April 6, 2016

A Trip To Iceland

It's easy to see Iceland makes the top ten remote places to visit both with Lonely Planet and Unesco site lists.   We reach a ridge overlooking the magnificent Thjors River in the  Thjorsardalur valley in south-central Iceland.  Only one icy paved road, but not a single building, pylon or electric light  in sight - not mention that there were no jet trails. 

Yes, even I need a vacation from plants.

So, after a long, and rather mild (and yet recently snowy?) late winter here in New England, an 'island vacation' seemed to be in order.  When the opportunity to visit Iceland with some friends came along, I acted quickly. Iceland is quickly becoming an 'it' destination, Iceland, although it has been on my 'must visit' list for an embarrassingly looooooong time.

Like....from the 1970's when I was a kid.

This trip to Iceland helped fulfill a lifelong dream to one day re-create the tales in this 1959 book by bird artist George Miksch Sutton, a frequent read of mine, when I was in junior high.

My junior high school librarian surely knew this, as there was one book that I checked out so often that I remember her telling me that I should just buy it. This trip really started with 'Iceland Summer - Adventures of a Bird Painter', a summer of birding chronicled by the noted ornithologist and bird artist, George Miksch Sutton.

Recently, I found an old copy on eBay, and it made it's way in my suitcase to northern Iceland, where I now sit near a window in the small city of Akureyi, about 40 miles from the Arctic Circle. It's where we are starting our journey around the western and southern side of the country.

This Common Eider, a large sea duck, was just one of many in a flock I was observing in the Eyjafjor∂ur Fjord, just outside of the northern Iceland city of Akureyi - which sits about 40 Km from the Arctic Circle.

I am here with my friend Jess (who is neither a birder, nor a nature person, but we can compromise between design research, and rare birch species.). Because of this, I am just treating this trip more as a sourcing trek, than anything else - so that next time, when I come here, I'll know where to go, and how things work.

I am too early to do any birdwatching, as most breeding migratory birds don't arrive for a month or so, but I did see some Puffin's on display in a gift shop - they still hunt them here, and eat their meat as well, but hunting is restricted.

There are few places on Earth so populated by nesting birds, however, and although most of the birds which migrate here have not arrived yet for nesting, there are few song birds - most are wading species or waterfowl. Still, Iceland is considered a global birding hotspot with millions of birds due to arrive any week now.

Hraun, or block lava is common here - a unique, young basaltic lava which is sharp enough to cut ones skin, is covered with Racomitrium, or soft-fringe moss, which turns brilliant green with the summer rains, but in winter, is still a beautiful sage tone.
Heather grows in the southern part of the country, and was the only plant I could find in bloom.

One doesn't go to Iceland to see plants, and even from the alpinist's perspective, the flora itself, is just not that uncommon.  The nation's isolation has kept many species of plants limited (and gratefully, even reptiles and mosquitos don't exist here!), but this isolation and harsh climate also brings with it challenges for the few plant which exist here.

The great sub-arctic means that plantlike if limited. Welcome to the tundra and tephra landscape,  the land of lichens and fringe-moss.

Woolly Willow predominates the landscape in many areas. Only a few meters tall, it is one of about half dozen species of dwarf of shrubby sub-arctic willows in Iceland.

Trees, in fact, are so rare, that the few forests which remain are small, and precious. Any native species of plants are face challenges from over-grazing, let alone natural challenges brought on by the harsh climate which affects soil microbes and fungi. All of this hampers any natural growth as it is because microbes affect soil fertility. Factor in a natural lack of nitrate and phosphate in the geologically  'new' soil, and any growth with trees or plants, is limited.

Arctic Birches are rare, and mature, if not ancient ones like this, are even more rare in the Kjarr, or Icelandic Birch Forests.

The few forests which existed were populated with arctic birches. Only a few square miles of these old forests remain today, known as Kjarr - the Icelandic Birch Forests, where even ancient trees are only a few meters tall.).

Even where there are grasslands which are grazed, the scenes can be stunning. Especially during this transitional period between seasons.

