SPOTLIGHT 

Spotlight – Gardening Mags

Now it's not enough to know your onions - you have to read about them too. So, who's coming up smelling of roses in the gardening magazine sector and who's in need of some care and attention? Alan Geere has been down to the potting shed to find out.

By Alan Geere

THE GARDEN

What’s it about: 'Sharing the best in Gardening' – tagline on cover.

Vital statistics: May 2015 issue: 148 pages of 275mm x 210mm (trimmed A4). Stitched with thin gloss paper. £4.35 cover price, although no copies are 'actively purchased'. Free to Royal Horticultural Society, hence its 385,000 ABC. Published by RHS Media in Publishing Central, aka Peterborough.

Cover: Stylish masthead, one picture, four cover lines. Small and tasteful furniture and no need to accommodate the ugly barcode as it's not on general sale.

Content: News (mainly about the RHS), comment, letters, advice, Update (more news about the RHS). Features on gardens to visit, roses, peas. Not a TV celebrity gardener in sight, except for veteran broadcaster Roy Lancaster, just well constructed features put together by horticultural journalists and writers. A range of ads reflecting its readership: investments, bespoke furniture, pharmaceuticals, holidays, power tools, off-road vehicles plus a Classified and Shopping section oozing ££ per cm.

Digital: Front cover plug takes you to the Royal Horticultural Society website, where some articles from the mag can be downloaded as PDFs by non-members. The editor has his own Twitter (@SeeWhyGardens) but no social media for the magazine itself.

What they say: "Growing evenly sized radishes is not as easy as it sounds," – answer to reader's letter.

Verdict: Informative, detailed and as good a house magazine as you'll ever find. The RHS patronage is apparent, but not obtrusive, quite a feat pulled off by the clearly skilled and committed editorial team. The digital world is just starting to take root at the end of The Garden…

GARDENERS’ WORLD

What’s it about: 'The UK's No. 1 gardening magazine' – tagline on cover.

Vital statistics: May 2015 issue: 180 pages of 230mm x 300mm. Perfect bound, gloss paper. £4.25 cover price. Published by Immediate Media 'under licence from BBC Worldwide, which helps fund new BBC programmes'. Way out front in the sector with combined ABC of 183,000 (2,000 from digital).

Cover: Annoying vertical half-page flap plugging free gardens to visit booklet hiding six cover lines and small pictures of 'Monty' and 'Alan', leaving just one picture of a rose and two cover lines on general display.

Content: It's like one big happy house party. Everyone's there - Monty, Joe, Carol, Chris (oh no, sorry, that's an ad), Alan, Pippa - and first names only, please. Big, colourful pictures and big, colourful features on all aspects of gardening. A super-useful 'What to do now' section is a reprise (or preview) of Monty's end bit on the Gardeners' World TV show plus enterprising pieces on herb drinks, wildlife and cooking. All the advertising you might expect plus hair dye, vitamins and retirement homes that you might not.

Digital: Arrive at gardenersworld.com via magazine front page and here are more of your favourites, plus some lively interaction from users. A healthy 185,000 Facebook likes but a rather measly 17,000 Twitter followers (@GW_com), probably reflecting the fact that they've managed only 779 tweets in five years, and none since May last year.

What they say: "Does anybody have any secret methods for returning [bent] forks to a usable shape again?" – reader’s letter. "Sorry, but we can't provide signed photographs of television presenters or pass on messages to them," – notice on website.

Verdict: Slick, professional and well-produced - this magazine has all the qualities of the TV show it follows.

GARDEN NEWS

What’s it about: 'Garden News is the magazine for every gardener, bringing you everything you need to know in the garden each week,' – from blurb on website.

Vital statistics: May 2 2015 issue: 68 pages of 210mm x 295mm. Thin gloss paper. Weekly. £1.99 cover price. Published by Bauer in Peterborough. 35,281 ABC (no digital sales recorded).

Cover: Comes in a poly bag with four packets of seeds ('worth £8.96'). Ten tight cover lines, well written with calls to action like ‘Take leaf cuttings of houseplants’. Pictures of two women and one bunch of roses.

Content: Very welcome reader involvement with taxi driver Lee in ‘Potty About Plants’, reader Lindsay and her ‘Hidden Gem’, Ann and Colin in ‘Garden of the Week’. Expert tips in ‘Garden like a Pro’ and Carol Klein at Glebe Cottage about as celebby as it gets. And good to see editor Clare Foggett getting her hands dirty with writing and planting. Lots of useful gardening related ads plus one for a 'Stunning Magnetic Bracelet'.

Digital: Rather clunky website - gardennewsmagazine.co.uk - gives a plug to the current issue plus prominent links to Twitter (17,000 followers) and Facebook (3,200 likes).

What they say: Facebook response to subscriber who complained he didn't get free seeds: "Occasionally the supermarkets ask for 'exclusives' in order to keep us listed - unfortunately this is a marketing decision and not one that comes from the editorial team. It does come with a price increase though - you would have paid a pound for your issue whereas the supermarket issue cost (sic) £2.50."

