Jim Wilson: he will be missed


Jim-wilson-photo-203x300  PBS’s Victory Garden sure isn’t what it was, but whatever
respect it still commands among serious gardeners is largely due to the
reputation lent it by such former hosts as James Crockett, Roger Swain, and former
co-host Jim Wilson, who died Sunday at the fine age of 85. A native
Mississippian, Wilson spent 56 years in the horticultural industry, 10 of them on the air of VG. He also wrote several books, including Landscaping
with Wildflowers
, Landscaping with Herbs, and Bulletproof Flowers for the
. His most recent book is Homegrown
Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs: A Bountiful, Healthful Garden for Lean Times

Notably, Wilson was also involved with Plant a Row for the
, GWA’s Jeff Lowenfels-founded program that encourages gardeners to
donate surplus vegetables to the local food bank.

To be honest, I don’t know as much about Wilson as many
garden writers who will see this—some of you knew him personally—and, as I’ve admitted before, I’m not much of
a vegetable grower. But to me, Wilson represents an earlier generation of
professional gardeners who gave direct, forthright information without needing
to look or act cute, or tie it up in a slick package. As he notes about vegetable gardening in his
introduction to Homegrown, “It won’t attempt to entertain you, but it will
enlighten you.”

I learned of this through the garden writers' listserv, via Jeff Lowenfels, but could find no obituary online. UPDATE: OK, here it is. Thanks, Nina! 

 Photo courtesy University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Jim was one of the nicest human beings I have ever known. Another big interest of Jim’s was Master Gardeners. He was influencial in organizing the first national meeting of Master Gardeners in Washington D.C. I think in the mid-80’s. He supported Master Gardeners all over the country. A true Southern gentleman. We all will miss him.

  2. Sad news, Elizabeth, but thanks for letting us know. I can only second Jeff’s comment–he was as kind, gentle, and generous person as you could ever hope to meet. Jim was also the exact opposite of so many of today’s garden “personalities”–there wasn’t a shred of self-importance or inflated ego about him. His books and television appearances were all about providing the best information possible and getting people to garden.

    Elizabeth, do you have a link to an obituary?

  3. I’m so sorry and SO sad to hear this news. There are just some people that distance doesn’t dilute the feeling of closeness and that is how Brent and I have always felt about Jim for such a long time. He was such an inspiration to all of us in the Horticultural world, not just because of his knowledge but also because of how he shared his knowledge – with love, kindness and humbleness – traits that are becoming increasingly lacking in today’s society. I also have such fond memories of singing with him – what a great tenor he was! I shall miss him greatly but will always remember him – his smile, his wit, his charm, he was genuine and because he was such a gentleman.

  4. I wish I did, Tom. I searched through Lexis/nexis and google and could find nothing. I also looked at the Columbia paper online. I learned of this through the Garden writers’ Listserv; Jeff Lowenfels posted it. Jeff would know, I bet.

  5. Jim Wilson shot in my garden for one of his later books. A horticulture mega-star he was soft-spoken, humorous without needing to tell any jokes, and shared his knowledge from myriad aspects of the industry. Freely, generously.

    He shared about his life too. His honesty about deeply personal passages of life & his thinking then handling of them were mentoring.

    And what a handsome man. He was a silver fox in my garden !!

    Garde & Be Well, XO Tara

  6. I first worked with Jim back in the 70`s when he ran the All American Selections program.
    We had infrequent meetings through the years but he was always the same mellow soft spoken advocate for a better practical garden. He will be missed by the gardening world.

  7. I’m well aware of the Victory Garden and Roger, but didn’t know Jim Wilson. It sounds like he was a stalwart in the industry.

  8. It’s hard to believe that it’s 7 years since Jim stood in the Chicago Botanic Garden at the garden writers conference. He was as interested as ever in looking at and learning about plants. A soft-spoken gentleman and a fine horticulturist if there ever was one. I’m thankful I have many videos of the VG program from the 1990s when it was a very well produced, thoughtful show thanks to Russ…

  9. So sad to hear. I watched Victory Garden religiously and have one of the books. So many people knew this man, either in life or on TV. Your commenters who knew him gave a personal account of Jim. Much appreciated.

  10. There is just something so special about old time gardeners. Their patience with the seasons is something we can leran from. Too many of us still rush into spring to get planting done and then fall into exhaustion/boredom come late July. This same “peace” from gardening can be felt by simply getting on your knees and pulling weeds by hand thus really getting to know the plants and soil

    The TROLL

  11. Jim was a gentleman and a scholar. I learned so much from him about life, horticulture, and how to clearly communicate with people.

    He was also my Uncle.

    Godspeed Jim!

    Love, Dave

  12. Grandpa Jim is my Grandfather and he would love to have seen your amazing comments. I know in heaven he appreciates your love. He loved his job and he loved his fans.

    His Eldest Granddaughter,

  13. Grandpa Jim is also my Grandfather. Sadly I only got to see his property after he died (he crossed over a few minutes before or after we landed in St. Louis to see him). He wrote more than several books though, about 14.

    His youngest grandson,

  14. Amanda and Drew, I had the pleasure of meeting your grandad a number of times and he was always such a gracious gentlemen who was so very proud of his children and grandkids. You have my sincere sympathy at what must be a difficult time for the family.

  15. So sorry to hear of Mr Wilson’s passing. Though never knew him personally, he will be missed as an old friend.

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