Eye-to-Eye with P. Allen Smith

Grumpy never wants to disappoint his readers. But unfortunately, there's always a first time and this one is it. As I informed you last week, I and a group of about 20 prominent garden bloggers from around the country spent a few days at the beautiful Arkansas farm and home of TV's garden golden boy, P. Allen Smith. And I genuinely liked him.

I know, I know -- y'all think I drank the Kool-Aid. Y'all think I was bought. Well, I can assure you no single individual has enough money to make Grumpy lie to his readers. Fortune 500 companies and foreign governments, maybe. But not one guy. Like most of you, my image of him was formed by what I saw on TV and what other people said. All that changed as soon as I met him.

He's down-to-earth with a good sense of humor and very approachable. I've met a lot of prima-donnas in my time (hey, I look in the mirror every morning) and he isn't one of them. Which was kinda too bad, as I was looking forward to seeing which one of us could make the butler cry first.

Yes, Allen has been phenomenally successful, but that's because he's phenomenally talented. He's an excellent painter, skilled designer, good cook, and is very knowledgeable about architectural and landscape history.

But what I like most is his pride in his Southern roots, made evident in both the plants he chooses and the gardens and homes he designs. For example, a new rose garden at the farm will largely feature the only truly Southern class of roses, the Noisettes, which were created in Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1800's. For another, I noticed the roof ceilings of his porches were painted "haint blue." If you don't know what haint blue is, you haint from around here.

When you gaze upon his magnificent 650-acre Moss Mountain spread overlooking the Arkansas River, it's easy to say that it looks this way because Allen has "resources." True enough. He has lots of sponsors too. But Grumpy has visited many homes and gardens of people so wealthy they make Allen seem like a pauper. And their taste has been absolutely horrible. Allen's taste is impeccable. So give the man his props.

He has an acre vegetable garden (below) sporting all sorts of heirloom varieties. His stone fruit orchards feature dozens of different apples, pears, plums, peaches, and apricots. And the whole place is organic -- no synthetic pesticides. When I asked him how was that possible in the Arkansas climate where peaches, apples, and apricots will literally rot before your eyes if you don't spray, he let me in on a secret. He sprays them with tap water containing extra chlorine. Three teaspoons of Clorox per gallon of water. Looks like it's working.

Allen also raises heirloom breeds of sheep and chickens to conserve the genetics of animals well-suited to the South that don't need pampering to survive. That's just smart. If there is one thing Grumpy can't stand, it's uppity, whiny sheep and chickens.

You can expect to see stories on Allen's home next year in Southern Living. In the meantime, I can answer the one question that's been burning in your mind for days. What's the "P" stand for?

Paul. Oh nuts! I was betting on Percival.

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