Sally Wylde: A force of nature who will be missed by many children

Sally Wylde understood the power of nature and art and integrated both in her creation of a community garden in Decatur that has become a learning tool for countless schools. Here she is with the students  from the Global Village School in Decatur.

Sally Wylde understood the power of nature and art and integrated both in her creation of a community garden in Decatur that has become a learning tool for countless schools. Here she is with the students from the Global Village School in Decatur.

I am sad to report the death of Sally Wylde, founder of the Oakhust Community Garden in Decatur and a dedicated friend of education and children in Georgia. Long aware of her good works, I met Sally when she and I were both in Leadership DeKalb. (Leadership DeKalb honored her with its Distinguished Leadership Award in 2005 for founding the Oakhurst Community Garden.)

She died today of cancer with her husband, children and grandchildren around her in Massachusetts where she always spent her summers.

She had moved to Georgia to attend Candler School of Theology from the coast of Massachusetts where she was an artist and teacher for 30 years. Through her studies and in her own transition from wild, open spaces to a densely packed urban area, Sally began to consider the impact of urbanization on children. When careless kids ruined a neighbor’s garden, Sally saw an opportunity to not only restore the garden, but introduce children to the solace and magic of nature.

The garden has grown into a thriving and active learning laboratory and now teaches children about bees and pollinators, life cycles, bugs and insects, composting, rocks and soils, gardening, and habitat explorations. It does teacher trainings and is a leader to the Farm to Table movement here in Georgia.

Here is the official history of the garden, which is well worth a visit if you have never seen it. It is a remarkable and open place created by a remarkable and open woman, whose energy and passion for education will be missed:

In 1996, Sally Wylde and Louise Jackson, both residents of Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood, had a life-changing conversation. Neither of them had any idea that one little nuisance would transform their community. What they knew was that every afternoon, children leaving the nearby elementary school cut through Mrs. Jackson’s yard and trampled her beloved garden.

A single decision, however, made all the difference. Instead of involving the police, Sally and Mrs. Jackson partnered with a group of neighbors to invite the children to become caretakers of the garden. Working together, they restored Mrs. Jackson’s garden and added a beautiful, hand-painted fence. The children watched with delight and amazement as their plantings took root and flourished, and something ordinary turned into something special — a process they had never noticed or understood before.

With their newfound enthusiasm and knowledge, the group moved on to create a garden in the median strip of the street in front of Mrs. Jackson’s house. The children took tremendous pride in their work, which was honored at a ceremony with the city’s mayor, who presented each child with a certificate of appreciation. Faster than kudzu, word spread about how much fun it was to dig and plant, and suddenly, more children were lining up to work in Mrs. Jackson’s garden.

The following year, a nearby, undeveloped half-acre lot became available. The property, which had been used as a commercial basil farm, was at risk for development in the rapidly gentrifying Oakhurst community of Decatur. Instead, Sally and her husband, Britt Dean, acquired it, and the Oakhurst Community Garden Project was born. Through her enthusiasm, creative spirit, and a mission to create a space where children could come for hands-on environmental education, Sally encouraged a decade’s worth of youth who are our next generation of environmental stewards.

11 comments Add your comment


August 20th, 2010
11:42 am

What a wonderful legacy to leave. Maureen, thank you for sharing that. My condolances to her friends and family.


August 20th, 2010
11:45 am

God bless people like this lady, who take something bad and make it good.

Proud Black Man

August 20th, 2010
2:13 pm

My condolences.

Grace Hawkins

August 20th, 2010
2:18 pm

Sally’s gentle touch helped many Global Village girls adjust to a new country, a new school and a new life through the art projects she and her other Art Factory friends helped guide at the Global Village School. Though she is lost to GVS and her many friends in a physical sense, she will always be part of the school and its spirit.

Sally Wylde « The Decatur Minute

August 20th, 2010
3:01 pm

[...] but her energy and influence will continue to inspire for generations. For more information read Maureen Downey’s tribute to Sally in the AJC and visit Sally’s Caring Bridge [...]

Jan Selman

August 21st, 2010
4:09 pm

Sally was a beautiful soul. A strong woman. A visionary, and a good friend to all who knew her. She will be greatly missed, but she left many of us with beautiful memories, so she will never really be gone. My condolences to her family, they are in my heart and my prayers.


August 22nd, 2010
11:01 am

Sally was and will continue to be an inspiration. Rest in Peace Sally….


August 22nd, 2010
4:33 pm

Sally enhanced our corner of this earth and I am grateful and so glad I knew her.

Charles & John

August 22nd, 2010
6:25 pm

We are saddened by Sally passing. What fond memories we cherish of serving with Sally and our dear friend, Louise, on the ONA executive committee several years ago. Sally was always upbeat and positive with a passion for sharing a garden and her knowledge with the neighborhood children and adults. Our heart and thoughts go out to Britt and their family.


August 22nd, 2010
8:45 pm

Sad to hear, but what an amazing legacy! If it weren’t for Oakhurst Garden I would not be the proud master to five chickens! Oakhurst inspired me to grow organic and to raise some chickens for their wonderful eggs – and poop for organic gardening! Thanks Sally! Rest in peace.

Lalor Cadley

August 23rd, 2010
11:07 am

Sally was a member of our Soul Sisters gathering for several years. From the moment she walked in the room that first night we all knew she would be one of our teachers as we sought ways to live more deeply our “one wild and precious life.” You taught us so much, dear Sally, shining one.