Saturday, February 6, 2010

Martha in my garden

The garden issue of Martha Stewart Living arrived in my mailbox yesterday to both my delight and chagrin. I wish I could muster the disdainful attitude of the bloggers over at Garden Rant -- their manifesto proclaims boredom with perfect magazine gardens and a love for "real, rambling, chaotic, dirty, bug-ridden gardens". Many gardeners call the seed catalogs "plant porn", but for me, Martha's annual garden issue is the real hard-core deal. The sweeping vistas, the picturesque compost bins and gorgeously weathered stone walls are akin to the airbrushed abdomens and gravity-defying double-D's that litter the pages of any Playboy. Tantalized yet guilty, I pore over every page of Martha's garden issue like some hormonal teenager. I know it is enhanced, overly-groomed and astronomically expensive, but I want it. I want it all.

First, the disheartening. Martha gathered several tomato experts as well as four-season-garden-guru Barbara Damrosch for a tasting of heirloom tomatoes. Not one of the tomatoes I am growing made the list! The only one I've even tasted is a Green Zebra, and after two disappointing growing seasons in my scant garden space, I have nixed it from my repertoire. I feel inadequate. The tomato in the article for which I am definitely considering finding space is Reisetomate, which first popped onto my radar screen thanks to those anti-Marthas the Garden Ranters. Of course, now that Martha has featured it, the chance of getting my hand on some seeds are nil -- maybe I can get to them if the issue has yet to hit newsstands. I also sighed longingly over the article on an artist that sculpts garden fire pits. The 2008 catalog lists the prices from $4,000 to $50,000. Gulp. If only they also came with the gorgeous settings, like the Atlantic beach-scape in the opening photo! For now, I must content myself with a rusting Weber grill and a vista dominated by plastic Disney figurines.

On the happier side of things, I was excited to see some of my chosen 2010 plants featured in the magazine's article on fragrant gardens. I had, for example, been mulling my choice of sweet peas for several months, and finally settled on Cupani's Original from Seed Savers Exchange. Martha's gardening editors give it their stamp of approval, hailing Cupani's for its heat tolerance and bicolored blossoms. I also was glad to see my favorite doyenne of canning and preserving, Eugenia Bone, featured in the cooking section. My absolutely favorite piece, though, was from Stephen Orr, a writer from the New York Times, in which he extols the pleasures of gardening gloveless. I, too, find it much more pleasurable to go without gloves, no matter what it does to my hands. I have been trying to be more conscientious about hand protection, especially since my day job involves a lot of human contact. But who among us hasn't given themselves over to the "gritty, muddy, slightly painful joys of the purely tactile"?

The February/March issue of Organic Gardening is also on my nightstand, and has a much more reasonable approach to gardening. I will definitely be inter-planting onions with lettuce after reading their 3-season garden plan article (also, by the way, starring Barbara Damrosch - is she on some PR tour?). But a close-up picture of a dew-kissed organic cabbage is just never going to get my blood flowing the way it does when I ogle the impeccably designed landscapes featured in Martha Stewart Living. In another life, with limitless time and money, these oases would be mine. Just as in another life, with limitless time and money, I could sport a magazine-worthy abdomen.

Yes, the culture critic in me would say that both shelter and skin mags are precisely designed to create feelings of inadequacy so that we spend more trying to reach unattainable goals. Neither the landscapes nor the abdomens have anything to do with the dirty, shabby reality of daily life. Yet, I do want to hail Martha for championing the organic, the heirloom and the homemade, even though I know many feel she is simply gentrifying folk-ways. For me, she is another welcome voice in the chorus of people preserving lost arts, emphasizing sustainability and supporting independent seed companies. Who cares if she does it all while wearing $300 garden clogs?


  1. You don't have to feel guilty for loving beauty and great garden design. Martha (well, really her staff) knows how to design a beautiful magazine layout and those photographers are pros for a reason. And of course it's good to realize that the purveyors of these mags exist to sell you on the idea that you do not have enough, nor are you enough yet -- but still, sometimes it's just fun to look at the pretty pictures. And for those of us who will never have access to garden features running in the tens of thousands of dollars, it's a vicarious pleasure, too.

    I'm now tempted to buy the mag that details interplanting onions with lettuces and shows dew-kissed pics of organic cabbages. For me, this is precisely my kind of eye candy. ;)

    A question, though: did it have really informative articles? In my mind, the $4 to $7 for a magazine right now could easily become, instead, a couple of packets of seed *or* a well-grown tomato transplant shipped in April. So it would have to be worth it for the information, too...

  2. Meredith, I am not sure it is worth it -- all of the info can be found in Damrosch's (and her husband Eliot Coleman's) books at the library. I'd go for the seeds or the tomato transplant!

  3. Dear Abbie, What a joy that I have fallen across your posting quite by chance. Such amusing, engaging writing and not, if I dare say it, diluted with glossy photographs unlike, I assume, Martha Stewart Living.

    Happily, living in London and Budapest, the temptations of MSL are well out of reach. However the World of Interiors is a particular vice of mine and, I think, could be of yours too. They all serve to try to make us feel inadequate, but only if we let them which I most certainly do not!!

    I shall much look forward to your future postings.

  4. You and I wrote about Martha around the same time. I really enjoyed this issue also and wrote about it on my blog "Martha Gets Her Groove Back."

    I take Garden Rant with a grain of salt - I too enjoy looking at beauty even if it is not always achievable in the real world,