An Enviable Friendship: Carol Wall’s Garden Memoir

Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart, by Carol Wall

(Random House, 2014) ISBN: 9780857983923

Publication Date: 4 March 2014

Carol Wall’s first book is so much more than a cancer story or gardening manual–it’s a memoir of a unique and precious friendship between two seemingly mismatched candidates, a (US) southern woman and a male Kenyan immigrant. This is proof positive that the bonds of friendship can conquer the common obstacles of age, gender, bias, and culture.

Embarrassed by her “unfortunate garden,” Carol hires Giles Owita to knock it back into shape. Within a few seasons, he restores order, beauty and hope, and meanwhile, a friendship blossoms over discussions of horticulture, faith and physics. Mr. Owita’s hardest task is converting Carol from morbid flower-hater to floral aficionado.

Carol’s inner journey mirrors the garden’s transformation. Grappling with the late middle-age trifecta of issues (empty nest, ageing parents, personal illness), Carol draws on Mr. Owita’s placid nature and elegant restraint, and learns how to cope with the uncertain future of a “cancer survivor.”

The story ambles along, as soothing and restorative as a walk in a park, but life and death realities intrude and the pace ramps up. Tissues are mandatory during the reading of the final third of the book when Mr. Owita’s personal story unfolds.

The strength of Carol Wall’s narrative is in its warts-and-all candor. She doesn’t pretty up the ugly inner turmoil of her raging fears and nagging insecurities. Carol confesses the discovery of hidden prejudice, the stinging comments she levels at her husband, and the moments of giving in to bitterness, self-pity, and paranoia. Even in these, Mr. Owita responds with patient dignity.

Carol Wall has an admirable aptitude for love and care. In this world of self-absorption and rampant narcissism, it’s refreshing to read about a woman who reaches out beyond self and kin and gives time and appreciation so generously. The reader is left with a heart aching for such rich friendships.



Australian Proof Copy





Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. (NetGalley)


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