A blooming success

Last week Gardens Illustrated won the IPD International Specialist Magazine of the Year award. Its editor, Rosie Atkins, was named Editors' Editor of the Year last month by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She explains how she created a publishing phenomenon
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The Independent Online
The editors' editor of the year award was thrilling. There were 650 people there, many of whom I had worked with in the past - in radio at the BBC, at the Sunday Times under Harry Evans, and as gardening correspondent for Today. I realised how many people had had faith in me, not least John Brown Publishing, owner of Viz, The Fortean Times and Classic FM, in choosing me to launch Gardens Illustrated in 1993.

It was born when there was a huge gap in the market for a highbrow gardening magazine: the only ones on offer were middle-market, like BBC Gardener's World, Practical Gardening, and Gardening Answers. John Brown got the idea when he noticed his wife, Claudia Zeff, kept buying gardening books but not gardening magazines for precisely that reason. He is a very astute and intuitive publisher.

I was chosen from 14 people who pitched for the editor's job. Claudia, who has the best taste of anyone I've come across, became art director. We learnt together, because I'd never edited and she'd never designed a magazine. What we produced was born out of a journalistic approach to the subject - making the writing as good as it could be, and giving the pictures equal weight. Gardening is a very visual medium and photographers love working for us because their pictures are shown over lots of pages rather than squashed into two. The joy was that when we produced the kind of magazine we wanted to buy, readers wanted it too.

No one else was catering for the AB readership, and that's still the case. We've got more than 52,000 readers, mostly women between 34 and 54.

We also appeal to gay men, who can create gardens with two incomes, and I think the recession helped circulation, which rose by 48 per cent this year. There was a surge of interest from people who had done their houses but had to stay put, which made them turn their attention outdoors.

When it comes to editing, I'm a real believer in pleasure. Gardening as outdoor housework is not fun, and that's how a lot of magazines portray it. What's helpful is learning from other people's successes or disappointments: gardening can be quite a snobby subject, but I try to feature all kinds of gardeners who have triumphed over adversity.

I'm also keen on bringing on new talent. Most other magazines won't look at first-time writers, but I think we need them. They are out there meeting people, and we rely on them coming to us with ideas. They should be given a chance. Not all of them will be great writers, but you never know unless you try.

Gardening brings people together. When I took a year out to travel round the world with my family, I was able to talk to people from all walks of life about what they were growing. In Kashmir I met a man growing hollyhocks. He told me that he didn't have anything to draw the damp from the walls of his house, so he planted them nearby. I realised that's why hollyhocks must have been planted in cottage gardens.

People are turning to gardening to escape from the pressures of the modern world. It makes you feel good to muck around outside. It's something you do when you're a child, and I believe we are not playful enough.

Gardening is often the closest thing you do to being artistic: it makes you look at things in all kinds of different ways. It's also spiritual: a lot of people spend their Sundays gardening when 20 years ago they might have gone to church. But then, gardens did begin life as a place of the spirit. Think of the Garden of Edenn