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Gardener Shares His Secrets About An Excellent Resource

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Andrew Messinger   Nov 17, 2011 11:47 AM
Nov 18, 2011 2:04 PM

I’m often asked by neophyte gardeners how they can learn about gardening. Most are thirsty for the knowledge that will allow them to plant, grow and tend their piece of the earth and have only an inkling of where to start.

None of us are born gardeners, and while we may inherit some gardening genes, our knowledge base is always in need and ready for cultivation. There are schools, classes, seminars, blogs, videos, and friends, of course, but this week I’d like to suggest a magazine. This suggestion actually comes as a surprise to me.

When I began to study horticulture, some of my thirst was quenched by magazines such as Plants Alive (deceased), Flower & Garden (also deceased), the American Horticulturist, Horticulture Magazine and Organic Gardening. A few others came and went but of those mentioned, I have each and every issue saved for the past 30 years.

For the longest time it was Horticulture Magazine that I eagerly awaited each month. I don’t any more.

Horticulture was once the publication of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and at that point in time the articles were lengthy, well researched and written by some of the top experts in their fields. The information was the type you wanted to file away and never forget and the pictures were always professional and stellar.

But at some point, the magazine was sold to private interests. Over a long period of years, and a slew of editors and publishers, the quality of the articles deteriorated.

Ultimately, the magazine which had catered to the northeast, tried to be horticulture for everyone. It’s now a mass-market magazine doing a superficial job. Sadly, in the past couple of years I’ve found some editorial errors that seem to indicate poor proofing and vetting of the printed copy. Even the photography seems to have lost its luster.

This isn’t to say the magazine is useless. But now, instead of it being a “must read” every month (it doesn’t even come every month anymore), it goes into a big pile on the kitchen counter. That pile eventually gets moved into my office and at some point in the next six to 12 months it gets read.

But there’s this other magazine that comes to my mailbox and it has a long and interesting history. This is the one that used to get put in a pile, get stashed and read later in the year. And even worse, it always came in a plastic bag that seemed so contrary to its moniker.

Once read only by weirdos in the 20th century who practiced this strange cult-like niche in horticulture known as organic gardening, it occasionally had something of interest. But oh, how times have changed!

There have been so many times in the past year that I’ve picked up Organic Gardening and thought that I should give it notice in this column. But the latest issue, December/January, pushed me over the edge. Now I must give it its due.

This is not the OG you might have read in 1980 or 1990. This is a thoroughly redone magazine that is physically larger, no longer proselytizes, and covers a wide range of gardening and horticultural topics in articles that usually have some depth, are creative, instructive and have pretty wonderful photographs. Add to this recipe a wealth of advertising that brings you closer to vendors of plants, seeds, equipment, organic pest control and natural foods and you’ve got a magazine that really, really gives us the dirt.

There are the requisite letters to the editor as well as the “Ask Organic Gardening” column, but each issue seems to have at least one article on some form of garden designing like a pro, which you’d rarely, if ever, find during the 1990s.

In this most recent issue, there’s a short piece on the curly willow,

salix matsudana

, and since I think the willows in general are greatly overlooked garden plants, this was a welcome addition. Then there’s a two-page spread on hand pruners. I think they lost points on this one though, for while each type of pruner is described and pictured, there’s a section on pruner maintenance that instructs readers on how to clean, sharpen and adjust the tension but there’s no mention that the best of the pruners have replaceable parts (and how to replace them). Kudos though for mentioning the Felco #8, which is my fave and is too often overlooked.

There’s also a piece on “Outsider Art,” which shows how decorating a Christmas tree with fruits, berries and homemade goodies gives the holiday tree trimming a new and fresh approach. This could have been a real schlock project but it was done exceptionally well.

Now for a bit of the negative. There is also an article on green health care, and while I understand the link with a natural lifestyle and the magazine’s reader base, it just isn’t the place I look to for health care information. Sorry.

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