Connecting People & Plants

Connecting People & Plants

This spring, garden celebrity P. Allen Smith’s new garden home retreat will be the epicenter of all his media platforms engaging consumers.

In addition to being a showcase for the latest and greatest in gardening, activities at the retreat will appeal to interests ranging from home building and home décor to cooking, outdoor living and entertaining. Animal lovers will connect with the dogs, chickens, sheep and horses on the working farm. The retreat also ties in with the green movement, with the energy-efficient home being built with sustainable materials and the grounds irrigated with recycled water and maintained as organically as possible.

“The retreat is America’s test kitchen for outdoor living,” Smith says. “Not only will we be trialing new plant varieties, but other products that are part of the outdoor lifestyle. What the consumer really needs is a way to pull it all together, feel good about it and not break the bank.”

Smith is a landscape designer by trade who grew up in a family of nurserymen in Tennessee and garden center owners in Arkansas. He studied garden history at the University of Manchester in England and became a fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society before returning home to Arkansas in 1986.

The gardens he designed in Little Rock, Ark., captured attention locally, regionally then nationally. His first brush with celebrity came when he was invited to answer questions for a local radio talk show, which led to the local ABC television affiliate approaching him about producing a weekend show in his gardens.

Today, Smith can be found in a wide range of national media:

- “P. Allen Smith Garden Home” television show on PBS

- “P. Allen Smith Gardens,” a syndicated television show

- Gardening reports on The Weather Channel

- Regular appearances on the “Today” show

- Contributor and advisor to Cottage Living magazine

- Contributor to Woman’s Day magazine

Smith just published his fourth book with Random House, “P. Allen Smith’s Living In The Garden Home,” which focuses on connecting the seasons with containers, crafts and celebrations.

His next book will focus on bringing nursery plants indoors. “We’re trialing the best nursery plants in the house to see the length of days they will last inside and length of days they will last as a cut flower,” he says. Woman’s Day’s special interest publication, Garden Deck & Design, will showcase the best live plants for weddings, receptions and parties–14 plants that will last at least 10 days inside.

Smith incorporates his love of plants, cooking, art, history and charitable causes in all his work. Recent landscape projects in Little Rock include a healing garden at a local hospital, the restoration of a historic hotel and an overhaul of the gardens at the governor’s mansion.

Last spring at the garden home retreat, sixth graders and tenth graders planted 50,000 daffodils, harvested them and sold bunches of 10 for $5 to benefit local underprivileged youth. 

A Labor Of Love

For 12 years, all of Smith’s filming was done on location at a small, urban lot in a historic part of Little Rock. He had relocated an old home to the empty lot and created a series of garden rooms around it. Out in the country, the new garden retreat opens the doors to limitless possibilities, and eliminates background noise that can interfere with the audio side of shooting video.

“We just needed more space to experiment with different kinds of plants,” Smith says. “While it may seem huge, it’s very contained. Throughout 2008, you’ll see the evolution of the property on the show, in print and on the Web. A brick doesn’t get laid without being photographed or on video tape.”

The actual home, which will be completed in February, is a brand new Greek revival style inspired by four historic homes built in the 1830s. An expansive, Viking studio kitchen will seat 45 people. Additional kitchens are outdoors and in a separate building detached from the house. Another room is a studio for dried flowers and crafts. Each space has a function.

When I visited in late October, I got to see the foam insulation derived from soybean oil and fluffy fabric insulation from bluejean factory scraps instead of fiberglass. Gutters will capture runoff and direct it to a 6,000-gallon water tank concealed under lawn space to water the garden and orchard. Local materials, including cypress and stonework, were obtained to build the house.

When asked if historic homes already were “green” in their construction, Smith says, “The older materials were green, but where they run off the road is in energy efficiency. We have a radiant solar metal roof that preheats the floors with hot water, and our windows have an energy rating.”

His business manager, Bill Reishtein, continues to be in awe of the scope of the project and Smith’s vision for it. “No one in the industry has undertaken a project like this to show ideas in a compelling way to get the public inspired and excited,” Reishtein says. “PBS viewers follow what’s going on at the retreat. It’s like a reality show. Everybody wants to know what he grows.”

Driving Plant Sales

Smith’s most direct tie with growers and garden centers is the work he does with Proven Winners, which is funded by the sales of plants to growers and retailers. Smith is an important part of the Proven Winners media strategy, which should generate 900 million impressions in 2008.

“One of the deal closers for us was that he was on the cusp of doing this,” says Proven Winners Marketing Director Marshall Dirks. “We could see his passion and how much more creative and how many more opportunities there would be with this property. He has the media platform, needs good plants and it works for both parties. He can reach new gardeners through cooking, sustainability and his care for animals. There is a high correlation between gardeners and pet owners.”

Reishtein said he and Smith chose Proven Winners because the company has the stability and critical mass to support the brand. “If you can’t find the plants, you’re going to be dissatisfied,” Reishtein says. “Proven Winners has enough critical mass that you can go to a retailer and buy them.”

