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A Brief History of Pacific Horticulture… in Their Own Words

Articles: A Brief History of Pacific Horticulture… in Their Own Words

Much has been written over the past twenty-five years about the evolution of Pacific Horticulture. This brief history, excerpted from the writings of editors and foundation presidents, will, we hope, provide the reader of today with a sense of the magnitude of this project, the dedication of individuals involved in its production and distribution, and the meager resources that have supported it.

George Waters, editor 1976-1997
George Waters, editor 1976-1997

When, in the 1940s, Sydney Mitchell produced the first issue of the Journal of the California Horticultural Society, he also took the first step on a path that led in 1976 to the introduction of Pacific Horticulture.

In launching the journal, Mitchell and his friends were at the crest of a wave of popular enthusiasm for gardening. The California Horticultural Society they helped into existence was still young, the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 had generated great interest in gardening through the plants displayed there, and Eric Walther was planting the first few acres of a new botanic garden, known as Strybing Arboretum, at the corner of Golden Gate Park…

George Waters & Nora Harlow,
The Pacific Horticulture Book of Western Gardening, 1990

Richard Hildreth, president 1974-1977
Richard Hildreth, president 1974-1977

That first issue of the Journal of the California Horticultural Society appeared in 1940, typed on Sydney Mitchell’s typewriter. It quickly grew into a highly respected journal for the gardener and plantsman.

Justly proud of their Journal, the pioneers in the Society conceived the ambition of distributing it throughout the state and even along the whole of the Pacific Coast. The initial step toward this goal occurred in 1968 with the formation of the Pacific Horticultural Foundation. The Foundation, jointly formed by the California Horticultural Society, the Strybing Arboretum Society, and the Western Horticultural Society published the California Horticultural Journal, incorporating the original Journal and Notes from Strybing Arboretum. A further advance was made in 1970 when the Southern California Horticultural Institute joined the Foundation and the Journal began to be distributed in the Los Angeles area.

Richard Hildreth,
Pacific Horticulture editorial, January 1976

Nora Harlow, assistant editor 1984-1997
Nora Harlow, assistant editor 1984-1997

What sets the Pacific Coast apart, horticulturally, from the rest of the country is its distinctive climate.

In the 1970s another wave of gardening enthusiasm began to build, but there still was no specialist periodical devoted to the interests of gardeners in the West. In a climate so extraordinary that it is shared by only four other small areas throughout the world, too many were relying for information exclusively on eastern books and magazines. Ours is a Mediterranean climate suited to the cultivation of a great many plants only dreamed of by gardeners elsewhere in the country. And, of course, it is unsuitable for many plants favored by cold winters and rainy summers. The history of the West, its topography and native vegetation, and the special place of water in its life, all call for gardens of a kind quite different from those made elsewhere. But nationally distributed magazines and books have a homogenizing influence. Many gardeners, recent arrivals in the West, bring with them ideas of gardens from totally different climates. They need not the reinforcement of those ideas, but their replacement with others more in keeping with the reality of rainless summers and spring’s equivalent experienced in fall. An antidote is needed; our gardening culture demands a regional literature.

In 1975, with enthusiasm but few other resources, the California Horticultural Journal was enlarged, redesigned, and with four-color printing was offered to the public on subscription as Pacific Horticulture. The new magazine was well received among gardeners, not only in the West, but in the East and abroad as well. The Northwest Horticultural Society, in Seattle, joined the publishing team, and the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden adopted the magazine for distribution to members of its Davidson club.

Waters & Harlow, 1990

The new name Pacific Horticulture derives from the Foundation that publishes it, and indicates our belief that, from Washington to Southern California, there are climatic and gardening similarities more marked and unifying than any to be found from west to east in this country.

Hildreth, 1976

The new journal found an immediate audience, but that did not guarantee financial security for the new publication.

The response from readers of the first issue of Pacific Horticulture has been very gratifying. We have received many compliments on its appearance and contents, resulting in many new friends who have either joined one of our supporting societies or have become new subscribers. I urge you all to acquaint your gardening friends with our publication so that it will become widely known and in great demand.