To the tourist, and even the science minded who loves some ecotourism, the landscape and nature in Iceland is nothing but magnificent - - so unique, that few places on our planet can offer such an experience. Few words can capture the beauty and grandeur of nature here.

Perhaps the nicest outdoor bathroom in the world, sits near a tourist site. Good design is everywhere in Iceland.

Any trip to Iceland will undoubtedly include a tour around the 'Golden Circle', a popular tourist track which can take you around a few of the islands'  impressive natural wonders, but journey beyond the route, and one can really experience remote beauty. This is what I love about Iceland - it can be so remote, that an electric light, another car or even a gas station might not be seen for a hundred miles (worth noting, when it comes to gas!).

Beyond the ring road of highway 1, remoteness exists, requiring a 4x4 or even a more off-road vehicle with special tires. Our 4x4 was just a commercial rental, and we had to stop on this road near an ice cap, once we found another car stuck on a snow bank, which we helped lift and re-establish itself. They had to proceed forward, due to the incline being too icy to reverse, but we decided to turn around ( 60 miles from the nearest highway, it seemed like the smart thing to do).

I wish I still had my Land Rover 110, but here in Iceland, this is what one needs to rent - complete with a snorkel, and the strong suggestion to travel with at least one other vehicle in the remote areas. - note the thermal steam rising in the background here from a fissure.

Greenhouses are big in Iceland, all heated by geothermal energy and electricity, they allow Icelanders to raise tomatoes, cucumbers and even melons. This one focused on crops of lettuce. That said, fresh veggies were hard to find in most markets .

Behind the greenhouse, a huge pile of discarded lettuce root balls - not sure if this was a proper compost pile, or just trash - most of the debris here seemed to be peat based plugs discarded from hydroponic culture.

Sheep, which spend most of their winter indoors, re-appear in fields and meadows beginning in April. Over-grazing is a real problem in Iceland, as is hay production.

Some of these ecological challenges are being reversed though through re-introduction of native species and some controls on grazing. IT may be impossible to reverse the introduced species which are more aggressive such as the ironically iconic and lovely blue lupines so often featured in promotional images on travel sites and blogs. The lupine was introduced with good intent, in an effort to keep the overgrazed and baren volcanic soils from eroding, and in many instances they have achieved what they were introduced to do, but reversing this invasive plant which has seeded most everywhere, has been difficult.

Roads in Iceland are graded by whether they are paved or not. Most that venture inland, and into the highlands are either gravel, or just mud, requiring both large off-road wheels and vehicles. We had to help lift a 4x4 off of a snow ridge, which had become stuck - surprisingly, the drivers were tourists from Rhode Island.

The tundra is a landscape where the long, cold winter and short, cool summers of the arctic climate makes tree growth impossible. There are still vast areas of tundra in northern Iceland, but as you can see by these fences, grazing areas for sheep still exist, although the government is restricting more areas from the damaging effects of grazing.

Black Crow Berries, Empetrum nigrum are common food source for wildlife in the summer months. Berries have low moisture and higher protein, so some can last through the harsh winter, becoming a valuable food source for wildlife.

We drove along the western coast of Iceland, through the many fjords and inlets, to the northern city of Akureyi where we made basecamp in a nice AirBNB. From here, we took day trips to destinations ranging from magnificent waterfalls and a geyser to the Icelandic Winter Games, where we took in some Arctic Circle skiing and even a snow mobile rally.

A flock of Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus), the Eurasian counterpart of the North American trumpeter swan, arrived for a summer of breeding in what is the most western part of their breeding zone which extends across sub-arctic Northern Europe.  They are considered to be one of the heaviest of the flying birds.

The farms however, are few and far between. Each, so attractive with their colored roofs, and old homes. We were lucky I think, to be here just after a late snowfall.

On the western coast, what appears to be icebergs are long stretches of land on either side of fjords, which stretch out into the sea. Their color was magnificent, and we were able to see them a different times of the day.

On the evening returning to Reykjavik, the same range transformed into a magical vista, reminiscent of another planet.

