Almaty entrepreneur brings indoor gardening to Kazakhstan

ASTANA – Sometimes, starting a business in an unknown industry means instead of competitors, you develop collaborators. Citygarden Company head Diana Kemel and her team want to bring gardens indoors, but in growing their business, they’re also helping grow an industry.

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“I saw a large vertical wall at Singapore Changi Airport in 2017 and I was very impressed. I began to study this wall and decided to be engaged in vertical landscaping,” Kemel told The Astana Times. “At that time, I could not find information about the technology. When I was on maternity leave I paid more attention to this topic. I found a course for teaching vertical landscaping. I passed an annual training course and I launched the project.”

The Citygarden Company provides vertical landscaping and roof gardening services. The company’s mission is to bring nature closer to the life of citizens, to improve the urban environment and to create aesthetic and progressive urban gardening.

Diana Kemel.

Diana Kemel.

“We offer a wide range of services. Recently we were asked to create a mini-garden in a private house. We offer clients various options that we can do and suggest which are most suitable for the conditions of a particular room,” she said.

An experienced team of specialists and RaStenia patented technology allow the company to take into account all the nuances of a given project and choose the optimal solution for its implementation using high-quality materials. Living plants and moss are used in creating plant walls as well as hydroponics, which ensures cleanliness and safety.

“There were more than 1,500 requests for vertical gardening at Google Analytics when I started the project,” Kemel recalled. “There was no competition in the market. Now there are more companies working in this area. They are more like partners for me, as we all popularise vertical gardening in the country. I support them and give advice if necessary, because the technology is new enough for us and many people can make mistakes at the initial stage.”

The company’s specialists are often invited to help fix shortcomings in designs created by other companies.

“For example, some plants cannot be combined. It looks beautiful, but these plants have different requirements for lighting, humidity and watering, and over time, one of the types of plant will die. I’m ready to support companies working in our direction because they should provide high quality services. Customers should not think that vertical gardening is nonsense, as the plant dies a month later,” she said.

Kemel said that a shortage of plant designers is a big challenge for the industry.

“We have plant scientists who know the plants well, but they are not designers. And there are designers without experience in working with plants. We are the only company in the country that deals with high quality plant design. Sometimes we offer our clients a simple design project, not the whole project, and invite other companies to implement the project if they wish. Because we can guarantee a quality living green wall project that no one can offer,” she said.

The level of humidity and light; the location of heating and ventilation systems, windows and doors; and the choice of plants are among the factors affecting the price of a project. The rate starts from 130,000 tenge (US$392) per square metre.

“The most expensive project cost 650,000 tenge (US$1,959) per square metre when we used exotic plants, which were purchased at European auctions. Unfortunately, we do not have indoor plants production. We specialise in interior landscaping and all interior plants are imported from Europe. This leads to higher prices. It would certainly be great if we opened a local production,” she said.

The entrepreneur is looking for an investor to help them launch a greenhouse for indoor plants worth approximately $3 million.

“I want to open a greenhouse to reduce the price, and to save costs for the consumer. I also plan to launch training in vertical gardening because there are queries from regions where there is a lack of greenery. Vertical landscaping is only gaining momentum, people are just beginning to learn about it,” she said.

The company offers different variants of plant walls – semi-automated and fully automated, which do not require human intervention to care for plants. Periodic inspection is necessary.

“We earn almost nothing on production and installation of plant walls, but our main earnings come from after-sales service, for which customers pay between 2,500 and 10,000 tenge (US$8-30) per square metre,” she said.

“I am often asked about time management,” the entrepreneur said. “I honestly admit that I do not have time. It’s necessary to turn off perfectionism and the desire to effectively manage your time, otherwise it will lead to a nervous breakdown. It is necessary to set your priorities right. At some point you just need to relax and focus on what is important at the moment. Interpersonal communication skills and networking are very important in success.”

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