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Bivouaced With…Martha Stewart

Not knowing this was going to turn into a series, or I might have chosen my words a bit more carefully, the “Bivouaced With” posts started when I first dragged published gardening material into my new lair, an off-world bivouac 6 feet above the ground, and gnawed on the publication a bit longer than usual. Like most people who tend plants, unless I’m working at the day job, I just don’t sit still for long. Putting one’s self into a small place accessed only by a ladder seemingly results in a commitment to that space for at least 30 minutes. Bivouaced.

This episode began in the coffee room of an office I worked in this week, where there was a stack of magazines. I grabbed the top one while the coffee dripped, flipped through it, saw an agave, and took it back with my cup of coffee to the conference room. It was the current August 2010 issue of Martha Stewart. I left my New Yorker and traded it for MS. I think the office got a fair exchange.

These are my photographs of Richard Felber’s photos from the article “From My Home To Yours; A beautiful, thriving tropical garden is possible anywhere.”

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Magazine habits are a slippery subject to grasp. (Who knew the number one magazine in circulation is AARP?)
Currently, I don’t subscribe to any of the so-called lifestyle magazines. And the spartan interiors of our home attest to that. The last one I subscribed to was when we bought our house 20 years ago, Metropolitan Home. I had to Google to check if they are still in publication, and was regretfully informed they ceased publication in 2009. Nonsubscription is no excuse for complete ignorance, because I could be flipping through these magazines while waiting in line to buy groceries, and I don’t. Design blogs, though, I do find time for and appreciate their tear-sheet enthusiasm, and check up intermittently on a few. But I’ve completely missed out on the development of the Martha Stewart empire. There are bound to be a few big gaps in everyone’s life. All this background information on my reading habits is only relevant insofar as it conveys my unfamiliarity with MS. Presented with the opportunity, I was curious to find out how a flagship lifestyle magazine is holding up against the onslaught of blogs. Succulents seemed a good point of comparison, since they are frequently featured on blogs.

I must say her magazine is beautifully styled and photographed, but the arrangement of the plants struck me as more botanical garden than private residence. But then I don’t suppose MS’s residence is really private anymore.

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I found this piece about MS’s succulents very well done as an introduction to these plants but, at the same time, was kind of surprised at its quaintness, a kind of tentativeness, especially in the way she displays her plants. A certain stiffness or hesitancy, like in the triangle arrangement. There doesn’t seem to be a relaxed familiarity with these plants yet, even allowing for the formal setting. This seemed like a new enthusiasm, which it probably is.

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I’ve learned from garden friends in much colder zones the effort required to safeguard tender succulents during the winter, and I’m talking gardeners without a greenhouse. A basement, a garage, a windowsill. The careful calibration of projected frost dates, rushing out with sheets and blankets at dusk when temperatures drop precipitously. So any quibbling I have with display issues can arguably be explained away by the fact that these are carefully protected collections in colder zones and are displayed as such. I’d appreciate any input here too, for instance, if you think I’m wildly off the mark and adore the arrangements of these pots.

I thought this was a nice grouping. That’s an amazing size to achieve for an aloe that spends a good part of its life in semi-hibernation.

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Also impressive was what’s underneath and surrounding the pots, gravel and hedges, which would seem to be very practical, drought-tolerant choices, albeit for a moister East Coast garden. The perfect blank slate to start with each spring.

All in all, garden blogs really take the subject of succulents and run away with it. There is such a torrent of good information on succulents from blogs. But MS does employ a crack crew of stylists and photographers.

Here’s her short list of public gardens to see these plants:

New York Botanical Garden
Huntington Botanical Garden, San Marino, California
Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Miami, Florida
Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, California

For garden blogs with extensive posts on these plants, taken from my blogroll, I’d start with:

Danger Garden, Portland, Oregon
Digging, Austin, Texas
Rancho Reubidoux, Riverside, California
Far Out Flora, San Francisco, California
Garden Porn, Sonoma County, California

And if you have any favorite blogs I’ve left out on this topic, I’d love to hear about them.

7 comments to Bivouaced With…Martha Stewart

  • Oh gosh…I’m in mighty good company there!

    I think what strikes me most about Martha’s collection is that she’s got a green house and help to transport these giant pots in and out of doors. Oh my but that would be nice. My husband would much rather that was the case around here.

    That said the pictures are quite beautiful and I’d much rather she was talking about aloes and agaves than petunias and pansies!

  • Thanks for the shout out! Remember succulents are best displayed in a triangle formation :) I personally like to just jam as many as possible in my garden.

  • That triangle is a bit restrained. But if I had an army of helpers and gardeners and a greenhouse, I’d be growing enough tender succulents to consider arranging them geometrically, too.

    Dating myself, I remember when Apartment Living (or was it Apartment Life?) was rechristened Metropolitan Home.

  • I loved this post; almost as much as I love ol’ tight-assed Martha herself… I have no illusion that she does all the things she touts so highly (including tending to succulents and their care), that’s what armies of ‘assistant’s are for, right?! I do hand to her her uncanny ability to stay current and to support creativity in general (probably whispered into her ear by another assistant who’s job it is to gather intelligence on what’s new)… I heart her for all that. I love her mag’s design and as one of the few shelter/home mags still operating I think it’s pretty consistent. I am an art director, after all… and this stuff is very important to me. Dating myself, too… I remember Apartment Life quite well myself!

  • BTW: that’s not my mug attached to my comment! LOL… Not even working outside this entire week could produce such an all-over tan!

  • Thanks for the link love! I’m not surprised to see Martha talking about succulents. She seems to keep up with the trends, and succulents are definitely hot right now. The top image does look stiff, overly “designed,” like some of those contemporary interiors you see in magazines that seem as if no one could really live in them. The triangular formation is kind of interesting though. Almost menacing, like an army of armed aliens in battle formation! (Or is it just me?) The aloe and echeveria container is stunning.

  • Denise

    Loree, there’s definitely that aspect, and not any info about actually running a greenhouse.
    Megan, I’ve really been enjoying watching your garden evolve.
    Jane, I think Met Home was the first time I actually read the editor’s welcome remarks every month.
    Reuben, she does have a formidable eye and the mag looked great.
    Pam, too funny — Martha in charge of armies of aliens!