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Halloween Haunts in Arkansas

Tracking the Legendary Monsters & Ghouls (as well as the less scary goblins too) of Arkansas…

Halloween has a special place in my heart because it was also my grandmother’s birthday. Every year my mother would throw a party in her honor with Halloween decorations, fall foods like chili, costumes, plus trick-or-treating. Although my grandmother has passed, I still carry on that tradition at the farm each Halloween with the preparations being made far in advance. In my book Halloween is the best party of the season! Read more

Garvan Woodland Gardens

In the world of gardening, shady areas are often described as difficult to design or as
troublesome spots where few plants will grow. If this sounds familiar take heart because
there is a beautiful woodland garden in Hot Springs, Arkansas, that illustrates just how
easy it is to have a gorgeous landscape without full sun.

Garvan Woodland Gardens is the legacy of Louise Cook Garvan, who began designing and
planting the site in 1956. Since her death, the gardens have continued to flourish
under the guidance of the University of Arkansas’ Department of Landscape Architecture.

Garvan is designed to fit harmoniously with the natural setting and has something to
behold in every season.

What’s Cool About Garvan Gardens

  • An extensive collection of rare shrubs and trees selected and planted by Mrs. Garvan; some are over 40 years old.
  • Over 2,000 azaleas. Imagine that in spring!
  • 300-plus varieties of blooming perennials and groundcovers.
  • Garden Pavilion designed by nationally known architects E Fay Jones and Maurice Jennings.
  • Close to three miles of walking paths.
  • Tulip Extravaganza with 90,000 blooms from early March through April.
  • Two-acre wildflower meadow.
  • An enclosed one-acre children’s garden featuring a cave, maze, treetop boardwalk and stone climbing slopes.

Hours

  • Open Daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. February through mid-November; 12 noon to 9 p.m. mid-November through December 31
  • Holiday Light Display: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Saturday before Thanksgiving through December 31) *Note: Special admission rates apply at 5 p.m. when lights are switched on.
  • The Garden is CLOSED Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and the entire month of January.

Prices

  • Adults $8.75
  • Seniors 55+ $7.75
  • Children under 12 $4.50
  • Children under 5 Free
  • Dogs $4.50

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art welcomes all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of landscape. We explore the unfolding story of America by actively collecting, exhibiting, interpreting, and preserving outstanding works that illuminate our heritage and artistic possibilities.

— Crystal Bridges Mission Statement

During the fall of 2011 my home state of Arkansas became the talk of the art world. Everyone was discussing the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. It’s a museum that not only boasts a fabulous collection, but the architecture itself is an expression of art and certainly the grounds are a masterwork as well.

The first thing you’ll notice about the museum is the landscape, which covers 120 acres of woodland with 6 nature trails. The Ozark Mountain region is breathtaking at any time of the year, but I suggest visiting in October for the fall foliage or April when the dogwoods are in bloom.

The museum complex is nestled at the bottom of a ravine and is made up of a collection of buildings encircling a pond. Two glass-walled pavilions cross over the pond creating a circuit for visitors to follow. The architect, Moshe Safdie, selected materials for the exterior that blend into the woodland – copper roofs, concrete, and wood.

Housed inside the buildings are four galleries, a cafe, museum store, auditorium, library and, of course, art. The art collection is a survey of American art spanning from the Colonial period to contemporary works. There are well-known pieces such as Charles Willson Peale’s George Washington (ca. 1780 – 1782), Asher Brown Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849) and Andy Warhol’s Dolly Parton (1985) and lesser known diamonds-in-the-rough too.

As you walk through the galleries the scenery of the Ozark Mountains is always quietly in the background. Expansive glass walls offer views of the pond or valley and building materials such as wood beams recall the forest just outside. It truly is a combined experience of art and nature.

Whether you are passionate about art, nature or Americana a visit to Crystal Bridges is a must. It will be a trip to remember.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival

I hesitate to call eating locally produced foods a trend A) because I hope it’s more than a passing phase and B) because it’s not a new concept; we’re just finally making our way back to it.

