Snakes & Ladders

7 November 2016 | Inside Angama |

Take Two on Our Shamba - Ian Dommisee returns to Angama Mara to see how his beautifully designed Shamba has taken shape since his last visit to the lodge

Take Two on our Shamba

Returning to Angama Mara after five months of vicarious farming (via WhatsApp – the Maasai shamba keeper, Naliki, is a digital demon) every fibre of my being shivered as I walked through the entrance tunnel and took in the sights that lay before me.

Not having revealed too much about the garden’s design in Take One on the Shamba, this time I’ll shed some light on the overall master plan.


When considering an orientation pattern I felt that a formal grid arrangement wouldn’t belong in the wild Mara. Instead I decided to allow curvy waterways and collection dams to divide the garden in five oddly shaped zones, each with a dominating feature – imagine pumpkin tunnels and lemon labyrinths.


Since some guests will want to linger longer in the garden, the pathways were designed in a ‘Snakes and Ladders’ arrangement. Starting under the passion fruit arbor visitors can either take the most direct route, zigzagging their way through the five zones, or they can embark on a winding journey of mazes and labyrinths that reveal the secrets of this lovely garden.

Zone One contains pumpkins and vined vegetables (the cucurbitaceae family) with fruit trees absorbing the swales’ rain deposits*. Concentric curved tunnels radiate around the entrance arbor and hold an array of squashes, cucumbers, zucchinis, melons and pumpkins with companion herb flowers among their low stems.


Defined by spiraling lemon groves, Zone Two’s labyrinth takes explorers on a meandering journey. As they wend their way into the middle of the section of the Shamba, guests will notice that the colour red (a favourite of the Maasai) dominates the selection of companion produce and herbs.


It is early days yet to harvest from the Shamba but Chef Collins tells me that we are already growing all the lettuces and herbs for the guests. This was a priority because these used to come from Nairobi and often became spoiled en route. We also had a Shamba Juice Festival one morning celebrating all the colours of the rainbow and homegrown goodness.


I have to share with you the seed-to-plate story of the red and green salanova butter lettuce we grow here: sourced by Ali in the US, posted to friends in NY, collected by Nicky and Kate, shipped to Nairobi by Steve Mitchell, propagated in a Catholic nursery in Karen, trucked to the Mara by Martin, and finally nurtured to maturity by Naliki.


You’ll have to stay tuned for the features of Zones Three, Four and Five as the team is currently at work shaping the soil ahead of the much-awaited short rains.


It’s difficult to explain what a stay at Angama Mara does to one. Instead an illustration: following my initial design visit, I resigned from formal employment. Sitting in a corporate architecture office no longer made sense and the jump into the world of freelance meant that I could give this once-in-a-lifetime project the attention it deserved. Still in its infancy, ‘pole pole’ (slowly slowly) the Shamba is well on its way to reaching its enchanting state – nothing less would match the lodge’s majesty.

* A swale is a trench that captures rain preventing it from running off with the topsoil’s goodness


AUTHOR: Ian Dommisse

Ian is an architect with a passion for alternative, environmentally friendly construction methods. In 2013, he founded The EcoBrick Exchange (EBE), a recycling non-profit, which builds township preschools using up-cycled plastic waste. With landscaping projects becoming more of a focus, including designing Angama's Shamba, he is in his element surrounded by nature amongst its magic and beautiful creatures great and small.

November 9, 2016

Delightful, … no fruitful! Keep sharing!

    Nicky Fitzgerald
    November 10, 2016

    Thank you Anne – we are delighted with our lovely new Shamba

December 14, 2016

wow! what a story!
This afternoon George Dommisse told me to find this Shamba blog and read it. When he described it, it made me think about Babylonstoren and now I see there IS a link.
Looking forward to the future blogs on the development of the Shamba – and I want to see pictures of the red cabbages please!

    Nicky Fitzgerald
    December 16, 2016

    Thanks for this lovely message Cathy – Ian is a talented garden designer and how lucky are we to have him on the team

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