Q: What makes your garden show stand out from the other gardening shows on public television today?
The series encourages viewers to take a step back and look at their garden and home in an entirely new way. We show people how to figuratively "tear down the walls" so that the garden and the home become one in a design sense, and they can begin to think about the garden just as they would the inside of their homes.
It’s about creating "garden rooms" that extend living space to the very edge of their property, with areas for entertaining, relaxing, dining or just enjoying the serenity of the great outdoors.
The show helps the average American home gardener create a beautifully composed landscape for themselves. What I have found over the years, receiving lots of viewer mail and e-mails to my Web site, is frustration from people who have difficulty pulling it all together.
There’s so much product out there when you go to a nursery or a home improvement store that you just don’t know where to start. It’s overwhelming to people. The show is an attempt to help them organize their thinking about design and to focus on the twelve principles of design that I use when I create a garden. These principles are also outlined in the companion book P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home.
My background is in garden design. I had the privilege to study garden design and history in England where I became a fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society. Prior to that, I was active in my family’s nursery business and in landscape design. This passion for design really sprung out of my interests as a child in painting, art, flowers and gardening. So garden design really put it all together for me.
Q: Tell us more about these twelve principles of design. When did you come up with these and how can they help the average gardener?
I have twelve principles that I refer to when creating a garden. Those twelve principles really came out of my studying abroad, looking at some of the best examples in England and Europe, distilling from those examples the essence of what made them work, and then thinking about how this can be applied to the average American garden. Those are the principles I used when I created my own garden here in Little Rock (Arkansas).
We visit gardens around the world, and then we return to my garden – or gardens throughout the country that I have designed – to illustrate how gardeners like you can use each principle to create your own garden home.
Q: Can you give an example of something you share with audiences in your program that will make them more comfortable and confident?
Of course, a good example is container gardening. It’s very popular because it’s a form of gardening that touches a wide demographic. Older people can container garden – and for folks who live in a limited space – container gardening is often the only way they can get their hands in the soil. In the show, we feature a simple recipe – a design recipe if you will – for creating beautiful containers. I ask viewers to look at those plants in an abstract way and then show how those plants work together in a container. We start with something tall and spiky in the center, something round and full to fill out the container and then something to cascade over the edges. This simple recipe works for any situation. And if you will follow that and choose plants in those categories, then you’ll always have a really handsome presentation with your container composition. I’m trying to break it down in simplistic terms for people to follow.
That’s the kind of language we use to describe how to design a container. Rather than just sticking it full of geraniums and letting it go – have a little fun, impress yourself, choose from a palette of plants that really resonates with the colors you use inside your home – or maybe your favorite colors. Try to evoke a certain mood.
Q: How would you describe the format of your gardening show?
A typical show opens in my garden. I explain the principles that we want to cover today – usually, no more than three per show. We have a wonderful graphic that shows a bird’s eye view of my garden and outlines the nine garden rooms that surround my house. In very fundamental terms, we show how each principle helped to define this space and evoke a certain feeling. Then we visit other gardens and talk about the principles – pointing out the plants and how they are contributing to the overall composition. There may be an interview with the Dutchess of Devonshire about the crinkle crankle hedge or the cottage garden she created at Chatsworth. Or we may visit The Old Orchard House – the oldest garden in California and talk with the individual who designed this incredible, masterful creation with a property built in 1780. We see a series of garden rooms that were created with a great deal of whimsical fun. We just bounce around to different gardens that illustrate the principles that we want to cover in that episode.