Emanating from many sidewalks in Harare’s suburbs is the mixed scent of violas, petunias and laurentia rising into the air, complementing a rainbow-coloured display of marigolds, pansies and new guinea flowers. It’s not coming from enthusiastic verge gardeners however, but from the ever more common pavement nurseries.
Harare News spoke to some of these roadside plant peddlers who have set up shop directly opposite The Bridge shopping centre in Groombridge, Mount Pleasant. At a glance, one might assume that the stretch of open nursery is a single business, since all the plants are housed under one structure. However, the space is occupied by five different vendors though there is no signage differentiating one vendor’s wares from the next.
On sale are mostly plants, some flower pots and the occasional sack of pebbles. One of the vendors, who identified himself as Mukoma Tapiwa, explained that most of the vendors work for nursery owners who give them some of their plants to sell at this roadside market.
“We don’t use this space for free as most assume. We actually pay $5 every week to the city council,” he said.
The vendors opposite the Bridge complex said business was unpredictable. Plant prices vary, ranging from 75 cents for lobelias to $50 for palm trees. Sometimes the plant vendors make just $30 in a week.
Fewer overheads allow the plant vendors to sell at lower prices or negotiate with customers compared to nurseries which pay high rentals, as well as for electricity and water.
Security is a challenge – a guard is paid to keep watch at night – as well as weather exposure. The vendors and the plants are vulnerable to rain and hot sun, though their structure is covered by mesh overhead, while a few have wooden cabins for protection.
A few roads down, traditional nurseries such as Mr Chris’ Nurseries opposite Arundel shops are feeling the pinch of these open nurseries on their sales.
“Competition is definitely there. Last year we had to reduce our prices, though we have managed to maintain a steady flow of our loyal customers,” said a salesperson at Mr Chris’ Nurseries.
While roadside nurseries buy bulk seedlings, Mr Chris’ nurseries have the advantage of planting their own. The quality is also different as their plants have been nurtured over several years. This is apparent in their pricing as here a palm tree goes for around $150 depending on the variety.
Diversity and product confidence is high at established nurseries, where you can buy a diversity of gardening accessories all under one roof and receive expert advice on how to maintain your plants. Whether you end up buying by from the roadside or from traditional nurseries seems to be a matter of convenience, budget and personal preference.
Image: A roadside nursery opposite The Bridge shopping centre, Mt. Pleasant.