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.
Partnering with Leaders to Improve our Communities.
First Community Bank’s and P. Allen Smith’s ‘Bloom With Us’ Pollinator Program
Pollinators are a Critical Component of Our Food Chain
Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bumble bees are beautiful additions to the garden — animating space and bringing additional life and color. But did you know that they are also incredibly useful? Actually, critical to our survival? Pollinators are not only important for preserving the health of our gardens, but they also play an important role in connecting necessary links in our food chain.
Just How Important Are Pollinators to the Food Chain?
In Fact, the Pollinator Partnershipreports that every one out of three bites of food we consume is brought to us by a Pollinator. Thats pretty important! In addition to flower pollination, our small friends play a critical role with the production of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fibers, raw materials and 1/2 of the oils we consume–in sum, over 1,200 crops we eat are helped by a pollinator. Pollinators are also good for the planet: they help fight soil erosion by keeping plants healthy and proliferating, and even help with the air we breathe by increasing carbon sequestration. Nearly all plants (between 75% and 95%) require the help of pollinators for healthy functioning. Wow!
What is a Pollinator?
We typically think of Pollinators as handsome bumble bees. The Italian bumble bees kept at Moss Mountain Farm, for example, are a picturesque addition to our landscape. They dutifully work nearly year-round (and without complaint!) bringing the most soothing and light buzz to our Hollies, Hydrangeas, and our Ornamental Vegetable Garden. But did you know that there are many other species of pollinators beside the fashionable bumblebee and butterfly? For example, bats (yes the ones that fly in the air at night), flies, beetles, wasps (this may also surprise some readers) and many small mammals are all pollinators. How can this be (pun intended)?
At their core, pollinators drink or feed off the nectar of plants and then transport plant pollen from one spot to another as they move about. As they move about, pollen inevitably makes its way from plant to plant and pollination ensues.
How Can We Save the Pollinators?
The Pollinator Partnershiphas done very good work in raising awareness. Their primary suggestion is one I agree with — we must all play our part. This includes home owners, local governments, and the companies who operate in our communities.
Corporate and Community Leadership in Saving Our Pollinators
That is why I am excited to work with First Community Bank. They are making important investments to improve the health of pollinators across the Arkansas and Missouri region. And, impressively, this dedication comes from the top. The Chairman & CEO of First Community Bank, Dale Cole, is a visionary who is passionate about the health of our region. It was a no brainer when he shared with me his commitment to our communities that we could do incredible work together.
Now, in over 23 locations we have crafted beautiful pollinator hot spots — refuges that help our hard working friends and the plant life of the surrounding communities. We hope you will consider supporting First Community Bank in their mission and also making your neck of the world a little more friendly for our hard working pollinators.
To learn more about the P. Allen Smith-First Community ‘Bank Bloom With Us’ Pollinator Garden Program, please see this short video I put together:
You may have seen a posting I blogged about earlier this year, if you would like to read it again, just click here. I hope that other Arkansas and Missouri business and community leaders will take inspiration from First Community Bank’s lead and consider similar community investments.
September 2019 Pollinator Program Update
This September I was excited to join our friends in Jane, MO and Neosho, MO to share my passion for saving our Pollinators, and to explain my design team’s partnership with First Community Bank.
I met with Josh Tate, First Community Bank’s Chief Marketing Officer, early on Saturday 14th, 2019 at Crowder College to set the stage for the morning’s meet and greet and presentation. Thanks Josh for helping bring the day together!
I also want to thank the hard-working volunteers from First Community Bank for putting together a filling breakfast and preparing tables and pollinator starter kits for the morning’s attendees! Everything looked great!
These ladies know how to get it done — thank you!
Guests were provided with a ‘Bloom with Us’ bag to show their support….
….and a Pollinator Gardeners Starter Seed Kit (with some additional goodies for the ride home)…sometimes, I too, splurge on the sugar!
And, as I think it is important that we inspire the next generation of gardeners and leaders to support the work we are putting in place now, guests were also given a copy of my coloring book! I think this is great for children of all ages — even I enjoy some downtime coloring.
