Mobola Eogbogbo


 How She Grows A Water Garden Business in Nigeria
Click images to enlarge

My name is Mobola Eogbogbo; I will be 52 years old in July 2007. I design, construct, and maintain organic water gardens. I also design contemporary African water features for indoor and outdoor use. I still do a bit of floristry.

Mobola in front of the shop 

Our company, Merrymaid Water Gardens, is the pioneer of specialised water garden business in Nigeria. We do only organic water gardens, which means all our designs are chemical free, environmentally friendly, and balanced ecosystems.

We are based in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, West Africa. The Almighty God has blessed Lagos with abundant water plants as it is surrounded by many creeks, canals, lagoons, rivers, swamps, etc. It is also bordered in the south by the Atlantic Ocean. 

Why water garden? I love nature. The ease with which water plants grow plus their lushness, the versatility of water in good and uncluttered designs, the peace and tranquillity that water radiates made me specialize in Organic Water Gardens. The interest grows by the day and I enjoy it so much that I believe it's a business one can retire into. Meaning that after retiring from other active professions, one can still be very much involved in nurturing and enjoying water plants and, of course, fishes too.

The irony of life is that I hated working in the garden or farm when I was very young. My mother and maternal grandparents used to take us to their huge farmlands when we were little. Although I enjoyed swimming in the river that passed through the farm, all I wanted was the farm produce and not to learn how it was produced. This was up till my high school years.

My direct involvement with growing/nurturing plants first came in my undergraduate days in London, England. I got a humble apartment in a nice location and I needed to jazz it up. I discovered a garden centre nearby with plenty of hostas, etc. I bought a few and put them on my windowsill and balcony along with some indoor plants. My landlady was astonished when she came and saw the transformation. She reduced by rent by one pound! I was greatly encouraged. I put in extra efforts with the hope that she would further reduce the rent. Though she did not, I had become attached to my plants and I continued to love and take care of them. A new beginning. 

After graduating in business studies in England, I came back to Nigeria and took a white-collar job as a marketing executive. The job was merely routine and was not that challenging. I quit in 1984 and set up a company that dealt in landscaping and floristry to enhance my love for plants and flowers. I went for short courses in gardening. The flowers and plants used then were mainly grown on my family farm and some purchased from neighbours' gardens. It meant a lot of capital was tied down for too long.

We try to increase our waterlily collection by procuring more plants worldwide. In our collection today we have

N. 'August Koch' (blue), 

'Madame Wilfron Gonnère' (pink), 

'Odorata Sulphurea' (yellow),
'James Brydon' (red), 'Attraction' (red), 'Caroliniana Perfecta' (pink), 'Froebeli' (red) and 'Gladstoniana' (white). The collection is still small compared with the many varieties I have read about on the website but it is growing. 

I then switched to my second love - cooking. Friends and relatives encouraged me to go into catering full-time. I did and also went for some training. The profit was almost instant! I was relieved to see I didn't have to wait too long before I could get returns on my capital outlay. I eventually left landscaping but discovered that flowers and catering complement each other. I set up a fresh fish restaurant with a small flower shop beside it. The restaurant had a large space in front, which I turned into a garden with a large pond and a bridge, with seats atop the pond. Really beautiful.

My food presentation got a boost from my floristry background. I made my mark in catering and became successful, but there were drawbacks. The working hours were odd and very long. Catering for parties was stressful too. It wasn't fun anymore. Delegation was imperfect, etc.  

I discovered that my small pond and fountain in the front of our house was a great source of peace and tranquillity. I began to give it more attention and got inner fulfilment. I have always been one to enjoy my business and give it my all. I did my research and discovered that water gardening had improved tremendously since the 1980's. Technology has made equipment more affordable, and also made things easier to do.

By chance I found an American Organic Garden Magazine at an old magazine market stall. The cover had an organic pond. Voila! There the organic water garden interest was rekindled. I enjoyed the magazine and must have read it 20 times over.  

A client's pond
 In year 2000, I decided to set up a water garden business and told my family and friends. They thought I had come up with another crazy idea. "Who will buy water plants that are all around, even in urban and remote areas?" they asked. But the Almighty God has been good to me. At one stage I thought I was building a castle in the air and I wasn't sure anymore. I learnt to use the computer, discovered the internet, and the site of the International Waterlily Society (IWGS). It further reinforced my interest and I was reassured that I was on the right track.

My joy knew no bounds when I got to know about Victoria-Adventure. I was able to put a name to nearly all the water plants. I discovered many who were interested in water gardening and was greatly encouraged. Victoria-Adventure became like my text book and indeed my companion and I enjoyed the friendly style. I practically had to beg people to let me install a water feature in their garden free-of-charge to get introduced. Not anymore! People now see and appreciate water gardens. The more popular trend is features that have moving water, and I always try to incorporate some plants be it only marginals.

Awareness of the water garden is also being promoted by articles I write in the Guardian newspaper on Sundays. Although our business is relatively young, I can confidently say we are indeed a success. There is more room for growth and with time and God on our side; we will get to the very top. I still attend international shows, local exhibitions, etc., and very soon our new website will be completed.

Our company has also started to introduce water garden clubs in schools, with school water gardens built by the children. Hopefully, this will motivate the children to love water gardens.

A contemporary water feature

Miniature ponds

< An aquarium we designed
as a wedding cake table

One of our many mini-ponds

Lagos has a large expanse of land contrasting dense high forests, swamps and waterways that used to be home to elephants, alligators, wild bush pigs, monkeys, crocodiles and wild fish, but the animal life has been highly decimated. An inopportune cost of urbanisation is the destruction of the plants. What a waste of rich natural environment! In spite of all this decimation, we still find a lot of water plants, which are taken for granted locally and are indeed considered as weeds.

Waterlilies beside the road 

***These plants include several day blooming types which could be Nymphaea micrantha, N. heudelotii, N. guineensis, N. caerulea and N. capensis, and night flowering varieties, probably N. lotus.

There is also Nelumbo nucifera which, I think, was introduced by some Indians some years ago. We propagate from seeds and have hundreds of this plant.

***There are many sedges and grasses whose names I do not know but I can recognise Carex riparia (zone 4-8), even the variegated type. The most widespread is cattail (Typha latifolia) which grows along the road even in urban areas. There are several pockets of water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and Azolla pinnata.

***There are marginals like arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), taro (Colocasia esculenta) with large mud-green to dark-green leaves, bog arum (Calla palustris) (cool temperate), marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) (temperate), Gunnera manicata (zone 7-8) in the wetlands. Castor oil plants (Ricinus communis) are in abundance in the sandy beach areas. There are also varieties of bamboo, Cyperus and, of course, hordes of ferns.

The Nigeria Conservation Foundation is doing all it can to create awareness about conservation of our natural habitats, though it's not enough.

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