Frost lifts many of the grassy fields in what is known here as Pufa, or frost heaves. We've seen the same phenomenon in Switzerland as well. It makes walking difficult, and farmers hate it, as it can make a hay field un-mowable.

Massive glacial valleys in the north of Iceland were so impressive. Look - not a single house, nor an electrical pylon in view. This is what our planet must have looked like thousands of years ago.

All in all, the landscape here is stunning if not epic when it comes to beauty and natural wonders. Geysers, magnificent waterfalls, massive canyons, and rare geological formations ranging from basalt towers to deep fissures make Iceland like no other place on earth. Add in ice sheets, huge glaciers and some of the cleanest water and air in the world, and one can see why Iceland is so popular.

March 20, 2016

First Day of Spring

The well know early blooming Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin', perhaps the perfect subject for my new camera (I'm switching from Nikon to Canon, so it's a bit like switching political parties. The quality in even the past 5 years, has progressed so much, plus with the opportunity to create videos, I think I will get more use out this camera.

When I think back to all of the 'first day's of spring' that I've experienced, today really seems no different - I mean aside from the fact that we had the warmest winter ever recorded, after the coldest and snowiest winter ever recorded last year, and that now we are buckling down for a late winter snowstorm tonight, it's all good!

Most of my time this week has been spent in the greenhouse, with only a few crops planted outdoors - parsnips, peas, lettuce, the typical cold weather crops are sown, and this late snow won't hurt them one bit. I am glad that I have resisted relocating some hardier plants outside for a few weeks (camellias and rosemary), as a few more nights of 18 degree weather are sure to arrive. No worries, under glass, things are keeping me busy enough as garden planning continues with more seeds to sow.  I don't know about you, but I am still ordering seeds, and have barely started ordering plants yet - just a little late, I guess. maybe this is something I can do if we have a snowday tomorrow?

Nemesia, the pots that I've been sharing with you over the past few weeks, are really beginning to look great. Again, these are a great example of how important specific fertilizer is, as well as knowing what a particular genus requires. I never had any luck raising nemesia from seed until I learned more about their requirements - particular for iron, magnesium and calcium. These were sown last autumn, and historically, nemesia were common winter cold greenhouse pot plants.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to give two talks to the Connecticut Master Gardeners association - a pretty incredible turn-out, with about 350 attendees - and both of my talks were sold out, which kind-of made me feel a bit like a rock star. I spoke about old-fashioned vegetables - forcing Sea Kale, Rhubarb and Chicory as a winter crop, and various stories about the history of vegetables. I think the crowd liked it, but it wasn't something that I would typically talk about - so I was up late the night before making tweaks to the presentation, so I am pretty tired this Sunday. What a great group they were, and what a terrific event. 

Just in time for Easter next week, I spent the morning washing eggs from our chickens and ducks. Aren't the colors beautiful? We may not have to color any this year.

Sweet Peas and other rare Lathyrus and Species

It's high seed-starting time here, as I assume it is at your house too. I know that I forgot to mention that I am raising a collection of lathyrus species (flowering sweet peas - yes, but not specifically the cut-flower sweet peas we are more familiar with like the Spencer varieties, as I am also collecting the species - many of which are currently being used in breeding,many of these have interesting colors such as green and yellow). I've found about a dozen species from three sources, as well as a few from some specialist collectors. Sure, I am raising regular English Spencer varieties as well, but not as many as I have in last years. 

Some of the more wild species of lathyrus are just as interesting as the hybrids. This L. tingitanus will have bright pink flowers. A more unusual annual rarely seen, it is just one of about a dozen new species of flowering sweet pea species I am studying this summer in the garden. I already enjoy it's more delicate foliage, but it does seem to be growing rather fast!

English Sweet Peas - Spencer Varieties, shown here a couple of weeks ago, are now all leafed out and pinched - pinching stimulates the secondary shoots, which are more vigorous, and those are the ones I will train onto canes. I want long stems for cutting. All of these will be hardened off soon, and planted outdoors in a couple of weeks.

