A few weeks back the editor of this new gardening title emailed us a PDF of the issue. It was intriguing, a new gardening title that sounded refreshingly different to the other gardening indies (The Plant, Rakes Progress, Blad). But its arrival this week was a shock, and a useful reminder of the power that print can pack.
PDFs have no relation to size and format. Opening that advance digital file convinced me the magazine was worth stocking at the shop, but its scale was limited to that of my laptop screen. Without thinking I noted Pleasure Garden as a neat small-format publication, when the actual thing is far bigger in page size and extent. Think Luncheon, 212 and Holiday — this is a BIG magazine. And that’s one of the joys of print; scale and format can be selected to suit the project in hand rather than be left dependent on the reader’s device.
Editor-in-chief John Tebbs is a gardener and already runs an online shop. The magazine grew out of his regular column for French newspaper La Monde’s M magazine, through which he met designer Eric Pillault, who along with Tebbs and photographer Jo Metson Scott are the creative directors of Pleasure Garden. Together, they set out to make a magazine about the wider cultural meanings and context of the garden.
This is best summed up by two introductory texts about the pleasure garden, an 18th Century ideal of the garden as an open air theatre for the arts. This idea still echoes through our modern parks and spaces, and is also a perfect metaphor for a magazine, as Tebbs explains in his opening note, ‘Not only were they places where art, fashion, culture music and sex came together… they also provided vistors with a much needed sanctuary to escape from the everyday.’ The pleasure garden was a place of fantasy, removed from reality – why shouldn’t a magazine be the same?
Metson Scott adds a more detailed historical overview of the pleasure garden, and the overall idea of escape is further emphasised by Alex Tieghi-Walker’s fascinating history (above) of London’s Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, the first such space set aside (in 1791) for pure luxury and hedonism.
The magazine itself is a glorious mix of photography, art and illustration. We meet English garden photographer Valerie Finnis and her work (above) and painter Ansel Krut (below). David Axelbank’s photographs of the annual Chelsea Flower Show give a new outlook on this much-covered event, and a series of infra red images of Japanese parks at night reveal how sex remains a hidden secret of garden spaces (also below).
This is just a small selection of what Pleasure Garden’s 204 pages have to offer. It is a rich treat of a magazine, intelligent and fun, and like any good publication approaching a subject from a cultural rather than practical direction will appeal as much to the non-specialist as to the devoted gardener. The scale is not just impressive for its own sake, the content takes full advantage of the large, generous, pages and overall it has an effortless, timeless, feel.
The best magazines surprise, and for that reason, Pleasure Garden is our latest Magazine of the Week.