VIEWPOINT;IOWA MEETS PRINCE CHARLES

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The only thing I know about Iowa is "The Music Man" is set there, Alan Waxenberg of Good Housekeeping is an Iowan, the state's most sainted football hero was Nile Kinnick (anyone remember him?), and Iowa is where the Meredith Corp. of Des Moines puts out some pretty fair magazines.

The reason I'm hooked these days on Iowa is that Karol DeWulf Nickell came to town.

Ms. DeWulf Nickell is the editor of a 6-year-old Meredith mag called Traditional Home that comes out six times a year and in the fiercely competitive category of shelter books is doing nicely, thank you, with first half ad pages 15% ahead of the period last year. It's also going up in trim size effective October/November (on sale Sept. 10) and with heavier, glossier 130-pound cover stock, increasing its sub price and doing other stuff successful magazines get away with and others don't even try.

Her trip to New York was why I found myself with Karol and Publisher Deborah Jones Barrow having lunch in the Grill Room of the Four Seasons on a steamy July day, knocking back the old Cote du Rhone and watching Philip Johnson perched at his usual corner table, enjoying being 90. And since I like to show off New York to out-of-towners and brag a little, I was delighted when Ed Koch came in with some people and sat right next to us and then Tina Brown arrived and took the banquette on the other side.

Was Ms. DeWulf Nickell impressed? Well, I guess. Except then she started telling me about her trip in May of last year to England to visit the Prince of Wales and be shown around his gardens.

So much for Mayor Koch, Tina Brown and even birthday-boy Philip Johnson!

It turns out that Karol met Prince Charles when she was attending a lecture he gave with master gardener Rosemary Verey. It was then Karol got caught up in Charles' remarks about Highgrove, his thousand-acre estate near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, "his obsessive collecting of huge garden pots," and how one time a shipment of pots from Turkey arrived for the prince care of the local pub, apparently the only Gloucestershire address the poor Turks had!

When they met at a reception following, Karol told Charles that she was a magazine editor and when he started asking questions about Traditional Home (I'm not making this up; Karol swears it happened), the prince said, "Would you like to come and see Highgrove? How about in May? The gardens are lovely then."

Compared to this, what does Ed Koch know about gardening? So off went Editor DeWulf and the resulting cover story ran in the March issue of this year with glorious photos (there's even a wonderful tree house, in an old holly tree, that was constructed for Princes William and Harry) as well as text by the prince himself, and jolly well done! at that.

As for her magazine, she and Ms. Jones Barrow (does everyone in Iowa have a double-barreled name except for Waxy and Nile Kinnick?) tell me circulation is pushing 800,000, larger than Architectural Digest or Metropolitan Home and much bigger than Elle Decor, with the biggest single copy sales record in the category. Plus what they say are "the most affluent primary women readers of any women's magazine measured by MRI."

And they're not at all affrighted by the born-again House & Garden or by the centennial promotions of House Beautiful. Or by anyone else, for that matter, even the formidable Paige Rense.

As Karol and Deborah say, suburbia is their garden. And like Voltaire, they're keeping it cultivated.

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