Garden2Blog and Humble Pie

Since garden blogging has given me the drive to share my thoughts and enthusiasm with the world, it could be said that it was gardening that cured my shyness. But even now it rears its ugly head and knocks me back down to earth when I least expect it, smacking me with a much-needed wallop of humility when I get too big for my own britches.
I was feeling pretty good about myself until it was time to board the bus to Moss Mountain for P. Allen Smith's Garden2Blog event, and I felt downright fancy after a night at the swanky Capital Hotel. After loading into the tour bus like a bunch of excitable sixth-graders, the driver began what felt like a treacherous journey through wooded rolling hills.

It only felt treacherous when we were standing up. With the bus in full motion, bloggers were then invited to stumble towards the front of the bus, where they were instructed to tell the group a little about themselves - if they survived the bus's attempts to throw them out the windows, that is. I instantly recalled those heart-stopping moments on those deceptively cheery looking yellow busses of childhood, and how I would pray for the good fortune to make it down the aisle each day without cruel jokes and jeering at my expense.

From my grade school into college, my life was hindered by a shyness so debilitating that there were times that I could barely speak at all. More than just a mere shyness, it was an unbearable fear of failure and judgment that prevented me from developing socially along with my classmates. Over the last several years though, I've finally found my voice through writing and art and have built up enough confidence to speak in polite company like a normal human being. Writing and illustration gigs helped make me feel validated and important for once in my life, and a passion for nature has given me enough motivation to share what has brought me so much happiness.

Now I was on a full sized tour bus with friends and colleagues, but I fell into my old habits of reclusiveness again and looked for a seat at the back of the bus where I could escape the notice of others as I have so many times before. As luck would have it, I was the first victim called to the front of the bus.

After negotiating the gauntlet and giving an appropriately shaky speech about myself on an even shakier bus, I crawled back to the seat that had betrayed me, amid cheers from other bloggers who noticed my pained expression and beads of sweat and applauded me for doing something that should have been so ordinary... but it was a very new experience for me.  Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I watched the other bloggers tackle the wicked antics of the bus for the rest of the trip. Look at the photo below to see what a wretched experience this was for us.

Laura Matthews looks like she's having fun, but she's mortified.
Okay, so not everybody was as socially awkward as me. By the grace of God we arrived at the Governor's mansion unscathed, so we stumbled out into the daylight to find ourselves facing a mansion ensconced by a glorious formal garden.
P. Allen Smith told us about the rich and varied history of the land that had once served as home for the School for the Blind and later became the site of the governor's mansion in 1950. Though Allen started out as a humble tour guide, his talents were soon recognized with an appointment as an advisor for the development of the mansion grounds, where he worked for the Clintons, Huckabees and others. Many years, acres and dollars later, Allen still seems to have the humility and tour-guiding skills intact. 
Chelsea Clinton used to play in this adorable playhouse.

Clearly this German shepherd is no stranger to P. Allen Smith's food. I bet his hands smell of maple cured bacon.

I had to wonder if his years as a tour guide gave him the necessary skills to become a television personality, and then considered how each of us might use our seemingly insignificant roles to make a difference. He has been compared to Martha Stewart on numerous occasions, yet even with all of his success and notoriety, P. Allen Smith still leads garden tours to this day. He's still strikingly humble, and he urges his viewers to relax, have fun and not fret too much about perfection.
Barbara Wise awaits our lunch and keynote speaker.
We were given a tour of the flower border, herb garden and vegetable plots before being herded to the banquet hall for a delicious salad atop the governor's flatware and a presentation from Eric Decker, our keynote speaker. Before we ate, Arkansas' first lady dropped by to give Allen a hug. P. Allen Smith has been a friend to the Clintons and can casually drop names of British nobility, yet he retains the demeanor and humility of an honest and hardworking farm boy. Not once during our visit did he ever seem to brag.

