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.

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