Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart

4.6 13
by Carol Wall
     
 

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"In this profoundly moving memoir, Owita teaches Wall how to find grace amid heartbreak and to accept that beauty exists because it is fleeting—as in her garden, as in life." —People, 4 stars

"A perfect spring awakening." —Good Housekeeping

A true story of a unique friendship between two people who had

Overview

"In this profoundly moving memoir, Owita teaches Wall how to find grace amid heartbreak and to accept that beauty exists because it is fleeting—as in her garden, as in life." —People, 4 stars

"A perfect spring awakening." —Good Housekeeping

A true story of a unique friendship between two people who had nothing—and ultimately everything—in common.

Carol Wall, a white woman living in a lily-white neighborhood in Middle America, was at a crossroads in her life. Her children were grown; she had successfully overcome illness; her beloved parents were getting older. One day she notices a dark-skinned African man tending her neighbor’s yard. His name is Giles Owita. He bags groceries at the supermarket. He comes from Kenya. And he’s very good at gardening.
 

Before long Giles is transforming not only Carol’s yard, but her life. Though they are seemingly quite different, a caring bond grows between them. But they both hold long-buried secrets that, when revealed, will cement their friendship forever.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Dominique Browning
You won't learn much about gardening in this beautiful book…But you will put Wall's memoir down with a new appreciation for how far roots can travel for nourishment, especially those that spring from our hearts.
Publishers Weekly
★ 12/09/2013
In this moving memoir chronicling the many lasting rewards garnered from an unexpected friendship, writer Wall enlists a neighbor’s gardener, a man from Kenya, to help her maintain her garden. What begins as a purely professional relationship, with Wall hoping to learn more about gardening, blossoms into an intimate friendship. Wall, a breast cancer patient, admits that, before she met Giles Owita, her outlook on life was less than sunny. Always an introvert and prone to social gaffes, Wall was dealing at the time with her parent’s decline. Slowly, over three years, Owita, a quiet and unassuming man, transforms Wall’s unkempt lawn into a living masterpiece, showing Wall the beauty inherent in everyday life. While transmitting the knowledge for growing a bountiful garden, Owita passes along how one might live a satisfying life. “Each time I walked away from Giles, I felt either enlightened by his brilliance or unburdened of some of my worries and sadness.” Wall eventually learns of the personal, family and health issues endured by her friend, marveling at his grace and strength. This tender narrative gently probes the complicated terrain of American race relations, dealing with serious illness and facing the death of loved ones. Agent: Marly Rusoff, Marly Rusoff Literary. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“In this profoundly moving memoir, Owita teaches Wall how to find grace amid heartbreak and to accept that beauty exists because it is fleeting—as in her garden, as in life.” —People, 4 stars

“A perfect spring awakening.” —Good Housekeeping

“With her children grown and out of the house, Carol Wall is obsessed—perhaps overly so—with ripping out her azaleas. That is, until she meets a certain Giles Owita, Kenyan gardener, supermarket bagger, general-life philosopher and perhaps one of the most refined and gracious characters to ever hit the page (except that he’s real)… A warning for the shy: The basic goodness of Owita’s attitude may cause you to beam spontaneously as you read, leading to off looks from strangers at the coffee shop.” —Oprah.com

"No green thumb is required to enjoy the warmhearted pleasures of Carol Wall's moving memoir, Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening.... magnetically compelling ... Grace and gardening go hand-in-glove in this fine book about what really matters in life: friendship, kindness and watching a garden grow." —USA Today

"A pleasure to read. Wall’s bittersweet story of human kindness has universal appeal." —Kirkus Reviews

"I couldn’t put this book down. I found myself liking the principal characters from the opening pages, and my affection for them never wavered. If you enjoy inspirational memoirs or gardening books (or both), this moving account of a life-changing friendship is for you." —Bookpage

"A must-read memoir. On the surface, Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall, is a gentle memoir about a friendship between a white woman in Roanoke, Virginia and her gardener from Kenya. But that description fails to capture the book's depth, its sometimes-raw emotions, nor its many surprising twists.... Both shocking and profoundly moving. This book is not just about gardening." —AARP blog

“In this heartbreaking yet heartwarming paean to the joys of friendship and gardening, Wall crafts an elegiac tribute to an extraordinary man.” —Booklist 

"[T]his memoir chronicl[es] the many lasting rewards garnered from an unexpected friendship..." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“This memoir touches upon everything that is important in life. Not only is it beautifully written—I am also in awe of Carol Wall’s raw honesty and incredible courage.”—Kathleen Grissom, New York Times–bestselling author of The Kitchen House

“Carol Wall’s suspenseful tale of human frailty and courage is a marvel. In her garden, an unexpected bond slowly forms as two people from distant worlds help each other confront long-buried secrets and fears. Deeply personal, poetic, and brimming with humanity, this is a book of lasting grace.” —Steve Lopez, New York Times–bestselling author of The Soloist