P. Allen Smith outside his original garden home

A carefully curated potting shed

An iris outside the Garden Home

In an interview with the New York Times, Allen even confesses to being of all things, an introvert.
I hadn't read that article until today, but even when I was following him around his Moss Mountain farm. I felt like this successful self-made garden personality was driven not by the ordinary trappings of fame and fortune, but an urge to share his passion and knowledge with the world. Considering that it was only through garden blogging that I came out of my own hermetically sealed shell, I understood this very well. I remembered my debilitating shyness growing up, and felt a distressing sense of profound guilt.
Just as a reminder, in middle school I was far too shy to engage in even the simplest of conversations with the other kids. Well, at least with the exception of my little sister who would watch The Weather Channel with me, her dorky and socially inept brother.
While we waited for those exciting Doppler radar animations, she and I would laugh at the guy who did the gardening segments; a man with silky blonde hair who spoke of goofy sounding things like begonias and hydrangeas in a subtle southern accent. I would rarely ever resort to laughing at a fellow classmate to make up for my own shortcomings, because my mother taught me better than that, after all.
I knew that every kid had his own struggles, and I accepted that cruelty was the mask that they wore to hide their insecurities, but that guy on the Weather Channel was to me, as imaginary as Sonic the Hedgehog or Calvin and Hobbes.
Over 20 years later and finally comfortable in my own skin, there I was. Standing next to a hero who was once the butt of my childhood jokes, listening to him crack his own jokes to us bloggers about how awful those 6th and 7th grader kids can be. "So true." I thought to myself.

When it came time to check out of the hotel, I cheerfully greeted a man on the elevator with crisp tailored clothes that I truthfully kind of envied. He could have passed for Don Draper. Looking down at the wide brimmed garden hat I had received from the trip and my gardening-stained sneakers, he huffed. "What is that? What are you wearing?"
I meekly explained that we were a bunch of bloggers who were visiting P. Allen Smith for Garden2Blog, and that we were encouraged to dress down for the event.
"So that's P. Allen Smith's motto? To dress down? I know who he is and..." he trailed off, deciding not to waste his breath. I don't think he was a gardener.
The majority of this trip including room, board and a bunch of neat swag - were provided to me at no expense for participating in the Garden2Blog event. There was no obligation to write about my experiences and all opinions stated here are my own.


  1. What kind of rude person talks like that to someone else in an elevator? Certainly not someone from Arkansas. Your hat is awesome. I enjoyed meeting you, look forward to reading your blog, and am honored to be a Bonnie Plants winner alongside you. Thank you for writing this and sharing your story with us.

    Amy from Our Everyday Dinners

  2. Shyness is so hard to over come. Reading your blog I would never have guess you are shy. Good one you! I do envy you and your trip. Glad you had such a great time.

  3. I'm so glad to have discovered your blog. You are a great writer on wonderful topics.

  4. Glad to read you enjoyed (most of) the event and got a chance to continue your personal journey. As for that guy in the elevator, really? He was that rude? Poor man.

  5. Steve,
    How kind and insightful to share a view into who you are. My first rose show was so I could bring my flowers to people and share their beauty. I too was painfully shy as a child. Thank-you for being human and opening up to being vulnerable.
    Susan Fox

  6. Love this post! I am such a shy person and it has taken me a while to overcome my fear of people. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Nice... I am happy for you in every way : )
    Enjoyed all pics you have posted.

  8. Wow, I would have been one of the kids in the cafeteria that sat at your table. I was very shy too. Not that you would know it now. I'm not sure what happened. I finally didn't care what they thought and my mind took a 180. Not that I don't still care I do but for some reason it doesn't bother me like it did. I took the bus too and was always one of the last ones on. Since it was overcrowded we would sit 3 to a seat. Me with one butt cheek holding desperately onto her tiny portion of seat. Shoulder to shoulder with the desperate person to my right or left. Man I'm so glad those days are over.

    As for that man......oh well, I think you looked really cute in your hat. Too bad he is so grumpy. Must be constipated. Hahaha!

  9. Thanks for sharing your trip in words and pictures. It sounds like you had a lovely time.

  10. What a beautifully written piece. I've watched much of your exit from your cocoon and the spreading of your multi-talented wings. A profound experience for both of us, I think.


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