Gardens, Guns and the South
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s not really about gardens or guns.
By Rachel Levin
The stereotypically slowpoke-y, backwoods South has never been hotter, and we’re not talking about the weather. It could be because of Nashville’s Connie Britton or the artisanal bourbon boom or the resurgence of bowties. Regardless, no one captures the upper-crust allure of the South better than Garden & Gun.
It profiles life in the American South, in stories like “Secret to Perfect Pickles” and “Ultimate Biscuit Stop.”
It’s a magazine, in case you have not yet come across this fat Southern bible. It unapologetically profiles life in the American South, in stories like “Secret to Perfect Pickles,” “Ultimate Biscuit Stop” or “Best Bird Lodge in Mississippi,” and goes beyond typical service journalism with big, drool-worthy pictures from leading photographers like Dan Winters and Peter Yang and bylines from lit luminaries like Rick Bragg, Julia Reed, Roy Blount Jr. and Padgett Powell.
The storytelling is smart, often personal, and somehow makes you care about topics never before on your radar. Lindenwood University Lions’ shooting team? Writer Jeff Hull has you hooked. One of my favorite journalists Kim Severson turns what would otherwise be a simple recipe story into an ode to cast-iron pans and bacon-scallion hoecakes. (Hoecakes?)
And the covers? Think life-sized pecan pies, Bloody Marys and a disproportionate number of dogs. Garden & Gun is kind of dog-obsessed. In addition to a signature monthly column called “Good Dog” — first-person essays written by canine-loving novelists — the website runs an annual Good Dog reader photo contest. Sure, it’s a gimmicky traffic-driver, but also kind of addictive.
Named after the iconic 1970s Charleston disco, the Garden and Gun Club, the magazine’s title – though initially confounding or off-putting to some – arguably serves as the foundation for its increasing notoriety.
It turns out that a whopping 41 percent of Garden & Gun readers don’t live in the South.
It turns out that a whopping 41 percent of Garden & Gun readers don’t live anywhere near South Carolina. That’s a pretty significant stat for a “regional” magazine, albeit one that’s been called “the New Yorker of the South.” Founded by Rebecca Darwin in 2007, when she left New York (and the New Yorker), for Charleston, Garden & Gun has had its share of near deaths. But it has since bounced back to become one of those rare print-publishing success stories, consistently breaking newsstand records, rising in revenue and sales and racking up National Magazine Awards and readers. (Subscribers will rise from 250,000 to 300,000 in February, while total circulaton is 750,000 and counting. These are affluent readers, with an average net worth of $1.7 million.) The October/November issue will be the thickest one yet in both pages and ad dollars. The cover features a mod South Carolina river cottage fronted by a Southern belle and — of course — two chocolate labs, and promises a peek inside the porches and parlors of Dixie’s most stylish homes.
There’s also 30 live events a year and a three-book deal with HarperCollins. The first, The Southerner’s Handbook: A Guide to Living the Good Life, will be published on October 29: a mix of the magazine’s best material and original essays from leading Southern writers — and all a Northerner ever wanted to know about life in the South. Like, how to pull off seersucker, fold a pocket square, fry okra and clean a blue crab. (Not a joke. Real stories.)
Still, word is just getting out about this lush, literary-minded lifestyle magazine that has impressed everyone from navel-gazing Manhattan media types to Silicon Valley techies. With the June launch of its iPad version (10,000-plus downloads so far), it’s now reaching people all over the world, from the Alaskan outback to Africa.
Reading (yes, reading ) an issue of Garden & Gun on a crowded big city bus might be the closest most of us will ever get to a life spent rocking on a front porch in Savannah, sipping a tall glass of lemonade. But that’s what’s so great about this magazine: It casts a spell about the South, transports us east of the Mississippi for a moment, maybe even makes us think — seriously for a few seconds — about moving there. And reminds even the most frenetic Yanks among us to, simply, slow down.