Manitoba Gardener and our province – growing together for 20 years
Twenty years ago, we launched the first issue of Manitoba Gardener and introduced it at the Winnipeg Home and Garden show in March, 1998. It was an instant hit. We had a tiny booth with people lined up down the aisle to get a subscription.
It was a funny little magazine, created on a computer with a memory the size of a kid’s toy today. Building a 4-colour magazine on a computer was still novel in those days and digital files had to go to an intermediary to be turned into film, then burned to plates for printing. (Today, the digital file goes straight to plate.) It was an expensive proposition so we shopped around for the cheapest service provider and printer we could find. Turns out, the service provider was in Regina and the printer was in Saskatoon. Because of the long distance, we couldn’t see a final proof.
Much to our horror, the magazines came back printed in bold type! The file had corrupted and the service provider didn’t realize what the final product was supposed to look like.
The readers were not deterred, however. The older ones congratulated us on printing something they could actually read!
That first issue we printed 30,000 copies, selling subscriptions like crazy and introducing the magazine through a door to door drop. When the second issue appeared, we got a number of furious calls: “How come I had to pay for my magazine when my neighbour got his for free!” was the complaint. The free distribution stopped. Virtually every copy in circulation has been paid for since then.
And what a change in the world of gardening. Back then, garden centres such as Shelmerdine and St. Mary’s, were just little shops out on the prairie. T & T Seeds was still downtown. And the list of product was very limited. The big news was clematis that year as people were just discovering that there were varieties that could be grown here. I remember bumping into a frustrated customer at Shelmerdine who said she was from Ontario and was very sad to see there were no hosta varieties for sale!
Most bedding plants were annuals, sown and grown right in the shops and sold six or nine to a pack for a dollar or two. The choice was largely restricted to petunias and impatiens with perhaps some pansies and snapdragons and, of course, geraniums.
Perennials were few. Most people that grew exotics, such as dahlias or gladiolas, planted them from corms carefully saved and renewed year after year.
But once we began talking about the possibilities in the Manitoba Gardener, the garden centres and the public were quick to respond. The plant selection exploded and so did the prices. The garden centres grew as we continued to challenge local gardeners with new ideas.
As for us, our first editor was Joan Cohen, who had just moved back to Winnipeg from Ottawa where she was heavily into politics as the bureau chief for the Winnipeg Free Press. Now she had to bend her mind to gardening as did we all – and we were all just learning. But what a wonderful journey it was, and not just an intellectual one. The journey took us well beyond the computer keyboard and our imaginations. We explored the province from top to bottom, looking for gardens in the farthest reaches and being careful to give equal attention to both urban and rural gardens.
It has been a wonderful 20 years. thank you all for your support and for sharing your gardens.
– Dorothy Dobbie
Manitoba Gardener's first issue.