Gardening is all the rage at the moment, and people who once would have turned up their nose at the mention of a herbaceous border are quite happy to reach for their trowel at a moment's notice. This is good news for gardening magazines, which have shown solid growth as a result. The sector delivered a 7% overall sales increase when the latest set of ABC circulation figures were released, and a raft of new launches and specials means the true figure is probably significantly higher. As winter gives way to spring, now is the time for retailers to make the most of the annual revival of interest in gardening. Like other categories in the wider home interest category, gardening titles are reaping the benefits of exposure on TV. Indeed, there are few other parts of the magazine market on which television has had such a profound impact. A seemingly endless supply of programmes such as Ground Force show viewers how to create the garden of their dreams, and increasing numbers are having a go. Even magazines displayed in the home interest section, such as House & Garden and Homes & Gardens, should feel the benefit. According to Adam Pasco, editor of Gardeners' World ­ the leading title in the sector with newstrade sales of more than 200,000 every month ­ the importance of television cannot be overestimated. Pasco said: "Programmes like Ground Force have had a big effect by changing people's attitudes towards gardening. When Ground Force moved from BBC2 to BBC1, you suddenly had a situation where a gardening programme was on prime time tv and second only to EastEnders in popularity." BBC Gardeners' World forms part of a wide ranging commitment to gardening by the BBC that encompasses TV, radio and print. Pasco believes this ensures the magazine can appeal to the widest possible audience, from beginners to experienced enthusiasts. However, the gardening sector is highly competitive, and magazines need to make full use of covermounted gifts and supplements to attract first-time readers. Pasco said: "This spring we're using free seeds and a Gardens to Visit guide. These are very important ways of getting new readers' attention and encouraging sampling. They also reward our loyal readers, and make the magazine far more saleable. "From Easter onwards people are buzzing to get out into the garden, and as long as they are available and well displayed, the magazines should really sell themselves," he said. As well as the influence of television, several publishers have identified women as key drivers of the current boom in interest in gardening. The success of its first appearance last summer prompted IPC Magazines to add a spring edition of its Woman's Weekly Gardening Special. The decision to publish a brand extension devoted to gardening by one of the UK's leading women's weeklies supports the view that female readers are key to the market's current buoyancy. Mary Carroll, editor of Garden Inspirations, said women make up 80% of her magazine's readers. "When the magazine was launched a year ago, it was designed primarily for women," she said. "All the available evidence shows that women are doing a lot of the purchasing for the garden, and designing it. That's not to say that men don't garden, but they are likely to do the manual tasks like mowing the lawn ­ and are less likely to buy a gardening magazine." But in a sector that is becoming increasingly crowded because of its success, how can readers ­ or retailers ­ differentiate between the titles available? According to Carroll, the tone of the magazine is crucial to finding a space in the market. "It's all about the way you put the information across. We try not to pigeon-hole readers into doing things a particular way, but rather to give them a range of practical options so they can make informed decisions for themselves." However, Carroll admits that factors such as covermounted gifts and quality of display at retail are vital to the success of any magazine. She is pleased with the level of sales achieved by Garden Inspirations in its first year of publication. The magazine sold upwards of 100,000 for issues published during the peak sales season. "The magazine ­ and the market as a whole ­ still have a lot of potential for growth," said Carroll. Such is her confidence, Garden Inspirations recently moved from bi-monthly to monthly frequency. While magazines such as Gardeners' World, Garden Inspirations, Garden Answers and Your Garden aim to appeal to a broad readership, the gardening sector also has more than its fair share of niche titles. As people become more accomplished, they set their sights higher than just creating an attractive patio and begin to treat gardening as a hobby, just like fishkeeping or woodwork. Some readers are increasingly seeing the way they look after their garden as a lifestyle statement. An attempt to take a different slant on the gardening market comes from New Eden, published by IPC Magazines. With its distinctive square format, New Eden bills itself as the only truly contemporary gardens magazine. In some ways it has more in common with the more stylish end of the home interiors sector. Editor Tim Richardson said New Eden's format is a deliberate statement of its intention to be different. But has it caused any problems for retailers when it comes to display? "That was something we anticipated, but we have had no complaints from the retail trade about the shape of the magazine. I think retailers are pretty sophisticated about issues like format and design," said Richardson. New Eden aims to bring readers the latest developments in cutting edge garden design from around the world. While Richardson admits the magazine is never going to sell in the same numbers as titles like Gardeners' World, he believes there is a substantial niche market out there. "Newsagents who are in the right type of location tend to sell out immediately. Retailers in urban areas who sell a lot of interior design magazines should find it fits in well with their customer profile." Another good example of a title aiming to cater for the niche enthusiasts is Exotic & Greenhouse Gardening, recently launched by the Guild of Master Craftsmen. Exotic & Greenhouse Gardening editor Graham Clarke said the magazine had been developed on a gut instinct that a demand exists. "From our own experience of the market we picked up that there is a lot of demand for a magazine dealing with exotic and exotic looking plants," he said. "There is a movement of enthusiasts who call themselves the exoticists' and have set up numerous web sites dedicated to the subject. They are passionate about it. "I've been a gardening editor for 15 years, and we have never seen the like of the explosion of interest we are seeing now. "Some of the new magazines are basically me-toos. We hope this is genuinely something new." Clarke admits the current boom may not last for ever. "It might be that the bubble will burst, but if that happens at all I don't think it will be for a good while yet." {{CTN }}