Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Amy Stone


Theme gardens a start for novice growers

"Be clever and start small."

That's great advice from one of my favorite garden pals, P. Allen Smith. I got a chance to talk with my garden guru friend, about ways we can make our garden chores easier.

Mr. Smith hosts two programs on PBS and is a frequent guest on the Today Show, the Weather Channel, and many other national programs. He has written many books on landscape design, sharing his ideas and experiences, and is a spokesperson for Proven Winners, a brand of plant material

If you have recently caught the gardening bug, Mr. Smith said to take it slow.

"We want you to continue to love growing your own plants and vegetables, so it is best to start out small. You will have a few successes and that will truly get you hooked on gardening," he said. "We are seeing a big trend across the nation with beginners who are a bit garden shy, mainly because they didn't grow up helping in the garden. More and more people want to grow their own fresh vegetables or add value to their property by planting a garden."

Start small

Start out with a few containers on the deck or a raised vegetable garden.

"If you start out with smaller containers or beds, you can control a few things that will make things easier for you," he said. "Like containers around your deck, or focus on just the front flower bed. Don't bite off more than you can chew."

The soil is a big variable and when you fill a container or raised bed with good soil that has the right amount of fertilizer, you are on the right track. Many gardeners spend years trying to get their soil right. So, jump right over that hurdle and use composted manure mixed with sterilized garden soil. Add in a little peat moss to keep it light.

Stick to a theme

Now that you have gathered up your courage to stick that shovel in the dirt, Mr. Smith says come up with a theme.

"It is really easy to pull together a theme for each container and it helps new gardeners get rolling," he said. "You can do a salsa garden, or a pizza garden, or even a tea garden." As the ingredients grow, you can pluck them out of the container garden and enjoy.

To plant a salsa garden, start with one tomato plant in the center and stick a decorative trellis in the pot to help it stand tall as it grows. Add a jalapeno pepper, a few onion sets, and cilantro.

Try pizza in a pot. Start with the trellised tomato in the center, then add a green pepper, a couple onion sets, and maybe some basil.

Tea gardens are beautiful loaded with chamomile and mint.

"Mint is one of those plants I call a garden thug because they can really take over the entire garden in one season. So it is best to keep them in a container," he said.

Other tea garden plants are lemon balm, cinnamon basil, peppermint, apple mint, or spearmint.

Mr. Smith said you can make a theme for just about anything.

"I was on the Early Show a few years ago and the producers put me out in the plaza with the anchor to show how to plant a theme garden," he said. "The cameras were rolling and strong gust of wind swept between the buildings in downtown New York and there went most of our plants. Plants were flying everywhere. We both laughed at the blunder on live television and called I came up with the windswept garden theme."

You can meet P. Allen Smith on June 2 at Four Star Greenhouse, 1199 E. Sigler Rd. in Carleton, Mich. He is hosting the Gardener's Idea Day, giving gardeners a sneak peek at the 2013 new variety introductions from Proven Winners. To reserve a spot at the show, which starts at 9 a.m., call 734-654-6420. Tickets are $25.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at

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