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.
At the book’s beginning, the author Carol Wall is 52. Married to her high school sweetheart, she is the mother of three, now-grown children. A teacher at a Catholic high school, she also helps her elderly parents. Everyone but her husband believes she has overcome the breast cancer diagnosis she received a decade earlier. In fact, she remains consumed by fear and dread.
At a neighbor’s suggestion, she hires Giles Owita to help with her overgrown yard. He and his wife, a nurse, have their two sons with them in the U.S. but a daughter remains in Kenya. Wall admires Owita’s abundant energy, deep faith andapparent good health. An English teacher, she is charmed by the letters they exchange in lieu of telephoning. Under his care, her yard becomes beautiful. Wall also overcomes a profound dislike of flowers that is rooted in the death of her older sister in 1952. The two become friends with Wall marveling at Owita’s ability to remain cheerful as he works at a multitude of part-time, poorly paid jobs.
But Owita has his own secrets and sorrows. As Wall grows closer to his family, she learns many things both about him and herself. The ending is both shocking and profoundly moving. This book is not just about gardening. It’s about the reality that death waits for each of us. And yet, the reader, like Wall, comes to believe Giles Owita’s words that close the book. “Every day brings something good!”
Photo Credit: Phil Wall Production LLC