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Celebrating 300 Issues – Letters from our editors

Incredible but true. Gardens Illustrated magazine’s latest issue – June 2021, out in stores today, 25 May 2021 – is our 300th issue, the latest in a long lineage that began back in April 1993. And all this week at gardensillustrated.com we’re publishing celebratory stories to mark the event. Keep an eye out for that ‘Celebrating 300 Issues’ tag and don’t forget, as part of our celebrations we’re giving away a FREE digital copy of our very first magazine here.

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What better place to start than with a word from all the ex-editors of Gardens Illustrated throughout its history? Discover the genesis of the magazine, important landmarks on our journey and what just makes Gardens Illustrated so special.

Rosie Atkins, editor, 1993 to 2002

Gardens Illustrated was initially conceived to appeal to people with gardens (sometimes two we found out) who were as interested in what was happening abroad horticulturally as what was going on in their neighbour’s plot. Despite coming out of an economic recession, back in 1991, we assumed our reader enjoyed travel, their food, cared about what they wore and what books they read. They were passionate about the environment and conservation and I doubt much has changed.

The front cover of issue one
The front cover of issue one

“We launched in a flurry of excitement about naturalistic planting using a new palette of plants from specialist nurseries, here and abroad. I am a great fan of the planting at Great Dixter where I have been a trustee for many years and while succession planting requires great skill and knowledge – it is what many gardeners would aspire to.

Rosie Atkins' Editor's intro from issue one
Rosie’s Editor’s intro from issue one

“I hope Gardens Illustrated has, and will continue to open our eyes to new possibilities, introduce us to the major influences in Horticulture both in Britain and abroad. I am particularly proud that the series Horticultural Who’s Who, Photographed by Charlie Hopkinson has been a regular feature since issue 1. It is a unique and valuable archive, supplemented more recently by a regular piece on ‘up and coming’ gardeners who act as inspiration to those considering horticulture as a career.”

Anna Pavord, associate editor, 1993 and currently contributing editor

“We were so proud of Gardens Illustrated when it launched in 1993. Editor Rosie Atkins had asked Penelope Hobhouse and me to be associate editors and it was a thrilling time. Every month we’d turn up at The Boathouse in Hammersmith, which was the HQ of our publisher, the splendid maverick John Brown. The monthly editorial meetings were high energy affairs: we proposed undiscovered gardens, launched a gossip column, introduced then unknown photographers.

Anna Pavord's intro from issue one
Anna’s intro from issue one

“After our meetings, John would take us all round the corner for lunch at the River Café. In those early years, Rosie masterminded a GI garden for the Chelsea Flower Show, designed by Piet Oudolf. It not only won a Gold Medal, but was also voted Best in Show. Happy Birthday Gardens Illustrated. Here’s to the next hundred editions.”

Clare Foster, editor, 2002 to 2005

“I loved every minute of being Gardens Illustrated’s Editor. I had worked at Gardens Illustrated since 1996 and had completely submerged myself in the whole ethos of the magazine, loving its eclectic mix of gardens, plants, craft, art and architecture. I enjoyed the fact that slightly leftfield articles about an Irish seaweed farm or an Austrian copper tool-maker could sit alongside a serious plant profile by Roy Lancaster and a garden by Christopher Bradley-Hole. 

Clare Foster
Clare Foster

“Photography was hugely important to me as editor and I loved working with photographers like Howard Sooley, Melanie Eclare, Jonathan Buckley and Ray Main, all of whom drew out the beauty of gardens and plants to make readers see them in a new way. One of my favourite covers from that time was Howard Sooley’s exquisite erythronium plant portrait on the March 2003 issue. Close-up flower portraits made the most successful, striking covers of that era I think. 

The front cover of our March 2003 issue
The front cover of our March 2003 issue

“I worked with Dan Pearson to commission a series on his London garden, and with Carol Klein (who had more time in those days!) on a seasonal plant series. I also commissioned a piece on meadows from Christopher Lloyd and remember initially being quite terrified when invited to Dixter to discuss it with him – and then more relaxed as we sat in his library over a cup of tea as he talked about plants with a twinkle in his eye. I left the magazine in 2005 with two young children to look after, and the chance to become the freelance garden editor of House & Garden, where I still work today. I am thrilled that Gardens Illustrated is celebrating its 300th issue and love the fact that it is still doing what it set out to do in 1993. No other garden magazine rivals it.”

You can visit Clare’s website at budtoseed.co.uk

Juliet Roberts, Editor 2005 to 2017

“I began working at Gardens Illustrated as the chief sub editor in 2001. Within a year I was promoted to deputy editor and three years later I became editor. It had been my favourite magazine for many years so it was a huge challenge to step into the much admired ‘shoes’ of the previous editors, Rosie and Clare. I stayed at the magazine for 16 years and enjoyed my time there enormously. Along with an outstanding team of colleagues, many who still remain good friends, we worked hard but always had lots of fun.

Juliet Roberts
Juliet Roberts

“One incident that still makes me giggle with embarrassment was when we spotted an anomaly in one of the captions after publication. In a feature about growing dates in Morocco, the description beneath an image of a woman wearing a hijab and a man with a very long beard read something along the lines of ‘Fatima and her sister…’. Evidently, the photo had been swapped at the last minute and the caption overlooked.

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 “As for memorable covers, there are so many. I do clearly remember ‘one that got away’ during Rosie’s editorship, some 20 years ago. It was a remarkable image taken from a story about a Danish forest school of a gleeful child holding out a worm. The publisher deemed it too risky in terms of sales but I can still see it in my mind’s eye even today.”