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Baby boom-ers' sprouting interest in gardening is pro- ducing a bump-er crop for magazines that are targeted to the niche.

The lure is apparent: Last year, 78.3 million U.S. adults engaged in gardening, up 28% in just three years, according to a soon-to-be-released survey from National Family Opinion, commissioned by Rodale Press' Organic Gardening.

Many of the new enthusiasts came from the highly desirable 30-to-49-year-old age bracket, who are embracing gardening at an earlier age than previous generations.

The surging interest comes as no surprise to Doug Jimerson, editor in chief of Meredith Corp.'s newly launched Home Garden.

"As we become an increasingly technological society, gardening offers an escape," he said. The second issue this week of the six-times-a-year magazine has a rate base of 400,000 and ads ranging from Absolut vodka to Stern's Miracle Gro Plant Food. A color page is $24,500.

Elsewhere, Gruner & Jahr rechristened its 707,403-circulation American Homestyle by adding "& Gardening" to the April issue. The eight-times-a-year magazine plans to run 12 to 16 editorial pages aimed at gardening in each issue.

"There has been an explosion of reader interest in the topic," said Senior VP-Group Publisher George Fields.

Marketers appear to be warming to the trend. "It's becoming a more segmented and refined category," said Joe Caponigro, senior VP-planning director at PentaCom, Troy, Mich., who plans to run ads for the Plymouth Grand Voyager minivan and Chrysler Town & Country minivan in Martha Stewart Living, Home Garden and Garden Design.

"In many ways, we created the gardening category," said Shelly Wahl, publisher of 4-year-old Martha Stewart Living, published by Time Inc. Ventures Magazine Co., where ad pages last year jumped 75.8% to 549.4. Effective with the April issue, the 10-times-a-year lifestyle title raised its rate base 37% to 1.2 million.

But Meigher Communications' Garden Design also claims credit.

"No one made the category hot on Madison Avenue until we came along," said Joe Armstrong, publications director. ".*.*. We're serving the affluent boomers."

The six-times-a-year magazine was relaunched a year ago with a rate base of 75,000. It's expected to hit 175,000 with the August issue and to up its frequency to eight times next year.

More established books are benefiting as well.

"Four years ago, we were probably 70% endemic, direct mail advertising and 30% general, national advertising," said John Prebich, president of KC Publishing, which took over six-times-a-year Flower & Garden in 1990. Today, the magazine has begun attracting ads from Buick, National Car Rental and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

The boom has been nothing short of remarkable when one considers that as recently as 1990 Organic Gardening, one of the pioneers, was losing money and its circulation was plummeting. In December of that year, Mike McGrath took over as editor in chief and promptly stopped the magazine's drift into lifestyle and instead focused on how-to vegetable gardening. Last November, its rate base was raised for the second time in a year, by 3% to 800,000. Even though Organic Gardening's ad pages were flat in '94, Rodale is betting on the market's continued vitality.

And at least one magazine is coming back from the dead. Conde Nast Publications said House & Garden, folded two years ago, will be relaunched in the fall of 1996 with a rate base of 400,000.

All this comes as no surprise to Organic Gardening Publisher Barbara Newton, however. "The No. 1 reason people garden is because it is fun," she said.

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