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  • Eleanor Howard

You Don't Need a Green Thumb to Enjoy this Memoir

Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening

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

By Carol Wall

Every once in a while a book springs from the shelves that surprises and delights readers as much as finding a late, nearly perfect azalea bloom covered in autumn leaves. Carol Wall’s memoir beautifully captures the raw honesty of a terrifying life-threatening illness and uncomfortable and misunderstood race relations. With heartfelt compassion, Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening skillfully illustrates how an unexpected yet delightful friendship can blossom between two unlikely people from different worlds.

“...enlightened by his brilliance or unburdened of some of my worries...” p. 126

Carol, a white suburban empty-nester in Virginia notices Mister Owita, a black man from Kenya working in a neighbor’s yard and decides to ask him for advice on her own neglected garden. From there, the two unearth a friendship that would flourish over time and their bond for the love of gardening grew deeper than either of them could have imagined. Their connection takes root and grows into a treasured friendship. Readers won’t have to understand the difference between a spade and pruning shears to get swept up into the richness of this book. No gardening experience necessary to appreciate how well Carol and Mister Owita transform the landscape of stereotypes and misconceptions into a well-manicured appreciation for one another.

“Cancer was a disease, not a judgment, and we were all at risk…” p. 132

Carol discovers her “compound” is not as bad as it appears and discovers the joy of watching her yard come back to life and take shape. She and Mister Owita approach the complicated terrain of life as they learn about each other’s families—her battle with breast cancer, and his journey to have his daughter join his family in America. Together they prune and cut back the layers of their past and share deep-rooted pain and guilt and discover common ground and the beauty of “osiepa,” which is Swahili for “friend.”

“Your friendships are strong, like those plants.” p. 216

Even though this isn’t a book about gardening, it will offer perspective on how people grow and adapt through life. Conditions and environment affect plants and people, but both need nourishment and love. Carol’s story has a clear vision of relatability and delves into tough issues with sincerity as tender as an early bloom. Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening may be a memoir about dying, but it’s most assuredly a book about friendship and living.

Dick Wall, Carol's husband will be presenting about his wife's book at Southern Lit Alliance on Dec. 4, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. Check out more and make a reservation at Season's Readings event.


Condensed from

MISTER OWITA’S GUIDE TO GARDENING is Carol Wall’s first book and published in March 2014. During the writing and editing of her book, breast cancer returned three times and Carol died that December, only nine months after publication. She was unable to make even one appearance to promote her book. One week after her death, MISTER OWITA’S GUIDE TO GARDENING was named one of the Top 10 Books of 2014 by USA Today and one of the Top 12 Books of 2014 by AARP.

Since then, Carol’s husband Dick has traveled hundreds of miles to talk about her book and the life they shared. He loves to tell audiences that “while the book is about two people who are close to death, it is not a book about cancer and suffering. It is a book about living.” He believes that Carol’s message is an enduring one that can help people “embrace life’s afflictions,” and often talks about how her words have helped him since her death.


Eleanor Howard is a Writer, Blogger, and future Author. This is her fourth book review for Southern Lit Alliance. Discover more at and connect with her on Facebook at @EleanorHowardWriter and Twitter @writerEleanor

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