Rose creates an oasis in arid Athi River

Untitled design (22)

Rose Muraya’s home garden in Athi River on September 5, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Rose Ngara-Muraya’s home stands out like an oasis in the desert. After driving for minutes through her dry Athi River neighbourhood, the greenery is an awe-inspiring contrast to the amber-coloured vegetation on nearby properties.

It’s almost like it was plucked from a leafy estate in one of Nairobi’s cooler residential nodes.

As we enter her compound, she basks in our admiration and tells us the transformation has taken her the better part of the last decade.

And now, a few months before she starts her retirement, she is preparing for yet another significant life change: becoming a gardening author. She is looking forward to sharing the invaluable insights she has gained.


Plants in recycled pair of gumboots at Rose Muraya’s home garden in Athi River on September 5, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

At the entrance, above the enormous metallic gate, Rose has installed an arch and, across it, planted red bougainvillaea and japonica trees along the perimeter wall.

“I planted them like a wall blind so I don’t always have to see the concrete wall. When the builders were putting the mazeras, I had them leave holes where I could plant the trees,” she says.

At the entrance, she also has hibiscus and roses planted in old paint cans, ushering us into the creative ways she improvises junk materials to get room for her over 300 plant species.

“I have planted my hibiscus and roses in containers discarded after painting the house,” says the 60-year-old. 

Building her garden

“The very first trees I planted are the Thika palms when we were breaking ground for the house. This was also when we planted the bougainvillaea fence that surrounds the home. We had a chain link fence to protect the plants from goats and cows. Over time, we planted the duranta hedge for double fencing,” the mother of four tells the BDLife.

Now, even chicken cannot come in or go out as she has added a layer of snake plant fencing on the outside.


A section of Rose Muraya’s garden at her home on September 5, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

She shows us her ‘beach garden’, so named because “I have so many palm trees in this section.” Also in her garden is the fishtail palm, whose leaves look like the tail of a fish.

In this section, she has installed a swing chair that sits under the shade of a tree, providing an excellent resting place from the scorching heat.

“I had more palm trees, but then weevils attacked them. I managed to save two. Growing a tree in this area is a huge investment, so you do not want to lose any,” Rose says, noting that she gets tree seedlings wherever she travels.

There are some from Mombasa, Kisumu, Kwale,and Nyeri.

“The Coastal region is where the most beautiful plants are, so I always come back with something new for my garden,” she says.

Rose has guavas, oranges, pixies, lemon, mango, pomegranate, and dragon fruit trees.


Dragon fruit plant at Rose Muraya’s home garden in Athi River on September 5, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

“When I planted the dragon fruit, I did not know what it was. I just put it in the soil. It was only after visiting a friend that I learned how to put the supporting bicycle tyre so that it can fall over and fruit,” she says of her best-performing plant in the garden.

Monstera garden

Rose has a lush four-and-a-half-year-old monstera garden just outside her house. She does not give her monsteras water.

“When we were building the house, one of the things that we tried to do was to reuse water. So from the washrooms after washing your hands, the water comes here, watering the monsteras,” she says.

She has been trying to teach people how to eat the fruit described as the ‘delicious monster.’

“This is a young one, and it takes a whole year from when it flowers to when it is ready for consumption. It is a long way to be mature for consumption,” she explains.


Rose Muraya at her home in Athi River on September 5, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

The seed of passion

Rose has not always been a plant lover. The seed was planted when she was building her house. She desired to have a lush garden, but she knew nothing about plants.

“So I joined the Kenya Horticultural Society. Everyone was talking about their plants by name. I realised I did not know any plants apart from the Thika palm. This was a challenge, so I started learning to identify plants. Since I could not remember all the names, I decided to label them. My daughter is a calligrapher. I would fabricate the metal plate and give her to label,” she says.


Monstera plants at Rose Muraya’s home garden in Athi River on September 5, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Repurposing and recycling

Rose lives by the mantra that ‘anything that can hold soil can hold plants.’

Broken pots, toilet bowls, and worn-out tyres are soon put to good use in her garden. “I make use of everything that I find my way.”

“My first encounter with toilet bowls was when we bought some second-hand ones, only to later realise they were faulty. So we brought them here. These are not decomposable, so breaking and throwing them won’t help the environment. I always find a way to use them,” Rose says.

In her tyres, she has grown Echeveria ‘can can’ and geraniums.


An area outside Rose Muraya’s home on September 5, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

She says she has a Pinterest account from which she gets tips on using the items she repurposed better. For instance, after getting the idea of using tyres, Rose improvised a vertical use of tyres in planting.

“My full-time gardener took the tyres to a fabricator who created the vertical tyres. Then he came and planted spinach sukuma wiki, mints, and now we are adding some flowers,” she says.

“In pots, you can have three different types of plants; a stunner, a filler and a spiller. The stunner stands out, the filler fills the pot and the spiller spills over from the pots on the side. These then give you a full bush in your pots,” Rose tells us of her gardening techniques.

She also has plants grown in used gumboots, tissue holders, and old television sets.

In her upstairs corridor, she has grown the purple creeping thunbergia that gives her home a dash of purple.

“When I put the solar panels I knew that I now have shade, so I put the queen of the night, string of bananas, the jade plant, and lady of the night in pots.

She also has a fence of the fragrant honeysuckle, and Rose excitedly shows how to get honey from the honeysuckle by pulling the strings and nectar.


A section of Rose Muraya’s garden at her home on September 5, 2023. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Organic pesticides

“These are my rabbits,” says Rose as she shows us her colony of tiny rabbits. “They give us urine, which we use to make pesticides and folia,” she tells BD Life.

She has two 10,000-litre tanks for watering her lush three-quarters of an acre garden. Before piping water from a borehole, Rose would have water delivered using a bowser. It was expensive, she says, but worth the sacrifice.

Her hope is to improve her lawn. “I started with Arabica grass but in 2021, I top-dressed the grass and the rains failed to come. The grass died. So I changed and put in maadi river grass. This grass is resilient and I want it to fill up quickly.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.