Relaunch: The Editor of ‘Garden Design’ on the New Issue, Outdoor Screens and Going Ad-Free

The new issue of Garden Design magazine is so highly, gloriously visual that it’s almost fragrant. Its 132 pages join horticulture with the human-made, crisscrossing the U.S. (with jaunts over to Canada, the U.K. and Lake Como) for backyard glamour and expert advice, species spotlights and design tips.

Here the appeal of a Manhattan rooftop goes stratospheric beneath a wisteria-bound pergola. From Central Ohio, colorful and trusty midsummer blooms are prescribed. (Culver’s root is just the beginning — do not miss this story.) In L.A., interior design escapes to the outdoors. In Virginia, a pool’s edge seems to vanish right into the forest.

And yes, a nod to rise of prairie plants — championed by Piet Oudolf in his designs for spaces like the High Line — makes us want to run out and pick up our own bunch of Oudolf’s own cultivar, the “blowsy” Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Red Thunder.’

Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

In one of the ‘Muse’ sections: a radiant wildflower meadow in East Sussex, U.K., photographed by Richard Bloom.

Subscribe for $45 a year and get four seasons worth of gorgeous inspiration. This issue also represents the relaunch of the title, known for decades for its in-depth stories and spectacular images; the new leadership is manifested in a cleaner design, photos with room to spread, an ace website, and completely ad-free pages.

But we’ll let Thad Orr, the magazine’s editor in chief, tell it. Below, he lets us in on an accidental theme that emerged in the edition, what takes a plant story from good to great, and what he grows in his own Southern California garden.

Oh, and a hillside-entertaining teaser!

Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

‘Garden Design’ editor in chief Thad Orr.

What’s a favorite thing you discovered while creating this issue? 

 It wasn’t explicitly discussed as a theme in the issue, but I found the way designers used screening to add to the overall interest of an outdoor space was amazing. The screen that is featured on the cover of the summer issue was created by a designer who grew up in a family of seismic engineers, and the design reflects a seismic chart or shifting tectonic plates. This was also locally appropriate being that the property is in Los Angeles. Another garden featured shoji screens on a rooftop garden in Chicago. The beautiful screens keep the rooftop private while adding, when lit, a translucent soft light to the space.

Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

The magazine’s ongoing ‘Great Gardens Across America’ series takes us to outdoor spaces around the country. Above, a Chicago rooftop space for a family of four includes low-care perennials atop walls, and backlit shoji screens that foster a warm mood. Story by Jenny Andrews, photography by Scott Shigley, design by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects.

Give us a brief history of Garden Design’s relaunch.

We read that the magazine was closing in the Wall Street Journal [in early 2013]. As fans of Garden Design we couldn’t believe such a wonderful magazine was closing. The new publisher, Jim Peterson, contacted the previous publisher, Bonnier, to see what was being done with the magazine. The next thing we knew, we were purchasing the company!

We started traveling around the country to visit people who had been involved in the magazine, like past subscribers, photographers, writers, retailers and previous editors. In our conversations, it kept coming up that people love the printed magazine, the articles, the photography, and what Garden Design stood for. We decided to continue with the printed magazine with a few adjustments.

Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

At the Succulent Celebration last month, we ran into key members of the ‘Garden Design’ team. From left: editor in chief Thad Orr, publisher Jim Peterson, social media director Dayna Springfield and contributing editor Khara Dizmon.

When the Garden Design team set out to create this issue, #187, what were some of the goals in mind?

Each issue now has two-to-three times as much content as the previous issues because there are no ads and more pages (132). This allowed us to do a number of things that we heard readers wanted. For one, since there are no ads, every article is uninterrupted. The magazine has a cleaner look that lets the photography and stories speak for themselves. We also have broader coverage of topics around the country because there is now space to cover a more geographically diverse set of gardens, plants, and design stories. The past editors, writers, and photographers did an incredible job with the material they produced. So we really want to continue doing what was done well and what readers respond to, do more of it, then take the magazine to the next level. We’ll consider it a success if we can be a voice of education and common language between the outdoor design community and homeowners.

Why did you go ad-free?

The advertising business can be difficult and at times it’s a situation where the tail wags the dog. We heard from the previous team that this was a challenging area and decided to forego advertising. We found that this model opened up a number of opportunities for us. For example, we feel that the design of the magazine is improved. We can run larger, high-quality, images without interruption. Because Garden Design is now completely reader supported, we only serve our readers in creating and delivering material they want to sit down with four times per year.

We will have 132 pages in every issue. This gives us the space to cover the topics we feel readers want most, including gardens, plants, designers and artists, solutions, style and furnishings, local events, and more.

Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

In issue #187, writer Alexandra Sklar and photographer Tim Street-Porter visit the L.A. home of designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, who brings indoor aesthetics to a bromeliad-, fern- and orchid-filled garden.

Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

Opposite the editor’s letter, we’re plunged into the showy splendor of Longwood Gardens’ new meadow (complete with three miles of trails and four learning pavilions) in the Philadelphia area. Photo by Doreen Wynja.

You write in the editor’s note that gardeners are spending vacations visiting amazing gardens domestically and internationally. Which ones are you jetting to?

I had the opportunity to take behind-the-scenes tour of Longwood Gardens. What an incredible place! We covered the opening of their Meadow Garden in the summer issue. The amount of preparation and horticultural knowledge that goes into their programs is truly awe-inspiring.