Owen Pearce
PH editorial, April 1976

Owen Pearce, editor 1964-1976
Owen Pearce, editor 1964-1976

With this, the fourth issue of Pacific Horticulture for 1976, we believe we have made our case for a West Coast gardeners journal. It now rests with our readers who, by renewing subscriptions, can confirm our argument and enable us to go on building circulation and climbing out of the red.

PH editorial, October 1976

Even in distant regions, with climates decidedly different, Pacific Horticulture found a strong readership.

In July of last year, The Garden, monthly journal of the Royal Horticultural Society in England, devoted a column to an appreciation of Pacific Horticulture. Readers of The Garden, “hungry for information well expressed and well illustrated” were advised to subscribe and many did. Our new readers are in all parts of the world, for gardeners are not insular.

PH editorial, Spring 1977

How to identify each issue in the quarterly run became an early enigma.

Some copies arrive at their destination a month after publication and in the light of this knowledge, our practice of dating issues by months is absurd. Henceforth we will date issues by seasons. This is the issue for Spring 1977. The months of publication appear in the left-hand column inside the front cover. These have been made to accord with its expected arrival in the hands of most of our readers (February, May, August, and November) rather than its delivery from the printer.

PH editorial, Spring 1977

Such seasonal designations, though retained for the next twenty-three years, were never entirely satisfactory, since the month of receipt was seldom consistent with the season identified on the cover. Thus, the designation was changed again in 2000, relating both to the month of receipt and the months included in the Calendar listings at the back of each issue.

From the first, the task of promoting the magazine to increase its subscriber base weighed heavily on the small volunteer staff and limited finances of the foundation. Yet, every avenue had to be explored to ensure that the revenue would support the publication.

During the spring of this year, fifty thousand brochures were mailed to gardeners on the West Coast from Washington to southern California. The brochure carried the illustration in color that appears on the cover of this issue and was, by general agreement, a beautiful production. The response to the mailing has been excellent, significantly better than is expected from direct‑mail promotion by those in the business. We welcome these additional subscribers and hope they long enjoy Pacific Horticulture.

Promotion, direct-mail and other kinds, is expensive and we acknowledge, with the utmost gratitude, the gifts that have made it possible.

PH editorial, Fall 1977

The love of plants and gardens needs, for its proper expression, a publication in the preparation and production of which the same concern for beauty and proportion is manifest as is discernible in the design of the finest gardens.

The presentation in a magazine of a subject as beautiful as this draws not only upon the words of the writer and the light and shade of the illustrator, but also upon the style of the type; the feel of the paper; the contrasts of ink on the white surface; the proportions of the page and its contents, and on the restraint used in its layout.

This conception of an ideal gardening magazine is not compatible with immediate commercial success. In pursuing it, Pacific Horticulture has drawn for support upon its founding societies, private donors and philanthropic trusts.

PH editorial, Spring 1978

Olive Rice Waters, circulation director 1976 to date
Olive Rice Waters, circulation director 1976 to date

Revenue from subscriptions and advertising has never covered the cost of publishing Pacific Horticulture. Early on, readers responded to appeals for assistance, and soon formed the Friends of Pacific Horticulture.

It was just a year ago that our circulation topped 10,000. We had long anticipated, when we were over this hump, a move from our basement quarters [in the editor’s home]. There our space was adequate during our first four years but a bit dreary.

The new office is made possible by the support of many readers who answered our appeal and became Friends of Pacific Horticulture.

Olive Rice Waters
PH editorial, Winter 1980

A year ago on this page I reported that we had organized a support group called Friends of Pacific Horticulture and appealed to our readers for help in furnishing our first rented office and meeting other pressing needs. Our readers responded to this appeal and a subsequent letter from the chairman of the Friends with gifts that totalled over $17,000, a sum which made a material difference to us this past year.

