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

Booklist Reviews 2013 December #2
She knew nothing about gardening. He knew everything. She was a well-to-do white woman. He was an impoverished immigrant from Kenya. And yet, in the garden he transformed for her from a patch of weeds into a flowering paradise, Wall and Owita found common ground in the triumphs and tragedies they shared. Both would admit it was an unlikely friendship. She was a fretter, consumed by things she could not control: her recurring cancer, her father's Alzheimer's, her mother's stroke. He had a tranquility and acceptance that was mystifying in the face of all he had had to endure: a daughter left behind in Africa, a PhD in horticulture he couldn't use, forcing him to subsist on part-time jobs, and, worst of all, the devastation and shame of being HIV-positive. Both had their shares of heartache over children and parents and life-threatening illnesses that challenged them in unimaginable ways. In this heartbreaking yet heartwarming paean to the joys of friendship and gardening, Wall crafts an elegiac tribute to an extraordinary man. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2014 March
Cultivating an unusual friendship

At first, Carol Wall’s memoir, Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening, sounds like a book you might have read before: An unlikely friendship develops between two people who appear to have nothing in common. Giles Owita is an immigrant from Kenya who works part-time as a gardener. Wall is a high school English teacher and writer whose work has graced the pages of magazines like Southern Living. But things are not as they seem. In time, Wall will regard Owita as the greatest professor she has ever had. And you will be convinced she is right.

Their relationship begins predictably. Wall asks Owita to help her reclaim her lawn, an eyesore that is becoming the worst looking yard on the block. He helps her plant a few beds, tend to the grass and (memorably) prune a tree. But soon the relationship veers off script. We see some of the depth that is to come in a letter Owita sends to Wall shortly after viewing her lawn. “I took the liberty of stopping by your compound today, even though your vehicle was not in the driveway. . . . You have a lovely yard. Of particular beauty are the azaleas.” His eloquence impresses the English teacher in Wall, who muses, “Compound. It sounded elegant. Exotic.” It is the beginning of a rich conversation.

Despite their differences in race and background, both Owita and Wall carry family and health burdens that will be lightened by sharing them. Through their friendship, both truly help each other—in real tangible ways that change each other and their community.

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.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Carol Wall for Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2014 February #1
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. Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 October #2

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.

[Page 73]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
Reluctant to get her hands dirty, essayist and teacher Wall hired her neighbor's gardener, a Ken-yan immigrant who sought odd gardening jobs in addition to his job packing groceries. She had no idea he would not only transform her yard, but rejuvenate her life.The patient, modest garden-er (who had a PhD in horticulture) withstood her clumsy attempts at direction and conversation while encouraging her participation in gardening. Toiling together, they exchanged personal sto-ries. Their unlikely friendship comforted them both through family problems and health chal-lenges. Wall's monumental insecurity, guilt, and anger over her breast cancer, odd childhood, and aging parents almost overwhelm the reader at times, but one keeps reading to learn more about--and from--the engaging Mr. Owita, who exudes joy and wisdom despite racism, immigration trouble, and his own health issues. Unlike Dominique Browning's Paths of Desire where the garden takes center stage as she transforms her life, the garden here is more of a backdrop. VERDICT Recommended to anyone needing a warm friendship story or reassurance that a teacher appears when the student is ready.--Bonnie Poquette, Milwaukee (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 December #2

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.)

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