My Favorite Gardening Mag


I think gardening is all about the search for novelty.  It's one crazy, messy  experiment, of the kind I used to do in the kitchen as a kid when my mother was out of the house.  As long as the Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds stay in business, gardening is an endless frontier.

When I read about gardening, I want that experimental flavor to prevail.  I want to be surprised, shocked, enraged, informed.  It increasingly occurs to me that when I read about gardening, I don't want the same tired old lore from some tired old hack–so much gardening lore has been so completely discredited in my own garden.  And Lord knows, I've been doing this too long to place any faith whatsoever in another Easy Care Perennial roundup. (Easy Care in your yard.  Disappears in mine.)

I want either something sincerely, admittedly, and passionately personal, or I want science. I want to hear from Dr. Jeff Gillman and Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, those rare scientists willing to write for gardeners. I want to understand how it was that late blight blew into my garden last summer, though my beautiful country garden is at least a mile away from another garden in any direction.

Increasingly, when I settle into bed at night, I want the Fedco Seeds catalog beside me for the laughs, and Nature: The International Weekly Journal of Science there for the thrills.

I only became a Nature reader by accident. About half a dozen years ago, my husband, a journalist, switched beats.  He stopped covering Silicon Valley businesses and got interested in climate change.

A new set of magazines started appearing in our mailbox every week: Nature, Science, NewScientist.  At first, they fell into the category of publications that litter our house but that I'd be ignoring, like Wired (sorry, too much attitude for too little information for me), The Atlantic (ditto, but without the fun graphics), and Home Power (say what?).

But, after a while, I began dipping my toe into these waters with NewScientist, which is the People Magazine of the group, full of short, snappy, crowd-pleasing articles that read as if they are written by a committee of ambitious young people with lots more education than they are willing to let show.  How can you resist NewScientist?  The cover line of the recent issue is "Why Dogs Are Smarter Than Cats."

My husband, who has developed working relationships with a lot of great scientists in recent years, says that despite the unserious tone, the science in NewScientist is absolutely impeccable.  They get nothing wrong.

After a while, however, I got tired of NewScientist's cuteness and found myself drawn in by the occasional striking cover of Nature. Nature is one of the world's most prestigious venues for scientists publishing their research. It also happens to be one of the most beautifully edited and satisfying magazines on the planet.

I say this even though the actual features are generally a complete mystery to me.  Sample title: "The structural basis of tail-anchored membrane protein recognition by Get3."

But Nature is considerate to English majors.  A "This Issue" page or two at the front of the book will summarize in comprehensible fashion what will soon be presented in incomprehensible fashion.  While I generally have to skip the meat in every issue, the trimmings are marvelous–snippets of mind-blowing new research coherently explained, sharp pieces about the politics of science, wonderful opinion pieces, amazing letters, terrific book reviews. For example, I ate up every word last year of a piece titled "Five Crop Researchers Who Could Change the World."

Nature is also surprisingly good-looking for such a serious pub, which I happen to think is essential in a magazine. The current issue has an "Images of the Year" roundup that manages to engage both eye and head.

Nature also has a superb website, and with a subscription, which is not cheap, you will also get a subscription to Nature News, which has more of the delicious digestible stuff, such as a great interview with the scientist who sequenced the genome of the pest that causes late blight.

Like NewScientist, Nature is British.  The American equivalent, Science, is just not as lively and confident. That stays downstairs with the less favored seed catalogs and Home Power (say what?).


  1. Now that I blog myself, I’m afraid to read Garden Rant. I’m afraid through some kind of osmosis that I’ll either find my same topic already discussed or the topic that is gelling in my head. Maybe I should just feel good that we gardeners are often on the same page. But here again I second the praise for Nature magazine.

  2. “Gardening is all about the search for novelty”?

    That’s the LAST thing I would have thought of! It sounds like endless computer hardware and software updates, constant model changes…

    Seasons and cycles, stability, green growing things…something totally different from brick and pavement. Watching the intricate interaction between living things… contemplating the immense history of life that led to here and now…

    IHMO…THAT’S gardening!

  3. Years ago when I first saw the zigzag on a spider’s web in our garden. The cover of Nature that week, just happened to be about the stabilimentum. So I knew what I was privileged and delighted to look at!

  4. Bob, if you think gardening (particularly vegetable gardening) is all about stability, you must live in paradise! Or Napa.

    Where I garden, it is a complete, out-of-control crapshoot every year. Experimentation–i.e., searching for vegetable varieties tough enough to stand the climate and the weather–is the name of the game where I live.

  5. For the southerners in the crowd, I just discovered Garden & Gun Magazine, which made me howl with laughter when I saw it – it’s the perfect way to describe the part of Texas I live in.

  6. Perhaps “stability” wasn’t the term I wanted. I just don’t “go for” novelty for novelty’s sake; it doesn’t mean much to me.

    Over the decades, I’ve watched the forests, meadows, and my gardens, and, despite the obvious differences from season to season and year to year, they all continue even as individuals change. The green landscape is always changing, but is always there…that’s a type of stability!

  7. Pacific Horticulture is pretty good for those on the West Coast. While it is geared more to ornamentals, it has a good scientific approach.They’ve had excellent articles on sudden oak death syndrome.

  8. I’m sympathetic to what Bob is saying about the timelessness of gardening. Still, it’s possible to enjoy the tranquility while still experimenting a little. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find any tranquility without applying a little science. You’ll be too busy replanting dead plants and wondering what went wrong to appreciate anything.

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