I am honored to announce that our team has been selected as the 2019 Winner of two Taste Awards, and was nominated for a total of 9 awards this year. The Taste Awards is the entertainment industry’s awards body and red carpet event for television excellence in the Home and Lifestyle categories.
I want to thank the talented team at P. Allen Smith for their creative and dedicated work and to the Academy for this recognition, their commitment to television excellence, and their accomplishments advancing this category.
The P. Allen Smith team was previously inducted into the Taste Awards ‘Hall of Fame’ for television excellence and has won a total of 12 awards across 7 years. The winning episodes include work for our sponsor partners, landscape and garden design, horticulture and conservation topics.
I believe that there is a small part within each of us that is delighted each spring to see the first daffodils in bloom.
These certainly are among the bravest of flowers, one of the first to herald the arrival of spring, and often pressing on in the most inhospitable of weather conditions.
A cheerful mainstay at Moss Mountain Farm, each year these little perennial bulbs transform an ordinary farm field into an undulating golden blanket of bloom, all happening during a magical window of time that is mesmerizing. Over the course of their most floriferous month, March, these blooms reach a heightened pitch by mid-month with early and late bloomers extending the season by bookending the March crescendo.
However, I should say we have blooms as early as January and as late as the first week of May. This range of bloom time is less about the zone in which we garden, but more about the varieties or ‘cultivars’ of daffodils we have chosen. I have consciously and purposely stretched the season of bloom to almost five months on our zone 8 farm by choosing specific daffodils.
We always start with the arrival of Rynveld’s Early Sensation, as it’s a notoriously early bloomer. Some years it can be seen blooming the first week of January. We end the season with some unnamed tazetta types that have been at Moss Mountain since time in-memoriam, usually the first week of May. During this range of bloom, I have always tried to plant enough of a single variety for cutting and bringing indoors without making too much of a dent in the display. We use fresh flowers in the house constantly, and the daffodils can be a consistent source of bloom while many flowers are still fast asleep.
I prefer to pick in bundles of the same type and use them in a myriad of vase sizes. Simple and bold is best since this approach delights the eye. While wandering the fields at Moss Mountain Farm, you’ll see a pattern of planting where the bulbs are in natural drifts of like kind. These swaths reflect the notion of simple and bold in the landscape.
Each year we try to plant a few new varieties, including cultivars that are the ‘Johnny-come-latelies’ among narcissus hybridizers. Daffodils mainly come from Holland, but there are also English, Irish, and American breeders. One recent favorite of mine is a double type called Replete. It’s soft salmon and cream corona and cream collar are ideal for certain rooms in the house, and it’s always a delight to visitors when in bloom. In short, it looks like a yummy dessert. It’s worth mentioning that deer will not eat daffodils of any kind, as delectable as they may appear.
For the best selection of these newer varieties, the earlier in the season one can purchase the bulbs the better. The bulb catalogs start showing up just after Labor Day. I try to get my order in by late August or early September, but I’m not always that attentive. When I delay, I just cringe when the sight of ‘sold out’ inevitably appears over the new cultivars I’ve missed. Then it’s another year’s wait, at least, to see them leap off the pages of the catalog and into my garden.
However, bulb planting time can be more relaxed, if not forgiving. I’ve planted daffodils as early as October and as late, dare I say, as January. As long as the bulbs have been stored in a cool, dark place and haven’t gone soft, my recommendation is to get them into the ground. Also worth mentioning, while storing bulbs in a refrigerator is a good idea, they can be damaged when stored with produce. Apples seem to be the most egregious of fruits, emitting ethylene gas that will destroy the flower embryo.
Daffodils play well with others and make terrific company with other spring bulbs. On the front of the season they harmonize with crocus, and later it’s the Spanish Bluebells and Snowflakes you’ll find them singing among. Early perennials such as Phlox (Phlox subulata and divaricata), Heuchera, and Virginia Bluebells also play well with daffodils.
Each time you see daffodils this spring think about where you can add some in your garden, as they will bring you joy for years to come. If you get the itch to see lots of daffodils this spring, plan a visit to see us at Moss Mountain Farm in March.
January is an introspective month for me. I look inward and take solace in the quiet, winter landscape. I try to redirect the urge to jump up to getting things done and sitting in silence. It’s as though the earth is at rest and I am meant to be, too. Though the sky is clear and the infinite star-filled cosmos feels like it’s within my grasp, my tendency is to look down at the wonder beneath my feet at the delight any gardener or farmer; the soil. Good old terra firma or Mother Earth.