Farmers markets are an obvious way to find ingredients grown or made in your area, but if you really want to get to know your food visit some of the food festivals going on in your state. All across the country celebrations are planned for regional specialties. Garlic, raspberries, bourbon, shrimp, corn and huckleberries are just a few of the honorees. Not only is it a fun and usually free way to spend the day, but you’ll learn more about locally produced food.

Here in Arkansas the pink tomato is so beloved it was designated the state’s official fruit in 1987. Of course we’ve been exalting the pink tomato long before it received its official title. The first Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival was in 1956 and now it’s the oldest continuously running festival in the state.

The week-long fete includes events such as a tomato packing contest, a 5K run/walk, fish fry, turtle races, carnival and a tomato eating contest, of course. It’s a fun way to spend a day and show support for a regional farming community.

To learn more about the Bradley County Tomato Festival visit BradleyPinkTomato.com.

Pink Tomato Varieties

  • Arkansas Traveler – Slicer, indeterminate, tolerates hot, dry weather
  • Bradley Heirloom – Slicer, indeterminate, good for canning and freezing
  • German Johnson – Slicer, indeterminate, tolerates humidity
  • German Queen – Beefsteak, indeterminate, low acid and meaty
  • Pink Brandywine – Beefsteak, indeterminate, a favorite for flavor
  • Pink Girl – Slicer, indeterminate, extra juicy
  • Porter Improved – Cherry, indeterminate, prolific

Good to Know:

Arkansas tomato farmer David Forrester says the way to determine if a pink tomato is ready for harvest is to look for a pale star on the bottom. Pick it before the star fills in with color.

Adventures in Arkansas

Oh my goodness! Did I have a great year last year touring and filming around the Natural State!

There are so many ways to spend affordable family vacations, romantic getaways or have a business meeting in Arkansas.

Here are three places that I can’t wait for you to go to and see for yourself! Go to some of or all of them and then tell me about your experiences at these destinations on my Facebook wall.

Lakeport Plantation, Lake Village, AR

Lakeport Plantation Arkansas

If you love old houses then go see Lakeport Plantation. This mansion is the last mostly unaltered colonial house on the Mississippi River in Arkansas lovingly restored as a wonderful museum. This historic late 1850s modified Greek Revival home is an official project of the Save America’s Treasures program through the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

We went and visited recently and the setting is sublime! This gem of a house in the plantation tradition has a columned double front porch that is sited in the middle of a cotton field facing the great Mississippi River. It is the quintessential Antebellum home.

The interior has 14′ tall ceilings that are capped around the room with enormous plaster moldings that have survived since 1858. There are 17 rooms and 13 fireplaces in an “L-shaped” layout with the original cast iron cookstove in the kitchen! Colossal faux-finished 10′ 8″ doors are topped with pediments making the openings appear 12′ tall! Many of the original furnishings were located from around the world and recovered from private collectors. Descendants of the original occupants, the Johnson family members, also pitched in to make the house as authentically furnished as possible. What an amazing feat!

Be sure to make this a stop on your traveling itinerary. More information on Lakeport Plantation.

Strawberry Fields at Holland Bottoms, Cabot, AR

Holland Bottom Strawberry Farm Arkansas

Did you know that Arkansas strawberry production is one of the tops in the Nation?? I am an avid berry lover and eating strawberries in any form, ranks right up there with breathing.

I was thrilled when I was able to visit with Larry Odom of the family owned Holland Bottom Farm. To produce a better quality of strawberries and to prolong their growing season they grow them on black plastic covered mounds. The plastic mulch aids ripening; increases air circulation which helps to prevent diseases and stops weeds from competing plus it makes it easier to harvest the berries. Young strawberry plants are planted during a narrow window in mid-October here in Cabot, AR. After planting they are carefully monitored over the winter.

The strawberry season normally begins in April and lasts till June. Their berries are renowned as the sweetest berries in Arkansas. I can’t argue with that, they really are delicious!

Be sure to plan to attend one of the annual Strawberry Festivals when in Cabot.

