So you want to see your garden in a magazine

There are so many gardening magazines, and I love them all. Some dedicated to just gardening such as Nature’s Garden, Country Gardens, English Gardens. Some where gardening is a part of the whole home, such as Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living.

As a garden scout for these and many others, I’m often asked to stop by to see great gardens. Also as a volunteer for the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour, I see many, many great garden. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a garden I didn’t like. However, not every garden gets chosen. Unfortunately, this is usually the result of timing more than any other reason. While we all think our gardens are unique, and they are, they could be very similar in style of a garden the magazine recently featured. There are other factors, as well. The purpose of this post is not to point out all the reasons a garden wasn’t selected, but rather to be able to look at your garden through a lens to see what you might not be able to otherwise see and perhaps improving the gardens overall look and appeal.

As one example, I once scouted a great garden that wasn’t selected. I don’t remember the reason for this, but when I broke the news to the homeowner, her response was, “They have to come see this garden, it doesn’t show well in photographs.” Indeed, it didn’t, and I can attest it was a great garden. However, the garden will be in print, so it HAS to present well in photographs. Maybe television would be better, but for print, it didn’t present well.

Because I’m well known locally as a scout, folks call, mail and e-mail me gardens to stop by and see. I’m at my happiest when I get to see a new garden, giddy in fact with anticipation. Not only do I get to go see a great garden, I get to hear and feel the heart that went into it. I enjoy these journeys.

Before I schedule an appointment, I ask for the homeowner to do a little bit of homework for me. First and foremost, send me a few pre-scouting photos. I’m often called upon to look at gardens throughout North Carolina and Virginia. Ideally, I like to work with homeowners who are about to put their garden on tour. During this time, a garden has been gussied up to look its best and of course, if it is on tour, most likely, it will occur during peak season.

Here are a few pointers I give people to evaluate their photos. These same pointers are useful for anyone evaluating a garden – especially you. Often times, we focus on only the prettiest piece of the garden, while ignoring the elephant in the room. A picture is worth a thousand words.

  • Take photos, lots of photos.
  • Shoot the gardens while the light is low. Early morning is nice, before the sun is too high casting shadows.
  • Shoot the garden at every angle, not just what you think is the best view. We often focus on the best view for a reason. Take the shot that doesn’t represent the best view and learn from it.
  • Study the shot. Why did it not present well?
    • Scale – are beds in scale with the house, with the overall design?
    • Accents – too many, to cheeky, to exposed?
    • Color – is there rhythm – did the color echo throughout the garden?.
    • Too young?
    • Too mature?
    • Too crowed?
    • Too thin?
    • Is there enough color?
    • Obstruction – is there something in the way prohibiting the best shot or is the angle tight?   The garden no doubt looks good in person, but obstructions can “take away” from the shot in print.

At the end of the day, we garden for ourselves. My garden has been turned down by the best and it has also been featured by the other best. It all depended on what they were looking for at the time. Take a look at some scouting photos I took below. See if you can guess if they made it or not. The answers may surprise you. One thing I think we can all agree on, they are all great gardens.


Can you believe it – NO!  I remember vividly, the day I sent off the scouting photos of this absolutely fabulous Asian inspired garden .  I scouted it for Architect Digest. As my material went west to their offices, their magazine came east to my home. And what would you imagine was on the cover? An absolutely fabulous Asian inspired garden.

brightsraleighyoest-12Well, what do you think?  You betcha!

daviesraleighyoest-126This garden belongs in a magazine.  Still waiting for someone to want it.  Interested?  e-mail me, I’ll show you more.


Raleigh will be hosting the Garden Writers Association meeting in Raleigh in September.  Hopefully, there will be plenty of private gardens for you to tour.  If you want to see more, call and we will work something out.



  1. Gail said

    Hi Helen, Interesting post…I don’t aspire to have my garden in a magazine but I have to say that learning how to photograph it would be a great skill. Lovely gardens! gail

  2. Good advice for folks. I do hope there will be private gardens open for the writers in September.


  3. Les said

    I want your job.

  4. Les, I want your knowledge.

  5. Oh and Les, Mark tells me I need to see your garden. So plan on inviting me before I just show up uninvited;-) I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE.

  6. tina said

    I got all the photos right on my guess. Do I win anything?:)

  7. Gee, Tina do you need more…you are already a winner!

  8. tina said

    That was a very nice thing to say Helen. Thanks!

  9. Nikki said

    Hi Helen,

    You forgot to mention Washington Home & Garden! 🙂 Just kidding, but in all seriousness I would like to include more garden photos on our website and in the magazine. In fact, we just created a new FORUM where garden enthusiasts can share their photos. If you’d like, it’d be great to encourage your readers to send us their pics or upload at the forum.


  10. […] Original post: So you want to see your garden in a magazine « Gardening With … […]

  11. I’m not ready for you but I will be in about two years. Lots of leaf mulch to haul in the mean time. I’m also afraid you’ll ask me what a plant is and I won’t know. I will run round and put tags on everything so you won’t have to ask.

    I like the the home with the garden out front–the home with the two peaked roofs. That is charming.

  12. I’ll be ready when you are FGG. Don’t panic about the plant names, however, as you build your garden do name your individual gardens and keep a plant list. This at least narrows down where each specific species is. A good example is my Red Bed. I plan to post all my gardens over time – as I refine the lists I have started. Oh and yes, as you can guess, each garden is named. So not only do I have a mission statement, an overall name, Helen’s Haven, I also have named each garden. This helps me organize plant lists and discuss what I’m doing where. I get my clients to do that so we can talk specifics about where we will be working.

  13. As a garden writer I get invited to wonderful gardens and get to interview fascinating people for my weekly column. I try to take some photos, but I know my own garden would never ‘present well’. You’ve given some great tips about how to use photos to improve the garden. thanks.

  14. dkprinzing said

    Hi Helen – great post – so incredibly thorough and practical! I can’t wait to visit you and your “finds” in Raleigh next September.
    cheers, debra

  15. Thanks Debra, I am so looking forward to September, both for the GC tour and GW. I’m happy to show you what we can’t see during the meetings. I want our gardens known!

  16. Robin Nickles said


    I would love to find a scout for my parent’s garden in Blaine, Washington. They live on an acre of land that has been lovingly landscaped over the last two decades. I know I’m biased but I feel it’s way too extraordinary to not be shared. Their yard was just photographed for a local paper so it’s in pristine shape right now. I don’t know if you travel that far West, but if not, is there anyone you recommend I contact. I could get photos to you if that would be helpful. Thank you for your help, Robin

  17. Pam said

    Hi Helen,
    Very helpful tips for showing the garden…..I know it is a BIG dream of mine…but I would love to have my garden pictures show up just once in a garden magazine….After reading your tips, I’m feeling a bit intimidated but most neighbors & strangers passing by alway pay high complements over our gardens…
    Do you have any suggestions as to which publications to submit to……or is that a waste of time? Should one just sit back and hope someone like yourself wants to interview? Not sure of the best approach here in central Illinois.
    Thanks for your time,

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