The “Books and Bites” Literary Luncheon Series (hosted by the Friends of the Mountain Branch Library) takes place at the Lake Lure Inn to support library endeavors. The upcoming luncheon on March 20, starting at 11:00 am, includes a “Meet and Greet” where Dick Wall will speak about his late wife’s deeply affecting memoir.
Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening (Berkley Books 2014 and afterword 2015) is by the late Carol Wall. Named one of the top ten books of 2014 by USA Today and one of the best books of 2014 by AARP, Carol’s memoir has since been acclaimed by many other national outlets including People Magazine, Oprah Winfrey, and Parade Magazine.
In her narrative, Carol Wall is a woman both resentful of her disease and constantly worried about her health before meeting Giles Owita who becomes her gardener and her “friend of virtue,” Aristotle’s phrase for the highest order of friendship, in which the only design is devotion. Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer before she met Mr. Owita and is diagnosed again during their friendship. Over the months which turn into years, Mr. Owita’s calm resolve quenches Carol’s panic. He teaches her not to let illness define her, and she receives a new concept of freedom. Ironically, unknown to Carol until much later, Mr. Owita is battling his own frightening disease.
Carol hires Mr. Owita when she observers his achievements in her neighbor’s yard and yearns for her and her husband Dick’s own shambolic yard to be transformed. A white woman in Roanoke, VA, she hires the talented gardener from Kenya not knowing until later—to her embarrassment since she has recited tree pruning instructions to him—he holds a doctor of philosophy in horticulture from Virginia Tech. Having come to America (along with his wife) to pursue a graduate degree, Mr. Owita does not find the teaching position he hopes for. Consequently, he works a variety of jobs: as a garden center helper, a grocery store bagger, and a private landscaper.
Initially, Carol wonders if she can work well with Mr. Owita, for she hates flowers, and he is determined not to follow her orders to dig up her azaleas. Instead, he nurtures them into a profusion of blooms. Carol’s aversion to flowers symbolizes her brokenness, but Mr. Owita persists in assisting not only with her yard but with her spirit. Without telling Carol, he plants an abundance of white flowering bulbs. When these daffodils, crocuses, snow drops, and tulips bloom in the spring, Carol is cured from her spiritual malaise and feels a childlike joy among the flowers. “Giles broke me,” she says in recognizing that not only every yard, and but every life must have flowers.
Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening is a poignant story of two friends affirming life within the eventuality of death.