After my presentation, I answered questions from our enthusiastic crowd, made new friends, and congratulated the winners of a surprise floral giveaway.
It was a fun time and I look forward to returning to Jane soon!
Later that day, I was treated to a festive dinner reception sponsored by the business leaders from the Neosho Chamber of Commerceand First Community Bank. Lauri Lyerla shared with me many of the exciting business developments taking place in Neosho and her love of the community. She is doing an amazing job as the Executive Director and her enthusiasm is contagious!
First Community is doing great things to support the strong environmental, civic, and floral (one of my favorite subjects) traditions of the Neosho area. Did you know the Neosho is home to the world’s largest flower box? Its true! (for more details, click here). Neosho has a captivating story of community involvement and citizens banding together to insure the long-lasting beauty of their streets and neighborhoods. Flower boxes abound — I give this community’s efforts and commitments two thumbs up!
The Neosho story was shared with me by Stuart Pucket (SVP & Senior Credit Officer of First Community Bank and Neosho Chamber of Commerce Board of Director) and his lovely wife. We paused for a quick shot before entering the event space at Hidden Grace.
Hidden Grace’s Owner, Chris, shared with me her excitement for the P. Allen Smith-First Community Bank pollinator program and the beautifying traditions in Neosho before we sat down to dinner.
A lovely table was set by our hosts.
I love assigned, personalized seating.
Just before we sat down for our meal, I shared with the gathering our insights about Pollinators, what can be done, the good work of First Community Bank and our pollinator program at Moss Mountain Farm.
James and I had the pleasure of dining with one of Neosho’s most fascinating conversationalists, the talented David O’Neill of the Joplin Globe.
As you can see good will and food were both abundant!
I must admit there was a little-itty bit of wine served and I may have had a ½ a glass (or so) — mild shenanigans may have ensued.
Before dinner time, I checked out First Community Bank’s Neosho downtown location…I wanted to get a good look before the event began!
I must admit, I am impressed with these window boxes! It has been a joy to design each unique location!
What You Can Do to Support Pollinators
Pollinators need our help and anything each of us can do make a difference. As I mentioned earlier, the Pollinator Partnership organization is doing an A+ job in educating the public, please consider one of their recommendations, which is one I feel strongly about, and that is creating pollinator habitats in your home and community.
I have dedicated a large part of our plantings, adapted our gardening techniques, and make special efforts to make Moss Mountain Farm–my home–as friendly to pollinators as we can. This has been a life-long passion of mine, and becomes increasingly an issue I discuss publicly and suggest to my (very discerning) landscape design clients.
If you would like to go deeper into horticultural care (you know I love this stuff), see my YouTube video on caring for Pollinator Friendly Summertime Annuals:
And, I know there are a lot of gold-star students who follow our work, for these special gardeners, I have crafted a video that goes further still into supporting pollinators, I highly recommend it:
If you happen to live close to the Ozark’s (Fayetteville, AR specifically), there is a great pollinator resource in your backyard! I visited with Charlotte Taylor of the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks to learn more about their Pollinator Program — if you are a college student or live nearby, check them out and see my video on their program below:
If you are new, or if this all might be a little overwhelming, then may I suggest the following video that discusses how you might start small? Its great for intimate gardens and makes a big impact.
Lastly, if you are making a large green improvement to your property and need a hardy and pollinator-friendly bush, as I have done extensively at Moss Mountain Farm, then may I suggest the following video. The bush profiled in this video can be grouped in small or large massings depending on individual site need:
I appreciate all the work my friends are doing to help pollinators, thank you and know your example makes a difference — spread the word!
Engaging the Next Generation of Landscape Designers and Landscape Architects in Atlanta
Georgia Tech, Atlanta GA
Allen Smith and Lew Oliver were excited to engage and review the work of talented graduate students at the Georgia Tech School of Architecture. On April 5th, Allen and Lew joined Ellen Dunham-Jones to review and critique students on their current work. The focus was reimagining an underutilized asset of Atlanta, turning a lost opportunity into an improvement for local residents and pedestrians. Allen and Lew’s visit allowed for cross pollination of ideas and inspiration for industry veterans, practitioners, students and academics.
