2009-09-03 / Front Page

Sutton finds flourishing magazine career in her own garden

By Stacy Jones

Islander Lynda Sutton relaxes in the garden that helped launch her career as a freelance field editor for home and garden magazines. Photos by Jeff McDonough Islander Lynda Sutton relaxes in the garden that helped launch her career as a freelance field editor for home and garden magazines. Photos by Jeff McDonough A life’s passion can often be traced to the practical. A writer has to write. A painter has to paint. A surfer has to surf. Such is the case with islander Lynda Sutton, whose connection to gardens and the earth can only be described as zealous.

“There is such peace in the garden. I’m always seeking a space to put new things,” she said.

Her ardor is such that it dominates her work and home life. As a field editor for Meredith Publishing, which publishes Better Homes and Gardens magazine, among others, it is Sutton’s job to ferret out houses, gardens, do-ityourself kitchens and other decorating projects to showcase in the publisher’s magazines.

“Everything I do with the job, I love,” Sutton said. “Everything” includes arranging the set, conceptualizing the piece and anything else that touches the production. “I do everything except write the copy,” she said.

Whimsical touches add to the natural beauty of Sutton’s garden.  Whimsical touches add to the natural beauty of Sutton’s garden. The practical reared its head decades ago when Sutton’s impetus for “plowing up a place for a vegetable garden” originated from a simple desire “to raise food to feed my two kids,” she said.

But as her kids grew older and moved from the family home – a farmhouse circa 1873 – practicality faded and her vegetable garden gave way to myriad flowers and decorative arrangements.

“Gardening is a passion. My passion was always there, but the degree of passion has also increased over the years,” Sutton said.

Her foray into the world of gardening, both work and play, occurred by happenstance. Her career in “glamour gardens” began with her entry in an amateur garden contest sponsored by Rhode Island Monthly magazine. Sutton won the contest in the residential garden category and soon after, a scout from the Boston area came to her house to peruse her gardens and investigate how she decorated her home for Christmas. “All my decorations were natural materials, no plastics,” she said. Sutton’s approach impressed the scout, who ended up photographing the house for three days. A short time later, a design editor at Better Homes and Gardens called and asked Sutton if she was interested in doing freelance work.

“I thought it was a call for a subscription,” Sutton said.

She accepted the offer, “though I had no idea what the job in- volved. I said ‘yes’ to everything [the editor] said, and then pinched myself after the call was over. It was great,” she said.

Conscious of her good fortune, Sutton makes a point to share her experiences with local students.

“High school and college students have no idea this type of job exists,” she said.

Of course, an important aspect of Sutton’s career is her home garden. Much more than a modest dirt patch of tomatoes, sunflowers and squash, Sutton’s garden encompasses two acres and was recently featured in the Summer 2009 issue of Country Gardens magazine.

The country garden, three decades in the making, is a collection of flowerbeds measuring 7 by 13 feet. Paths – about two mower widths – wind throughout pink cosmos, blue lobelia, hydrangea, purple cornflower, herbs, Egyptian onions, vegetables and more.

But the garden’s serenity and beauty are deceiving. Hours of unseen manual labor make it all possible.

For example, Sutton said she turns over the garden by hand each spring, and spreads sheep manure to start seed in the solardriven greenhouse (sheep from Sutton’s farm produce the sheep manure.)

“Maintaining a garden is work,” she said. “But work that is satisfying.”

Also satisfying to Sutton is her environmentally friendly approach to the passion in her life. She uses solar power, gardens organically and regularly uses natural materials or re-uses when decorating or gardening. It’s a practice she began long before the popular “go green” movement.

“It was nothing conscious. I just loved the natural approach,” she said. “It’s just something I wanted to do. I never did it because someone said it was environmental and a good thing to do.”

Harnessing the power of gardening – and its major product, food – also led Sutton to get involved with the Jamestown Community Farm. Founded in 2000, the recently incorporated nonprofi t distributes fresh produce to meal sites and food pantries throughout Rhode Island. Sutton serves on the organization’s board of directors, along with her husband, Bob Sutton, and fellow gardeners Deb Foppert and Rob Rohm.

The farm’s planting season begins in March with planting seeds in the greenhouse. By April and May, action has moved to the garden itself, where seedlings and additional seeds are planted in the ground. A compost pile, organic fertilizer and annual rotation of the crops help maintain an organic garden that is free from commercial pesticides and herbicides. The garden is enclosed with deer fencing and relies on rain for irrigation.

Thanks to Sutton, the Jamestown Community Farm is also featured in the fall 2009 issue of Country Gardens magazine in an article titled “Fresh From the Pumpkin Patch.” The article includes plenty of photos, along with pumpkin recipes from local chefs Phil Larson and Kevin Gaudreau.

The belief that gardens go deeper than flowers, vegetables and manure took hold of Sutton years ago during a Rhode Island flower show. The event’s theme was “A Garden of One’s Own.”

“It was an awakening,” Sutton said. “It opened up everything to me. I saw the true value of a garden.”

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