A new magazine for boomers in the garden

April 17, 1994|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

Call it "The Big Till," a magazine for baby boomers who at this stage in life are going, if not totally to seed, then to bulbs and compost and all those other earthly delights.

Actually, the stylish new magazine is called Garden Design, and it seeks to put a uniquely boomer spin on the subject of gardening. If that's reminiscent of what Metropolitan Home did with interior design, there's a reason: Dorothy Kalins, who left Met Home last year when it was sold and now heads the new gardening bimonthly.

"I know with myself, and I see it with my friends as well, I don't much care what my living room looks like anymore. I know I'm never going to get it right," Ms. Kalins says. "But the garden -- there's a sense of satisfaction that you get there that is unduplicated."

Demographically, Garden Design seems to be in the right place at the right time. The gardening bug tends to bite when people are somewhere in the vicinity of 40, industry analysts say, and the nation's more than 70 million baby boomers currently are between 30 and 50 years old.

"This group's enthusiasm for the newly discovered outdoors is not matched by their expertise," says Ms. Kalins, who gives her age as "the leading edge of the baby boom."

"Baby boomers always need magazines of their own. They have a particular language and lifestyle and value system that they carry around with them. They're the best magazine audience in the world -- they're the last generation raised on reading, whether it's books or magazines."

Indeed, the team behind Garden Design has a history of speaking to baby boomers. In addition to Ms. Kalins, who joined Met Home in 1981 when it was still Apartment Life, the principals include executives who have such titles as Rolling Stone, People and Martha Stewart Living to their credit.

Garden Design uses elegant design, lush photography, a trendy approach and articles that are information-dense yet easily digested to attract their target generation. "You have to be smitten with it, but it has to have so many layers to make you come back," she says.

While the premiere issue -- which sells for $5 on the newsstand and $4 by subscription -- has attracted upscale advertising such as Jaguar and Chivas Regal, some question whether the magazine is too narrowly focused on higher-end consumers.

"It's not as if all baby boomers are affluent yuppies," says Bruce Butterfield, research director of the National Gardening Association, a non-profit organization based in Vermont that also publishes its own magazine, National Gardening. "In my view, it's the same as all those people who subscribe to Architectural Digest but don't live in million-dollar mansions. But it looks good on the coffee table."

Garden Design has what Mr. Butterfield calls the "dream machine" appeal of other upscale magazines devoted to, say, exotic travel or gourmet cooking. Meaning, you may not travel or cook as lavishly as those portrayed on the magazines' pages, but you enjoy reading about or imagining such a lifestyle.

"This is more garden of the mind," Mr. Butterfield says, "than garden of the dirt."

"It's not, '12 ways to plant daffodils,' it's how to think about planting daffodils," Ms. Kalins agrees. "This magazine is going to inform you in somany ways about gardening, from a historical perspective, a cultural perspective, design."

Rather than the nitty-gritty, helpful-hints style of older gardening magazines, Garden Design has a more philosophical, essay-like tone. Perhaps most emblematic of its slant is a feature on re-thinking the lawn, that suburban icon made possible only with large quantities of time, chemicals and angst. Rather, the story proposes, consider the more ecological approach of region-appropriate native prairies, meadows and chaparrals.

Other features include a spread on an English garden with a casual rather than formal design and a story on Smith & Hawkins, the garden supply cataloger that -- shades of Williams-Sonoma -- is planning to open a series of mall stores. Regular features include "The Undaunted Gardener" which, like "Dr. Swatch" in Metropolitan Home, will answer readers' questions, and "Dirt," a grouping of news and random thoughts.

It's an approach that suits this generation, says Cheryl Russell, a demographer who publishes the newsletter "The Boomer Report."

"It's the aesthetics of gardening, rather than the how-to sense, that's appealing to boomers," Ms. Russell says. "People are so busy, they don't have time anymore. But even if you just have a window box, you can feel like you're gardening."

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