Once strawberry season ends then they home grow and sell summer fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, melons and 7 to 8 varieties of peaches. Plus they grow vegetables like cucumbers, okra, peppers, purple hull peas, squash, sweet corn, sweet onions and tomatoes. There’s a huge fireworks tent to celebrate the 4th of July holiday. Later in the fall they grow pumpkins, do hay rides on the weekends and sell straw and chrysanthemums.

I hope that you will all come to Holland Bottom Farm for all of your home grown fruits and vegetables, just maybe not have everyone arrive here at the same time.

Visit www.HollandBottomFarm.com/ for more information.

Loco Ropes

Loco Ropes in Arkansas

Yes it’s true! I finally went Loco – for Loco Ropes at Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, AR. It’s definitely a new perspective from which to experience a landscape. You have got to go!! The kids will love it, parents will love it; take a date — it’s definitely an ice-breaker! After the initial couple of hard gulps, I could not get enough of it. I have to say we laughed until our sides hurt. Loco Ropes is so fun but also such a cool thing to do any season of the year. Go each season to watch the change in color of the leaves and tree canopies. See LocoRopes.com to plan a day to visit the craft grounds, listen to some great music and swing in the trees!

These are just a few of the fun family attractions around the state. You can also enjoy activities like hunting and fishing, hiking and camping, exploring a real diamond mine, Civil War history and caves or attending festivals and annual events throughout the year! There is something to see and do for everybody!

I urge you to come to my state to explore the scenic beauty of the Natural State of Arkansas!

We Eat A Lot of Pie in Arkansas

I’ve heard that food and music hold the personality of a region most strongly. After a recent road trip  I feel safe in taking it one step further and specify that a local favorite dessert really shows off a place’s personality.

Whether they’re fruit, nut, cream, meringue or cheese, baked, fried or frozen — pies come in a dazzling range of combinations. We like our pie in the south. The baker who masters the perfect flour to butter ratio in a crust is spoken about with the utmost reverence, given a place of honor in the community and undoubtedly, asked to bring a pie to every gathering until the end of time. While pies can be graham cracker or cookie crusted, hot or cold, latticed or exposed on top, they must all be delicious to survive in these parts.

Now you’ve probably heard the phrase easy as pie, but I’m not a fan. It strikes me as flippant. The creation of pies shouldn’t be reduced to anything less than an art. Bakers mix a tremendous amount care, thought and tradition into their pies, and most of them have worked on their technique for years. Respect for my favorite dessert led me to travel from Little Rock to Northwest Arkansas along Highway 65 in a quest to experience Arkansas’ pies.

Banana Split Pie

We first stopped at the Wagon Wheel in Greenbrier. Restaurants like these work as anchors and a hub of community life in small towns€” a place to connect at lunch or celebrate with the team after a game. Don’t be fooled by this restaurant’s nondescript exterior. It boasts a spectacular spread and is known for its meringue pies. The bakers in this kitchen know how to whip egg whites and sugar into heavenly bliss. I had a banana split pie that had about three inches of meringue on top. So decadent!

Strawberry Pie

Every one of the restaurants we visited has a top pie, a pie that’s flavor is discussed like a legend, and at the Skylark Café© in Leslie, that pie is strawberry pie. Cool and refreshing with impeccable balance between sweet and tangy, this dessert is a summer staple not easily forgotten. The filling is just the right consistency, not too thick and packed with juicy strawberry pieces. I dined on the porch and took in the café©’s equally charming exterior. Originally a home, they remodeled the building into a restaurant, painted the outside turquoise with red trim and surrounded it with garden art and potted plants. Save me a seat on the porch. I’ll be back.

In addition to the sugary ecstasy, I also experienced a treat for the eyes. Highway 65 winds elaborately, offering dramatic views of the mountains and valleys, and the October leaf display has earned the region the nickname the New England of the Ozarks.

We detoured to Gilbert, an old railroad town with one sign that reads ‘population 33′ and another that reads ‘coolest in the state.’ They’re referring to temperature, but it works on multiple levels. The little town sits right on the edge of the pristine Buffalo National River. We had to pull over, not for pie, but for a view of the water.

