Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Given that P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Farm near Roland looks like something out of a Winslow Homer painting — a perfect Greek Revival farmhouse, situated on a hill in the middle of grassy fields, with a plank front porch, an ancient oak in the dooryard, and a near-horizon-to-horizon view of the Arkansas River from the back porch — the strangest thing about the place might be that Smith actually lives there.
Smith shoots a good bit of the content for his TV shows and YouTube episodes at Moss Mountain, a fact attested to by the careful flower beds in the back that bear little placards announcing they're sponsored by some company or other. But it's not a soundstage or set. He really does live there, letting his work and private life not just overlap, but melt seamlessly together. Maybe it says all you need to know about Smith that this is how he lives: everything carefully arranged and planned and proportioned, uncompromisingly lovely at every turn, no books askew in the bookshelf, no dust on the face of a clock, the grounds full of postcard fences and gardens and chicken coops and heirloom livestock — a house and estate so picturesque that Smith's team can set up a camera pretty much anywhere without the need for prime-time spiffifying.
Given that over the past 30 years, he's built himself into one of America's apostles of living a simple, elegant, detail-focused Good Life, it's probably impossible for Smith to live any other way, even if he wanted to. After all, he's not just selling books and TV episodes. Like any guru worth his salt, what he's really selling is desire. And if it ever leaked out that P. Allen Smith went home every night to some beige condo instead of to the heavenly farmstead Lenny and George fantasized about in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," the spell of his influence might well be broken.
Smith is clearly a long way from where he started, as a boy who found an abiding love for the natural world tromping the woods of Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau, and later a college kid who developed deep garden design concepts like "Mystery" and "Time" — along with his signature idea of the "Garden Room" — while touring grand English estates. Many of his writings, especially in his first book, "P. Allen Smith's Garden Home," will remind one quite a bit of the way some of the Romantic poets thought about nature and how it could reinvigorate the soul; of the thought of naturalist pioneers like Sierra Club founder John Muir, and visionary landscaper Fredrick Law Olmstead, who designed New York's Central Park as an oasis in the concrete desert. Smith, who said some of his early thinking about gardens can be traced back to a root of Jeffersonian democracy, is clearly not some empty-headed fluff-merchant, even if he's spun his plainspoken charm and eye for detail into quite a bit of gold — most of it gleaned from suburbanites itching for simplicity and authenticity in a world that is often anything but.
While his gardens may evoke Mystery and Time, Smith doesn't seem to have much of either in his own life, with nearly every moment of his week planned down to the second. He's up at 5 a.m. sharp, to bed at 9:30 p.m., and he spends pretty much every waking moment "on," rushing from one shoot to another. At 52, his schedule and prodigious output would probably cripple a less driven man: producing content for three nationally-syndicated TV shows (including PBS's "P. Allen Smith's Garden Home," now in its 10th season), a weekly one-hour radio show, six books in his "Garden Home" series (including a cookbook), three decks of gardening "recipe cards," his media company Hortus, Ltd., membership in the Royal Horticultural Society, a website (pallensmith.com) receives over 350,000 page views a month, a weekly e-newsletter with more than 100,000 subscribers, a raft of endorsement deals, frequent articles in publications ranging from Chickens! Magazine to the New York Times, and — maybe most important for the future of P. Allen Smith, multimedia colossus — a new partnership with New York's Demand Media to produce episodes for the YouTube channels eHow Home and eHow Pets, featuring Smith explaining everything from how to raise ducks to how to make spider repellent out of mint oil and dishwashing liquid. Somewhere in there, he writes and paints in a small, sunlit studio behind his home.
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