VPs VIPs: Juliet Roberts, Gardens Illustrated
When I first met Patient Gardener a couple of years ago, we compared notes on our favourite magazines and agreed Gardens Illustrated (GI) was one of them. So when I had the opportunity to visit their offices in Bristol at the end of April to chat with the editor Juliet Roberts, I leapt at the chance.
Why Gardens Illustrated?
My first job was for a specialist magazine about film, and I worked at the British Film Institute in London for around 10 years on various film publications. I freelanced for a while, then I got the gardening bug and when the opportunity to work at GI arose eight years ago, it was simply my dream job.
You joined as editor?
No, that was Rosie Atkins [the magazine’s founder in 1992 and now curator at the Chelsea Physic Garden]. She was my mentor and a wonderful person to work with. Then Clare [Foster] was promoted to editor when Rosie left and I had the opportunity to stand-in for her when she went on maternity leave just 18 months after I joined GI.
Has GI always been based in Bristol?
No, it was in London at first and moved to Bristol around 5 years ago – I was appointed editor around that time so things were quite hectic!
Tell me a little more about a magazine editor’s role
We’re an extremely small team here [5 staff including Juliet], so we can’t really afford to stand on job role demarcation lines: we need to work extremely closely together to do what’s needed to get the magazine out each month. It’s also very important that we enjoy what we do and have some fun in the process.
May’s GI issue has just come out, which month are you in at the moment?
Quite a few! I have a file outlining the content [colour coded by type of page] of each edition for the next few months and a list of forthcoming features running at least a year ahead. I also proof read articles and other content [e.g. advertisements] as and when they come in, so that could be for any of the editions we’ve got planned over the next year. At the moment we’re finalising the content for the June edition on our ‘flat plan*’ and I’m also researching features and setting up photography and commissioning words for April next year.
Are you planning to commission any more guest editor issues like Dan Pearson’s last year?
It was well received by those who read it but was a considerable amount of extra work and much to my surprise didn’t sell any better than our usual style, so we’d need to think carefully before doing something like that again [a pity because I thought that edition was really interesting and different – Ed].
What’s the role of the contributing editors? [Fergus Garrett, Carol Klein, Roy Lancaster, Alys Fowler and Dan Pearson]
They’re my dream team of advisors whom I can pick up the phone to talk to at any time. They help to ensure my vision for the magazine is kept on track and they’re also on my trusted team of freelance writers and photographers from whom I commission articles.
And your vision for the magazine is?
My current mantra is Beautiful and Useful. I’d like our readers to enjoy the simple pleasure of looking at the beautiful gardens and plants in the magazine, then be inspired to go out and do something as a result of reading the features.
Any specific plans for achieving this?
The style and content of GI will still emphasise the best that’s out there in the gardening world, but there’ll also be further resources available to our readers such as where to go to get further information if needed. We’re using our website to include things we can’t find space for in the magazine itself and are running special reader events, such as the recent lectures on sustainable gardening at the London College of Garden Design. We’re also sponsoring Cottesbrooke Plant Fair [I'll be there today with Patient Gardener] and a pavilion at Hampton Court in July which will bring the pages of the magazine alive and be a sort of one-stop shop for stylish gardeners.
You’ve recently revamped the website, any further plans to take GI into the digital age?
Yes, although we really need to keep our focus on the magazine, continue to do what we do well and keep our readers happy. The publishing world is going through lots of change at the moment with exciting times ahead. We also need to understand how an income can be made from the internet before diverting our resources and energy more into that area.
Thanks Juliet for taking the time to talk to me and to give me a great insight of what it’s like to work in the world of magazines. Let’s just say it’s very different to the image conjured up in The Devil Wears Prada and they have a gardening library in the office to die for!
* literally a large piece of plywood which shows a mock up of the magazine’s next issue. Each double page spread is shown in miniature and it’s easy to see how much of the edition has been completed and which pages have been finalised. I spotted James’ piece on his visit to the Botanic Nursery, my local specialist nursery, which he blogged about last year.