“Carol Wall’s disarming memoir Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is a poignant tale of an unlikely teacher and a doubting student, who, by bringing a neglected patch of ground back to life, reveal the secrets of reclaiming, restoring, and freeing a wounded soul. It is a generous story filled with grace enough to bring healing to the reader as well. An engaging personal and spiritual journey into life’s essential questions.” —Jonathan Odell, author of The Healing
 

Library Journal
10/15/2013
Wall, a white woman with grown children who had survived illness and was now contemplating her next move, noticed a black man working hard in a neighbor's yard. Giles Owita, who had come from Kenya and bagged groceries to make ends meet, was soon cleaning Wall's yard, too. They became friends, bonding over secrets they've both hidden, and the result is this much-touted memoir.
Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-23
Serendipitous life lessons from an unexpected source. Though she admittedly lacked the green thumb (or the inclination) necessary to beautify the environs of her home, 52-year-old Wall enlisted the aid of her neighbor's gifted Kenyan gardener. Giles Owita, an unassuming landscape artist outfitted with a "coiled energy" and a "navy work suit with bright white leather tennis shoes," not only beautified Wall's yard; their seemingly innocent relationship opened her eyes to international culture and nature ("Giles broke me—cured me—of my dread of flowers") and expanded her capacity for bliss. His arrival in her life was a timely one, as the author and her husband, Dick, had endured a year shaken by tragedy and illness. A breast cancer survivor, Wall had begun the heartbreaking ordeal of relocating her elderly parents to an assisted living facility, and her three children all suffered medical and developmental maladies. Throughout their many seasons together, Wall and Owita embarked on a cross-cultural exchange of histories, ideas, warm wisdom, respect and reinvigorating landscapes. Through her neighbor, the author discovered Owita's surprisingly extensive horticultural education and a series of mutual commonalities, including familial strife and a cancer diagnosis. The pair, along with Owita's wife, Bienta, grew ever closer within a unique friendship that Wall, in consistently articulate, affably crafted prose, compares to "a river that sometimes split into two separate streams, but always came back together again." Subtle changes began to transform Wall's outlook on life, and gradually, the author allowed herself to appreciate the grand spectacle of her lush backyard oasis. Owita not only performed an aesthetic miracle on Wall's property, but he also educated, enlivened and transformed her life and surroundings in graceful, heartwarming and rewarding ways. A pleasure to read. Wall's bittersweet story of human kindness has universal appeal.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780399157981
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/04/2014
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

I never liked getting my hands dirty. This was one reason that

our yard looked so sad. But there were other reasons, too—

bigger reasons that were much harder to confront than brittle

grass and overgrown bushes.

It’s not that I was ignoring our yard on purpose. Every once

in a while we hired someone to plant or trim something. My

husband, Dick, did his share of mowing. But he never did it happily.

We weren’t yard-proud the way some people are. And when

the kids were young, there was always something more important

than yard work to do. Going to one of their games or events,

running them to school and lessons, or shepherding them to

doctor appointments—all those things ranked way higher on

our list of priorities.

Once the kids were grown, I still managed to find more important

things to do. I much preferred reading a book, or watching

a documentary on TV, or going out to dinner with Dick

to pruning a bush. I loved our house, and I enjoyed decorating

the inside, but there was never anything about maintaining a

house that I enjoyed. In some couples, one spouse makes up for

the flaws of the other. But for better or worse, my beloved

spouse and I shared the same flaw in this department. Neither

of us was handy. We ignored our loose front doorknob until it

went from shaky to wobbly and finally fell off when we tried to

exit the house one evening. Dick watched it fall to the hardwood

floor with a thunk, then looked at me and said, “Time to move.”

I don’t think we were entirely wrong in holding on to our

low-intervention policy. Once when Dick and I were walking

through town, we were stopped by a group of young women

who were celebrating their friend’s upcoming wedding. They

were asking all the obviously married women they saw for advice

for the new bride. I said, “You know, my life really began

when I got married.” They all laughed and told me that I was the

first woman they’d stopped who hadn’t said, “Don’t do it.” Then

I told them that my best advice was not to approach marriage

like it was an arrangement between property co-owners. It

seemed to me like too many people spent too much of their time

taking care of their houses instead of enjoying their spouses.

And where was the fun in that?

I liked to think that it was a valid philosophy of life that kept

me out of the yard, and not just sheer laziness. In any case, to

me, even worse than digging out a screwdriver to fix our doorknob

would have been digging in the dirt. I had zero interest in

that area of our property. I don’t think I even really looked at it.

Then one day, I noticed that our yard had slowly, gradually

transformed itself. No longer could I flatter myself that it was

natural and unmanicured because that was the aesthetic I preferred.

No, our yard wasn’t just rough around the edges. It had

become a genuine embarrassment. Maybe we didn’t have the

worst yard on the block. But we were close to it, and one good

mowing in our most neglectful neighbor’s yard might easily

nudge us into the bottom slot. And that just wouldn’t do. I

might never have been yard-proud, but I did not want to be

yard-ashamed.

So I decided that it was time to do something about this situation.

It was a fixable problem, after all—and how nice it was to

have one of those.

