Storm 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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.