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Victory Gardener Jim Wilson dies in Missouri

Jim Wilson was the national spokesman for Plant a Row for the Hungry. (C) Kendra Martin

Jim Wilson was the national spokesman for Plant a Row for the Hungry. (C) Kendra Martin

Jim Wilson, one of my favorite gardeners, educators and communicators died in his sleep at age 85 on Aug. 1 at his home in Columbia, Mo.

One of the early hosts of PBS’ The Victory Garden, Jim was one of the first celebrity gardeners I interviewed for this column in the early 1990s.

A southern gentleman who always wore a wide-brim hat, Jim greeted everyone with “Hello, friend,” and quickly turned the conversation to how our gardens were growing.

He was the author of about two dozen books, including Homegrown Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs: A Bountiful, Healthful Garden for Lean Times, published earlier this year and reviewed here.

In many ways, his speeches, activities and books reflected his own stages in life. In his 50s and 60s, he was a pioneer on public television, encouraging his baby-boomer audience to dig in the soil and plant a garden. He was the national spokesman for Plant a Row for the Hungry, a program of the Garden Writers Association. A longtime member of GWA, Jim was named a Fellow in 1988 and elected to the Garden Writers Hall of Fame in 1995.

In an interview upon publication of Gardening Through Your Golden Years in 2003, Jim said “as we age, we are reluctant to admit we are getting older and slowing down. I’ve slowed down myself, a little. I started analyzing what was happening to me physically and what happened to gardening and how your perspective changes year to year.”

His longtime companion, Janie Mandel said that just about every day, he worked in the vegetable garden she designed for his 80th birthday, planting, weeding, harvesting and frequently cooking the food he grew.

“There’s a common thread of optimism among gardeners,” Jim said in our 2003 interview. “There’s always the hope that next year’s garden will be better than last year’s garden.”

Thank you, Jim. Rest in peace.

8 comments to Victory Gardener Jim Wilson dies in Missouri

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoEllen Meyers Sharp, Bruce Zimmerman. Bruce Zimmerman said: Victory Gardener Jim Wilson dies. [...]

  • I hope he’s giving advice in the eternal garden now. I met him for the first time last year, and he was a lovely as he ever was on the show.~~Dee

  • I am sorry to hear of his passing. HGTV had his programs on a few years ago and I watched them regularly. He seemed to be very enthusiastic about gardening and oh so knowledgeable. I am sorry to say there has been very few gardening programs lately of that caliber.

  • ken

    It’s always sad to her about the passing of a dedicated gardener like Jim. He certainly will be remembered and missed.

  • Ilene Sternberg

    rue Jim was a wonderful person and a charming true Southern Gentleman. He will be sorely missed by all the garden writers who would see him at the GWA conventions every year. Victory Garden was never the same after he left.

  • June

    My husband and I used to love watching Jim on Victory Garden. He was always so pleasant to listen to and knew so much. He is missed.

  • Judith L. Brown

    I did two stories on Jim, about ten years apart. First, when he and his late wife, Jane, were growing fresh herbs and shipping them fast and fresh to restaurants in NYC from their Duncan, SC farm. In the early 80s, no one else was doing that time of work. After her death from a car accident, my new husband and I were able to spend an afternoon with him for another picture/story assignment. He was demonstrating potting large strawberry jars, and every time he pulled out a plant that was badly rootbound, he said quietly, “Oh, my, my…”
    We still say that, mimicking his sweet soft tone, every time we pull out a little root-bound plant. And we still rely on his Southern plant books and Fafard soils….

  • Thanks for your note, Judith. A fund has been set up through the Garden Writers Association Foundation to honor Jim. Each year, the Jim Wilson Award is presented to a person or organization, which exemplifies Jim’s practice of mentoring gardeners of all ages and experience. In 2011, the Children’s Garden at Garfield Park in Indianapolis received the first Jim Wilson Award during the GWA annual symposium.

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