Verdict: Cheap and cheerful in a positive sense. Well written and lovingly put together. Those reader stories make it feel much more approachable then other titles.

GARDENS ILLUSTRATED

What’s it about: 'Planting ideas • beautiful gardens • expert advice' – tagline above masthead.

Vital statistics: May 2015 issue: 132 pages of 298mm x 223mm. Quality gloss paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound. £4.50 cover price. Combined ABC of 34,282, (1,500 from digital). Published by Immediate Media in Bristol.

Cover: Classy masthead clumsily overlaid by 'FREE SEEDS' promo (wild carrot, daucus carota it helpfully tells us), one picture of a lovely garden, four cover lines.

Content: Reminiscent of the early days of Country Living (that's a compliment, by the way). Tasteful contents spread (pages 4/5), followed by who-we-are type guff and then seven pages of ads before 'Dig in', the GI news section. Shopping pages that could have the right people reaching for the cheque book (dungarees £139, picnic rug £109). Lavish illustrations on Chelsea show preview and welcome more diverse content like book reviews and a column by a novelist. Beautifully designed throughout with lots of room for our old friend, white space.

Digital: Have to hunt around to find gardensillustrated.com - it's not listed in the ‘Get In Touch’ panel - but worth the search. As stylish as the magazine and the useful archive search is easy to use. Click through to Twitter (17,000 followers) and Facebook (a disappointing 5,321 likes). Ads, 'promotional features' and 'sponsored articles' galore.

What they say: "I do badly on your plant quiz. They are tough; I thought I knew plants but you guys have taken me down a peg," – Facebook post.

Verdict: Lavish, stylish and aspirational. As beautiful a magazine as the gardens it features. Does not, however, seem committed to a multi-media approach. Social media interaction poor and while the podcast is an innovative approach, nothing has been uploaded for a year.

AMATEUR GARDENING

What’s it about: 'Britain's brightest weekly gardening magazine. Providing you with practical tips, advice and inspiration for your garden,' – blurb on Twitter profile.

Vital statistics: May 2 2015 issue: 68 pages of 217mm x 285mm. Thin gloss paper. Weekly. 'Only £1.99' cover price. Published by Time Inc in sunny Poole. 30,148 combined ABC (147 from digital).

Cover: Five people, one pair of hands and a big flower rather obscured by nine cover lines including three with the word 'free'. Two packets of seeds ('RRP £1.99') stuck on with very sticky tape.

Content: ‘Your gardening week’, ‘Ask the experts’, “award winning news”, ‘Tried & Tested’ give AG a rather time-honoured feel from the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it school of publishing. A roster of less high profile gardening celebrities includes Sun columnist Peter Seabrook, who now qualifies as 'classic gardener', Anne Swithinbank from radio's Gardeners' Question Time and Bob Flowerdew (him with the pony tail). The homely rounded script typeface makes it all feel rather comfortable.

Digital: Neat website - amateurgardening.com - linking to news and views. Rather sparse 6,000 Facebook likes and 6,400 Twitter followers probably reflecting a lack of social media impetus from regular readers.

What they say: "What a duff start [to BBC Gardeners' World]. Monty should have stuck to making jewellery," – comment in AG readers' verdicts.

Verdict: Founded in 1884, AG has been in a quiet corner of the publishing garden forever. It is settled and looks good and long may it flourish.

GARDEN ANSWERS

What’s it about: 'Making beautiful gardens' – tagline under masthead.

Vital statistics: May 2015 issue: 116 pages of 210mm x 295mm. Gloss paper, stitched. £4.25 cover price. Like Garden News (above), published by Bauer in Peterborough. 19,392 ABC (no digital sales).

Cover: Big picture of foxgloves, 11 cover lines, three small pictures, no people. Comes in poly bag with four packets of seeds 'worth £10.66'.

Content: Very stylish contents spread (page 4-5) clearly shows what's what. Sumptuous graphics in the Chelsea show preview. Neat features like ‘Easy Gardening’ and ‘Beautiful Gardens’ looking inside the gardens of real people. Two pages of competitions (“We have £1,770 of goodies to give away!”). Not sure about the loopy headline font which takes the edge off an elegant design.

Digital: 'Subscribe at www.greatmagazines.co.uk' at the foot of right hand pages next to the page number but nothing so visible to get you to gardenanswersmagazine.co.uk. When you get there, prosaic at best and not a great companion to such a stylish magazine. Click through to Facebook (a miserable 1,619 likes) and Twitter (14,800 followers).

What they say: "A wet start for #RHSChelsea2015 #wardrobecrisis" – post by @GardenAnswers on Twitter. "Garden Answers is published every week, with 13 issues a year," – blurb on website.

Verdict: Doesn't have the celebrity gloss of some of its competitors, but does have a more chic feel. Maybe a bit pricey (same cost as GW but 66 fewer pages) and poor digital showing reflects the circulation numbers.