World’s oldest gardening magazine closes as seeds grow too expensive

Amateur Gardening was first published in 1884 by Victorian bookseller Shirley Hibberd
Amateur Gardening was first published in 1884 by Victorian bookseller Shirley Hibberd - Clynt Garnham Publishing/Alamy

For nearly 140 years, Amateur Gardening magazine has offered its readers priceless practical tips – from the best way to nurture their dahlias to cultivating a pristine lawn.

But the world’s oldest gardening magazine is to print its last edition next month, blaming the rising cost of seeds as one reason for its closure.

The magazine has long had a tradition of giving away a packet of seeds with each edition but says the cost, along with the steep rise in print and distribution as a result of inflation and energy bills, means it can no longer keep going.

Industry experts say transport, heating, staff and import costs have driven up the price of garden seeds between eight and 12 per cent.

Some seed companies put up their prices by as much as 15 per cent, with organic seeds rising by as much as 23 per cent.

Garry Coward-Williams, editor of Amateur Gardening, said a “cocktail” of rising production costs and cover seeds, along with a drop in advertising revenue, had led publisher Future Plc to close the magazine.

This issue of Amateur Gardening from 2014 featured Alan Titchmarsh on the front cover
This issue of Amateur Gardening from 2014 featured Alan Titchmarsh on the front cover

“Paper went up 20 per cent last year, print costs have risen sharply, the cost of the cover-mounted seeds has gone up this year and advertising revenue has dropped significantly in the last six months,” he said.

“It’s a cocktail we could not survive despite good news-stand sales performance.

“No one wanted to see the oldest gardening magazine in the world close, least of all the staff and its publishers. I am sorry for the thousands of loyal readers and our long-standing and much respected contributors, but it’s time to say au revoir.”

The magazine’s closure has been greeted with sadness across the gardening world.

It was first published in 1884 by Victorian bookseller Shirley Hibberd and helped to spearhead Britain’s Dig for Victory campaign during the Second World War, when people were encouraged to grow their own fruit and vegetables to cope with shortages.

Alan Titchmarsh, the gardener and broadcaster, said he had read the magazine since his childhood in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.

“I remember reading it in my youth when I built my first greenhouse in our Yorkshire back garden,” he said.

“After training at Kew I entered the world of horticulture journalism, working with Percy Thrower,” referring to the former Amateur Gardening contributor and BBC Gardeners’ World host.

“I suppose 139 years isn’t a bad run and it will always hold a special place in my affections.”

The Royal Horticultural Society described the magazine’s demise as “a great shame”.

An advertising leaflet for Amateur Gardening, circa 1886, showing examples of the coloured plates given with every edition
An advertising leaflet for Amateur Gardening, circa 1886, showing examples of the coloured plates given with every edition - Amoret Tanner Collection/Alamy

Amateur Gardening has not been scared to enter the fray on behalf of traditional gardens during its 140-year existence.

Tim Rumball, the magazine’s editor in 2011, accused the BBC of “horticultural vandalism” after it stopped filming at Greenacre in Edgbaston before relocating to Monty Don’s own garden in Herefordshire.

A year later, columnist Bob Flowerdew prompted an uproar when he urged people to concrete over their lawns to help save the planet, in remarks described as “a load of old compost” by Mr Rumball.

Toby Buckland, one of the magazine’s contributors, said: “Amateur Gardening wasn’t simply the oldest garden magazine title in the world; it was unique because it spread the gardening word in a friendly conversational way.”

Industry figures said the cost of seeds had placed a strain on amateur gardeners.

Andrew Tokely, of Essex-based retailer Kings Seeds, said: “All seed prices have gone up. The cost of storing has increased, along with the cost of staff, fertiliser and shipping and transport. At the same time, we’re feeling the impact of import costs since Brexit.

“It’s a shame because Amateur Gardening was a magazine that actually taught gardeners how to garden – how to sow seeds, how to take cuttings, how to spot pests – rather than just printing glossy pictures.”

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