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

by Carol Wall

Pub Date: March 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-399-15798-1
Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Serendipitous life lessons from an unexpected source.

Though she admittedly lacked the green thumb (or the inclination) necessary to beautify the environs of her home, 52-year-old Wall enlisted the aid of her neighbor’s gifted Kenyan gardener. Giles Owita, an unassuming landscape artist outfitted with a “coiled energy” and a “navy work suit with bright white leather tennis shoes,” not only beautified Wall’s yard; their seemingly innocent relationship opened her eyes to international culture and nature (“Giles broke me—cured me—of my dread of flowers”) and expanded her capacity for bliss. His arrival in her life was a timely one, as the author and her husband, Dick, had endured a year shaken by tragedy and illness. A breast cancer survivor, Wall had begun the heartbreaking ordeal of relocating her elderly parents to an assisted living facility, and her three children all suffered medical and developmental maladies. Throughout their many seasons together, Wall and Owita embarked on a cross-cultural exchange of histories, ideas, warm wisdom, respect and reinvigorating landscapes. Through her neighbor, the author discovered Owita’s surprisingly extensive horticultural education and a series of mutual commonalities, including familial strife and a cancer diagnosis. The pair, along with Owita’s wife, Bienta, grew ever closer within a unique friendship that Wall, in consistently articulate, affably crafted prose, compares to “a river that sometimes split into two separate streams, but always came back together again.” Subtle changes began to transform Wall’s outlook on life, and gradually, the author allowed herself to appreciate the grand spectacle of her lush backyard oasis. Owita not only performed an aesthetic miracle on Wall’s property, but he also educated, enlivened and transformed her life and surroundings in graceful, heartwarming and rewarding ways.

A pleasure to read. Wall’s bittersweet story of human kindness has universal appeal.