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Clutter in the ‘Garden Home’ 

A beautiful, but bouncing, book from P. Allen Smith.

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Why won't he just concentrate on roses?

P. Allen Smith's latest coffee-table book, “Living in the Garden Home” (Potter, $32.50 hardcover), a Martha Stewart-like amalgamation of decorating and gardening tips, makes dizzying leaps from how to build a potting bench (pretty clever, a drop shelf on the exterior wall of a shed) to daffodils to a recipe for rose soils to growing greens. There's a section on tulips, followed by leaf mulching, followed by beeswax candles. It's as if our home-grown garden guru took all the notes he's ever made and let loose, spilling them into the pages as the fancy struck him.

The photographs are, as ever, often staggeringly beautiful. Many gardeners, surely, will try to replicate Smith's own garden's raucous and sultry combination of red and blue sages, purple gomphrena and cabbages and silvery Artemisia and hot pink coleus and asters (see pages 127-128, and weep), and we predict a takeover of hyacinth beans (already in progress, actually). Jean Colclasure and Kelly Quinn do themselves photographically proud, as in previous Smith books (“The Garden Room,” “Colors for the Garden”).

But back to the roses. Smith is a pro with this most beautiful of flowers, and he has the ability to make the reader think he or she, too, could grow roses. His own garden features more than 30 varieties and informs his helpful section on choosing easy care roses, or roses that tolerate shade, roses for cold climates (this is a nationally released book, after all), roses for corners, and so forth. He talks about the rose from root to leaf, offering up his own remedy for powdery mildew and including a section on pruning. The photos show his roses cascading over columns, peeking over stone walls, stunners in pale pinks and frilly whites.

So it is frustrating, initially, to open the book, see a gorgeous full-page photo of his New Dawn roses covering a metal archway in his yard, settle into his instructions on digging and creating rose soil (he adds fish emulsion and Epsom salts, among other ingredients), turn the page and ... switch to starting plants from seed indoors.

It makes a certain sense, of course; Smith isn't crazy. The book is organized by season (as the subtitle says) ? spring is for preparation, and salad greens, and then there's Mother's Day, which means making an arrangement, and then it's time for the peonies to bloom and at last! Summer, and roses. Just because Smith's published this book doesn't mean he can't do a rose book later. Perhaps, even, that's the idea: Tantalize with a few pages now, satisfy with lots of pages later.

While “Living in the Garden Home” has a touch of attention deficit disorder, it is still a page turner. It will appeal to people who like to frost their fruit for centerpieces and those who don't. Summer's section on lilies is terrific. Smith's skill combining color and shape and his photographers' skill at capturing his plantings at their best are happily married. The book is packed with information, including mail order catalog lists, how to prune in winter, a guide to seed and bulb sources, heritage apple nurseries, etc. It's indexed, as well, which will help turn up the information if your mind doesn't arrange itself by season.

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