Marge Hayakawa
PH Editorial, Summer 1981

Marge Hayakawa, president 1977-1986
Marge Hayakawa, president 1977-1986

The wonderful, heartening thing about the response to our appeal is the convincing demonstration it makes that Pacific Horticulture is filling a valuable place in a good many people’s lives. Foundations may not be interested in us, corporate donors may pass us by, but the people who justify our existence—our readers—care. Our best rewards come from readers in friendly and enthusiastic notes accompanying gifts to the Friends, with renewal notices, and simply when moved to comment on a recent issue.

PH Editorial, Summer 1982

We are also grateful to our other contributors—writers, artists, and photographers—who freely give their work and make this magazine possible; to our editors, paid and volunteer, and to our botanical consultants, all of whom maintain high and meticulous standards. We are grateful to the many volunteers who develop promotional campaigns, keep tabs on the office, organize tours and Friends’ events, watch over our finances, and serve as directors.

PH Editorial, Summer 1985

The issue of accuracy in plant names arose early in the production of Pacific Horticulture. In the 1940s, John Thomas Howell, head botanist for the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, served as the botanical editor for the Journal of the California Horticultural Society. In 1950, in her first year as a botanist for the Academy, Dr Elizabeth McClintock was assigned the task of editing that journal, a task that she continued to perform to perfection for the California Horticultural Journal and for Pacific Horticulture, through 2000—fifty years of dedicated service to the horticultural community.

Nothing causes more contention among gardeners than the names of plants. The difficulties arise mainly from the use of Latin for naming plants. Many gardeners, especially beginners, are dismayed by the unfamiliar language and become discouraged. The use of Latin plant names has had some distinguished critics. John Ruskin disliked them and his friend William Robinson conducted a campaign to have them all replaced with English names.

Although many of Robinson’s ideas influenced the course of gardening at the turn of the century, his attempt to bring about the adoption of English plant names failed. There is good reason for this. Vernacular names differ from place to place for the same plant and confusion, rather than understanding, is the probable outcome of their use.

Where valid vernacular names exist, we try to include them with botanical names in Pacific Horticulture. Sometimes the botanical name must stand alone and we appreciate the difficulty some readers have in coming to grips with the unfamiliar language. Much help in pronouncing these names and in understanding their meanings can be found in A Gardener’s Dictionary of Plant Names by A. W. Smith and W. T. Stearn, (Cassell, 1972).

PH editorial, Fall 1978

The earliest years of Pacific Horticulture coincided with one of the West’s prolonged droughts, made worse by the rapidly expanding population. Gardeners, especially those recently arriving on the West Coast, needed help in grappling with the desire for lavish gardens against the limited water resources available.

The greater lessons of this water shortage must not be ignored and in this issue of Pacific Horticulture five of our contributors deal with the subject in one way or another. They discuss the use of water by plants, the historical background to our high-water-use landscapes, ideas for change and garden techniques to minimize water use and loss. It is a symposium for those who recognize that with this fall’s rains we reach an interval in a worsening condition, not the end of a drought.

PH editorial, Fall 1977

In Pacific Horticulture we have tried to encourage these [regionally specific] ideas, and…we hope to reach more gardeners who feel, as we do, that reading about gardens and gardening is as enjoyable as the work of the garden itself.

Waters & Harlow, 1990

The scientific, the theoretical, and the aesthetic are all important elements of a good horticultural magazine, but, most important, it should be about plants.

How we regard plants is an indication of how we regard our own place in the universe. Do we think of them as raw materials? Food? Encumbrances to be cleared away for civilization? Foundation plantings to sell tract homes? Symbols of wealth? Or a point of contact with the world of nature? Plants, of course, are all these and more. The great interest in plants today is to some extent a recognition that we are part of the great chain of life, that we depend on the green world for oxygen and food as well as for beauty. Consciously or not, this recognition is symbolized by even the lowliest coleus pining on a windowsill.

Pacific Horticulture has a twofold task: to serve the special needs of gardeners in the West, and to serve horticulture in general by helping it to achieve greater appreciation as a science, an art, and a source of joy.

PH Editorial, Summer, 1979




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