Everybody's a Critic

Checking in with Horticulture Magazine

by Susan
All this talk lately of gardening magazines, especially the sudden demise of House and Garden, caused me to take aHortmag
cold, hard look at the next one that fell through my mail slot – Horticulture – and ask myself the all-important question: Would I recommend it?  Based on the contents of the December/January issue I most definitely would, and here’s why:

  • A meaty, 8-page "For the Mid-Atlantic Gardener" section and presumably for other regions.
  • Photos of the drop-dead gorgeous English garden of a professional garden photographer.  It’s not the usual gorgeosity we expect to see, though.  It’s all gravel and meadow-style plantings of Mediterranean plants and grasses.  Very distinctive.
  • A profile of ‘Gold Cone’ juniper, which grows to 4-6′ tall and 1-2′ wide after 10 years, just the size plant someone in my town SHOULD have put on either side of their front door
    instead of the Canadian hemlocks they used.  (Ultimate width: 25-35 feet.)  Junipers, as common as they might be, are an underexplored genus.
  • Most of all, for the feature "A Gardening Life."  This one profiled a most interesting man, one J-P Malocsay, who didn’t "get serious about money" until he turned 50. "I’m a working gardener, too dirty and tired at the end of the day to claim anything beyond a comfortable way with the basics."  He laments that his clients rarely buy his notion that "a garden worth living with is nature-friendly to the max.  Not just the sweet-tweet stuff, the birds and butterflies, but the full range of creepy-crawlies that sustain and animate real organic habitat."

And here’s my favorite part:  Every client receives their own copy of a journal he writes to document the garden and make his arguments for environmentally sensitive gardening. "I’ve never been fired but have often wondered why."  His current project, transforming the grounds of the hospital near his Pennsylvania home, reflects his mission in horticulture:  "To replace the routine horrors of the landscaping goons with public-space gardens that offer genuine down-home appeal."  Well said!

  • A good feature about rock gardens, including mouth-watering photos, beginning with this quote: "All gardeners become rock gardeners if they garden long enough.  Gardening is an art and rock gardening is the purest, most personal of all forms of horticulture."  Now THAT turns me on.
  • A good profile of agaves, with wonderful photos.
  • C. Colston Burrell on "The Invasive Problem," in which he writes, "Exotic-plant bashing has become the pastime of zealots who would like to ban all nonnative plants.  This is neither necessary nor desirable."  And "Not every invasive species acts the same in all regions of the country, or in all ecosystems within a region."  He says it’s hard to predict which nonnative plants will become invasive but that plants bearing fleshy fruits "head the suspect list" and recommends we commit to excluding them from our gardens.  Now this seems reasonable, but wouldn’t it mean giving up Nandina, one of the most drought-tolerant evergreen shrubs of all time, even though birds don’t actually eat its berries?  Here’s where I wish Burrell had said all this in a blog so we could have a conversation about this hot topic. 

To pick a nit (and who can resist?) I wish they’d ditch the
childish, unappealing illustrations and give us photographs in their place.  For example, when the author of "Conspiracy Theory" describes "marveling"
at his garden, with its "wonderfully satisfying slope of happy plant
associations," I want to SEE it.

THE WEBSITE and BLOGS
I was hoping to link to these stories on their website but oops – it isn’t current.  But I did find something there I can praise – three blogs.  They each have About pages that give us all sorts of information I love knowing about a blogger – where they garden, what kinds of garden they have, favorite gardening reference, and on and on.

WANT A LAUGH?
When I Googled for an image of a Horticulture cover, I found this link to the website of a landscape service.  The owner either didn’t have a photo for his bio or just thought what the heck – use Brad Pitt instead!

Posted by on November 13, 2007 at 4:57 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic.
Comments are off for this post

10 responses to “Checking in with Horticulture Magazine”

  1. layanee says:

    Susan: A great synopsis of why I also like Horticulture magazine! I think that it has become much more user friendly in the past few years and I always cringe at the cartoons and have wondered how they can be more economical than photos which really tell a story!

  2. eliz says:

    Huh. I paged through and got stuck on the extrememly unhelpful and overly general advice on
    overwintering tender plants–at least I think that was them.