The Butchart Gardens is one of my favorites. I’ve been there several times and don’t go to the area without making the stop. I’m also a big fan of the Piet Oudolf’s work at the Lurie Garden in Chicago and the High Line in New York.

Some my other favorite botanic gardens are smaller local gems that bring back fond memories and are more significant emotionally than for design or horticulture. The one that comes to mind is the rose garden outside the Santa Barbara mission. My family takes vacations to Santa Barbara every few years and this is a great place for a picnic.

We can’t wait to see more of your ‘Gardens Across America’ series — how do you select your gardens for this series?  

These are showcase gardens. Some are rather large but the goal is to provide information and vignettes that provide takeaways for people interested in great outdoor design anywhere in the country. These gardens have distinct stories, material selections, plant choices, and are often designed by some of the best garden designers in the world.

Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

Ryan reconnects with his Connecticut roots in this story about a New Canaan home with diverse plant life and classical touch points. Story written by Tovah Martin and photographed by Rob Cardillo. The garden design was a collaboration between co-owner Carol Seldin and Heather O’Neill of Second Nature Landscape Design.

What makes a plant photo truly compelling? Same for a plant story?

Besides the basics of great light and color, showing the context surrounding a plant as well as the fine nuances of the plant’s texture or structure are what really enhance a plant image.

I feel a plant story really comes alive when the person who is interviewed or writing the story has extensive experience growing, planting, and designing with the plant. It gives the story authenticity and depth that flows naturally.

What can subscribers look forward to in the next issue? 

The next issue is packed with stories that highlight the beautiful autumn season. We have great gardens from Colorado, California and Connecticut. There are a number of design masters like Steve Martino, Richard Hartlage, Scott Schrader, Kim Wilkie and others featured in the issue. I think readers will really enjoy an article on landscaping hillsides for outdoor entertaining. The last one I’ll share is an article on 18 stunning but offbeat bulbs that are drought-tolerant, easy to grow, and offer incredible blooms.

Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

Experts reign in the pages of ‘Garden Design.’ We were in hort nerd heaven reading the story featuring Nick McCullough (of McCullough’s Landscape & Nursery in central Ohio) sharing his “tried-and-true, mid- to late-season perennials and biennials that can outperform the ‘latest Heuchera’ or ‘hottest new Echinacea.’ ” Those picks include the big, coveted blooms of Dahlia ‘Cafe au Lait’ (flowering from June till frost), sea holly and culver’s root. Plus many more — pick up an issue for the full lineup! (Dahlia photo by Marianne Majerus; on right-hand page, clockwise from top left: photos by Rob Cardillo, Clive Nichols/Gap Photos/Getty Images, and Marianne Majerus (2).

What reactions have you been getting from readers?

There’s been a tremendous response. Readers are responding to the balanced coverage we offer on outdoor design, horticultural expertise, and the people who design and install these world-class gardens.

One common response from readers is that they are pleasantly surprised by the volume of information in the issue. I read an article a few weeks ago with Randall Lane, the editor of Forbes, discussing their recent announcement that the magazine hit record readership levels in the U.S. this year. Their focus, he explains, is on providing “deep dive” articles that their readers want. We are of the same opinion. Print is great for magazines that are highly visual in nature and where the readership wants expertly-researched articles. The experience of sitting down to read detailed articles accompanied by full, two-page images, is better in print.

Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

The case studies/troubleshooting also got our motors running. Here, writer Janet Loughrey and photographer Alex Hayden explore the transformation of a long, narrow Seattle garden on an uneven slope. Landscape designer Scot Eckley and interior designer Devin Fitzpatrick stepped in to create a dinner party-friendly urban sanctuary.

Hear hear! Any memorable stories behind the stories?

I recently watched a great documentary, Generosity of Eye, that Julia Louis-Dreyfus created about her father’s art collecting. What was most interesting to me was that she realized her father wasn’t just collecting the paintings, drawings, and sculptures (over 3,000); he was collecting the artists. He had these amazing relationships and ongoing dialogue with artists like Jean Dubuffet, Stone Roberts, Thornton Dial or George Boorujy, and they would feed off each other’s enthusiasm for the art. I guess that resonated with me because when working on the stories for the magazine, working with the talented people involved—the photographers, designers, gardeners, homeowners, writers, illustrators, and horticulture experts—was the most memorable part. Their energy is contagious and the stories about the creation of “garden artwork” are fascinating.

Finally, what do you grow in your own garden?

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Muskogee’ is one of my favorite plants for its adaptability, easy-to-grow nature and showy color. I also really enjoy Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ear) for its velvety foliage, Lavandula stoechas (Spanish lavender) and citrus for their great fragrances, and blackberries and blueberries because they produce large bowls of fruit that my family loves to eat in the spring and summer. Most of my favorite plants are ones I like for the feel, smell, taste of their fruit, or how they attract wildlife. A few new favorites that I recently planted are Pedilanthus bracteatus and Punica granatum ‘Smith’ (Angel Red® Pomegranate).


Garden Design Magazine Relaunch

Guess what’s at the top of our summer reading stack? ‘Garden Design’ cover photo by Marion Brenner, of a bluff-top Los Angeles garden designed by Roderick Wyllie and James Lord of Surfacedesign, Inc.