In her letter to readers in the March, 2012, issue of the magazine, Martha Stewart Living editor-in-chief Pilar Guzman makes an intriguing comment about looking back to former issues of the magazine in order to move forward. She writes: "...we will feature images on this page that inspire us from the magazine's archives. Sometimes it's important to look back in order to move forward." As a longtime subscriber, I felt like playing along! I'll be raiding the archives each month to showcase my favourite issue.
MY FAVOURITE MARCH ISSUE: 2002
Beginning in 1997, Martha Stewart Living offered an annual issue devoted to the subject of gardening. The special issue was published each March and it has since become a perennial favourite for readers. The March, 2002, issue has everything you could possibly want in a gardening issue, from landscape design to specific growing instructions for a variety of sensational plants. It is also, coincidentally, the magazine's 100th issue! Readers tour several astounding gardens around the United States, including the robust landscape at Skylands, Martha's home in Maine. We learn about urns and how to plan a grouping of potted plants around a particular palette. There are delicious spring recipes, too, including those by Chef Raymond Blanc from his gorgeous inn in Oxfordshire, England, which is shown below.
What is timeless about this issue is its perfect blend of instruction with inspiration. Gardening philosophy is examined with as much interest as practical techniques and how-to information. This information is innovative and unique, also, not frequently found in many lifestyle publications: the best plants for underplanting, for instance, or the myriad varieties of hellebores, climbing roses and clematis. I constantly refer back to this issue and I'm still finding little gems of information I missed the last time.
These older issues were almost classical in their scope, with pages and pages of informative text. The magazine industry today has been deeply influenced by the speed and immediacy of the Internet: websites, blogs, social media and all of the gadgets and gizmos that facilitate these resources. In short, the photography in print lifestyle magazines now trumps the text in most cases. That is true for Martha Stewart Living as well. As much I love modernity and sparsity and the visual presentation of ideas, I also miss the devotion to the subjects of the content by the writers and researchers that was so evident in the older issues of the magazine. I learned a lot and read the articles earnestly. It was almost encyclopedic and many of my older copies of the magazines have underlined sentences and little notes in the margins of the pages - in the lightest ink possible, of course!
I don't think we can, or should, expect a return to that format. The world has changed. We are a culture obsessed with speed and, I dare say, our attention spans have suffered as a result. (I include myself in that lot.) This is why these older issues are the perfect counterpoint for me. The depth of their editorial discoveries are almost nostalgic - and it is always lovely to re-read them.