Excerpt from Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening

How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart

by Carol Wall

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2014, 304 pages
    Feb 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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Print 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.

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Excerpted from Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carolyn Wall. Copyright © 2014 by Carolyn Wall. Excerpted by permission of Amy Einhorn Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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