We join Organic Gardening magazine (OG) at possibly the most exciting time in its history. With magazines folding all around them, the lucky bunch at Rodale find themselves sitting on top of a tsunami of veg-growing popularity, and they're riding that wave for all its worth.
Not that they're solely responsible for the upsurge in growing food and growing it organically, or in what now gets called the "organic lifestyle". Lots of factors, including the recession and the First Lady, have contributed to OG's 17% increase in ad revenue last year and their surging circulation. But it's OG that's been talking and walking organic gardening, especially food gardening, since 1942, for crissakes, and times have finally caught up with THEM. As editor Ethne Clarke told me in a phone chat, organic gardening is no longer the fringe – it's mainstream.
So last spring, at the height of anticipation over the White House Kitchen Garden, Rodale brought in a new regime from Des Moines, home of Meredith Publishing, led by Ethne and followed quickly by others from Iowa.
(Does this count as a brain drain? How ya doing, Meredith?) I was happy to learn that they didn't just keep Therese Ciesinski on but promoted her to managing editor.
So Ethne's first big task in her big new job was a total make-over in design and content, which is now revealed in the Feb-March issue and heralded via press release. Have you seen it yet? Here's my quickie version of what's new:
- Design-wise, the look is bolder, the photos are sexier, the paper is heavier and larger.
- The main change in content seems to be "expanded food and cooking coverage," including a new nutrition expert, a food writer, and photojournalist Mathew Benson covering his own family's organic farm in the Hudson Valley, New York, complete with chickens, heirloom fruit trees and who knows what else. On the ornamental side, designer Gordon Hayward will contribute regularly – something for us non-homesteading gardeners.
There's a new Gardener in Town
Now in media reports you've probably seen photos of the professional Ethne Clarke and that's cool, but here's a casual shot of someone I totally believe is a gardener. Her qualifications for the job are nicely summarized in Rodale's announcement of her hiring: "A professionally trained
horticulturist and internationally known garden historian and author, Clarke has
published 15 books on gardening and landscape history". All that and business-savvy to boot, with more details here. Yes, she spent 30 years in England but is originally from Chicago, so don't expect to hear an accent.
Now for some gossipy, off-resume bits. Her husband Donald Clarke is a music writer, with not just that website but a blog, too. And in her five years in Des Moines she got to know Governor Vilsack enough to declare "Yay, Tom!" at what he's doing in his new job as Secretary of Ag. Also, 'I'm proud of Vilsack" and he's a "down-to-earth guy". Good to know.
The Gardens of Ethne Clarke
So with a chance to chat with Ethne, I naturally asked about her gardens – because I can't imagine relocating every few years as she's done (though with enough pluck to see each new garden is an opportunity to learn.)
After gardening on 1.5 acres in England for 30 years, the Clarkes relocated to Austin – a fine place to garden but what a difference! But they "loved Austin dearly" for lots of reasons (remember her husband writes about music). Though their new property was so void of plants there was "nothing but a dead possum in the woodpile", in her six years there Ethne created a native-plant, water-wise, all-organic garden and volunteered at the famous Wildflower Center.
Next garden? In Des Moines, Iowa, for all of five years before the Clarkes uproot themselves once again and land in Allentown, PA – which Ethne says is "a bit like England." Well, compared to Austin and Des Moines, I bet. Their first goal is installing greenhouses for all her succulents (souvenirs of Texas), and they'll have veg garden, of course.
Next – Extreme Makeover, Online Version
Phase two of OG's makeover will update their online presence – the website, blog, and social media. Hey, how about some blog posts about Ethne's own gardens, old and new?
Talk to the Editor
So what do we think of OG's new look and content? My quick review is that it's a big improvement visually, and the changes
in content look smart and promising. I'd like to see the authors'
names made easier to find – why hide 'em? And the oversize paper I'm not crazy
about. But I love Rob Cardillo's cover photo and really, all the
photography inside, too.
So readers, while we have OG's attention, tell us what you think of their makeover. And what would you like to see in phase two?