The definitive magazine of gardening used to be the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society and when I first subscribed as an overseas fellow I think I had to give two references alleging I was a sturdy, steady, reliable person. And while I am not sure of that and cannot imagine whom I might have found to vouch for me, I do remember clearly that I had to send the secretary in London two visiting cards.

Possibly a committee examined the visiting cards to ascertain the quality of the engraving and the suitability of the typeface, and possibly if the cards did not look right -- flamboyant italic might do you in, I would think -- they wouldn't let you get the magazine.

But now you don't have to be a lady or gentleman. Anybody can get the Garden, as the old Journal is now called. I bet you could get it in jail. Or you could be a preacher, a mayor, come one and come all.

Twelve issues a year deal with plants, people and pests of general interest to the ordinary person. There might be an article on alliums or magnolias, on broccoli or raspberries. In recent years the magazine has become less solemn than it used to be. It is more chatty and more focused on the gardener who knows little but who would like to learn more. The photographs are in color now, and are much clumsier than the superb black-and-white photos of yesteryear.

It now has, in other words, wider appeal than it did 50 years ago, yet it still has articles to interest the expert as well as the novice. No gardening magazine over the years has done so much to widen the interest of plain dirt gardeners, and while it is of lesser value for gardeners in Milwaukee, Nome and Calgary, it is of great value for gardeners of the East Coast. Most things grown in London may be grown in Washington, despite the warmer winters and colder summers of England. A subscription is 17.50 pounds a year (checks in American dollars are accepted) from Home & Law Publishing Ltd., Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London, England NWi 7QP.

Two excellent American magazines for gardeners are Horticulture and Pacific Gardening. Horticulture has grown out of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's old magazine and now is perhaps the best magazine of general gardening for the fellow with a modest patch of land. Besides the main articles on a heroic range of plants from anemones to zantedeschias, there are question-and-answer columns, letters, valuable ads (how else would you know where to find 30 varieties of banana?) and excellent photographs, along with occasional articles on famous gardens abroad. Under the current editorship of Thomas Cooper the magazine is perhaps at its zenith. Twelve issues a year cost $24, from Horticulture Limited Partnership, P.O. Box 2595, Boulder, Colo. 80323.

Pacific Horticulture concerns itself with gardening on the West Coast, but many of its articles (for example, a fine recent article on hardy geraniums) are of equal interest to gardeners here. Again, the ads are useful for gardeners determined to grow plants rarely offered east of the Rockies. Beautifully produced, this is a quarterly, at $15 a yearfrom Pacific Horticulture Foundation, P.O. Box 680, Berkeley, Calif. 94701.

All three of these publications are good for garden clubs in which members chip in and browse communally after club meetings.

A quite different and quite new magazine is Green Prints, a quarterly that "chases the soul of gardening" with reflective articles on, for example, "Sweat" and "The Joys of NonGardening," along with reminiscences. It does not have articles on how to grow anything, and does not urge anybody to get out there and grunt. It is $10 a year from Green Prints, P.O. Box 1355, Fairview, N.C. 28730. Its 40 pages are of greater interest to those who like to ruminate than to gung-ho persons who like to, well, sweat.

Besides these, there are 101 other garden magazines, all dutifully listed in Barbara J. Barton's excellent "Gardening by Mail" book ($16.95, Houghton Mifflin Co., 2 Park St., Boston, Mass. 02108) along with addresses for 280 plant societies that issue their own specialist magazines, plus sources for many kinds of plants, 500 nurseries and supply companies etc.