A Tasteful Place (Artist renderings courtesy Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden)
Green man: P. Allen Smith (Photo courtesy P. Allen Smith)
P. Allen Smith's Garden Home at Moss Mountain Farm in Arkansas (Photo courtesy P. Allen Smith)
Moss Mountain Farm (Photo courtesy P. Allen Smith)
The Dallas Arboretum is one of my most favorite places in Dallas. Each year, I make sure to visit the sprawling pumpkin patch, the glittering orbs on display during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the fragrant flowers of the Dallas Blooms throughout early spring.
Oh, and nothing comes close to matching the magnificence of the historic DeGolyer estate, open year-round but particularly spectacular when its rooms are decorated for the holidays.
Come 2017, the arboretum will be home to another special feature: A Tasteful Place, a two-acre food garden overlooking White Rock Lake and brimming with fruit, herbs and vegetables. Also ensconced in the outdoor oasis will be an orchard, vineyard, flower beds, and shaded porches and patios, where you’ll be sure to find me upon the arrival of the brutal Texas summer heat.
To conceptualize the garden, the arboretum sought the talents of landscape architect Chuck McDaniel (SWA), architect Russell Buchanan (Buchanan Architecture) and P. Allen Smith, a gardening expert and author who regularly dazzles audiences with his knowledge of everything food and flora on the PBS show P. Allen Smith’s Garden to Table and segments on The Today Show. Recently in Dallas to chat about A Tasteful Place and sign copies of his numerous books, Smith met me in the arboretum’s Camp House for a conversation on garden-to-table practices, his impressive farm in his native Arkansas, and why urban gardens are the way of the future.
How did you become interested in design and gardening?
I had the good fortune to do my graduate work in England, at the University of Manchester. While I was there, I really focused on an American component of 18th-century design. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams made a trip to England in 1786, mainly for diplomatic reasons, but while they were delayed for an audience with King George they took the opportunity to go on a two-week tour of English gardens. Jefferson was interested in the design and looking for ideas for Monticello. Adams was interested in the economics of these estates and was astonished at the expense and cost.
It was sort of fun following in their footsteps. That’s how I really became interested in landscape design. I’ve spent a lot of time in England and Europe looking at gardens and lots of food gardens. Jefferson was interested in this idea of a ferme ornée, the ornamented farm, an idea that started in Rome or Italy in ancient times.
Describe the concept of a ferme ornée.
It’s this idea of an estate that’s both beautiful and productive. It caught the imagination of the 18th-century aristocracy in England, and they began to adopt that idea and apply it to English estates. Jefferson was very intrigued by that. He wanted to take those principles of the ferme ornée to Monticello.
I have actually created a ferme ornée in Arkansas, a 600-acre property on the banks of the Arkansas River overlooking the Arkansas River Valley. It is very much an American expression of this idea, in that the farm goes back to 1840, and we’ve tried to make sure that the architecture and the design sensibilities hang within that aesthetic from that period of time. We have a vegetable garden where we do pairings and combinations of edibles of all kinds. I think that’s one of the reasons that the arboretum reached out to me.
What’s your vision for A Tasteful Place, and what are you doing as a consultant?
It will be a marvelous new addition to the Dallas Arboretum. I think that there’s a big conversation going on in this country about food. One of the reasons why we’re doing this is that I feel like it allows the arboretum to enter into that conversation, and it reaches a demographic and a group of people who are very interested in food, how food is grown and where food comes from. By 2050, there will be 9.5 billion people on the planet, and lots of people are talking about how we are going to feed [everyone]. The arboretum will be a place where we can talk about resources, how people are fed, urban gardens, hunger in Dallas … We can talk about a lot of big issues.
It’s also going to be a very beautiful place and a very practical place. We will be using both modern methods and also sustainable practices to demonstrate how to use resources responsibly, so there will be ways for people to understand how to water and irrigate in a responsible way, and how to care for the soil. Your backyard is your ecology. That’s your piece of the planet that you’re taking care of. We hope that these kinds of lessons will come out of the arboretum.
And then there’s the food! The yummy part, the actual vegetables. There will be lots of exciting things — guest chefs from here and around the country, or even abroad. There will be all kinds of tastings going on. We’ll be trying all sorts of edibles, whether it be fruits, vegetables, herbs, you name it. Then there will be a teaching component to it as well: regular workshops, seminars, demonstrations. What we’re working on now is this program that will go across the entire year, because the beauty of being able to garden in Dallas, particularly with vegetables, is that there’s not one month in the year you can’t grow things for your table, so this garden will be a 12-month food garden.
Describe the garden’s design.
The question is, how will this space be used to demonstrate or to inspire someone? That’s what we’re always thinking about when we’re making the design — the way the paths go, how the beds are laid out. We’re going to be weaving this beautiful tapestry of useful and edible plants, so that they’re used in that ornamental light. This, in a way, is going to be its own ornamented farm, where design is layered over functionality, and functionality is layered over the aesthetic of design. When they come together, they are woven in a beautiful way. I think the greatest compliment will be for people to come through and go, “I had no idea that edibles could be so beautiful,” and [realize] that everything in this garden has a purpose.
Who is your horticultural inspiration?
Thomas Jefferson. After his presidency, he really put a lot of effort into his vegetable garden, which was a thousand-foot terrace that he had built where he grew over 300 varieties of vegetables. He’s considered America’s first foodie.
I love growing, preparing and eating food. I think my interest has been driven by my stomach. It’s so interesting — there’s so many different things to grow and to experience and to eat and to just play with. It’s a creative process, and anyone who cooks understands that. Generally, my favorites are those that are very grounded and authentic. I love seeing ordinary things presented, cooked or prepared in an extraordinary way. One of my favorite things to roast is Brussels sprouts with some prosciutto, sea salt and cracked white pepper, which is just fantastic. It’s kind of crispy, and you get that lovely caramelization that comes from the natural sugars in the Brussels sprouts.
Cheese grits. I also love a really good chicken soup, particularly in the winter, made with a heritage bird.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, 8525 Garland Road, 214.515.6500.