My Book, Garden Design Magazine & a Saturday Morning Blizzard Update

Boston snow storm snow measurementStorm Status: Saturday morning Feb. 9  2013 – Harvard, MA – Snow is about 18 inches deep and still coming down.  Snowed in, still have power and cable (though there were flickerings of outages last night), all is well and cozy. 

I have had a number of you ask what this book that I am working on is all about.   Hesitating to say (for no particular reason) I have simply avoided the question.  I didn’t put too much thought to my reasons, but I felt like staying mum on the subject helped me to feel less overwhelmed by it all.   So now that I have got the first three chapters into draft form, I am feeling a little more open to talk about it more freely.

So it is about garden design (that was a big leap right? <sarcasm>). Specifically garden design styles (that isn’t the title – it doesn’t  have a title yet) – basically as I see them – that is, how to specifically make the jump from no garden or lame soulless garden, to garden that is a reflection of your personal style.  With lots of advice and ideas to help you.  As I see it taking shape I am beginning to be very excited for this idea that has been rattling in my head for years to finally come to life.

A fellow book-writer friend of mine told me that the 10 months that I will be incubating this project will feel much the same as birthing a child.  So far, the similarities are striking…near vomit inducing stress while I got through early stages (that involve contract negotiations (blech!) and getting to know the team and working out how we will all play together) and the recurring thought about what to name this thing.   If it holds true, I am looking forward to that blossoming stage in the near future where I get in the groove and glow with it and where one has that not-yet-totally-intrusive and somewhat cute bump that tells everyone what is going on.  I’m starting to enjoy it so all signs are good.

waterfall-lIn my book research I came across this garden at Southern Living.  It is the epitome of what I would call a Forest Temple (yes, that is a chapter in the book) garden.  Yes, it has trees and is in a forest…but it is the mystery of woods, the all encompassing canopy and green coupled with the surprise at every turn that makes it so special and of the style.

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Add the fact that there are lots of woodland plants, ferns, mosses, rocky outcroppings and generally a sense that you might run into a wood nymph as you make your way through the place. I’m not using it in the book — but think it is well worth sharing.

grotto-l

So, while your enjoy these shots, I would like to talk about something else.  If you haven’t already heard — Garden Design Magazine is shutting down.   I am not sure what to think of this.   I have had a love/hate relationship with this magazine for years.  Some issues I’ve loved, and at times I went for years loving every single one — then some articles and issues have irritated me to the point of letting my subscription lapse.   I have to admit — they have irritated me to the point of going off and creating the magazine I wish that Garden Design was.

I’m thinking about this all as a reader, a writer, and industry professional, and a creator of a magazine that plays in the same proverbial sandbox.  I’m going to miss the magazine, it did inspire me, but I have to examine my own reasons for not paying for it  (lately) if I am going to try and learn from it and understand what happened.

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Not buying it (personally) is the result of two things.  First – I can get all the inspiration I can take elsewhere.  This isn’t to say that a more cultivated, curated, and deeper look into something (as Garden Design and most magazines do) isn’t something I appreciate (in fact I do) it is just that my bandwidth for media intake is only so much — and in the last few years it is has been a bit over-crowded and (for better or worse) filled with other things that aren’t necessarily even garden design related (I’m looking at you facebook, twitter, pinterest, hulu and netflix).  Sadly, I find that all the paper magazines on my coffee table can lay there for weeks (or months) without being read.  Lately, magazines have (for me) become a way to discover another culture (I tend to buy them only when I travel) and a simple luxury I rarely give myself.  I recognize that this isn’t the way I want to live – but it is the way I do live.  At one time I had subscriptions to 6 or 7 magazines — but now — just one (This Old House) – and who knows if I will renew*?   I blame this all on my constantly changing personal technology usage and my consistent inability to come to grips with the constant evolution.  Do you still read paper magazines?  How have your habits changed in the last few years? Do you have your head around all the new media and what it means for how you live? Are you happy with it all?

*Plus there is the paper factor — I don’t rip things out anymore — I don’t want the paper clutter — I much prefer to pin it or save in evernote where I can feel like the organized person that I was never able to be in the paper world.

forest temple garden alabama

As one of the founders of Leaf, I am certainly wondering what Garden Design’s demise means for our publication. (Or maybe it means nothing…?)  We too are very much in a constantly evolving state.  We don’t have the industry background that drives the backend of a publication like Garden Design and I often wonder how much of a weakness that is — or perhaps how it might be our greatest strength?   We follow our guts and truly don’t know what is around the next corner – I suppose the Garden Design people probably felt the same — but maybe there is some value in re-inventing the wheel every once in a while?