The production crew and I stopped for lunch at Big Springs Barbecue in St. Joe after that, and I ate a bacon-filled sandwich€� It was nice to taste something fat-laden and savory to break up all the sweet. Plus they roast the meat themselves. I sampled an apple pie, and tried to wheedle the crust recipe out of the baker to no avail.

Apple Pie

In Jasper, we stopped at the Arkansas House, a restaurant that uses organic, locally produced ingredients, to learn the subtleties of the nut pie. Janet Morgan, the owner, showed me how to make her signature black walnut pie. Time, she said, makes all the difference between a mediocre dessert and a perfect dessert.

Black Walnut Pie

Unique Eureka

I’m lucky that my line of work enables me to travel all over the country, but some of my favorite trips have been to places right here in my home state of Arkansas. Recently I had the opportunity to visit northwest Arkansas and check out the hidden gem of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs. This town carved into a rocky ravine is on the national registry of historic places and is one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s top 12 distinctive destinations.

I love history so one of the first things I do when I visit a place is learn something about its past and Eureka Springs has quite a past. The town literally rose up out of the ground when people started converging on the area’s unique cold water springs. After the Civil War soldiers who had walked the land during the war came back to partake in the region’s healing waters – a treasure well known to the territory’s Native Americans. At the time medical treatments were limited and it wasn’t unusual for people to use natural healing waters as a treatment. In fact, it’s a tradition that goes back to biblical times and many still believe in the power of spring water today. In 1879 word began to spread about the springs and people started coming. And coming and coming. What was once wilderness went from a population of zero to 15,000 in one year and on July 4th, 1879 the members of the encampment decided to name the place Eureka Springs.

Now, you can’t go from zero to 15,000 without someone taking notice. Arkansas’ governor Powel Clayton recognized the potential of Eureka Springs as a tourist destination and set his mind to making it easier for folks to get there. On Valentine’s Day, 1880 the state of Arkansas declared Eureka Springs a city and by 1882 a rail line was built so people could get to it from anywhere in the country.

Not long after the railroad came to town the Crescent opened. This grand resort is perched at the top of the city and has the distinction of being the most haunted hotel in the United States. The oldest spirit in residence is that of a young Irish stone mason who died during construction of the building. Legend says he takes a particular shine to the ladies who stay in the hotel. Probably the largest number of ghosts arrived during the time when the hotel was a treatment center run by a charlatan who promised a cure for cancer.

In 1934 the Depression shuttered most of Eureka Springs including the Crescent Hotel. It sat empty until Norman Baker, a radio broadcaster with a good eye for a fast buck, purchased the building in 1937 and opened the Baker Cancer Cure Hospital. Baker bilked over $4 million from his clients before being arrested for mail fraud in 1940. Sadly many of the patients died under Baker’s care and some say they are still at the hotel. The Crescent sat empty through WWII and then in 1946 it was opened up again as a hotel. If scary is what floats your boat I suggest you take the Ghost Tour at the Crescent to learn about the hotel’s other-world guests. You’ll even get to visit the old Baker Hospital morgue in the basement.

In addition to a large population of ghosts Eureka is also home to a vibrant artists’ community and great restaurants. The area is well known for its rivers, hiking trails and lakes. Nearby Lake Leatherwood Park covers 1600 acres with an 85 acre spring fed lake formed by one of the largest hand cut lime stone dams in the country.

With its rich history and contemporary attractions, Eureka Springs is a fascinating and fun getaway.

Tulip Displays in Arkansas

Arkansas attracts travelers from all over the country with all the splendor the Natural State has to offer, especially in spring. The vivid blooms of tulips usher in the warmer months and knock out the remaining gray of winter.

