I knew my job as Garden Editor at Mother Earth News was about to end. The magazine had been sold, and the offices were moving out of state. I had no idea I was about to learn gardening lessons that would teach me a lot about life.
What should I do now? I was driving the last stretch of road before I reached my rural home when it came to me. “I can’t compete with all the how-to garden magazines out there,” I thought. “What if I start one that shares the personal rewards of gardening instead?”
Thirty-one years later, I’m still publishing GreenPrints, “The Weeder’s Digest,” and sharing it with thousands of gardeners across the country. Here are six things I have I learned—gardening lessons and lessons about life—as the editor and publisher of an award-winning magazine.
1. Gardening means a great deal to gardeners.
Gardening not just a hobby, or even a passion. It truly connects people to the natural world. Gardeners nurture—they parent—their plants. And by doing so, they get all the joys, contentment, and sometimes sorrow that such relationships entail.
Gardening is fun, funny, inspiring, frustrating, heartwarming, nerve-wracking, healing, de-stressing and comforting. Gardening touches gardeners’ lives. The stories people send me from all over the country (and the world) reaffirm that in every issue.
2. Gardeners take great comfort from other gardeners.
The absolute biggest surprise I’ve gotten from making this magazine is how much it helps readers. Yes, I thought gardeners would love to read stories about the experiences of gardening. I believed the inner rewards of gardening are just as important as the fruits and flowers. But I never guessed how much sharing this would mean to people.
People write me that the magazine has helped them recover from great loss—even the death of a child. People in crisis tell me they find so much comfort in the magazine that they carry it with them everywhere they go. “GreenPrints is a balm to my soul,” one wrote. “I kiss each issue when it arrives!” wrote another.
3. Gardeners know how to laugh at themselves. (They have to.)
After about 10 years of publishing the magazine, I did a reader survey. The number one request I got was “More humor!” Ever since, I’ve tried to work five funny pieces into each issue.
Why do gardeners love humor? Because gardeners make so many mistakes. We all commit “planticide” a lot. And it’s better to laugh about our mistakes than fume or cry.
“The most important tool a gardener can have is a sense of humor,” one author wrote. “Keep it handy. You never know when you’re going to need it.”
4. Gardeners are generous.
Recently I raised the subscription price of the magazine—for the first time in 19 years. I had to: printing and postage increases were killing me. I offered subscribers one last chance to renew at the old rates. Then I said, “If you can’t afford to renew, let us know and we will work something out. We don’t want you to miss out on getting GreenPrints!”
A lot of subscribers voluntarily renewed at the new, higher rate. Not only that, a good number of them sent in money to pay for others who couldn’t afford to renew! I now have a fund from kindly subscribers to help subsidize others that they don’t even know. That’s a gardening lesson I will never forget.
5. We all need good news.
People are essentially decent and caring. But our media today thrives on bad news, especially news that stirs us up and makes us upset with others. So, we need to have faith in each other. That’s what will restore our joy in the good things in life.
Gardening does that. So does our magazine. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, I had a surge in new subscriptions. To me, it was a reminder that the blessings of life should appreciated today—and every day. Among the many gardening lessons I have learned, this one might be the most universal.
6. Going out on limb is risky. But it can be rewarding.
Starting a family-run, quirky magazine about the human side of gardening is not a get-rich-quick idea. Heck, it’s not a get-rich-ever idea. Our kids helped stuff mailings and lick envelopes for years. (We joked they had no more saliva on their tongues.)
But perseverance pays off. Now we serve 10,000 subscribers all over the country. The magazine has won awards. Why, I was even elected a Fellow by GardenComm, the national garden media association!
I know the magazine has been a real blessing to many, many people. I hope they know it has been a real blessing to me and my family, as well. It turns out that some gardening lessons can last a lifetime.
If you’d like to enjoy “The Weeder’s Digest” four times a year, subscribe to GreenPrints. The magazine also makes a great gift for gardeners.
For another look at the lessons learned by gardening, read Six Lessons I Learned from Garden Failure.