Posted by Susan Harris
Organic Gardening magazine is having a very good run. Not that they’re solely responsible for the upsurge in growing food and growing it organically, or in what now gets called the “organic lifestyle”. Lots of factors have contributed, including the recession and the First Lady, but the result has been a 17% increase in ad revenue last year and surging circulation. But more than these national events, the culture’s finally coming around to what OG magazine has been walking and talking about since 1942 – organic gardening, especially food gardening.
So last spring, at the height of anticipation over the White House Kitchen Garden, Rodale hired a new editor away from Meredith Publishing – Ethne Clarke – to take control. Her first big task in her big new job was a total make-over in design and content, which is now revealed in the Feb-March issue and heralded via press release. Have you seen it yet? Here’s my quickie version of what’s new:
- Design-wise, the look is bolder, the photos are sexier, the paper is heavier and larger.
- The main change in content seems to be “expanded food and cooking coverage,” including a new nutrition expert, a food writer, and photojournalist Mathew Benson covering his own family’s organic farm in the Hudson Valley, New York, complete with chickens, heirloom fruit trees and who knows what else. On the ornamental side, designer Gordon Hayward will contribute regularly – something for us non-homesteading gardeners.
There’s a new Gardener in Town
We learned from the press release announcing Ethne’s hiring that “A professionally trained horticulturist and internationally known garden historian and author, Clarke has published 15 books on gardening and landscape history”. More details are here. Yes, she spent 30 years in England but is originally from Chicago, so don’t expect to hear an accent. For a little more personal info I Googled around and found out her husband Donald Clarke is a music writer, with not just that website but a blog, too.
The Gardens of Ethne Clarke
I had a chance to chat with Ethne recently and naturally asked about her gardens – because I can’t imagine relocating every few years as she’s done (though with enough pluck to see each new garden is an opportunity to learn.)
After gardening on 1.5 acres in England for 30 years, the Clarkes relocated to Austin – a fine place to garden but what a difference! But they “loved Austin dearly” for lots of reasons (remember her husband writes about music). Though their new property was so void of plants there was “nothing but a dead possum in the woodpile”, in her six years there Ethne created a native-plant, water-wise, all-organic garden and volunteered at the famous Wildflower Center.
Next garden? Five years in Des Moines, Iowa, where she got to know Governor Vilsack well enough to declare “Yay, Tom!” at what he’s doing in his new job as Secretary of Ag. Also, ‘I’m proud of Vilsack”. Good to know.
Next came their most recent move to Allentown, PA – which Ethne says is “a bit like England.” Well, compared to Austin and Des Moines, I bet. Their first goal is installing greenhouses for all her succulents (souvenirs of Texas), and they’ll have veg garden, of course.
Next – Extreme Makeover, Online Version
Phase two of OG’s makeover will update their online presence – the website, blog, and social media. Hey, how about some blog posts about Ethne’s own gardens, old and new?
Reviewing the Make-over
My quick review is that it’s a big improvement visually, and the changes in content look smart and promising. I’d like to see the authors’ names made easier to find – why hide ’em? And the oversize paper I’m not crazy about. But I love Rob Cardillo’s cover photo and really, all the photography inside, too. Readers, if you have suggestions or feedback for the magazine, just say so in a comment. And what would you like to see in phase two?