How not to read a gardening magazine

If yout want to learn more about gardening from reading glossy magazines, both the photos and the articles matter.

Courtesy of Helen Yoest
At a glance, can you tell that this photo pictures a miniature table and chairs, with petite dishes, that await visiting grandchildren? This design by Phil Hathcock with Natural Stone Sculptures serves up tiny tots, making them feel special with a space carved out just for them.
Courtesy of Helen Yoest
Can you look at this photo and tell the whole story? Is it about reuse of 'found' materials in the garden? Or creating an unusual haven? If you read only the photo captions with the articles in gardening magazines, you may be missing important information..

In the third and final post in my series of wishing I could mash a few gardening do-over buttons (doing thngs differently), I’m liberated to confess to you -- I need to read more.

Do you find this hard to believe? I do, too.

How I read a gardening magazine

Those glorious, glossy magazines I’m so fortunate to write for are often left unread. Oh, I look through them; every page, in fact. I begin with the cover, reading the captions of what lies within. They pique my interest, and I get all giddy knowing what’s to come.

But then, I get stuck studying the cover shot for every detail. As I crack open the magazine, I find myself staring at the photos. Often, I’ll start a story, only to be drawn back to the pictures. They mesmerize me.

Religiously, I read the photo captions. If the caption hints at something the photo doesn’t explain, I go back to the story to find out more. But I realize there are many times that a photo caption doesn’t give enough details, and I find out later, when talking with friends, I may have missed the gist of the entire story.

Making photo captions informative

During a recent trip to Des Moines, meeting with James Baggett, editor of Country Gardens magazine, we talked about writing captions. He said that generally, too many captions are written as an afterthought. His advice to me was to give my captions as much thought as the featured piece.

He’s right. I should know; there are others out there, like me, reading the captions and nothing else.

This has changed as I mashed my read more do-over button. I want to learn more from the story than the pretty pictures tell. I want to learn from the experiences featured in the story. That’s what it’s really about.

If I read more, I might learn not to make the same mistakes, or even better, learn the root of their inspiration, sparking my own.

By reading the entire story, I not only get to see the pretty pictures and glean the story from the captions, but I get to understand the rest of the story.

So, the next time I’m with friends, I can say, “Wasn’t it amazing how that gal from Raleigh managed to anchor 20-foot-tall tri-fold mirrors, made from old church windows originally from Canada, but found at a Georgia garage sale, where she replaced the clear panes with mirrors and placed them on a stone stand in her back garden?” [See photo at left.]

Then it will be my friends saying to me, “What? I missed that, I thought it was just a neat idea about reuse.”

Have you mashed any gardening do-over buttons? Today, I’m reading more, I’m talking more, and I’m writing more, and I’m happy to report, I’m better for it.


Helen Yoest lives in North Carolina and writes about Gardening With Confidence. She's a garden writer, speaker, and garden coach. She's also a field editor for Better Homes and Gardens and Country Gardens magazines and serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum. You can follow Helen on Twitter and Facebook. To read more by Helen here at Diggin' It, click here.

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