Gardening Magazines as Winter Lifeline and Teacher


1994 was the year I caught the gardening bug big-time and found my life changed in exciting ways. Fg It was all just SO COOL – until the following winter, when I found myself totally bereftFrom then on, winters have meant me not only a touch of the aptly acronymed SAD; they’ve brought withdrawal symptoms and the quest for something to do with my spare time that I could do.

Design_1The solution that first winter was the discovery of gardening magazines, which I devoured for their inspiring photos spreads, their plant ideas, their how-to’s.  Hell, I loved them cover to cover.  I even indulged my new addiction by ordering every issue of Fine Gardening ever published and devouring them, too.  Subscriptions to Garden Design and Horticulture soon followed, though without the compulsive back-issue-collecting.

But garden magazines have done more for me than just get me through the winter;Hortmag_1 they’ve
been the single greatest source of my gardening education and I can’t
imagine how else I could have learned most of what I know.  And it took
a survey that Stuart recently conducted – "What gardening magazines do
you read?" – and the amazing answers – basically "None" – to make me realize
their importance to me.  People, why not?  And if not, how have you learned to garden?  Seriously – enlighten me!

Having exhausted back issues of Fine Gardening that first winter, I’ve since tried lots of other winter survival tactics.  There was the year I collected catalogues and obsessed over my orders.  There were experiments with seed-starting, a form of gardening I found both high-maintenance and low-satisfaction.  More recently I’ve tried dried flower arranging, with some nice results.  I’ve enjoyed repairing and painting the old birdhouses a prior owner made back in the ’50s.  Last year I painted the concrete leaf impressions and pavers I’d made the summer before.  And after reading responses to yesterday’s post about houseplants, especially the suggestions for more exciting plants than the usual philodendrons, there might even come a frigid day when I give them a try.

Snowwoods_1But really, what’s become my primary gardening substitute in winter is very simple – strolling in the garden and walking in the woods.  Because gardening is just as much about being outdoors IN NATURE as it is manipulating natural elements like dirt and plants.  It’s being in nature that keeps me sane more than anything, and it’s awfully beautiful out there with a blanket of snow, you know.  Now maybe if we haven’t yet screwed up our planet irrevocably, the temperatures will drop, snow will fall, and I’ll walk down this path, camera in hand.


  1. I have enjoyed the odd magazine from time to time, but I haven’t ever been a gardening magazine subscriber… thinking on it now, I realize that most of my gardening knowledge comes from 1) trial-and-error, and yes, talking to the plants, 2) observations and conversations with other gardeners, 3) a few beloved gardening/plant/horticulture books, and 4) googling.

    Perhaps I’ll give one of your favorites a try next year, and see just what I’m missing! 😉

  2. I confess to being another member of the every-issue-of-Fine-Gardening club. And I do go back to those old issues when I need certain information. Gardening magazines have not only been the foundation of my gardening knowledge, but have also been my first introduction to some of my favorite garden authors, whose books I went on to read after reading their articles or essays I had come across in magazines.

  3. For me it was books. The magazines are great as far as they go–but they’re awfully slim compared to some of my cooking and wine mags. I’d like them to be more substantive.

  4. I learned much first hand spending summers helping my grandparents with a garden filled with much of the food they ate.
    The first magazine I was drawn to was Organic Gardening,
    currently it is Mother Earth News.

    The biggest influence have been books with ‘The One Straw Revolution’ by Masanobu Fukuoka being of most importance then later ‘Noah’s Garden’by Sara Stein.
    Strangely I was late to read Rachel Carsons ‘Silent Spring’and was only moved to read her words by other writers siting her work.
    The first book I used when wanting to grow flowers was a Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening from my Mother. I still have it. LOL…

  5. I’m a magazine lover, too. Living in Minnesota means long, cold winters, and there’s nothing better than the day when Fine Gardening shows up in the mailbox.

    My dirty secret, though, is that when I have a bad day or week, I’ll get one of those Better Homes magazines from the grocery store to read before bed. There is very little useful information in most of them, but there are days when I just need the pretty pictures.

  6. Garden magazine addict here! Save them all and read them over! Another good one is put out by the American Horticultural Society and it has very useful information! A walk in the woods is always an energy boost and today it was cold, quiet and lovely, even with no snow on the ground. There is always something to see although today it was long shadows and a wide variety of ‘scat’ which the dog loves! P.S. Helleborus foetidus is sending up its blossoms here in the Northeast and that lime green is a welcome sight!

  7. How did I learn? spending a large portion of my 26 years helping my folks garden or walking round gardens and nurseries with them (with my botanical latin illiterate dad periodically asking me to remember that one!).

    I do read but only RHS the Garden and Gardens Illustrated (or online). Winter is for planting more trees and drooling over seed catalogues.

  8. We find that – when we are really down in Winter gloom – is rereading to each other and reviewing our extensive garden journal while at the same time looking at our 1000s of digital pics of our garden over the last eight years and being constantly fascinated how both of us and our garden has matured …and then get really depressed we can’t do anything until at least March and down a few more glasses of wine and try and go fight the damn bugs invading the plants we try and bring and overwinter…sigh..

  9. I go in cycles with my magazine subscriptions. There are times I decide I have too many garden magazines and no time to read them, so I cut back on my subscriptions. Then I’ll see a magazine on the newsstand and decide to subscribe again. Currently, I like American Gardener from the American Horticultural Society. I’ve been dropping subscriptions to most of the “fluff” gardening magazines with all pictures, no substance. I still like Garden Gate, with no advertising.

    How do I learn about gardening? Books, watching and talking to other gardeners, my own experimentation, some formal education.

  10. I totally read (and re-read) garden magazines. I tab the pages with Post-It notes and file every issue in chronological order on my bookshelf.

    Fine Gardening is my life. Even better for left coast gardeners is Pacific Horticulture.

    I like Horticulture a lot, but I don’t subscribe to it. Yet. I also like Garden Gate although it doesn’t come out very often.

    One I dislike and only buy at the airport is, I think, Garden Design. It’s just rich people and their over-determined gardens.

    I even started blogging the magazines I subscribe to. Catalogs too. Does anyone else keep catalogs?

    I’m a catalog keeper. I need therapy.

  11. The first gardening magazine I subscribed to, way back in my 20s, was “Organic Gardening and Farming”. In the late 1990s, I subscribed to Taunton’s “Kitchen Gardener”. (I linked to that but your software deleted it.) As a member of the RHS, I get “The Garden”. Although I typically read mostly garden books, I find magazines to be a nice monthly diversion. I don’t tend to look through them over and over as I do with books. Magazines are too pricey; books are free at the library.

  12. I must admit, there are very few garden magazines that I like. I was reading “Gardens Illustrated” in Borders the other day, though, and I had to pony up the $8 and change to buy it. Cleve West makes me want to have an allotment garden so I can make fabulous soups and share them with my fellow gardeners. They had a feature on Piet Oudolf.

    And to top it all off, Dan Pearson writes about brugmansia like he’s really chronicling a love affair. Where is that kind of emotion and passion in US gardening mags? Why do we only get articles about how Ms. landscape designer created a backyard for Jane and John Doe and their 2.2 kids that is the envy of their suburban neighbors? Ugh.

Comments are closed.