In fact, it’s during these cold weeks ahead we clean the barns and poultry houses mining the gold that’s built up over the previous seasons. Yes, manure, nutrient-rich, life-restoring manure. An inauspicious chore to some, but I actually look forward to this ritual because I have seen with my own eyes what it can do to my soil. It’s like an elixir or spring tonic that feeds an invisible universe below us. It’s the microbial activity that lies at the heart of creating healthy living soil.
My first memory of recognizing this power in the soil and manure, in particular, was when I was a little kid in the vegetable garden of my grandmother Smith. The generous vegetable patch was directly adjacent to a large barn with warm southwest exposure. Through the eyes of a child, her garden was different; the plants were larger and they seemed darker green and, well, it just appeared more alive.
You see, my grandparents, milked a small herd of dairy cows, mainly Jerseys and Guernseys each morning and evening. Of course, an important by-product of the rich milk was the manure from the cows. This black ‘gold’ was hauled from the hall and stalls of the barn into the garden and spread over fields in winter. But, it wasn’t until spring when it’s power was fully manifest in the plants that grew in what must have been, at least to me, the most verdant plot of ground on the planet.
I recall, in particular, the enormous leaves of the yellow crookneck squash and okra plants that made me feel lilliputian. Ma Smith directed me to gently twist and pull the young squash from the center of these colossal plants and place the vegetables into her basket. For a curious 3rd grader it was like a thrilling expedition into some mysterious tropical rain forest in search of rare gems. It was a space that stirred my imagination.
It would be many years later when I would fully understand what was going on in the soil that had made such an impression on me as a child. Oh, I had read insensitively through information on Sir Albert Howard and pored over his ‘Agricultural Testament’. But, after reading ‘Teaming with Microbes’ I became a total soil nerd. For months after reading the book twice over and raving on about the authors, Lowenfelds and Lewis, I recall friends politely asking me what I was currently reading… and I would say enthusiastically ‘Teaming with Microbes’ and then proceed to wear them out about the soil nutritional web beneath our feet. Nothing like the zeal of a new convert, right? As you can imagine, this did little to improve my social life.
Today, recognizing the importance of the complexity of our planet’s soil couldn’t be more important. I recently read an article by Heather Hansman about sustainability and our food system, it’s well worth a read. While it’s exciting that we are now finally reaching new levels of understanding out the complexity of the soil (it seems Ma Smith knew, at least intuited, it all the time). That universe in a teaspoon of soil is one of nature’s greatest marvels.
The message in this article took me back to this summer when I lead a road trip with friends through the great Mississippi Delta, known for its rich, deep alluvial soil, as bountiful as the Nile River delta of ancient times. Stopping along the way it was hauntingly silent, almost dead, yet we were among the verdant fields. The crops of soybeans, cotton, and corn, stretching as far as the distant horizon, without a single weed or a fence row among them. Every plant a clone of the other, all perfectly uniform. A very different scene than from my childhood or Ma Smith’s garden where weeds and fence row hedges shared space among the crops.
The difference today is the use of chemicals and genetically modified organisms, in the genetics of the food we eat or feed to livestock. The soil is being saturated year in and year out with petrochemical-based fertilizers and chemicals such as glyphosate (Round-up), dicamba and defoliants. The fence rows are all gone, in the name of greater efficiencies and yields.
Over the course of the 200 plus miles on a hot afternoon, as we traversed along with the Mississippi River levy, we saw just nine songbirds and only once did an insect hit our windshield. Remarkable. It was like a scene from Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestseller ‘Silent Spring’. A very different delta than I recall as a child when my brothers and I walked the fields quail hunting with my granddad. Then, the fence and hedgerows were intact and served as habitat for quail and other species. ‘Weeds’ grew in the fields that by today’s standards would be seen as unkempt and poor agricultural practices. But, be sure that those weeds play an important role in the larger ecology. Where are the bobwhite quail and other birds today? The proverbial canaries in the coal mine.
Sappy nostalgia for days gone by? I don’t think so. Destruction of the planet is going on around us at every turn and at a disturbing pace. Often in a veiled and silent way. In this time of retrospection, I often read the works of Wendell Berry, poet, farmer and environmental activist from Henry County, Kentucky. I find both comfort and discomfort in his words. A few years ago Robert Redford created a documentary called ‘Look and See’ about Wendell and his view on the world. The opening and trailer to the documentary is powerful; it’s a poem by Wendell himself set to video and read by him.
In this month, while the earth rests, look and see what’s around you. Look up at the mystery of the cosmos and reach down and marvel at a handful of soil. Find peace in silence.