Smith isn’t a spokesperson for Proven Winners, but presents gardening ideas and concepts with Proven Winners plants. “I like to talk about combinations, not just a specific plant, but what does it hang with? How does it look best with companion plants and in the outdoor space?” Smith says. “I’m a plant nerd and very interested in plants for the sake of plants, but I’m looking at the bigger picture all the time.”

He says he was attracted to Proven Winners because they believe in promoting gardening as an activity versus promoting just their plants. “While there are certain products they provide, they do recognize the importance of promoting the pursuit of gardening and outdoor living,” Smith says. “For the industry to have a bright future, it’s going to be incumbent on more industry corporations to think about their market that way.”

This will be the third spring Proven Winners and Smith have worked together. By zeroing on the Hot 21 Plants, Proven Winners is able to measure results of the campaign.

“In the last two years, we’ve seen a 31 percent increase in sales for the Hot 21,” Dirks says. “It may be 300 percent for ‘Diamond Frost,’ but on average, it’s 31 percent. If you set that in context of 5 to 7 percent average growth in the industry, that’s pretty significant. Next year, maybe we’ll have a Hot 30 with nine new varieties.”

Proven Winners will be sponsoring “the first day of spring” on The Weather Channel, where Smith will have regular reports related to getting ready for spring. Smith’s Web site also will offer viewers online video features and allow viewers to rate, comment and share their views on plants.

Both Smith and Dirks are concerned about the future of gardening and want to cultivate and convert as many gardeners as they can, whether they be children getting their first exposure, busy Generation Y consumers who are just getting established professionally or Gen X couples juggling work with family. Capturing leisure time will be even more important than dollars.

“The reality is we’re not competing with one another,” Smith says. “One flower brand is not competing with another flower brand. It’s not family-owned independents versus Home Depot. We’re competing for the consumer’s time. This industry has to create a compelling reason to take time to go to a garden center, plant a garden and create an outdoor living space for their family. My goal is to help consumers create style and comfort without spending a lot of time and resources and feel what they have done is an expression of their own personal style.”

Reishtein believes this strategy will help the entire industry. “Together, let’s elevate all ships, make gardeners more successful and get a share of their leisure time.”

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Connecting People & Plants

  1. I’m not a fan of Proven Winners. I spent $110 or so on a dozen plants, only to have every one of them arrive dead. As for Proven Winners reimbursement policy: I received a check for $20 and a tub of plant food. I’ll stick with highcountrygardens.com.

More From Varieties...
Aquaponics At Brogue Hydroponics

March 30, 2015

10 Things You Need To Know About Aquaponics

Are you curious about expanding into aquaponics? From pest control to equipment, Bob and Jesse Kilgore of Brogue Hydroponics offer 10 factors you need to consider.

Read More
Aquaponics At Brogue Hydroponics

March 30, 2015

Aquaponics Is Making A Splash At Brogue Hydroponics

The owners of Brogue Hydroponics explain why they expanded into aquaponics, and how the shift has helped them uncover a new market opportunity.

Read More
Hendriks-Half-Open-Roof_GGS

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environments

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More
Latest Stories

March 25, 2015

13 New Shrubs You’ll Find At The 2015 California …

Woody ornamentals serve as the foundation of many great landscapes, but beyond their traditional uses, shrubs also add color, structure, texture and interest to small gardens and even containers. Check out this slideshow to see some of the newest introductions you’ll get to see at this year’s California Spring Trials.

Read More

March 23, 2015

Update To Armitage’s Greatest Perennials & Annuals …

A new update to the Greatest Perennials & Annuals app narrows the gap between consumers and grower-retailers, while providing more of Armitage’s top picks and growing advice for success with plants.

Read More
2014 Poinsettia Season Report

March 18, 2015

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Poinsettia Seas…

Poinsettia growers report a strong year in 2014, thanks to a few conditions. Seasonal cold at just the right time put consumers in a festive mood to buy early and often, and with no big snowstorms to hold up shipments and a reduction of supply available in the market, the season was strong from start to finish. Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Poinsettia Survey received 143 responses from growers around the country. Here, you can download the complete results of the survey, by filling out the form.

Read More
Hydrangea 'Endless Summer BloomStruck' from Bailey Nurseries

March 17, 2015

Michael Dirr Slated To Address Attendees At Hydrangeas …

Dr. Michael Dirr to deliver the keynote address at Hydrangeas 2015 conference, hosted by the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society in partnership with Endless Summer Hydrangeas. The conference will take place at the historic Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, Mass.