The above image may not look like much, I am more than delighted, as this blue tropaeolum had suffered a terrible accident last December (my fault!). After potting up the tuber of this rare and recently described blue-flowered Tropaeolum (T. hookerianum ssp. austropurpureum a blue-voilet flowering form not to be confused with the other blue flowering trope -Tropaeolum azureum, which I already have in the collection). 

The Survival Story of my Tropaeolum hookerianum ssp. austropurpureum

You may remember the post from around Christmas, when I knocked a pot over of a rare tuberous nasturtium - a blue flowering species recently described? It's always the rare plant, right? After the stopped swearing, and arranged the segments and parts on the potting bench the new shoots on one side, and the separated tuber on the other, I decided to not throw the entire mess away, but to just reassemble the pot as best as I can. I figured, what do I have to lose? Besides, maybe this happens in nature -a rock slide or an animal disturbs a bulbous plant, and sometimes things all work out.

One of the blossoms on this violet colored Tropaeolum hookerianum. I am hopeful that both the tuber and the stem have survived, and the good news may (must) be that the stem has rooted in the pumice, and produced a secondary tuber.

Thankfully, they have. And although I don't have a vigorous vine tumbling amongst the branches with violet blossoms, I do have a pathetic little shoot that has not died, nor hardly grown in  3 months, deep in a big old plastic pot, but it never died - AND it has produced a few flowers. So, I am rather thrilled.

This alpine Vireya (rhododendron) was a nice subject for my new lens. SO, here is what it looks like when I take a photo with my old camera......
...and this is the same Vireya with my new camera an lens. (18mm - 135mm) Canon.

Japanese chrysanthemum cuttings - gnome types and cascades, rooted in February, have just had their fast pinch.

Dendrobium speciosum

More about the Dendrobium Speciosum Monstrosity

I have to show this plant one more time, even though it is far from perfect or award winning - otherwise I would have brought it down to the Philadelphia Flower Show or to the New England Flower Show. Orchid societies and orchid growers are very selective about the plants they accept in exhibitions, and this one although impressive with its fourteen spikes and 6 foot plus stature, it has some sunburn on its foliage, and some damaged leaves. I really don't care about that though, it is absolutely spectacular this year. So, bear with me as I share a few more photos of this magnificent specimen which is native to Australia - and, one of the worlds largest orchid plants.

A detail of the Dendrobium speciosum
Dendrobium speciosum selections are difficult to find, probably because they are so large growing, so here in the East, they are less common than they are let's say, in Western collections. Most of these Australian native species are cool greenhouse orchids, so they should make useful cool house plants, if you can handle the size. That said, there are many smaller cool-house dendrobium from Australia that you can try. IN particular, the many crosses with this species and other dendrobium. Check out the selection at Santa Barbara Orchid Estates. That's where I ordered the young plant of this one.

The entire plant of this D. speciosum is so large, that I would have to open both doors of the greenhouse, to move it outdoors. The slat basket is 24 inches in diameter, and I am wondering where I could find a larger one when I have to repot this beast later this spring.
If I counted every orchid blossom, I wonder how many corsages this would make for Easter? If people still wore orchid corsages on Easter.

An Edgeworthia  continues to bloom, in the greenhouse. I really enjoy this Asian shrub, but the akebono variety is really nicer, with its orange and yellow blossoms.
What's this yellow flower on the floor?

Jasminum 'Revolutum' Surprise

So, here was a surprise today. I vine which I have barely noticed for a couple of years, is blooming, and I wouldn't have even noticed it, if I didn't look down and spot a single, yellow blossom on the ground in an aisle. Jasminum 'Revolutum' or Jasminum humble. A vine which I planted as a cutting a few years ago ( from Logee's). I knew that I smelled something  jasmine-like a couple of weeks ago, but I could not find the source. Little did I know that it was 12 feet above me.

The yellow jasmine 'Revolutum' was trained along a beam high in the greenhouse, and was partly hidden by other vines over the past two years, but they were cut out this autumn when I decided that they were too vigorous to be allowed to grow any more - something, which one must expect with vines in a greenhouse! This may have a similar fate in a couple of years, but for now, I shall enjoy it's blossoms and scent - and just before a blizzard hits too - how perfect.