We are considering things like printing Leaf (so many have asked for it) — but then I examine my own usage and wonder if that is right.  And I also wonder what will make Leaf different than Garden Design and somehow able to potentially survive where they did not.  Garden Design’s team is talented and experienced so what is the difference?  I continue to ponder, and would love to hear your opinions on the matter.

Which brings me to my second reason for not supporting Garden Design Magazine…I think that garden enthusiasm is evolving.  And generally in a good way (but perhaps not in a way that helped GD).  I think more people than ever are interested in the industry and the hobby and general enjoyment of cultivating the land.   But less of them are willing to hire designers to do it.  I think that it is a result of economics and  changing lifestyle trends (fewer people can afford the luxury of a designer garden).   There is a huge trend for trying (in our over connected world) to re-connect with tangible things.  We want to know where our food comes from, what the story is behind the products we buy, and we have a greater desire to understand and come to terms with our environment and the impact we have on it.  All these things mean that people are more willing (I think) to get their hands dirty and give small micro-level change a chance.   I’m part of that movement – and I often found that Garden Design’s exclusivity with very high end Landscape Architects (and the exclusion of garden designers in general) as well as an often out of touch price point for featured products and stories to be irritating.   I love good design, high design and all of it top to bottom, but mostly I love personal expression and I’m increasingly interested in the inspiration that others like me can provide.   When there is only one publication in print in this niche — it seems logical that it should be one that appeals to the most base – and as part of that base, lately, I struggled to connect.   I never quite understood the promotion of impractical plants or products, or the current trend towards interiors stories or some of the other soul searching moves that GD has made.  But I understand that they were soul searching — they were desperately trying to find the sweet spot and experimenting is always good.   We do that at Leaf and we have learned a few things but we will surely continue to hose things up every once in a while too – hopefully to emerge with a good lesson under our belts.  I’m wondering what lessons might be in this news.

I am sad to see Garden Design go, I am sad that the talented staff there will be forced to move on into an unknown landscape, and I am (as a business owner) interested to know just what happened, but I can’t deny my ambivalence at the thought of not seeing it on the newsstand.  In this age of authenticity, I think all I can do is be honest about the fact that my shoulders are shrugging right now and I need to just keep on moving forward, following my gut and creating what appeals to me — and hoping that it appeals to you too.  I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this….

 

images from Southern living, photographed by Ralph Anderson, and this Alabama garden was designed by homeowner Jim Scott. 

10 Responses to My Book, Garden Design Magazine & a Saturday Morning Blizzard Update

  1. I didn’t hear the news about Garden Design magazine. That’s too bad.

    I read through your comments and I have to tell you the problem I have with garden magazines is the problem I have with most publications. Their pages are filled with advertisements and very little content. It’s the same reason I hate Vogue (sorry all you Vogue lovers out there).

    There are very few publications that actually do research to come up with something interesting and fresh. For crying out loud, NBC Nightly News is pulling stories off of Twitter. Are you kidding me Brian Williams?

    Everyone is just re-tweeting, re-liking, re-linking and regurgitating the same stories over and over. As a matter of fact, I was joking with a friend that there aren’t actually any gardening “people” on twitter. It’s just one auto responder talking to another auto responder.

    The article in Leaf magazine about the garden at Chateau de la Malmaison is an example of what I’m looking for in a magazine. I love learning about new places and their history (especially if gardens are involved). And I like to learn more than I can read on a wiki page.

    When I was researching my latest blog post about the botanical artist, Pierre Joseph Redoute, I learned that he is actually the artist that painted Empress Josephine’s roses at Malmaison. I immediately thought of your Leaf article and that, to me, is cool.

    I love Leaf and I love reading it online. I wish you continued and amazing success!
    Susan =)

  2. Susan — thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with you about what I call the echo chamber — the chamber always seems even more obnoxious the more you delve into a niche (everybody repeating what everybody else says!)…but you are so right…even the big guys do it. I used to feel all excited when I would see some breaking news on twitter that I would then later hear about on the real news…but quickly I started to see the ‘real news’ for what it is…not all that thoughtful and just echoing someone else ( I expected more!). Too few take time to build out the story — I say spend some time with it and give whatever ‘it’ is a full look and examination. I am really glad you enjoyed some of Leaf’s stories — the Josephine story and many of the Root pieces where we look at history and historical characters are among my favorites too.

