By Amy Wilson
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Not that it was a test or anything, but when discussing - and we were - the University of North Carolina, the woman called it simply "Chapel Hill."
OK, so the publisher of a new magazine called Garden & Gun is not a Southern fraud.
Rebecca Darwin even has the right accent. So, when you ask the obvious question about why a brand spanking new (debuting April 3), Southern-centric and extremely upscale magazine - think Town & County without the Town - might want to include gun in its title, you don't have to explain all the possibly offensive, violent, militant and urban connotations of gun.
"The gun part was well thought out," says Darwin, who has done a lot of thinking as past publisher of the ultra-literate New Yorker and of the thinking woman's fashion mag Mirabella.
Though, she admits, at first, "I was, like, ummmm, gun."
But the idea soon grew on Darwin and not only because, in a field where new mags emerge and disappear all the time, a good debut splash is the difference between making it or not.
She says you either get "the gun part" - and you're her kind of lifelong subscriber - or you don't - in which case maybe you should just look at it once, to be fair, but maybe you're not really her audience anyway.
Why? Because this new mag is going to read like a guide to the sophisticated metaphor-enabled, literati-prone classic gentleperson of Southern persuasion. Or to those genuine aspirants to same.
The magazine is, Darwin says, designed to appeal to men and women, to those who live or wish they lived the sporting life - skeet, trap, upland bird hunting and all manner of fishing.
Yes, think people of the equine persuasion. Think thoroughbred, and not just the horse.
"The publication will redefine coverage of the Southern traditions, lifestyles, dreams and heritages," the press blurb says.
Not everyone is thrilled by the hyped redefinition. A post at WashingtonGardener.com's blog (http://washingtongardener.blogspot.com) laments, "Call me provincial, but is that really the title that will appeal to the modern, moneyed, gentile southerner? The fact that the NRA HQ is housed just south of DC in the NoVA suburbs is scary enough, but I refuse to believe that guns are so symbolic a part of southern culture that you would build your brand around them. And please clue me in on their relation to gardening other than that desire by many who border parkland hereabouts to shoot a few deer with them?"
Darwin suggests you wait and see the publication before you pass judgment.
"The gun part of the first issue is about trout fishing," she says, adding that the magazine will have a conservation component to it. The idea is to promote and preserve native Southern habitat. (The owner of Garden &Gun has already given 3,000 acres of his family's land in the Santee Delta to The Nature Conservancy.)
The garden part is represented by emphases on pasture and field and preservation. It will dwell on delta and marsh, hillock and plain, pasture and palisade, bottom land and - yeah, baby - bluegrass.
The folks at Garden & Gun think the upscale South, which for them always includes Kentucky, has not been very well-represented in the past. Not that Darwin would diss Southern Living with its circulation of 2 million, she just thinks that each might cover the same territory but in vastly different ways.
In the spring issue, for example, G&G will have novelist Reynolds Price introduce readers to artist Ben Long, a young man whom Reynolds encountered a while back and with whom he recently crossed paths anew. It will feature Birmingham architect Fritz Whaley's garage-bar, Thomas Jefferson's wine purchases for George Washington's White House and look at the company that sells Jefferson's heirloom garden seeds. A regular contributor to the magazine will be writer-deluxe Pat Conroy. Regular features will be those on the best dogs, interesting artists and wildly diversive shopping.
For those still concerned about the gun, Darwin explains that there is exactly one photograph in the premiere issue that includes weaponry - and that's a shotgun used for bird hunting leaning against a rustic table and held by a woman who has a falcon/hawk/big bird on her heavily gloved hand. (Note the expensive trench coat on the woman holding the gun; note her high delta boots; note the dead blesbok/kudu/eland/antelope head on the milk-painted rough-hewn paneling.)
Garden &Gun will be available in major national bookstore outlets like Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks.
For more information on Garden & Gun, go to www.gardenandgun.com.