Pioneering ‘kitchen table’ publisher, Tom Loxley is co-founder and editor of rakesprogress magazine. Once a fantasy for Tom and his fashion editor wife and partner in crime, Victoria (Gaiger), it is now a reality and the go-to magazine for a contemporary take on gardens, flowers and plants.
What’s your back story?
I started working on the sports desk in newspapers then moved into men’s magazines in the ‘90s. Met Victoria, now my wife, when she was doing her thing in the world of fashion magazines. We had idle conversation for years on making fantasy magazines that combined some of the stuff she did and some that I did.
Got married, had kids, three boys in our flat in north London, moved out to the suburbs on the fringes of Kent, bought a house with a big garden. The boys ran wild in it, then as they got older the lure of screens kicked in and the garden became ours.
What gave you the gardening bug?
It wasn’t that we set out to have a garden. But fortunately, it had been lovingly tended – the house had been built in the 1920s, there had only been three families in it and we had inherited this fantastic space. So, about five or six years ago we started from scratch. We started looking around for inspiration, where do you learn this stuff? But when we started looking at magazines, they weren’t really talking to us.
There was a growing interest in horticulture from a different generation interested in cacti, house plants, organic food; in gardens, plants and flowers that didn’t feel like something their parents or grandparents owned. We realised that there was an audience for a magazine that had a different aesthetic. So, we thought we have the skills, why can’t we make a magazine for people like us?
When did you first launch rakesprogress?
We produced the first one in 2016 on a whim.
We had started looking at the independent magazines that had been published, like Kinfolk and Cereal and started to see that it is possible to publish something of the highest quality from your kitchen table.
Magazines had been finding it tough, but you still went ahead?
The digital revolution had caused so much grief to traditional publishers and us journalists in the day job. But strangely, that was the tool that helped you publish something to the highest production standards. With not much more than an Apple Mac, the latest software and a subeditor to make sure you are not committing too many howlers, you can do this thing yourself. So we did.
How did you market your first issue?
For that first issue I was loading up my old Saab driving around Soho with boxes of magazines in the back asking, would you take this? They [newsagents] had been softened up by five years of for example, Cereal magazine and suddenly the newsagents were really up for this independent publishing phenomenon giving them the chance to sell at a higher cover price than before. We charge £12.
What was your lightbulb moment for rakesprogress?
Derek Jarman the film maker and artist had a fisherman’s cottage on the beach at Dungeness and he created the most amazing garden in the shingle. I suddenly realised you can have a garden without a fence, grass, flower beds. You can have a garden that is just a work of your own imagination. That was the moment.
What inspired the name?
We liked the idea of rake because we felt like we wanted it to be a rakish approach to gardening, and liked the obvious play on words. We couldn’t have The Rake because someone else had it, so we called it rakesprogress because it was going to be a progressive guide to gardening.
What of the famous Hogarth painting by that name?
It is a tale of a dissolute libertine. It captures the spirit of the way we wanted to enter that world. We wanted the art element in there. It wasn’t going to be a magazine of advice but one to inspire and make something beautiful.
Which garden designer do you admire?
We love Dan Pearson. He makes gardens in the smallest places and the grandest settings. The one he did at the Garden Museum is a good example of how you can reimagine what a small garden in London can be.
Who has the most interesting urban garden?
Mark Hix. He forages a lot down in Dorset but when in town he gets his greens fix in his garden, which is partly on the balcony of his flat and partly inside his house. He has artwork mixed in with wild plants mixed with exotic plants.
Next big thing in gardens?
The Piet Oudolf, prairie planting High Line look (he made The High Line in new York) is where he gets drifts of grasses and plants that move like a natural prairie. Luis Benech takes that wild meadow look and matches it up with a more formal parterre look, so you get this hybrid. That is where it will go next and what I would like to do in mine.
Advice for making an urban garden?
There is some very basic stuff that you can work out. One is whether your soil is acid or alkaline, which will give you a clue as to what will and won’t grow. The second is, just plant it or sow it. The most unlikely things will grow in the most amazing places given the right chance.
Iris. We have winter irises, irises that used to only live in a pond. We love bearded irises.
Interiors plants trend – good or bad?
Indoor plants almost require more looking after than outdoor. We have Monstera, the cheese plant.
Garden furniture of choice?
My wife Victoria’s brother is the artist sculptor, Simon Gager. His carved pieces sit brilliantly in gardens. His cedar and steel seat graced the rakesprogress artisan studio at Chelsea.
Has gardening influenced your personal style?
I wear French workmen’s jackets, which also work well in the garden.
Shoe of choice?
A big heavy brogue boot in tan from Tricker’s on Jermyn St. They last years.
Accessory of choice?
Armed with a proper propelling pencil, a decent rubber and an endless supply of notebooks and I am happy. I buy mine from a family run art shop near Eltham in South East London.
Barber of choice?
Matt Mulhall has been cutting my hair for 15 years, now he does all the big shows, but he is still down to earth.
TOM LOXLEY’S GREEN BOOK
Can’t live without app – BBC Weather App.
Must have gadget – my Opinel oyster knife.
Latest read – Forest, Walking Among Trees by Matt Collins. All the trees you need to know. Beautifully shot, wonderfully written.
Gardening tool – Sneeboer Rake. What else?
Dream design piece – the battered old Eames lounge chair I nearly bought in a second hand shop in Cornwall 12 years ago. I couldn’t afford £300 at the time
Beverage of choice – tea, before 6pm. Then an Estrella beer. Or two.
Best eatery – The Sportsman in Seasalter, Kent. Not as grotty as it once claimed to be but still sensational food, with a windblown marsh outside. Perfect for lunch, walking (and marriage proposals – she said Yes)
Issue 9 of rakesprogress is out now
Interview: Emma Hill