  3. Rochelle:

    You make so many good points in your write-up.

    Maybe we are getting groomed to searching for what we want when we need it. Sort of like how you store your ideas on Pinterest now. It’s more organized, cleaner.

    To pay for content one must get valuable information (thorough analysis?) not available elsewhere. I take the Economist on the ipad for instance. And there we go again- ipad subscriptions are another way of it being organized and the information being there when I need it on the ipad (versus carrying around a bunch of magazines).

    Again, thank you for your post and insights.

  4. Jim – I think we very much are learning to be an on demand society (I certainly am!) — never thought of it in relation to all media (but it is very obvious in my TV habits). Good Point.
    I have this curiosity about GD that realtes to the advertisers….a number of people in the know have blamed pressure from advertisers for the demise….I find this so curious — what are they demanding (we have never had a demand from an advertiser at Leaf) — and why are they taking the blame? It makes me wonder if we are managing the advertising in a different way, or if because the ROI is more tangible that there is a difference?…or if we are in for pressures that we just somehow avoided so far. Even if the advertisers aren’t part of the problem (and the rumors and speculation is untrue) there is a definite perception on the readers part that they are somehow to blame — feelings that the magazine was full of nothing but ads. I am not sure I ever felt that…only that the magazine was never filled with anything I really wanted to read about (and I am pretty interested in the subject). And again — we have had wonderful compliments on our ads (people commonly remark about how pretty they are and how well they flow with the magazine). So much to think about….looking forward to discussing…

  5. I enjoyed reading your post, Susan, and am curious to see your new book when it comes out. I also have a new book coming out in late July that includes considerable information about garden style. Through The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings (Timber Press) my intention is to convince landscape designers to ‘finish’ their projects. I wonder if the lack of interest on the part of far too many landscape designers to include furnishings in their projects has something to do with the demise of Garden Design magazine.

    As for myself, I enjoyed the magazine most of the time, but always wished that it would have been more like Interior Design is for professional interior designers. Perhaps they just couldn’t decide who their audience was? I believe we need information about what the latest products are on the market in addition to inspiration provided by quality design and art. Good designers also go to museums and even the hardware store for inspiration.

    The digital age is helping me keep paper off my desk. Like you, it’s easier to organize information online and it’s so portable! I agree that the future looks more like this than stacks of magazines.

  6. Vanessa – I 100% agree with you hardware store and museum inspiration sources….add to that travel and graphic design tomes and wedding websites and I can find ridiculous inspiration! Good luck with your book this summer — I look forward to checking it out.

  7. Hi neighbor,
    Although this is the first I have heard about GD closing shop, I suppose that it is no surprise to many, as I too feel the same way about GD as you do. I struggled with first who its target consumer was ( I assumed they did too), and mostly, I decided that its consumer was not me. It does raise the bigger question though, about the future of magazines….and gardening ones, in particular. I love them too, but like you, tend to only buy them while traveling. I think we all love them still, but the reality is that one Pinterest search will bring me hundreds of images, while $5.95 only brings me 4 articles that are 300 words or less, and 200 ad’s. I get inspired, but for only about 3 minutes. I still adore plant society journals ( the good ones, like the Alpine Garden Society or NARGS) but beyond that, I have yet to find ( or create) the perfect media. I do wonder what the future will bring – for digital inspiration is great, it rarely feels valuable to me, and I can’t save it on a book shelf.

  8. Rochelle,
    Garden Design has been a fantastic magazine. Sorry to see it go.

    Hands down, my favorite magazine is Gardens Illustrated. The writing is good and the images are inspiring. I haven’t quite figured out their formula but almost every issue has new plants, gardens, and people.

  9. Rodney — I agree wholeheartedly — Gardens Illustrated is an extraordinary publication…(have been trying to convince my local bookstore to carry it again for the last couple years– but thatnkfully my local library has a subscription).

  10. It’s interesting, over the last four years I’ve been in business, I’ve found that people are actually MORE interested in hiring a designer. This is true even on the <$10k projects, which I was always told no one would ever commit a chunk of their budget for "just" a drawing. I wonder if maybe that's due to the amazing wealth of free info and imagery the web provides. As designers, we're not just designers and artists, we're filters and curators of information and ideas.

    Which is pretty cool.

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