Guest Blogger: The Sunset of Sunset Magazine


by Kathy Cromwell
Sunset also loves to run articles about highly improbable weekend garden construction projects for under $500. The May 2006 issue shows a “Japanese teahouse only more casual” built in three days for about $500.  The teahouse has a pond stocked with water lilies, a screen of mature Leland cypress, a lovely Redwood or Trex deck, and a garland of electric lanterns. Ok exactly what part of this project cost under $500 and took around 3 days to do – hanging the mosquito netting from the shower curtain rings?

The gardening articles seemed to go downhill about a year ago after Sunset offered early retirement to much of its staff. Some of the staff who retired had decades of hands-on gardening experience and provided a what-works-in-the-West foundation for the garden writing. When I moved to California from Virginia seven years ago, Sunset was the kindly gardening guru who explained: yes,  you can have pretty flowers in the middle of January in California. I have so many of those old gardening articles lovingly filed away and boy, did they ever pack a lot of gardening advice in a couple of pages. I even reproduced some of the magazine’s garden designs down to the exact plant cultivars and have the pictures to prove it.

It has been over a year since I cut anything out of Sunset. The new Sunset seems to target a hipper, attention-deprived audience with glossy photos, slick layouts and very little editorial content.  Sunset, once the best source of advice on western gardening, has become eye candy for the Whole Foods checkout line.

Kathy Cromwell once aspired to work at Sunset, but after posting this blog, can safely cross that ambition off her list. She currently deadheads roses in Burlingame, California.


  1. Sadly, this seems to be the way that magazines–even “reputable” newspapers–are going in general. They SWEAR that they are fair and impartial in their coverage, but if you happen to advertise with them it happens to proportionally increase the inches that they devote to you. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but they are just that: exceptions. Not the rule anymore.

    Part of my job includes buying advertising/media, by the way. So I do see this firsthand.

  2. But a subscription is so cheap… A whole year for only $17 on Amazon.

    I won’t dispute a lack of fabulous planting ideas in Sunset. I mostly read it for the other stuff, and the occassional garden tip. For example, in June: where to get lacewing larvae, and a tip about Does the recipe for grilled peaches count? Probably not, but they sure look tasty.

    And haven’t the projects always been a little over the top for ordinary mortals? In the current issue there’s a step-by-step for a raised planting box stand that might be nice (except that you have to buy the planter box).

  3. There’s a magazine for serious west coast gardeners: it’s called Pacific Horticulture. Sunset’s flaws do not include pretending to be something it’s not. And they still do an ok job explaining to the constant stream of newcomers like you, and me, that we’re not in Kansas anymore.

  4. Actually Sunset Magazine started changing when the Lane Family sold it to Time Warner, oh about 10 years ago, or more. You could see the changes almost happen overnight. When I worked at Christensen’s Nursery in Belmont, which is just a few miles north of Sunset’s headquarters in Menlo Park, during our sales meetings on Saturday morning we went over everything that was in the magazine, since we would get questions about it that week. It was a huge influence with Bay Area gardeners.

    When it was a family run business it just seemed better, but like most things once big corporations take over priorities change. I still buy the magazine, and enjoy looking over the pictures and articles, but they do tend to be a bit fluffy for me. I will, however say, if there are any Sunset editors out there looking for a great story about interesting, small garden centers, located in Northern California, I’ll fill them in. Put me in the travel or garden section, I don’t care!

    I must stick up for Monrovia, although they don’t need my help. Yes, they are a huge wholesale grower, but they have been in the front when it comes to quality of plant material. No other wholesale grower that I am aware of come close to their quality. They are also tied to the independent garden center and not the chains. You won’t find their stuff at Home Depot or Wal Mart. I like that, and as soon as their product is in the chains the quality will have to go down, and I won’t buy from them. They have had some lucrative offers from some of the biggest chains, but so far they are sticking to the independent. We’ll watch and see.

  5. First, a general comment that this website (and I realize this particular blog is a guest blog entry) is incredible.

    We all know by now that the food we eat is bred and modified for commercial gain (shipping, fast growth) at the expense of what the consumer needs (health and taste). The normal response is that Americna consumers want inexpensive food as well, and this is the justification.

    The point is that people are finally calling the horticulture houses to task. Jackson Perkins has foisted Hybrid Teas on the public for years > gaunt disease ridden plants. What percentage of Hybrid Teas make it to year two?

    Wonderful site. Barrie.

  6. Yes, a lot of gardening magazines seem to be following this dangerous trend of “partnering” with advertisers. They seem to be forgetting that advertising should trail an article, not dictate it.

    Smacks of FOX “news”.

  7. Good Morning:
    I just found this old e-mail in my computer from last year regarding the December 2006 ssue of Sunset Magazine.
    I thought that I’d watch the forthcoming 2007 “Christmas” issue of Sunset Magazine to see if it REALLY is a CHRISTMAS issue.
    This is my e-mail to Sunset Magazine verbatim, from LAST YEAR , 2006.

    Good Morning:
    I was thumbing through the December 2006 issue of SUNSET MAGAZINE yesterday, (the one with the Christmas decorations on the cover).
    This is a beautiful magazine, however, I couldn’t find the word CHRISTMAS anywhere, unless it was in it’s generic form, e.g. Christmas tree; Christmas Day.

    I did, however, find many references to SOLSTICE! but not CHRISTMAS! so in keeping with the rapidly accelerating liberal secularization of what I USED to recognize as Christmas, may I just extend my wishes for 2007:

    from Bob

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  8. According to a press release from SoftBank Mobile, the Japanese service provider has secured an agreement with Apple to bring the iPhone to Japan this year. The deal will ensure the iPhone’s first official access in Japan’s market.

  9. I thank you for your open and honest view. I, too, have been deeply disappointed in Sunset…so slick and catalog friendly. I’ve been a Sunset subscriber for about, egad, 25 years, and have watched it steadily decline in content, info, and richness. It’s just another catalog in my estimation. I no longer subscribe. Bullets, bullets, bullets. It’s now so quick, fast, modern that I can’t even recognize the once friendly, informative, and richly personal publication. Everything is slick. Sigh. Sorry if I’ve been another bored and disenchanted reader. (I actually sent a couple of letters to Sunset…all I got back was party line about how they are doing their best to fulfill their reader’s needs–(read adverts). No thanks, Sunset.


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