Parsley seedlings are almost ready for transplanting into individual pots. Parsley is tap rooted, and prefers little root disturbance, in particular, the flat-leaf types, which tend to sulk if transplanted too late, or with disturbance. I should have individually sown the seeds I suppose, as I do my Hamburg type Parsley, which is grown for its white paring-like roots.

The mesclun is up and growing already, even though it is just past St. Patrick's Day. These are being raised in a cold frame, so tonight snow should not hurt them.

Irish Terrier Puppy shot - puppy number 3! They're getting super cute, but off to their new home in a couple of weeks.
Doodle (Daphne), rubbing her back on the boxwood - like her father Fergus used to do. Just what a want, a boxwood-scented dog (actually, I like the smell of boxwood).

March 14, 2016

A New and Improved Better Homes & Gardens? Perhaps so.

I was sent a complementary copy of the newly rebranded Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Maybe it's because it's the gardening issue, but I have to admit that I like it. Do I sound surprised? Ready on, and see why.

Ok - total honesty here. I received a text last week from an assistant at Better Homes and Gardens  magazine asking me for my address because "Stephen Orr is a big fan of your blog".  Which is very nice. I accepted the request to review the magazine, for many reasons - (one definitely not being because 'said magazine' had just nominated this blog for an award - (well, you the audience nominated it - but still).

It's not a secret that I too love graphic design, magazines AND gardening, but I am well aware that we are talking about Better Homes and Gardens, which may cause some of you to roll your eyes -  I know this, since I've received the emails. Here's what I can say -  I can appreciate Better Homes and Gardens efforts, and why not? We should all be supporting any effort to improve the visual design and content of our beloved sport known as gardening.

Better Homes and Gardens apparently has gone through a bit of a renaissance over the past few months, call it a re-branding or re-design, it does look much more hip. Well, a little more hip. After all, it still needs to not distance itself too much from its core audience.  All of this change is likely due to their new Editor-In-Chief Mr. Stephen Orr (formerly a gardening editor at Martha Stewart Living). Both magazines ( now both under various umbrellas of Meredith Corp. in one way or another), they are both in the process of refreshing themselves in an effort to escape survival mode in a world where digital media is challenging the established print media.

I always appreciate a gardening issue that doesn't cost $9.99 at the register because it's a 'special', and comes with a regular subscription. The April of the newly designed Better Homes and Gardens demonstrates how a brand can update itself to be more relevant. This could potentially attract a broader duel-gender audience, without alienating it's core reader. At least, I would buy this issue.

I received my complementary issue of Better Homes and Gardens  yesterday, and it is indeed much better than the previous design (but I will admit that it looks more like Martha Stewart Living, than perhaps Martha Stewart Living does. More on that, later. Really, it looks quite nice, I have to admit.

Sure, it's a story on pesto, but nice enough not to be boring, which means that I took the time to read it. I'm not being snarky at all, for it's images and nice typography like this, that I want to curl up in bed with (does that sound dirty?).

You will soon see the beautiful cover design on your newsstand  - a bright, cheerful image of various tomatoes on a white background. This surprised me because I was half expecting a young mom on a porch with a white picket fence and hydrangeas, with lots of call out type in bright, well curated colors somehow themed to some seasonally-approprate content  like - "Mellow Yellow" or something less-than pithy, but cheerfully banal about...let's say, "spring!".

So this new cover concept which shows an honest, yet clearly curated studio shot, - trying to look like nothing other than a gorgeous studio show, is refreshing and real, and for this magazine that has desperately needed a refresh, it is rather progressive. That said, I do wonder if Meredith will ever have enough balls to someday show a guy on the cover? It couldn't hurt - (um....think Brawny folks - I think even girls like a little boom boom to break through all of the clutter of a busy life, and.... sometimes a little 'sexyness' sells). Just sayin'.

