It's not everyday I get to hang out with a celebrity. But first, P. Allen Smith would gently correct me; he considers himself foremost a teacher, and shies away from the glossier term, that has indeed made so many of his garden visions a reality.
I was lucky to have a chance to spend a few days with about two dozen other bloggers for the first of hopefully many Garden2Blog events with the noted garden designer and personality. Here's just a little of what I experienced!
I hate to use the phrase "boyish good looks", but can't find a suitable substitute to describe him. In his trademark blue, he presents a disarming southern charm with the smallest touch of weary aloofness. It's forgivable as you see him work, constantly on for the variety of cameras that record his every word and move.
He delivers his lines with a believable freshness and good timing, as when he relates that his grandmother told him the P in his name stood for "potential". And he's not above poking fun at his fame, when he calls out in a nasal tour guide impression, "New Dawn Rose Alert", as we frequently pass huge masses of the ubiquitous, blushing pink climber that he introduced to Little Rock.
This is no garden variety-type HGTV star, there's a gravitas behind the brand. Coming from generations of nurserymen, he has the hands-on knowledge combined with the historical depth and breadth from his study of classical gardens in England.
As he shows you through the home it becomes quickly obvious that the myriad books artfully placed on round tables are not for looks. Weighty tomes covering garden design, politics, culture and history among others inform his living and gardening. His concept of Garden/Home integrates indoor and outdoor living spaces in such a way to increase your enjoyment of both by blurring the lines.
I found myself thinking while following him through the gardens at his "Garden Home Retreat" on Moss Mountain in Arkansas that is was perhaps a little like being able to peer into the thought process that went into the making of Jefferson's Monticello. In fact, there are nods to the horticultural hero at every turn, like the octagonal pavilions flanking the strolling gardens. His twist being the vegetables and fruit trees sitting upfront with ornamentals.
I found it especially fascinating to see the holistic approach to design throughout, even the tool sheds were a thing of beauty. Interior and exterior colors, like tinner's red, butter yellow, lichen green with deep dark brown bark all reflect the surrounding environment for a harmonic feeling.
Sustainability is evident in all aspects of his farm and gardens, however it's pragmatic rather than nostalgic. Composting for soil amending is a given. While heirlooms are grown, he feels that hybrid plants that perform well with the least intervention are in keeping with the mission. Even the breed of sheep and poultry that forage picturesquely in the pasture are chosen for production and hardiness.
As he looks to the future, the next garden goes back in time and then forward. He is developing a historical rose garden featuring a time line of American roses, from the Charleston legacy of noisette varieties that he cherishes all the way to new low-care Knockouts.
During the entire time we were tested with dangerous to merely annoying bad weather. Allen shepherded us through all the event with a gracious and unflappable ease. We were treated to fabulous food including many of his recipes and even eggs from the farm. His staff, and they are many, were efficient and helpful too.
Putting faces to names of all these talented bloggers was a great experience. So many backgrounds and so many different angles! .
Anxious to increase his exposure and presence with social media, I like to think that he's making an effort to partner with and harness the power of bloggers. In fact, he's now blogging too. I didn't feel any pressure to put a face on anything I didn't agree with. I felt comfortable with the information I was given and will be sharing in the future. It's not going to be all P Allen all the time of course, but I'll be posting more pics and tips from the event.
Let me know if you have any questions about or for P. Allen, post them in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer!
Careful partnering with sponsors like Corona, Proven Winners, Garden Safe, Bonnie Plants, Stihl, Berry Nurseries, Jobe's Organics and Laguna Pond Pumps has made the construction of this Garden Home Retreat possible, only proving that he is an astute businessman in addition to artist, interior designer and chef.
Meanwhile I didn't so much drink the Kool-Aid as the blueberry lemonade. I've tried hard not to gush, but it's hard not to admire P. Allen Smith for the Renaissance man that he is.