designing one of the most iconic of Nairobi’s landscaped gardens - the City Park and its famous mtego wa panya off Limuru Road.  Never mind, the mtego, where many Eastlanders went over the weekends to get lost inside the 40 square metres of Kei-Apple maze and mauve flowers, is now a ‘green ruin.’

But City Park remains courtesy of British horticulturist and naval officer, Peter Greensmith, one of colonial Kenya’s pioneer landscape artists and park planners. City Park forms part of Nairobi’s remaining ‘green belt’ of indigenous forests that’s still left intact. It was at City Park where residents went for cultural shows, music bonanzas, bird watching, picnics, games and camping, in what is a heritage of biodiversity traversed by the canalised Kibagare stream in its lower reaches.

But it was nature walks around the botanical gardens, the fish ponds, Sykes and Vervet monkeys and 58 species of trees and all, that made it ideal for weekend relaxation among the over 900 species of flora and fauna.

City Park was created in 1932 on 90 hectares “for the recreation of the town’s future citizens.” Henry Powell Peter Greensmith, the ‘green-fingered genius,’ was the first Parks Superintendent at the City Council and for 18 years, created City Park which attracted Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and the first Vice President of India, Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, besides Sharad Patel shooting public speech parts of his 1980 film, Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, at its famous bandstand.

Greensmith, the eccentric bachelor lived inside the wedge-shaped City Park as gardener-in-residence from where he directed the creation of the horticultural section at City Hall and the beautification of Nairobi streets, including Uhuru Highway and Kenyatta Avenue, besides landscaping Parliament gardens.

Indeed, he bought 35 acres along Lang’ata Road and named it Wasaa (Swahili for freedom), where he opened the Peter Greensmith Nurseries - one of the best in tropical Africa - but now the home of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

For his work, he was in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 1958 and eight years later, he was awarded an MBE for “services to horticulture.”

Peter Greensmith died in Nairobi on March 9, 1992.

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