Busy as a bee

By Susan L. Peterson

P. Allen Smith could be considered a modern-day Renaissance man. Although his expertise lies in gardening and horticulture, he also works as a conservationist, lifestyle expert, TV host, motivational speaker, interior designer, historian, museum trustee …  and the list goes on.

Although best known for his television shows “Garden Home,” “Garden to Table,” and “Garden Style,” Smith is also a prolific writer, having published six books and numerous articles in Architectural Digest, People Magazine, House Beautiful, and Southern Living, to name only a few. 

“Writing is the most challenging thing I do,” he said. “It is so introspective, and it takes time to thread thoughts together.” He gets up early every day and does most of his writing in pre-dawn hours. 

Recently, he completed his seventh book, “Moss Mountain Farm: Lessons from the Land.” He is eager to see it on the shelves, although no publication date is yet available. The book focuses on ways to support the ecology and environment through organic and sustainable means, such as underground collection tanks to harvest rainwater, concealed solar energy systems and innovative building materials. The book also highlights the many ways that Moss Mountain is enhancing the biodiversity of species, especially livestock and poultry.

Visitors touring the home get the feeling that books and continual learning are important to his lifestyle. He admits to being a bibliophile and especially enjoys historical books on topics of agriculture and poultry. He founded the Heritage Poultry Conservancy in 2009. His love of books is evident when touring the home, where book displays are given equal footing with other types of artwork. The dining room table is decorated with a blend of candles, flowers, and stacks upon stacks of books.

Somewhat ironically, Smith says he never aspired to be an author. Clarkson Potter/Random House approached him to write a “Garden Home” series as an extension of his work in television.

Allen’s Arkansas home, Moss Mountain Farm, which The New York Times hails as a “Stunning Estate,” is an epicenter for promoting the local food movement, organic gardening, and the preservation of heritage poultry breeds. The site was also designed to be shared with the public as an educational tool so average homeowners can take away ideas and incorporate them into their lifestyles.

In his first book, “P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home: Creating a Garden for Everyday Living” (2003), he outlines his 12 principles of design. He also discusses his family and educational background and how his love of gardening developed. The Hendrix College graduate received a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in biology and history. He received a Rotary International Scholarship that enabled him to study garden design and history at the University of Manchester in England. While there, he studied English gardens that had been visited by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century. He developed friendships and networks that led to his understanding of our need to connect to our agrarian roots.

His second publication was “P. Allen’s Garden Home Journal” (2004). It serves as a handy tool to help gardeners document their gardening journey.

It could be said that Smith helped to popularize the outdoor living trend by bringing comfort and style to outside spaces. He wrote two books that help homeowners blur the division between indoor and outdoor spaces: “P. Allen Smith’s Living in the Garden Home: Connecting the Seasons with Containers, Crafts, and Celebrations” (2007), which included more than 50 projects for at-home gardeners, and “P. Allen Smith’s Bringing the Garden Indoors: Containers, Crafts, and Bouquets for Every Room” (2009).

He published four more books in 2010, with two focusing on specific plants: “P. Allen Smith’s Bulb Garden: Colorful Blooms and Lush Foliage” and “P. Allen Smith’s Rose Garden: Roses for Every Garden.” Two other works share his culinary talents: “P. Allen Smith’s Seasonal Recipes from the Garden: A Garden Home Cookbook” which was quickly followed by “P. Allen Smith’s Veggies & Herbs: From Garden to Table.”

With a Facebook following of more than 400,000, he has an ardent fan base that craves his wisdom and ideas. Amazon book reviews average 4.5 stars with numerous positive comments: “Allen Smith’s book was the most readable of all.”  “I found Smith’s garden design principles easy to understand, and they became the bedrock of my thinking through the years.”  “This book stimulated many new ideas and a different way of thinking about my garden.” “He really inspires you. . .” 

Smith confesses that when he was younger, he never really thought of being a writer. He humbly said, “I didn’t think I had anything to say.” Over the years, he has studied, traveled, and learned from friends who have shaped him into a man whose life mission is to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for design and beauty. Now he travels from coast to coast and across oceans to speak to those wanting to learn from him.

When he is in town, he is a visible host at Moss Mountain Farm in Pulaski County, answering questions, posing for pictures, and giving autographs. He seems to revel in the enjoyment others receive from being in such gorgeous surroundings, knowing they will take ideas and inspiration from them. 

Susan Peterson
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