This year’s family Christmas party was different. I guess it’s the way I’m seeing the world these days. It supported observations I’ve made and a view that I’ve been developing for a while. You see, by and large, everything was much the same as usual with our annual family gathering at the farm. A home-cooked meal was shared and enjoyed with all the holiday comfort foods of our ancestors. Much of the fare was from the farm itself, such as the turkeys, roasted hens, turnip greens, hot pepper sauce, green tomato chow chow and, of course, Josephine Foster’s cornbread dressing. And, as our tradition holds, it’s always pot-luck in the category of desserts. And, a very competitive sport I might add, with great aunts defending their titles and pitted against nieces and cousins vying for the most compliments. All great fun. Cousin Carmen won again this year, hands down, with her famous coconut cake (I’ll do what I can to squeeze the recipe from her for you). It rivals the coconut cake at The Peninsula Grill in Charleston.
What caught my attention this year is something we rarely see these days, and that is a gathering of people, a community if you will, of multiple generations. Out of the 109 guests (a record-breaker) five generations were present, with ages ranging from 3 to 93 years of age. They had come from far and wide to carry on a tradition that was started by my great-grandparents during the 1920’s, the Foster Family Christmas gathering. In those early days, it was held on Christmas Eve and that tradition carried on until my great grandmother, Josephine Crutchfield Foster, died. Today we gather in the same spirit of fellowship, telling family stories and just spending time together, but these days it’s held the weekend before Christmas and at Moss Mountain Farm.
The great diaspora of families in this country seems to be at an all-time high. In our isolated family gathering alone there were kinsmen from six states, and as far away as Washington state. To further underscore the far-flung, cousin Tim couldn’t make it in time, as he was returning from Antarctica (not the place he calls home, but on assignment with Nat Geo). But, you see my point, due to multiple factors we are all living in a dispersed and fractured world. The reasons are many – jobs, educational opportunities, technology, health conditions the list goes on. Also, our obsession and dependence on the automobile and the ways communities are designed and built have spread us all hither and yon. When I really stop and think about it the reunion/party this year and those in attendance was something of a Christmas miracle.
But, this huge cultural shift is broader than what might be observed as a ‘one-off’ holiday phenomenon. It is simply a microcosm that demonstrates a larger need in the culture. Clearly we want and need to be together, increasingly so. There is something deep within us that is longing for togetherness. I see it everywhere. This lack of connectivity impacts our everyday lives. None more than the youngest and most senior in our society. Bringing together these two extremes of ages in our population is essential. We are losing something of great value when the young cannot be influenced by the older generation’s wisdom, life history, and experience. The knowledge that my great grandmothers and grandparents passed on to me has been invaluable throughout my own life.
On the flip side, the curiosity, energy, and vitality of youth bring a certain joy and inspiration to older members of our society. The younger members bring on new ideas and ways of seeing the world. Their idealism and energy is refreshing and hopeful to older generations. For example, one little cousin has inspired the entire family with her love of animals and birds. The older generations love to hear about her discoveries, experiences, and accomplishments, and she is only 11 years old. Self-esteem and confidence are bolstered in the child, and inspiration and wonder is incited in the older generations through this simple example of the importance of multi-generational connectivity.
Then there is technology. Only time will tell where it takes us. Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, FaceTime, etc. all have moved swiftly and deeply into our personal lives. Be certain that none of these platforms singularly or collectively are ANY substitute for the simple notion of being together and communicating face to face, one on one. The great irony for me, in this world we call the Information Age, is that real and meaningful communication between humans seems to have suffered, not improved. Today there appears to be more miscommunication, misunderstanding, and disconnection than ever before. I know plenty who now only communicate via text, instant messenger, or email. These forms of communication are seen by them, I suppose, as more efficient. Hardly the case, I say, more mistakes, misconceptions, and miscommunications are the rule rather than the exception. And, more often than not, leading to more wasted time and mind-share in the attempts to sort out the ensuing entanglements of not speaking directly. A disturbing trend, indeed.
Creating places and spaces that encourage, if not invite, people of all ages to experience more meaningful time together is a step in the right direction. This, no doubt will take time. Yet I’ve seen this happen at Moss Mountain Farm, another small example for the desire for connecting that has happened very quickly. Each year guests from around the country gather at the farm as a form of ‘community,’ where they spend time together, walk among nature and the gardens, dine with one another, and hopefully leave feeling reconnected, perhaps even making some new friends along the way. The family Christmas party, like our farm tour visitation, seems to grow in numbers each year. This is a constant reminder to me that we all need forms of togetherness, connection, and community.
Happily, during these visits when everyone is together, rarely is anyone on their phones, with the exception of capturing a few photographs of one another in a place that invites living in the moment and being together. Another hopeful sign.
As we look into 2020 I’ll be looking into various forms of community, human and otherwise. It’s an important concept that impacts so many aspects of life. I hope you’ll share your observations and thoughts along the way.