Summary and book reviews of Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall

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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2014, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Prologue

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Carol's friendship with Giles begins with a letter. She continues her correspondence with him throughout their friendship. How do these letters help them grow together as friends? What do they each gain by writing and receiving the letters? Do you write letters? Can writing down your feelings, worries, news, and so on be therapeutic? How is writing a letter to someone different from-or similar to-keeping a diary or journal?

  2. Aristotle refers to a "friendship of virtue," in which self-seeking finds no place. Have Carol and Giles attained this level of friendship? If so, when does this happen?

  3. Carol plays the role of both patient and caretaker. How does each of these roles change her? How does her role of caretaker for her parents affect ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Gardening in its many forms requires patience. Carol Wall's garden doesn't transform into a colorful, blossoming maze of delightful flowers and trees overnight. Under Giles Owita's tutelage, we learn along with her that what we need most in our lives might not come right away. But when it eventually does, it gives us our just rewards.   (Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

Full Review Members Only (702 words).

Media Reviews

People

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.

USA Today

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.

Booklist

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

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This tender narrative gently probes the complicated terrain of American race relations, dealing with serious illness and facing the death of loved ones.

Author Blurb Kathleen Grissom, New York Times–bestselling author of The Kitchen House
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

Author Blurb Steve Lopez, New York Times–bestselling author of The Soloist
"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.

Author Blurb Jonathan Odell, author of The Healing
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.

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Beyond the Book

Azaleas

If you've always been wowed by azaleas, which feature in Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening, here are some fun facts.

R. vaseyi Azaleas, members of the genus Rhodondendron, can be found all around the world. There are deciduous azaleas with origins in North America; evergreen varieties from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan, and a whole host of hybrid crosses from some of these same countries. The Royal Horticultural Society, based in London, has an International Rhododendron Registry that lists over 800 species of azaleas.

R. canadense There are 17 azaleas native to North America. R. vaseyi (the R stands for Rhododendron), which has pink to white flowers, can be found mostly in four mountainous North Carolina counties. R. canadense was described by ...

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