Jill Severn's Gardening Column

The gift of a gardener’s legacy, now in print


Mike Dillon retired after many years of publishing as many as six community newspapers in the Seattle area.

“Starting in the early 1990s, he writes “we had a columnist, Madeleine Wilde, who wrote  ‘Notes from the Garden’ for more than two decades for our flagship paper, the Queen Anne & Magnolia News

“Madeleine had a singular voice: a sort of hands-on Thoreau. Periodically, over the twenty-plus years when I was publisher at the News, I urged Madeleine to gather her columns into a book manuscript and send it out to prospective publishers. Two weeks before Madeleine died from a rare form of lymphoma in 2018, she asked me to do this.”

“A New York publisher accepted the manuscript, and so did Chatwin Books in Seattle. I preferred to stick closer to home. Notes from the Garden: Creating a Pacific Northwest Sanctuary, is just out.”

Dillon’s is a generous act of friendship; editing, compiling and shepherding a book into publication is no small feat.

It was is a gift both to the late author and to all gardeners who need something to comfort us during these dark days of winter.

In 1986, Wilde and her husband, a professor emeritus in the Landscape Architecture Department of the University of Washington, bought a 1911 house on a double lot on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. Its site is a steep hillside with views of Seattle, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. That’s the perch from which Wilde wrote.

Her columns are brief, and reading them is like eating from a gourmet assortment of chocolates: rich, satisfying, and each with a lingering, pleasant aura. It is a book to savor.

In one essay, as she gears up for spring weeding, she discusses her “nemesis plants;” in the next, she reflects on noise and silence in her urban setting; and after that comes an appreciation of the unfurling of leaves and fern fronds in spring.

Along the way she tosses in plenty of opinions and advice: She is a big fan of mulch. She offers a novel idea about how to foil aphids that attack mature nasturtiums in late summer. She gives explicit instructions about watering, including advising against soaker hoses because earwigs plug them up. She can tell you about composting in a worm box. And on another day, in another column, she advocates for little-known treasures like iris graminea.

She also names other garden writers she likes; Mirabel Osler is one. Osler is credited with reviving the popularity of English cottage gardens; I was inspired to order her book A Gentle Plea for Chaos, which is available used for under $5. (I’ve always been attracted to a bit of chaos, to English garden writers, and to affordable used books.)

What’s most likable about this book is Madeleine Wilde herself. She is both tough and gentle, warm and rational, poetic and practical. And away from the garden, she was a community-minded citizen who served on the Queen Anne Community Council, the Pike Place Historical Commission, and, in her later years, as a steadfast volunteer for the Ballard Food Bank.

She reinforces my conviction that gardeners are good people. So are newspaper editors.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com


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  • Drutty

    Thank you for this delightful and beautifully written article. I shall look for this book~! I believe in a "Little Chaos" in my garden and love an "English Garden" look~! As you have mentioned before, cutting everything back come fall, leaves little for the birds, so I DO NOT fall prune and my garden is busy with birds foraging.

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