Read More

March 17, 2015

16 New Blooming Potted Plants You’ll See At The 2…

Blooming potted plants are perfect gift items, and they put the finishing touch on any style of home decor. So when new varieties come on the market, growers and retailers alike take note of plants they know are going to make consumers happy. Check out the slideshow to see some of the new blooming potted plants making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More
Salvia 'Ember's Wish'

March 11, 2015

Annual Salvias – Not Just Red Bedding Plants Anym…

Salvias are popular — and they need not all be the same. Here are a few you know well, and perhaps a few you do not. All are easy to grow and may be found through a broker or grower.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

March 11, 2015

Memoirs Of A Plantsman: Q & A With Allan Armitage

In light of the upcoming release of Dr. Allan Armitage's memoir, "It’s Not Just About the Hat — The Unlikely Journey of a Plantsman," Greenhouse Grower caught up with him for an in-depth Q & A about his newest work and what he’s planning next.

Read More
Lavandula-Superblue

March 10, 2015

How To Determine When To Buy Herbaceous Perennials In V…

Exposing herbaceous perennials to cold temperatures, also known as vernalization, can yield a range of effects, especially on flowering. Beth Engle of SHS Griffin covers whether vernalized liners or unvernalized plants make the best sense for your sales windows.

Read More

March 4, 2015

California Spring Trials Preview: 32 New Perennials For…

Perennials are hot and if this preview of the 2015 California Spring Trials is any indication, there are going to be some great new perennial introductions for 2016. We contacted the breeders who will be displaying their new varieties in California in April, and they gave us a sneak peek. Check out the slideshow to see some of the new perennials making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More
Lavandula 'Meerlo' (Sunset Western Garden Collection)

March 3, 2015

Why You Will Still Grow Today’s Big Perennial 10 Years …

What will be the next big perennial? Breeders say it takes more than a splashy plant to distinguish itself in the market. Therefore, the question is not what will be the next big perennial, but rather what perennial performs well enough in the garden to have staying power in the market for years to come.

Read More
Heuch Pink Fizz_featured

March 2, 2015

Intergeneric Crosses Are A New Perennial Trend

Intergeneric crosses, oddities some botanists say are an impossibility, have made serious inroads in the perennial world.

Read More
Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Arizona Apricot'

February 25, 2015

National Garden Bureau Designates 2015 As Year Of The G…

Gaillardia, also known as the blanket flower, is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and a long-blooming pollinator plant. It is fitting that the National Garden Bureau has specified 2015 as The Year of the Gaillardia.

Read More

February 18, 2015

California Spring Trials Sneak Peek: New Annuals For 20…

If you're like us and you can't wait until the 2015 California Spring Trials to see some of the new genetics that will be hitting the market in 2016, never fear. We contacted the breeders who will be displaying their new varieties in California in April, and they gave us a sneak peek. Check out our slideshow to see some of the new annuals making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More
Athena Brazil Salvia 'Brazilian Purple'

February 18, 2015

ForemostCo And Athena Brazil Unite To Supply Unrooted P…

ForemostCo, Inc. and Athena Brazil have forged a working relationship to support each other in the unrooted perennial cuttings market for North America. The partnership, geared toward accommodating increasing demand for unrooted perennial cuttings in North America, adds diversity to a recently consolidated market.

Read More

February 17, 2015

Poinsettias Had Their Best Year In Many In 2014

Poinsettia growers report a strong year in 2014, thanks to a few conditions. Growers were encouraged by high plant quality, enthusiastic shoppers and a stronger, less saturated market for poinsettias throughout the selling season. Seasonal cold at just the right time put consumers in a festive mood to buy early and often, and with no big snowstorms to hold up shipments and a reduction of supply available in the market, the season was strong from start to finish.

Read More
Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'

February 17, 2015

Geranium Hybrid ‘Biokovo’ Dubbed 2015 Peren…

Geranium xcantabrigiense ‘Biokovo,' a naturally occurring hybrid of G. dalmaticum and G. macrorrhizum, is the Perennial Plant Association's top pick for 2015 Perennial of the Year. Learn why this tough, landscape geranium took home the prize.

Read More
Costa Farms' Season Premier 2015

February 4, 2015

Costa Farms’ 2015 Season Premier Reveals Newest V…

The annual Season Premier at Costa Farms in Miami, Fla., is the industry's very first peek at new varieties for debut the following year, even before the California Spring Trials, heralded widely as the jumping off point for new varieties. This year's event revealed breeders' best and brightest new varieties for 2016, shown in field trials, landscape trials and containers at Costa Farms tropical trial gardens. Plant breeders presented their new varieties to buyers and members of Lowe’s grower panel. Growers, brokers and other allied industry members, including Home Depot growers and buyers, were also able to peruse the grounds to see how the new varieties fared in the winter trials. Later this season, the hot and humid conditions at Costa’s summer trials will help identify the true performers.

Read More

January 28, 2015

All-America Selections Introduces Additional 2015 Winne…

All-America Selections has announced more 2015 AAS Winners, bringing the grand total of introductions for the 2015 gardening year to 25. The seven winners join the 12 announced last November and six announced last July. This year, AAS has had the most winners in one year since 1939.

Read More