So well done BHG - and even if the covers in future issues end up just showing beautifully curated images? This will all be an improvement over the usual slick casseroles and pastel flower motifs featuring sunflowers and sunny, yellow curtained kitchens. I know, I know, it's a ladies magazine and there are clear boundaries here to never cross, but it is also 2016.

My other (slightly bigger) issue is probably the thin paper stock,  but I understand the realities of economics of this (although, is it me, or does this issue feel better than the January one?). Of course, I shouldn't forget to mention the reduction of the word 'Gardens' in the masthead. <sigh>.

Oh marketing team, really? (smile).

Even a story on Peas, could fail with bad photos, but if crafted properly, even an expert cook or gardener can find escapist pleasure in it. Magazines today must work harder, to earn our time, which is so precious.

After the January issue was released, on that very next day, a few of my designer friends (graphic design friends -  the sort who like to crit such events, like those from RISD) texted me to chat about the issue (yeah, we do things like that). We shared what we liked, and what we hated. Surprisingly, we 'liked' a lot, in an 'nice improvements sort of way', and we all agreed with the issues above - - thin paper stock  and cover, but kudos for better typography, and what seemed like a lot more content. I think originality will always be an issue in a world where Pinterest and blogs seemed to have covered everything three times, but personally, I would like to see BHG develop it's own voice and visual language, if not one which is stylish and current, perhaps even one which could lead rather than follow. I think it's too early to be judgey about that, yet.

The January re-design was not  thick magazine, and the thin paper stock didn't help, but I reminded them that it was the month of January, first quarter - and traditionally  January was a 'thin' month for advertising pages, and that maybe they'll have to work to get advertisers back now that Orr is at the helm?

I also added that maybe they are trying to find a new audience, ( which seemed pretty clear) since the market for 'granny mags' is getting thinner as well each and every year. Just look at how Redbook drastically changed it's design and audience, (although, perhaps not for the best).

I should mention that the website looks different as well - not sure if it is better or not, but I do like it better than the current Martha Stewart web experience. If it wasn't for Martha's Blog, I would be so frustrated with the endless pop-ups and video ads, that I would never visit it again. I'm sure they will evaluate that soon, but the BHG.com site is looking nicer and more usable.

My concerns now are - are the two magazines becoming too similar?

Look - a man, in Better Homes and Gardens!

 I imagine that  Meredith, who to make it clearer, officially only licenses Martha Stewart Living from the Sequential Brands Group, the magazine's owner, is busy rebuilding their entire magazine  shelf space, and that these both are approached more as franchises. Thinking of the brands in that mode, I have to put some thought to who the audiences are, are they different and are they merging? I did notice that the Martha Stewart Living advertising guidelines listed their core audience and women ages 45-55 now while last year, the demographic was ten years lower. That's interesting, but probably more accurate. I would also imagine that the Better Homes and Gardens demographic perhaps earns a bit less per household - only guessing here, I am just basing this on their brand positioning - in my head.

 So approached from that  perspective, the two may be able to exist if the content can remain on-brand for each, without cannibalizing each other. Where gardening factors into the mix, I don't know. I would wager a guess that 'the idea of gardening' for Martha Stewart is currently in a stage of flux, trying to find it's new audience, while the gardening consumer for Better Homes and Gardens might be more accessible, or open to growth. I only base this on my personal beliefs about each property, assuming that the Martha audience is slightly more affluent and thus, more concerned with status and appearance, while the Better Homes and Gardens consumer may want 'easy casual beauty' that is attainable and achievable. Martha Stewart Living equals 'style', while Better Homes and Gardens equate with leisure time projects that are fun and family oriented.

Look another one! And, Pinterest-worthy ideas. Perhaps not sensible for the Northeast, but, I'm always open to new ideas that I haven't seen elsewhere.

Here is a weird observation.

This issue feels a bit, dare I say, 'duel gender'?

