Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: Review

Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening : How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and Open Heart
Carol Wall
Amy Einhorn Books/G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Reviewed by T.J. Banks

MisterOwitasGuideToGardening web[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t first, Carol Wall and Giles Owita seem light years away from ever becoming friends. Carol is a high-school English teacher and a breast cancer survivor with absolutely no interest in gardening. Giles, a transplant from Kenya, worked for the government there; here in this country, however, he works a number of jobs, and gardening/landscaping is one of them.

Carol, who “never liked getting my hands dirty,” has a real antipathy toward flowers that dates back to her older sister’s death many years earlier: “I preferred green things that grew in the ground, things that never bloomed only to fade.” Her bout with cancer has only sharpened this feeling. When she hires Giles, she is simply looking for somebody to neaten up her yard.

Giles changes that. A gentle, thoughtful man, he slowly cures Carol of her “dread of flowers,” showing her how to garden and love it as he does. Carol begins to share more of her life—her parents’ illnesses and deaths, the recurrence of her cancer—with him. “Illness comes into each life,” he tells her, “but we must not let it define us.”

Only later does Giles let her in on his own secret: He has been HIV-positive for fourteen years. Back then, he reminds Carol, such a diagnosis was tantamount to “a death sentence”: He and his wife, Bienta, have “lived in constant dread of discovery”….The stigma has been almost as bad as the disease itself. Bienta has had to live with that, and worried that word would spread and the children would be treated as lepers.”

Carol never asks Giles how he became HIV-positive; instead, she asks how she can help. She wants this man who has given her so much “to know that I would never reject him. I would never turn away.” And she doesn’t.

This story of a wounded healer—of a man who showed his friend how to push past fear and find joy and comfort in growing things—will blow you away with its honesty and emotion. It is The Secret Garden with twist that will break your heart open and change the way you see things.


T.J. Banks is the author of Sketch People, A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Houdini, and other books. Catsong was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award.


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