Here are a few of the state’s most spectacular tulip displays:

Moss Mountain Farm

We’ve planted 8,000 tulip bulbs at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home this year. I choose an array of types, bloom times and colors, including: ‘Blushing Girl’, ‘Menton’, ‘Maureen’, ‘Negrita’, ‘Princess Irene’, ‘Queen of the Night’, ‘Daydream’, ‘Red Impression’, ‘Golden Parade’, ‘Apeldoorn’, ‘West Point’ and ‘Red Shine’. The vast diversity of tulips makes them one of my favorite flowers–€” I never get tired of growing them.

The tulip display makes April’s tours at the farm a real treat. One of the greatest joys of gardening for me is to share the beauty with visitors, making the tours of the farm very personally rewarding. There are four tours that will be available in April, the 4th, 5th, 11th and 25th. These give me a chance to meet fellow gardeners, poultry enthusiasts and flower lovers. Plus when I see visitors enjoying the farm, it renews it for me; I see it in a fresh light. Click here to learn more about visiting the farm.

Garvin Woodland Gardens

Garvin Woodland Gardens boasts a spectacular display of tulips every spring for its Tulip Extravaganza. This 210-acre garden, owned by the University of Arkansas, has planted 130,000 tulips of all types this year. Just outside of Hot Springs, a spa city famed for its purportedly healing waters, the garden makes for an excellent day trip. The tulips are planted in curving, full beds, blocked by their respective colors – pink, red, purple, orange and variegated – and surrounded with still-blooming daffodils and hyacinths. The sheer numbers overwhelm your senses with beauty, and it’s simply impossible to take a bad picture in these gardens. If you’re in Arkansas in the spring, this is a must-see. The Tulip Extravaganza is March 16 through April 16, 2013. Click here for details.

Downtown Little Rock

The streets of downtown Little Rock are bursting with pink and purple tulips this month. I partnered with the City of Little Rock this year to create March Tulip Madness, and we filled planters around downtown with 25,000 tulips bulbs as part of the city’s effort to revitalize downtown.

I choose a blend of three different types for the planters: ‘Menton’, ‘Pink Impression’ and ‘Negrita’, which when combined create a pleasing pink and purple display. These mid and late bloomers take full advantage of the season and make stunning streetscapes. Read about everything you can do in downtown Little Rock.

Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock

The Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock is another fantastic place to see tulips. The city planted 28,000 ‘Red Impression’ tulips this year. These bright flowers reach the peak of their blooming in late March and continue through early April. They are growing in beds and planters throughout the Arts District.

One of the most wonderful aspects of this display is that the majority were planted by 75 volunteers last fall during a tulip planting party. The Bank of America, the North Little Rock City Beautiful Commission and the Park Hill Garden Club partnered to sponsor this effort, and the red tulips paired with yellow spring flowers create a vivid contrast in the district’s streets. Find out what’s going on in Argenta.

Buffalo, Yoga and Black Walnut Pie

I recently spent a great couple of days around the Jasper area shooting some segments for an upcoming episode of my Garden Home television show. This scenic town is nestled in the Ozark Mountains and surrounded by the natural beauty of the Buffalo River.

The Buffalo River Valley

My trip included a stay at the historic Arkansas House. This inn is ideally located along scenic Highway 7 with easy access to both the Buffalo River and Ozark National Forest. Janet Morgan, owner of the Arkansas House with her husband, Joseph, graciously taught me how to make her famous Black Walnut Pie.

Janet showed me how to make the famous Arkansas House Black Walnut Pie.

I also visited with the Ratchford family on their farm. Originally founded in the 1950s, Ratchford Farms grazes buffalo, elk, and cattle on a 500 acre spread. The farm is located along the Buffalo River, which provides a beautiful area for the cattle to roam the open meadows and drink from pure spring water.

Jethro mugs for the camera and for a treat.

Finally, I visited with Holly and Matt Krepps, owners of the Circle Yoga Shala. They were kind enough to walk me around the 25 acre working homestead located on Shiloh Mountain. The property includes a fruit orchard, grape vineyard, pastures, and walking trails. They also showed me some easy, but beneficial yoga poses for gardeners.

A little yoga before gardening.

It was a wonderful trip and I highly recommend spending a few days in this beautiful part of our state.