Garden & Gun: I Gave It a Shot

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By Adrian Higgins
Thursday, November 22, 2007

Of all the magazine titles that pair gardening with some other aspect of the sweet life, few are more inventive than Garden & Gun. This is a new periodical out of the South and is surely more intriguing than poor old House & Garden, now going the way of Garden and Forest magazine, which folded in 1897.

Having a gun in the forest might make sense. In the garden, it might be of less value. Or not. A little scattershot could accomplish organic control of aphids in those hard-to-reach spots. And have you ever tried to have dinner on the patio only to have a single cicada interrupt the conversation? A double-barreled 12-gauge would shut it up.

I know gardeners who are gunning for deer, and I suspect a fancy rifle with scope would dislodge a bit of mistletoe on a high branch. Eventually. Could you use a shotgun to blast holes for your bulbs? Would Garden & Gun tell me what size load to use for crocuses, vs. daffodils?

No. Sorry, I know I'm taking it far too literally. The gun in Garden & Gun ( http://www.gardenandgun.com) is the sporting life -- shooting, fishing, hunting, horses, working dogs, etc. -- said Sharon Bruner, marketing director for the Charleston, S.C.- based publication. As for the garden aspect, that is broadly drawn to include the countryside, the lakes and mountains, the coastal marshes and the other green spaces that define the various open spaces of the South in need of a protective eye. In the four issues that have been published (the first in the spring), actual gardens have played a minor role in the editorial mix. Although I have nothing against the Southern high life, I don't know that I need to spend time studying it. As for gardening magazines, read on to find my favorites.

The summer issue of Garden & Gun had a fascinating story about a preserved 19th-century garden in Georgia that had been spared Sherman's torch, but the cover story was about surfer babes. The magazine has also featured Southern painters and writers, living and dead; jazzers in New Orleans; and a fashion shoot at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

To paraphrase Bruner, the magazine delights in the culture, pursuits and literary heritage of the South, but, with a national distribution, it invites all to the feast. The title, by the way, was inspired by a former Charleston disco and nightspot, the Garden and Gun Club.

Not a lot for the hands-on gardener, though.

Whether you aspire to the Southern lifestyle, gardening in the Washington area has a definite Southern flavor. Don Humphrey, an old gardening friend and mentor, once said to me that our gardens here are in the South climatically and we must accept that if we want to succeed. That was shortly before he moved to Ohio.

The value of the climate in the mid-Atlantic is that we have a long growing season and a broad plant palette. The downside is that we have winters that are uneven and damaging, particularly to evergreens, and hot, humid summers that stress plants and make a lot of desirable cooler-zone plants hard to grow. Oh, for a good clump of rhubarb.

Southern Accents, the shelter mag based in Birmingham, Ala. ( http://www.southernaccents.com), forges a more tangible link to the cultivated garden and sees its domain stretching from Oklahoma to Delaware. The region's mild climate and agrarian past drive a deep-rooted connection to the outdoors and abiding interest in flora, said Frances MacDougall, the magazine's executive editor.

The dilemma for editors like MacDougall is in picking sumptuous landscapes that are inevitably way beyond the purse of even well-heeled readers. However, "they can get great ideas," she said. "It's inspirational."

Inspiration is, in my book, better than aspiration. The current issue of Garden Design magazine ( http://www.gardendesign.com) features a dazzling rooftop garden in Manhattan. It is unusual for its scale (large) and clean, minimalist surfaces. One can only imagine its cost. I will never have a garden like that, but I can see great, universal principles at work: well-defined spaces and planes, elegant and harmonious materials, and successful plant combinations.

I will miss House & Garden, whose December issue will be its last, because it had a genuine and abiding interest in good gardens. I wrote for it in the early 1990s, when it was styled as HG. It was a golden moment; it seemed that my boomer generation was coming of age in the garden. Various assignments sent me to splendid places that opened my eyes to the beauty and power of artfully crafted gardens and to the engaging worlds of the people who created them.

Today I'm more of a hands-on gardener, and I love unusual plants. The magazines I favor are those that offer sound advice about plants and planting while understanding the importance of good design. Fine Gardening ( http://www.finegardening.com) is consistently on the money here. In the current issue, for example, landscape designer Brandon Tyson explains how key plants create structure in the garden.

Horticulture magazine ( http://www.hortmag.com) sates the plant glutton's appetite, and I have enjoyed it for years. In the current issue, I am learning about agaves that seem to be hardy here. We are in the South, you know.

Sometimes I need an out-of-garden experience and turn to British magazines. Now that plantsman and writer Christopher Lloyd is dead, Country Life will never be as good as it was. Gardens Illustrated, at more than $8 an issue ( http://www.gardensillustrated.com), is an occasional extravagance for me, and I am enthralled by stories in the current issue about a walled estate garden in Belgium and pumpkin farmers in Austria who harvest the seed to make oil.

Back in the States, Organic Gardening offers advice on raising produce, but its emphasis these days seems to be on ornamental gardening and soil science. That's fine, but what America needs is a practical, inspiring magazine devoted to growing fruit, vegetables and herbs, and perhaps raising a chicken or two. We could call it Fig & Fowl.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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