Now, maybe my gender antenna are sensitive lately since I've been secretly (or not-so-secretly after last months press announcements at International Toy Fair) working on a huge duel-gender project at work,but I 'feel it' here in the magazine, as well. Much of what I was secretly working on drove a duel gender aisle at major retailers, so maybe.....Better Homes and Gardens is realizing that the old Martha audience was either female, or guys not afraid of 'feminine pursuits'?  It all looks attractive, but aside from the make-up and beauty articles, I could leave this in our manly bathroom and not feel too embarrassed as it sits next to Men's Health. Looking nice' doesn't necessarily mean 'gay' in 2016.

 Again, just an observation, guys. Not judging.

The newly designed Better Homes and Gardens is both contemporary and content rich, especially in this gardening issue, April, 2016. I good mix of everyday mass market with good design and fresher-than-normal, content.

That said, this gardening issue, is well endowed at 148 pages, and call me crazy, but the cover stock feels thicker than that January issue. Not that it's all about size, but it does add to the experience.


back to those inner pages (I know, paper stock again!) they are thinner than Martha Stewart Living, but not quite at that cheap-toilet-paper-from-the-New-Jersey-Turnpike-sort-of-way.  I 'get' cutting costs in mailing weight, as as long as they ink doesn't bleed through, and the binding holds, I' guess I can live with that. I mean, we all throw them out eventually, but - now that the photos and recipes are more usable, I may want to save them as a hard copy. Many of us still have most if not all of our Martha Stewart Living issues.

Over all, this gardening issue is a big improvement over last-year's version of the magazine. It is well curated, I actually could read the content, and it is beautifully photographed. Expected? Sure, but there is different between "nice and stylish' and dated. It is no longer dated. best part of all, it has gardening features on REAL gardening topics - - like a story on Baptisia selections (I know, right? Baptisia selections in Better Homes and Gardens? Who'd a thunk?).

I should give credit also to the BHG's gardening editor Jane Austin Miller - and by the way...when did they get a gardening editor, anyway?  Somehow, I missed that!

 Jane seems to have contributed in any ways throughout the magazine, and the idea that BHG now having a gardening editor on staff, sends the message to me that there may be more gardening articles in issues beyond the gardening one.  Jane's article on container gardening is worth pointing out, as it presents a refreshing take on that cliche of all subjects, container ideas. Finally, a story where you can tell that they really grew the plants in the containers shown, rather than shoving in a bunch of full grown plants to fake, and instant display that feels more disposable than an actual, practical story. Good job!

The tomato article is spectacular, with both tomato cultural information and original recipes. I really can't imagine how any lifestyle magazine can survive today in a world were ideas are shared instantly, but this story is an excellent example of how a magazine can, and does, deliver content in a high-value way. It's not just a story on heirloom tomatoes arranged in a bowl.

The food photography is bright and visually relevant as I am getting a little sick of the dark moody shots that look as if they were shot on the floor of a gas station in a third world country. ( ahem - Food & Wine).  I love great design, but micrograms and foamy soup shot on rusty, greasy metal with denim just isn't that appetizing. So aside from the fear of one getting lockjaw, I usually don't find the idea of getting depressed when reading stories about holiday spreads. That said, I don't want the old bright, sterile and cheerful studio lighting (ala-Kraft 1995 either). This issue offers a nice middle ground style, perfect for mass market, and probably for the brand.

The gardening photos are meh - and  I can't say that the planting schemes will give me any specific memorable ideas, but then again, I am not the target audience I suppose. Still, a story about a butterfly or pollinator garden could have been called most any theme, so it felt too 'positioned'.

At the end of the day, did I find this issue truly inspiring?  I didn't hate it.

I mean, I am ordering more Baptisia now, but of the other articles and stories while again, I am not the target audience, should appeal to the beginner and the intermediate casual gardener. This redesign does not position the magazine as Gardens Illustrated or Garden Design. It's more like Martha Stewart Living lite (I don't mean that in a bad way, either). It's WAY better than Family Circle (do they still publish that?). The old Better Homes and Gardens was exactly like Family Circle, and that was NOT a good thing!

If you are interested in subscribing, you can find a subscription to BHG here.
This is not a sponsored post, and even though their logo is in my sidebar, no one has paid for this review.