Such engagements bring private business to the halls of education and benefit both parties. The students learn from practicing professionals the insights from the many job sites and environments Allen and Lew have encountered, and the students are able to share cutting edge technologies and techniques not widely adopted. The result is a stronger foundation for both parties to design and improve the built landscape.
Environmental preservation and cultural conservation are both very important to P. Allen Smith and Lew Oliver, who frequently partner on development projects throughout the United States.
Mentorship is critical for knowledge transfer, forging relationships and developing new solutions. Please consider sharing your talents with promising students in your region. See images from the day below:
Allen, Lew Oliver and Ellen Dunham-Jones at the Georgia Tech School of Architecture.
P. Allen and a student review a landscape design–Allen firmly believes in the importance of hand drawing as part of the design process.
Lew Oliver and Ellen Dunham-Jones review important site characteristics students considered in their design solutions.
Lew Oliver shares his design solutions with students during the critique session.
An interior shot of the Georgia Tech School of Architecture–inspired design inspires us all!
P. Allen Smith Speaks at Texas Design Week and Flower Magazine’s Design in Bloom Event, Houston (March 2019).
The P. Allen Smith team was excited to participate in Flower Magazine’s “Design in Bloom” symposium at the Houston Design Center.
Allen arrives at the Houston Design Center bright and early to meet the Flower Magazine team to prepare for the event. The talented Julie Durk can be seen in beautiful pink to the left.
Allen discusses garden design and furniture at the Houston Design Center. Lee Industries is a favorite vendor of Allen’s, with their work featured prominently at Moss Mountain Farm.
This event was a component of Texas Design week and supported by both Flower Magazine and Paper City.
Allen Smith joined a talented group of fellow designers including Bunny Williams, Jeffrey Dungan, and Ariella Chezar, with moderation by the floral queen–Margot Shaw.
Allen poses with fellow speakers prior to the design panel discussion. Moderation by Margot Shaw.
Margot introduces P. Allen Smith.
The panelists discuss their favorite flower! Guess which one is Allen’s (in March)?
…think you know the answer? See Allen’s response below…
And, in case you were wondering how Allen keeps flowers blooming throughout season in Arkansas, he reveals his secret weapon in the clip below:
Allen discusses his relationship with the land and importance of conservation:
Allen poses with the talented team at Thorntree Slate & Marble at Jeffrey Dungan’s presentation.
Allen posing with a new friend (with Arkansas connections) before his presentation. Always nice to connect the dots!
Margot Shaw of Flower Magazine introduces Allen.
Allen hanging out with a few new friends prior to his presentation, Houston is so friendly!
Jessica of Flower Magazine was incredible and made sure all the technology was perfectly handled — thank you, Jessica!
Allen discusses the design of the front door of Moss Mountain Farm and working with decorative materials in a creative and authentic manner.
Allen discusses how he color blocks with SunPatiens at Moss Mountain Farm.
…and a description of using SunPatiens — amazing for punches of color…
Allen also colorblocks with his favorite March flower — the Daffodil!
As a long term passion of Allen’s, poultry also has a long and distinguished history. Allen explains to the gathering poultry’s Royal background and also his commitment to building trans-Atlantic preservation relationships.
Allen introduces two important Moss Mountain Farm personalities–our two Scottish Terriers–Culzean and Chatsworth!
Allen explains the design inspiration of the architecture of Moss Mountain Farm
Allen poses with new Houston friends who were able to buy the very last book available for signing!
The talented Jeffrey Dungan presents several of his award winning projects around the country.
Bunny Williams takes stage.
Bunny discusses the importance of unique pieces with her interior designs.
Margot introduces Ariella Chezar.
Allen discusses Margot Shaw’s beautiful new book, Living Floral. P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm Ferme Ornee property is profiled.
Thank you to the PaperCity, Flower Magazine, Houston Design Center, Post Oak Hotel and Texas Design week professionals and volunteers who made this an enjoyable, stimulating and creative event!