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Expert on beautiful gardens, P. Allen Smith, visiting Utah

Gardeners always look for ways to improve their gardens.

Some want to make their designs better, some want to add new and exciting plants, and some just want new challenges.

Regardless of what you want to do, read on for some great advice.

Award-winning designer P. Allen Smith is coming to Salt Lake City as part of the Outdoor Living Extravaganza. At this one-day retreat and seminar, Smith will get you excited about many stunning new plants and how to use them.

Smith is a renowned garden designer and hosts the PBS television program "P. Allen Smith's Garden Home" and the syndicated 30-minute show "P. Allen Smith Gardens." He inspires gardeners everywhere with his books, television shows and other appearances.

Smith's presentation uses Proven Winners plants to create not trite, show-stopping gardens, but actual car-stopping gardens. That, to me, is exciting because I often brake for gardens, including some I have written about in this column.

I spoke to Smith as he was going to his "Garden Home Retreat," which is a stunning garden he is creating on an old farmstead that overlooks the Arkansas River Valley. Many of his TV programs originate from there.

I asked Smith to elaborate on how flowers could push the brake pedal on your favorite vehicle. He explained that you need great plants and great design. Great plants are those that will grow well in your garden, and great designs show off those great plants.

In all of his travels he is constantly searching for great plants, including those from Proven Winners.

"I have worked with these plants at my Garden Home Retreat for several years, growing trials of their new plant materials. I like to find out what works well in our part of the country.

"We have some tough conditions. It dropped to 6 degrees at the farm in December, and in the summer we can get highs of 102-103 degrees for a week at a time with high humidity. Add to that our frog-strangling rains and it makes growing plants difficult."

Acknowledging the climatic difference in Utah, Smith said he will draw from the Proven Winner palette of plants to select those that grow well for you and find those that take less water.

"What I will do is to help those that come to choose the right plants. Plants that have real show-stopping qualities and plants that have long-lasting blooms or great foliage. I think we cannot understate the importance of plants with good foliage.

"We have to know how to couple and how to partner our plants. We can't let the bloomers carry all the load. They have to be supported by the foliage."

Great plants are one part of creating "stop-the-car" plantings.

Designing gardens requires attention to details to get the maximum benefits from the entryway plantings for your home.

Smith promises to show you how to turn a plain brown-wrapper entrance into one with lots of pizzazz with colorful Proven Winners plant combinations. His fail-safe system will accent the highly visible areas of your home, including front and back entrances, steps, walkways and garden entryways.

"In my first 'Garden House Book,' " I outline the 12 principles of garden design. When I talk about these "stop-the-car" plantings, I emphasize three of them. They are enclosure, focal point and frame the view."

Enclosure helps define the garden space. Outdoor walls are shrubs, trellised vines, fences or other structures. In some gardens, the walls are literal enclosures and in others they are illusions.

Focal point is where the eye is naturally drawn. After selecting or designing a focal point, let the rest of the planting and hardscape emphasize that, not detract from it.

In creating his newest garden, he used an existing magnificent oak tree as a major focal point.

Just as a beautiful painting needs a frame, so does a beautiful garden. "Frame the view" is the third principle that makes an extraordinary garden. A well-placed frame supports and becomes a part of the garden view and helps display glorious plants.

"I have written five books in the Garden House series, " he said. "All support these garden designs. The book on containers, the book on colors — they all help the gardener. First is the theoretical understanding and that then helps us understand in real life."

He cautions gardeners about buying any plant and dropping it in the ground. "Always plan in the beginning with the end in mind. I am a great advocate of thinking and then doing."

That is great advice for any gardener. I plan to take a break and brake for Smith's garden presentation in Salt Lake City and see his proven methods for creating extraordinary gardens.

Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.