Martha Stewart Outdoor Living

Martha Stewart is the Thomas Alva Edison of the home front. She can transform a hybrid azalea into a tasty pink-petal entrée served on a table crafted out of tiki torches and an ancient maple tree, which she felled single-handedly, after turning its sap into a billion-dollar side biz that tastes great and eliminates acne. Stewart, the head of Omnimedia, is not only an indoor whiz, though her perfectionist streak is a tad clinical, but an outdoor phenomenon. And she proves it with Outdoor Living, a special issue of Martha Stewart's Living.

I'm not claiming she's the world's greatest manager, judging from the less-than-flattering TV biopics, but she's got a green thumb when it comes to planting success. This season, she takes her passion for cooking, entertaining and decorating outside. The results, like everything Martha touches, save for stock sales, score.

First, a special thanks to art director William van Roden, who employs a clean, elegant style. No fancy wraps, no crazy fonts. He lets the photos do the talking. The art complements the copy; it doesn't dwarf it. Usually, when that happens, some smart aleck has slapped butterscotch-colored type on a story that's actually useful, but virtually unreadable.

Second, the writing is crisp and fun. How often do you see hibiscus referred to as "big and boisterous," like Oprah after she's given away cars? Plus, you learn things: There are 20,000 species of Australian plants; a single squash plant will produce separate male and female flowers; and the masthead of OL is slightly larger than NATO. "Jeopardy," here I come.

Clearly, Martha doesn't just grab a few shrimp and toss them on the barbie. She prefers seared scallops nicoise, accompanied by penne with caciocavallo -- and don't pretend you know what it is. All are foreign to me, too. My grandmother made a mean brisket and potato latkes -- words like buttermilk squash soup were not, thankfully, in her vocab. We did not visit her kitchen eager to down a zucchini mint frittata. We went in search of comfort food and love -- and she delivered both. To be honest, though, Martha's cucumber-ginger fizzes may have aided digestion.

In Martha's World -- and I applaud her for this -- everything counts. Details matter. For instance, when it comes to patios, "a few dominant hues in your flora can anchor an area's composition." Versus, say, two paint-chipped chairs you sit on while eating burnt hamburger and mocking the neighbors. Many Americans, given the recession, lack the income to create the elegant lakefront, Gatsby-esque vision on page 82. Never mind the time -- unless you have a decorator on speed dial. Who else knows where to locate grass-hued table linens or a vintage pergola?

Still, it's extremely pleasant to peruse Outdoor Living. It makes me long for a garden -- or at least a talented gardener, whose handiwork I could pass off as my own.

Stewart, the patron saint of domestic arts, is a tough act to follow. But she is a potent reminder that home is where the art is.


Frequency: Special issue, on newsstands through April 28
Publisher: Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
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