The New Southern Romantic – P. Allen Smith

I had the pleasure of being invited to visit P. Allen Smith in Little Rock last week.  I was included in an event designed to not only promote Smith’s ideas, but also those companies who sponsor and support Smith’s lifestyle brand.  As his book, Garden Home suggests, Smith’s brand isn’t about inside or out, today or yesterday, it is about the seamless transition from one to the other and back again.

A view from the sleeping porch at Moss Mountain Farm

The patina of a past that included legions of free (use your imagination–they weren’t interns) help isn’t lost in this new, pared down, but no less privileged lifestyle.  Make no mistake about it,  P. Allen Smith, who is a hell of a nice guy by the way, is a passionate and totally driven workaholic whose ideas and ideals drive a brand that supports dozens of people from marketing executives to farm hands.

The entry hall at Moss Mountain Farm

Smith’s ‘Garden Home’ farm, Moss Mountain, reflects his many interests–some of which include collecting early southern furniture, American paintings, cooking and entertaining, poultry, sustainable agriculture and building, and of course, gardens.  An avid reader, there are books everywhere–stacked on tables and in overflowing bookshelves.

A stack of books in the living room

There is authenticity to Smith and his carefully curated world, what you see is really what he is all about. I say Bravo! that he’s found a way to brand it and to support his passions and lifestyle–even if that process has him working around the clock.  He works in a beautiful place surrounded by the things he loves–not a bad way to spend one’s working life.

Farm fresh eggs in the kitchen at Moss Mountain

On the home farm, heritage poultry (Smith founded the Heritage Poultry Conservancy in 2009) exists along side the construction of an environmentally friendly farmhouse.  The coop pictured below is close to the house, but about a 1/4 mile down the road are working coops that house the birds in the breeding program Smith has established for his heritage chickens and turkeys.

Palais des poulets

Having trained as a landscape designer in England, Smith’s gardens juxtapose traditional European garden design principles with southern bones, climate appropriate plants and vernacular architecture. They are lush and romantic, quaint and super high maintenance. These are not gardens to have without skilled help. There are vignettes and rambles combined into a massive mixed border that has interesting foundation plants with great structure.  The gardens had me wondering if these throwbacks to ‘home’ in the European sense are actually a regional American style.  That’s something I’d like to explore further.

A small formal pond on the lower terrace
A circular vignette at the end of the lower terrace

I was surprised at how small Smith’s original Little Rock garden is.  Now called City Garden Home, it’s on a small urban corner lot and it’s a testament to the power of great garden design.  Each one of several garden rooms flows seamlessly into the next and nothing feels cramped or overdone.

Planter and paving in the narrow side yard at City Garden Home

I appreciated the thought that went into the design–I know firsthand how complex it is to plan and execute a small space that actually feels bigger than it is.

The shed at City Garden Home

Back at the farm, however, there is room to spread out and that’s exactly what Smith has done in the gardens there.  In addition to an expansive organic vegetable garden and a year old rose garden dedicated to American heritage roses, he has designed classic twin borders.  There is one each on two terraces down that step down the mountain from the house towards the Arkansas River.  They were the first things to be built at the now four year old farm.

Lower terrace garden

All of Smith’s endeavors are supported or underwritten by sponsors.  He also has books, videos, speaking engagements that help fund his interests and support his people.  He works with experts and if those experts happen to be able to underwrite or contribute to his endeavors then they do. I totally understand that undertaking the kind of media and lifestyle company that Smith has built and continues to grow takes money– lots of money–and that relationships with sponsors are integral to that process.  It’s not easy living as a New Southern Romantic–it takes hard work, a great support team and passion.





7 thoughts on “The New Southern Romantic – P. Allen Smith

  1. Very nicely written, Susan. I know many people admire and covet his lifestyle. However, as with Martha Stewart, there’s a daunting upward mobility in Mr. Smith that leaves me unsettled. The message particularly to American women is overwhelming striving that is just the opposite of what good garden design is all about. “Branding” is part of our culture. I just hope we don’t forget who we are (whatever that is) as he creates so pubicly his picture perfect world with his minions, paid and unpaid.

  2. Thank you for the best read on the visits to P. Allen Smith’s gardens and home (at least to me, so far). Your note on further exploring “a regional American style” really resonates with me, even more than the reality of maintenance intensity and all the sponsorship or help…and you know those do with me!

    Of course, great photos of the gardens…very pleasing to me in a design sense.

  3. Thanks for sharing your opportunity to visit with his gardens. There is nothing like having an inside view to something that is so public. Good insights to his life and what it takes to produce media at this level.

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