When I passed our neighbor Sarah’s yard I couldn’t help seeing

what an amazing job her gardener had done. Sarah was a

master gardener herself, but recently she’d gotten busy at work

and had brought in some help. And even I could tell that a true

artist was at work there. Maybe I could hire her gardener, I

thought to myself. And then our yard would be as beautiful as

hers. It would be healthy and lush and well taken care of—

just the way I wanted to be myself.

A few days later I saw the mystery gardener in the flesh—

the artist who’d wrought such a miracle transformation in my neighbor’s

yard—and it was kismet. Love at first sight. No, it wasn’t

the kind of love that causes you to question your marriage. It

was the kind of love that causes you to question yourself. The

kind that makes you want to be a better person. The kind that

changes your life completely.

His name was Giles Owita, and from the start, something

flowered between us and around us. First he became my gardener,

and then he became my friend. And while I knew from

the moment I met him that he was someone special—

truly, I didn’t know the half of it.

What People are saying about this

Kathleen Grissom
This memoir touches upon everything that is important in life. Not only is it beautifully written—I am also in awe of Carol Wall's raw honesty and incredible courage." -- Kathleen Grissom, New York Times—bestselling author of The Kitchen House
Steve Lopez
Carol Wall's suspenseful tale of human frailty and courage is a marvel. In her garden, an unexpected bond slowly forms as two people from distant worlds help each other confront long-buried secrets and fears. Deeply personal, poetic, and brimming with humanity, this is a book of lasting grace. --Steve Lopez, New York Times—bestselling author of The Soloist
Jonathan Odell
Carol Wall's disarming memoir Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening is a poignant tale of an unlikely teacher and a doubting student, who, by bringing a neglected patch of ground back to life, reveal the secrets of reclaiming, restoring, and freeing a wounded soul. It is a generous story filled with grace enough to bring healing to the reader as well. An engaging personal and spiritual journey into life's essential questions. --Jonathan Odell, author of The Healing
From the Publisher

“This memoir touches upon everything that is important in life. Not only is it beautifully written—I am also in awe of Carol Wall’s raw honesty and incredible courage.”—Kathleen Grissom, New York Times–bestselling author of The Kitchen House

“Carol Wall’s suspenseful tale of human frailty and courage is a marvel. In her garden, an unexpected bond slowly forms as two people from distant worlds help each other confront long-buried secrets and fears. Deeply personal, poetic, and brimming with humanity, this is a book of lasting grace.” —Steve Lopez, New York Times–bestselling author of The Soloist

“Carol Wall’s disarming memoir Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is a poignant tale of an unlikely teacher and a doubting student, who, by bringing a neglected patch of ground back to life, reveal the secrets of reclaiming, restoring, and freeing a wounded soul. It is a generous story filled with grace enough to bring healing to the reader as well. An engaging personal and spiritual journey into life’s essential questions.” —Jonathan Odell, author of The Healing
 

Meet the Author

Carol Wall is a writer whose essays and articles have appeared over many years in Southern Living magazine and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives on a tree-lined street in the heart of Middle America. 

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Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story line. Well written and engaging. One of best books of 2014. And I have read over 25 this year.
mrszoomby More than 1 year ago
Right away I fell in love with this book – even though it is, strictly speaking, not a gardening book. Instead it tells the story of a woman who is grappling with cancer, age and her life in general. Carol can be quite a whingey whiner but her struggles are real and you cannot help but be pulled into her life. And, heck, aren’t we all a bit pompous and self important within our own internal monologue? On the other hand, Giles is one of those people everyone aspires to be. He is kind, thoughtful and loyal to his friends and family. He is also struggling with issues in his life and deals with them in a completely different way to Carol. At times I found this book a struggle to read. Not because it was awful, but because of the raw emotion the author manages to evoke in the reader. I cried at several points through this book (and once while sitting at the bus stop), but the story was worth every heartrending tear! While I loved this book and it tugged at me emotionally, I found, at times, the characters supporting the two main characters were not given much justice. They appeared as Carol and Giles needed them and then disappeared without consequence afterwards. I really would have liked to see a more personal interaction between the main characters and the supporting ones. Overall, I am giving Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall 4 out of 5 stars. make sure you have the tissues ready though!
lovinglifesm More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book, both heartwarming and heartbreaking. One of the best books I have read in a long time. It gives you pause for reflection on your own life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thats will help a lot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book; could not put it down. Beautifully well-written. I wish I had known Giles but almost feel I have, indeed, known him after reading this lovely memoir. Kudos to the author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Carol Wall has written a candid story -- withholding few of her character deflects, and knitting them together with a blossoming tale of friendship -- cross-cultural, perhaps, but vibrant and life-changing, and HOPE-full. The context is how she learned to garden, and love the adventure under the tutoring of a master gardener who graciously accepted handicaps and afflictions -- managing to maintain his composure through very tough times. By their friendship and the the associations their two families formed, Carol Wall learned how to accept different but equally harsh things without wilting. It is best summed up by Giles Owita's last words: "In every moment there exists a lifetime. Every day brings something good." It is an charming, convicting, and comforting -- an easy read -- but an unforgettable one.
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,