Book of the Month for Jul 2015

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart, by Carol Wall; Penguin (February 3, 2015), 304 pages, paperback; publishers price: $16.00, Amazon price: $10.87.

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening
Angela H. Fichter

Carol Wall, one of the two main characters in this book, portrays herself as a cancer survivor who lives with the anxiety of cancer recurrence, whose children have grown and left home, and whose elderly parents are entering assisted living. She had never gardened and her yard has really gone to pot with only a few unhealthy shrubs still alive. Her neighbor’s yard looks good because the neighbor employed a garden helper, Giles Owita.  Giles is an immigrant from Kenya. He works not only as a bagger at a grocery store, but also as a gardener. When Carol hires Giles she learns a lot. Firstly, she learns some things about gardening, but her friendship with Giles teaches her things about suffering and growth and common family problems, which cross cultural and language barriers. She also discovers what can happen to immigrants even if they are highly educated.

The friendship that gradually develops between Giles and Carol gives her the courage to put her own hands into the soil and work in the garden.  It gives her emotional support during her health crisis and family loss. It teaches her by gardening that life is a connection with other living things that goes beyond human beings and pets; life is a connection with nature and its beauty. Giles shares some of his African cultural beliefs and his sharing of  plant wisdom is given with good humor. When Giles is hit with a health problem, Carol finds strength by reaching out to him and his family. Flowers, shrubs and trees are all part of the plot, but this is not a gardening how-to book. Rather, it is a book that says that gardening and garden friends are an important part of life.

Angela Fichter is a retired attorney who is not afraid to pick off red lily beetle larvae or adults and squash them in her bare hands. She is a member of the Connectcut Chapter. Her gardens comprise 1.5 acres and include hundreds of perennials and self-sowing annuals, as well as trees she bought as seedlings at a NARGS sales at 33 cents apiece in dixie cups over 30 years ago.