Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening
How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart
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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 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.
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by Carol Wall
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 f laws of the other. But for better or worse, my beloved spouse and I shared the same f law 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 f latter 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 f lowered 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 something special—truly, I didn’t know the half of it.
“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
"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
"[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
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