A Grass Roots Success Story!

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.


Sally kissing a goatThe First Board Remembers Sally Wylde

Collected September 2010

From Judy Parady:
From the first summer helping to harvest the basil that covered the original Garden property, beginning the outreach program with the school children and Ms. Jackson, or forming the first board to codify the structure of the Garden Sally led the way and I wanted to be part of it. Sally made the most unlikely things seem reasonable and possible. Her contributions to the community reflect the experiences all of us had individually: She brought people together, she made you want to work a little harder, and step beyond your self.

Sally Wylde was a force of nature and so it is perfectly lovely that our friendship grew from a shared love of gardening and the Earth. As one of a handful of people who contributed to the foundation of the OCGP and as the Garden’s founding board President I collected these remembrances of Sally and the early days of the Garden. I asked “how did you meet Sally, become involved in the Garden, and how did this affect you?”

From Louise Jackson:
I met Sally at the Oakhurst Baptist Church and we got to talking. I told her about the problem I was having with the school children trampling my flowers. Sally said we should go to the school and that is what we did. She asked the principle if we could involve the children in planting a garden in the median across from the school. The principle said she knew the perfect class for the project and next thing we knew Judy, Sally, and I had 21 children to help with decorating a fence and planting flowers. We each took a group of seven. A neighbor worked for United Way and helped Sally get a grant for the supplies. Then for the next couple of years United Way asked me to speak to garden clubs about community gardens. At first I was shaky talking to that many people, but I got used to it.
From Effie Martin:
I met Sally through Louise. My mother was ill and Sally would visit and bring flowers from her garden. I enjoyed growing flowers and started coming to the Garden to take a break from caring for my mother. I had one of the first plots in the Garden where I grew flowers and shared what I knew with the children that were coming. I was the first Treasurer for the Garden board.
From Jonathan Watts Hull:
My involvement with the Garden was pretty immediate upon my arrival in Atlanta.  In 1987, Rebecca and I finished up our tour with the Peace Corps in Uganda and we returned to the United States and chose to relocate to Atlanta.  We had no family here, no real connections, but my best friend from college lived here, and his family offered us a soft landing space while we found a place of our own.  Early on in our search for an apartment, we saw an ad for a place in Decatur, left a message with the landlord, and took a look at the place.  We would have seemed less than ideal tenants as we had to admit that we had no jobs, no local history, and not much in the way of prospects.  When they called us at our lodgings, my friend’s mother answered and was, fortuitously, a member of the same church as the landlord.  That was how we met Sally and Britt, through their very genuine leap of faith in our potential to pay our rent and be their neighbors.

Very quickly we became a part of the garden–not even a project then.  We were on-hand help, there sharing our morning with whatever strangers happened to be invited in that day to join in the labor of digging and planting.  We dug out the first beds by hand, piled on the mulch, and tried to imagine the place as Sally and Britt imagined it.  We moved out just about when the chickens moved in, but only down the road a bit.  Sally and Britt’s hospitality anchored us in Oakhurst for good.

Moving out–and having a baby–did not discharge in anyway the expectations of service to the Garden.  When it was clear that the plans Sally had for the Garden was larger than her individual capacity to wrestle it into being, she collected friends and others to form that first Board.  I was pleased and flattered at the time, but only later realized how important it would be for me.  We indeed did not know much of much going in and I was always impressed at how fine a group of people I was invited to join in.  Upon reflection, I think it was the mixture of people on that early Board that Sally called together that helped to place (and keep) the emphasis on the Community part of the Community Garden and in so doing made the Garden a place that has become the focal point for the neighborhood and the city.

I served as Secretary for the Board for six years, through discussions over expansion and plans for growth, the hiring of the first staff, and the initial steps of offering programs to schools and the community, until it became clear that what the Board, and the Garden, needed was new people who had a different set of skills.  Sally was good about letting those of us stepping down go, but somehow I kept getting brought back, mostly to teach, but also to celebrate.
Enrique Lecuna met Sally while walking his dogs in the neighborhood. Enrique and his partner Joseph had plot in the first Garden. Soon he was recruited to the board where he contributed his skills as a graphic artist to create the newsletter and design the Garden logo used today. He credits Sally with “my growth as a citizen of the world.”
Bridget Cunningham was a neighbor drawn to the Sally and Garden. She served as the first vice president and connected us with an attorney to establish our 501c3 status.

Read more about Sally Wylde