Centenary Celebration (1907 – 2007)
100 years of Nairobi Arboretum!
The birth of Nairobi as a city is the result of the railway construction by the British. Halfway on the route from the coast to Lake Victoria, the railway engineers found a swampy place, named by the Masai as ‘Enkare Neerobi’- place of cool waters. The Chief Engineer of the Railways decided that this was a suitable place to build railway repair yards and workshops. Soon a tent city of traders, adventurers and settlers grew.
The railway was also the direct reason for a more organised forest management in Kenya. Railway engines ran on steam, generated from burning logs. A large supply of wood was needed daily until 1952 when diesel oil replaced fire wood. Foresters noted early that indigenous trees grew slowly and suggested the planting of quick growing exotic softwoods to meet the demand. Nobody knew if such exotics could thrive in Kenya. Several sites were selected for trials. One of these sites was the current Arboretum, next to the Governors Residence (now State House).
In 1907, the Assistant Conservator was allocated sixty five acres on ‘a dry, stony, grass-covered slope with a few scattered flat-topped thorn trees’ – the site of the present Arboretum. He set up the wood trials with seed brought from all over the world: Australia, Mexico, India, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Under the stewardship of Mr. H.M. Gardner - Chief Conservator of Forests (1928 – 1947), the policy of ‘making arboretum as a possible and complete collection of indigenous shrubs and trees’ was pursued. He extended greatly the collection of ornamental exotics and made a complete design of the Arboretum and new plants were introduced each year for a long time. Mr Gardner and all subsequent CCF have continued to live in the stone house next to the Arboretum entrance, until 1997. This house is now the Tree Centre, hosting an education and information centre and FONA office.
After the independence of Kenya, Arboretum had little priority of Forest Department (now Kenya Forest Service). From the 1970’s on the place was quite neglected when management levels declined due to inadequate government funding. This led to a situation that in 1993 the Arboretum was run down and much in need of renovations. A group of concerned citizens recognized the potential and importance of the Arboretum and established the Friends of Nairobi Arboretum - FONA. FONA became a project of Nature Kenya and started looking for local and international donors to save the Arboretum. An overall master plan to renovate and upgrade the Arboretum was launched in the year 2000 by the PS of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.
A centenary celebration was held in 2007 to mark the 100 years old Arboretum. The celebration was in style with the adoption of one the earliest plant tree - Himalayan/Bhutan cypress (Cupressus torulosa) by NIC Bank. Meanwhile, the public has found a serene and a unique place that now over 100 year old Arboretum has to offer. Indeed making it one of the few remaining green space, for recreation, education on nature and environment. It is visited by thousands of Nairobi’s citizens, as well as by tourists, who engage themselves with different activities such as jogging, come for singing, praying or just to relax.