Modernism spells trouble in the Garden of Eden
The gardening magazine 'New Eden' was suspended by its publisher last week, just over a year after its launch. Part of a crop of trendy garden mags, its demise will not be mourned by 'real' green thumbs
Tuesday 01 August 2000
New Eden was bound to have traditional gardeners taking to their potting sheds in a huff. "Olives age gracefully," according to the final edition of the modernist magazine, "assuming the sinuous curves of a Tiffany lamp". Another plant,
hosta sieboldiana, has "heavily puckered, glaucous leaves" which "glow in the shadow, soft as tailored suede".
New Eden was bound to have traditional gardeners taking to their potting sheds in a huff. "Olives age gracefully," according to the final edition of the modernist magazine, "assuming the sinuous curves of a Tiffany lamp". Another plant, hosta sieboldiana, has "heavily puckered, glaucous leaves" which "glow in the shadow, soft as tailored suede".
"Real gardeners" and Tiffany lamps just refuse to sit nicely together. Real gardeners are in it for the long term and do not approve of the modern trend for makeover gardening, as seen on TV. They much prefer the scholarly Royal Horticultural Society free magazine The Garden (circulation 300,000), or the practical BBC Gardeners' World (circulation 330,000) to pretentious fly-by-nights such as New Eden (circulation at time of death: 25,000).
The publisher IPC closed New Eden last week, and the reaction in the world of real gardening has been one of little disguised schadenfreude. Although rival editors admit that the magazine, which started in May last year, was often lovely to look at, they regard its fatal error in a massively competitive market to be one of modernism. Or, to put it slightly differently, a failure to understand the deeply traditional nature of the true gardening market.
"Gardeners are a conservative lot," says one. "You can't pretend to them that gardening is like interior decoration, a matter of instant results."
Vanessa Berridge, editor of The English Garden, says: " New Eden was aimed at younger, trendier gardeners who wanted a reasonably instant effect. But, basically, gardening is something people want to do later on in life... And, in reality, you make your mistakes one year and it's a year before you can correct them."
Peter Seabrook, who has been writing about gardening since 1962, and pens The Sun's gardening column, concurs. "With cooking, if it goes wrong you can do it again in the afternoon. Gardening isn't like that, you only sow one lot of tomatoes each year."
The gardening magazine market, all agree, has been affected by the makeover approach of the celebrity gardeners on television. In the past year, about six new titles have come on to the scene, several of which concentrate on water gardens - a clear tribute to the influence of Charlie Dimmock and her special effects. The key question has been whether the new instant-result gardening has a market, or whether it will be the traditionalists who triumph. So far, the traditionalists have it.
" The English Garden has a circulation of 100,000," says Vanessa Berridge, referring to her pretty magazine, which focuses on cottage gardens and the grounds of lovely country houses. The magazine was launched three and a half years ago with one eye on the American market, which was a canny position to take - 50 per cent of the readers are in the United States, and the magazine has a spin-off, aiming at a similar readership, in The English Home.
The makeover trend is clearly irritating to traditional gardeners, who are the core gardening readership. "They use galvanised iron for putting plants in," says Seabrook, "but everyone knows that galvanised rusts and has sharp corners." The likes of Monty Don and other younger celebrity gardeners do not improve matters. "The experienced gardener sees through them by the way they hold a spade and the language they use," he says. So put Monty Don on the front of a gardening magazine, and you alienate readers of The English Garden or the highly regarded, upmarket Gardens Illustrated.
A second group of "traditionalists" among Britain's 12.5 million gardeners, who are more Percy Thrower than Vita Sackville-West, also have little time for the makeover crowd. These are gardeners who do not get sniffy at the sight of bright pink carnations and who might have a carefully tended allotment or suburban garden, rather than a country house or Islington idyll. They, too, are catered for by a magazine market which was well-stocked and mature even before the latest wave of mags. BBC Gardeners' World dominates in this market, to the chagrin of the older but less successful Amateur Gardening (circulation around 50,000 - a quarter of its massive readership in the Fifties).
Whilst New Eden seemed to be recklessly pursuing an entirely new sort of gardening fan, some had begun to wonder whether it could be successful in an unintended way, by bridging the gap between the Vitas and the Percys, and breaking down some of the rival snobberies.
Peter Seabrook, for instance, says at first he did not like New Eden, but then noticed articles such as one that put the bedding plant back to the centre of fashionable gardening. "Bedding plants are looked down on by the blue stockings of gardening, but the great general public like a bit of colour. I thought that perhaps New Eden had found the common ground between the two," he says, referring to an article in the final edition featuring Jeff Koons' 12m-high puppy made from 70,000 pansies, on view outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao.
In the end, though, it was not to be. Perhaps the market was just too competitive to take such risks. Seabrook says, overall, growth rates are fairly static: "All the new magazines," he says, are "spreading readers thinner and thinner." And, in the end, a magazine inclined to describe as "wrinkly tin", the product that, in the age of Anderson air-raid shelters and pre-fabs weknew as "corrugated iron", was bound to have a problem establishing credibility.
The competition is not about to get any easier. Publishers are producing ever more luscious gardening books, and some market consolidation is happening. Gardens Illustrated (circulation 40,000) is being sold to the BBC, and Romsey Publishing's Garden Ideas (circulation 27,000) is up for sale. Internet sites are popping up everywhere, with names like e-garden.co.uk (3,000 visitors a day).But, despite the heavy weight of gardening conservatism, and a frighteningly tough market, someone is sure to try again. "After all," says Seabrook, "red dahlias are back in fashion" - heaven knows what might happen next.
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