To wake up to melodious birdsongs, to watch the delicate movements of leaves and flowers as guided by the wind, to feast on the colours lent to us by nature, to create lasting memories, these are the simple joys that Maggie Muya reaps from her home garden.
Athi River is known to be hot, dry and dusty. However, the dust and heat find no resting place in Mrs Muya’s home. However, this hadn’t always been the case. For 10 years, she had a “terrible” garden. It had only two colours: red from the soil and green from the badly grown grass and three trees she’d planted. This was ironical because she was a florist at the time, arranging beautiful flowers that others enjoyed. Two years ago, inspired by a friend and her five-year-old son, she decided to invest in creating a tasteful garden.
“My friend, Mwende, came in one day and told me that I had no business having a bad garden. That was the beginning of my gardening journey,” she recalls.
Her first and best buy was labour from Benard, whose passion for plants, she says is unparalleled. Together, they have seen the garden transform from “terrible” to a marvel. From the initial two, today her garden has grown into a whole colout pallet.
It has a charming effect about it from right outside her twin gates where a huge sisal plant makes its home. With thick and sap-rich sword-shaped leaves measuring over a metre long, it’s impossible to miss the stunning entrance. Sharing its space is the dragon fruit and a dense layer of the ground-covering baby sun rose plant which hugs the soil all year round. The green foliage is broken by its bright red blossoms and the pink flowers from the Madagascar periwinkle.
The twin gates open to a short driveway, with shrubs and young trees purposely planted to serenade residents and guests, softenig the harshness of the concrete. It’s at the end of it that a visibly excited Mrs Muya meets me.
“Let it be known that being a florist doesn’t make you a gardener,” she says as soon as we settle down. Her garden is splendid, expansive and the tasteful design of the house adds to the allure of the garden. Her front garden is down a staircase that leads to the main door. The raised garden is a bed of heat-resistant plants. The eye-catching ones are a giant cycad and a rare China rose flower, which she got from a fellow florist. Its small but its numerous red blossoms are a sight to behold.
“The cycad was between being alive and being compost. I nurtured it back to health,” the florist-turned-farmer says. Like the cycad, each plant has a story.
A three-tier bougainvillea decked arch makes the walk to her backyard glorious. The plants have been masterfully arranged to bring about colour and fragrance - a testament that her flower arrangement skills have been put to good use. A large purple flowering vine - Petrea volubilis – and a pink flowering Allamanda blanchetii tree slowly ease one into the spacious backyard. Lining the wall of the house are earth-coloured pots of various sizes housing plants and flowers bought during her travels or nicked from friends’ gardens.
“Everybody should enjoy a nice garden,” she says as we settle down on the swing seat that has since been her office during the pandemic. “I’ve deeply appreciated the garden during the pandemic because it gave my family and I a place to go.”
A huge Philodendron plant sits majestically against the backdrop of the blue sky. The view is amazing. Not only to me but also her 15-year-old dog, Bobo, who’s found himself a comfortable resting place under the rustic coffee table.
With over 40 varieties of plants and flowers, the backyard designed to have an upper and lower section, is a place to rest and rejuvenate. It’s also a sanctuary for the fauna that call her garden home. On the upper part is a yellow and green Duranta hedge. Underneath it, the snow-on-the-mountain plant, known for its long-lasting white flowers. The soil is covered by the thick and soft Arabica grass so that her five-year-old son can run around without hurting his delicate feet.
This lush green velvet-like turf grass is dotted with flowers like the Nerium oleander, impatiens, Cape marguerite and the Ponytail, Washington and golden palm trees. Her most prized plants are the pink sygonuim from Singapore and a miniature green sygonium gifted to her by Mwende.
Arabica grass is prone to caterpillar worms that feed on its roots. Therefore, a soil drench is done every month to keep the lawn healthy and prim. To break the monotony of pots, she’s created a vase-like feature using stacked cabro stones which she then plants in. The centre piece is a fountain of potted succulent plants, and vibrant snake plants.
The entry to the lower section, where she’s planted trees to act as windbreakers and provide shade is an arch made from the bushy gooseberry plant. It may hold many plants but it also holds something more valuable: Memories.
“I’m a mother of six. Four from the womb and two from the heart. Every weekend, we meet here for brunch,’ she explains. “These are the most precious times we have. It’s not uncommon to find my children and pets, basking under the morning sun with a pillow and maasai blanket.”
But even with a garden so delightful, the best is yet to come. As she bids me goodbye, she shares her future plans. “I’m taking time off to work on my garden. I’m seeking a creeper that will plaster the walls with its coloured leaves,” she says excitedly.
Clearly, it wasn’t only the garden that transformed. Maggie Muya did too.