    But overall I like Horticulture OK. And I do like their region-specific sections, which I think they have always had.

    The writing in these mags is simply not as compelling as in others we get so I always find myself paging through them in a listless fashion.

  3. Jessica says:

    Thanks for this post! I just started gardening and am trying to determine which ones are worth a subscription! Our library has a few garden-related mags, but I’d like to have a few subscriptions so I can keep them as reference! Plus, great “laugh” link:) haha

  4. It’s been years since I had a subscription to Horticulture…no national gardening magazines seemed to work once we moved to Austin. Your post is making me consider getting it again, Susan.

    As to nandina – it’s on the City of Austin Invasive Plants list so I cut off the flowers to prevent fruiting.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. susan harris says:

    Annie, I’ve heard that about nandina, yet naturalists around here say don’t be fooled by those berries – the birds won’t eat them. So how’s it spreading? In my garden they’ve reproduced underground but only a plant or two over these decades. I read once in Horticulture, I believe, that it had been declared invasive in Florida but that its designation was very controversial and tainted with accusations of financial gain from its designation. No topic is hotter, I tell ya.

  6. I had not had a subscription to Horticulture in over 15 years but decided to subscribe to it this past year.
    I’m not going to renew the subscription after the last magazine arrives.
    I find it to be anemic at best in regards to over all content coverage and I don’t care for its graphic layout either.
    It seems to be geared towards the beginner gardener which is fine and has its place but I’m not at that place anymore and need more inspiring and indepth articles on plants , places, design and landscape architecture + history.

    As a testament to how much I liked reading Horticulture this past year, one can go to my magazine pile and not find one old past issue. – I threw them all out after reading them. – Nothing worth saving.
    On the other hand one can find Garden Design, Landscape Architecture, Gardens Illustrated, Alfresco and Sunset lined up in rows in this past years pile .

  7. Tibs says:

    I attended a Horticulture sponsered all day garden symposium that had 4 speakers and it was great. They gave us their latest issue. My complaint? Hard to read. Too small font, not enough contrast. I’d guess that 90% of the people attending the symposium were over 50 – the age when your eyes start to go.

    I’m with the above poster, articles seemed to be for beginners. I might pick it up at the newstand, but not subscribe.

  8. Susan, I’m neither an ornithologist nor a naturalist, but have noticed flocks of birds appear to dive in and out of the nandinas and then the berries were gone. Maybe they take them and then drop them if they don’t taste good?? Or maybe we have different birds down here? The nandinas show up in the middle of wilderness somehow.

    Annie

  9. fran sorin says:

    Susan-

    Every time I receive an offer for a gardening magazine, I really take my time reflecting on whether or not I will actually take the time to read it. There are years where I’ve subscribed to Fine Gardening, Horticulture and Garden Design. I have found them intermittently interesting and helpful…but not enough to commit to a yearly subscription. I really, really dislike waste and prefer to buy one copy of the magazine from the bookstore when it grabs my eye, rather than committing to an entire year. Fran

  10. jodi says:

    Of the various gardening magazines out there, I like this one quite well–better than either of the Canadian offerings. Sure, it’s not gonna please all of the people all of the time, but it tends to go into detail reasonably well, compared to the fluff pieces written in some publications. Maybe because gardening has exploded so exponentially in the last 10 years or so, gardeners are more…um, I shudder to say sophisticated, but how about informed from various sources?…and this makes us expect more from publications; yet a magazine has to cater to both novice and seasoned gardeners. Plus of course encourage advertisers that pay for the magazine and for the writers to make a reasonable rate.
    We’ve seen a lot of discussion and some downright slagging of publications of late, so how about this: what DO we gardeners want in a magazine? I’m in Nova Scotia, Annie’s in Austin, Tx, Susan’s in Washington DC area….and we all have different climates, interests, plants. That’s just three readers/gardeners. How does a publication go about pleasing hundreds of thousands of readers–without going bankrupt?
    One final observation; a highly respected editor told me a few years back that if a reader, whether off the rack or a subscriber, reads 4 articles in an issue, that’s considered good. Another editor with another publication confirmed this last week. Some food for thought, perhaps.

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