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.