Garden Design’s Dirty Little Secret


For years, I rarely read Garden Design magazine. I thought of it as a magazine for rich people who can afford to drop six figures on their landscape.  And I could be excused for thinking that–visit their website and you’ll learn that:

 Garden Design is a lifestyle magazine edited for the upscale, design-conscious reader who is serious and passionate about the beauty of gardening…


Garden Design is the champion of the exterior design movement, covering the best and most important in design of outdoor spaces…

And because my idea of outdoor living has more to do with getting my hands in the dirt and less to do with patio furniture, I just didn’t feel–you know–spoken to.

But lately that has really changed.  Garden Design’s dirty little secret is that while it may advertise itself as an upscale, outdoor lifestyle magazine, there are some hardcore horticultural features tucked inside.  Consider the September issue, which just arrived in my mailbox:

  • An article on salvias written by Betsy Clebsch, the woman who literally wrote the book on the subject.  (it’s mostly photos, but in this case, that’s really all you need.  They’re drought-tolerant, incredibly easy to grow, and they attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.  Nuff said.)
  • An article on sustainable shoreline gardening–a tricky situation in which fertilizers and invasive plants can really be a problem.  Buffer zones are discussed in detail.
  • A feature on a garden designed by Austin’s beloved Big Red Sun, whose design is, according to Pam Penick, instantly recognizable around town. (unfortunately, their website is an example of flash animation and fancy design run amok.) 
  • A yummy photo spread featuring ferns–and ferns alone–as cut flowers.  Interesting to me because fern growers are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to get Americans to start buying cut ferns again.  (One florist I know told a Costa Rican fern grower, "You can’t.  Ferns are out of fashion.  Plant something else."  The grower did NOT like that answer!)  Once again, inspiring floral designs come not from within the floral industry, but from somewhere else in the culture.
  • A profile of Mien Ruys, a Dutch garden designer I’ve never heard of.  She died in 1999, her life having spanned the entire 20th century, and in her photograph, she’s gray-haired and serious, not blonde and cute and smiling.  Right on!  And she liked to use plank platforms made of recycled materials as bridges and walkways–exactly the sort of thing I’d been thinking I should use in my garden.  Now I’ve got a vision for it.

And finally, I leave you with this quote from their new columnist Dan Hinkley:

The usual approach to horticulture, if written in equation form would, sadly, read something like this:  {long colorless winters} x {lack of connection to natural world} + {visits to nurseries exclusively in spring} = gardens that stop entertaining much too early in the season.

Rant on, Dan Hinkley!  And thanks, Garden Design, for taking such a newsworthy approach to plants.  You can call yourself an outdoor lifestyle magazine if you want, but I’m on to you people.  You’re plant geeks, too.  Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.


  1. I had written Garden Design off, too. My choice to ignore them came more from my love of full-to-overflowing cottage gardens and their lack of them. That’s why I picked up Country Gardens instead of Garden Design just last night. As I learn more about garden design, I’ve come to appreciate modern minimalist gardens, though. Now that I know they also have useful information stealthily hidden inside, I’ll have to take another look. Thanks for sharing this little secret!

  2. I agree with many of the comments but have read Garden Design primarily because it showcased ‘landscapes’ rather than gardens and one can always learn something from a designed garden rather than a ‘gardeners’ garden. Dan Hinkley is a great addition to their monthly columns!

  3. I too would like to read Garden Design, which is not available on local magazine racks, so I answered their ad. for a free copy. The free copy did not arrive but over a 5 month period increasingly rude letters arrived accusing me of being a defaulting subscriber and worse.

  4. Great post, and the comments lend weight to the notion that GD is a mag in transition, or at least of more than one mind. I too have noticed their excellent content (about which I raved in a post here on 6/22/06), but am also annoyed by the continuing solicitations for me to renew. I kept responding like a robot and now I think I’m subscribed til about 2022. That hasn’t stopped the solicitations, however.

  5. I know what you mean. People assume I read gardening magazines, gardening books and watch gardening TV shows. But actually I loathe them almost without exception. I love fruit and veg, compost, digging, getting my hands dirty, getting sweaty and seeing my garden grow and develop over time. I wish I knew more about weeds and pests, but they’re never mentioned on gardening programmes – gardenng without weeds and pests! It’s cloud-cuckoo-land gardening! I hate “water features” and decking. I hate garden centres that sell cream teas and wind chimes, and will gladly sell you plants and even trees at the wrong time of year, but not rotavators or wheelbarrows.

    I like gardening. What these people do is decorating, outdoors.

  6. I’ve been subscribing to Garden Design Magazine since 1983 and rarely if ever have been disappointed with the educational and entertainment content of their magazine.
    It has always been a publication that celebrated the fine art of residential landscape architecture as well as having finely written historical horticultural articles, botanical species features and other interesting information about the newest garden design products, techniques and materials and more.
    I do miss their ” The Garden Traveler” articles that were extremely well researched and written during the 1980’s. They were open virtual portals to the fantastic gardens around the world .

  7. Ferns as cut flowers? How? I have to read that. I would LOVE to bring my ferns in, but they always wilt immediately in a vase!

  8. The last two issues have been quite good, I thought. And I love reading Dan Hinkley’s column each month. Man, he is an incredible gardener AND writer.

    And once again I’ll risk my neck by putting in a good word for hardscaping (that dreadful word for many plant lovers). You gotta be able to walk through all those plants and sit down somewhere, people. Put in hardscaping first, and then plant, and you’ll never regret it.

  9. I am a garden design student at the University of British Columbia and a die hard plantophile. One of the hardest aspects of design for me to grasp was the hardscaping – and that sometimes, plants have very little to do with design. Shocking. In order to keep up with the more “design ” orientated students in the class amd fufill the 100 drawings needed in my sketch book I have been suscribing to Garden Design magazine. The September edition has been a standout for me as well and I hope they continue in this vein.

Comments are closed.