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Daffodils on my Mind

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.

‘Replete’ Double Daffodil

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. 

Manure and other Winter Thoughts

 

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.

Click here to read.

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.

 

 

 

P. Allen Smith

Reflecting on the Winter Solstice

Today marks the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. As I stood beneath that great oak at 5:00 this morning looking into the clear dark sky, illuminated with the glittering cosmos above, I wondered about the year ahead (all while wrangling two Scottish Terriers). To a farmer, this is the beginning of the new year, when the light begins to increase. Light, water and soil, make the elixir of this creation we all depend upon on. I never cease to marvel and stand in awe of its magnitude.

We have attempted to reflect that same cosmos above from below in our small field of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs. They, like the stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies are cast across the field in seeming randomness, yet set in their own order. Our own earthbound little ‘Milkyway’, if you will. I am so relieved to have them now all snuggly in the ground for their winter nap.

This year only 12,000 daffodils were planted, when in years past it has been as many as 75,000, which is, by the way, utter madness. That year I recall wishing I’d never see another daffodil bulb again (my back ached for a month) as the last ones finally made it into the ground as late as mid-January. Late for us, nonetheless they performed without hesitation, although late in flowering. This is always the case. Even bulbs of the same cultivar when newly planted will bloom a week or two later than their same counterparts that may have been planted for several years.

The lambs are adorable, three more now have been born as we close the chapter on autumn officially. Every guest to the farm falls in love with them. Their innocence and purity are symbolic of the season. It’s certainly the ewes and their protective nature that captures my attention. Ever watchful and quickly taking a defensive stance and stomping their feet whenever I approach their young.

The dogs, too, (Smudge and Squeak) keep an ever-watchful eye on the lambs as they rest, frolic and nurse. Smudge and Squeak are Anatolian shepherd dogs, from the mountains of Turkey. Not herders, but protectors. Deep in their DNA lies this need to oversee and guard what they see as theirs. We are grateful for their teamwork with ‘Moose’ our donkey.

We cut a load of greenery for the ladies of the flower guild yesterday and got it to the church. It’s an annual tradition to share the bounty of the farm in the way of pine, cedar, magnolia, holly, and mistletoe. Over the years I’ve added lots of good plants for cutting, but particularly during the Holidays.

My view of what ‘works’ for the Holidays has expanded. Now we use more of everything, which makes decorating so much more interesting. The compositions have become more like botanical studies with the use of lichens, osmanthus, camellia, acuba, ruscus, and hellebores, to name a few. Keeping nature close to us in all its rich manifestations as part of celebrating the season is important to me.

Later today the farm will again host our annual family Christmas party. It’s been going on since my great grandparents started the tradition as a young couple before the Great Depression. This year, according to my Great Aunt (the family’s official social secretary) we will have over 100 for lunch, all with lots of fellowship and laughs.

I’ll enjoy some solitude later in the day with a walk around the farm at dusk. The winter sunsets are yet another glory to behold.

Decking the Halls at Moss Mountain Farm

Christmas at Moss Mountain Farm is a busy time of the year. We enjoy receiving guests throughout the season and sharing the beauty of this special time.

Planning holiday themes and decorations begins in early fall and I’m always trying new approaches to decking the halls from one year to the next. No matter how early I plan, it does seem like it always is in some ways a scramble.

Use a combination of faux and real greenery to create garlands and wreaths.

I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian when it comes to seasonal decor of any kind. For me, it must flow with the design and colors of the rooms of the house, and for that matter, the exterior as well. So what if the traditional colors of the season are red and green? If these ‘status quo’ colors don’t harmonize with your home, move past them unapologetically!

The real creative fun for me begins when integrating ‘this and that’ – and anything goes (from persimmons to taxidermy); provided colors, texture and forms harmonize and create visual interest, the occasional ‘wow’ moment. My mantra has always been use the ordinary to create the extraordinary.

Taxidermy swans greet visitors in the foyer.

And then there’s that use, reuse and recycle part of me. It’s a voice from my past, you know those old tapes playing in our heads from our mothers and grandmothers: Don’t throw anything away, you just might need that some day. Use it again and again. It’s an addiction that may eventually lead you in a 12 step program for hoarding. But, I will say, coming from a long and distinguished line of ‘pack rats’ has come in handy. We have used the same silver bowls, cone wreaths and various ‘bits and bobs’ of bling for years. Always used in a slightly different way each year.

I love a well-set table for special occasions, well for that matter, anytime. Don’t you? It seems to have gone the way of good manners and curiosity these days. I know it seems to be passé with the younger set to drag out all that old dining accoutrement, but I like it. Our old dishes are a mish-mash of gathered and inherited. Yes, it’s a place where Williams Sonoma meets Old Paris cups and 19th century Coalport. Oh, what the heck…they all play well together!

Don’t bow to convention. Take a look outside and in your attic and then get creative and have some fun.

Arkansas Holiday Attractions You Won’t Want to Miss

I may be partial, but I think Arkansas has some of the coolest attractions around, especially during the Holidays. It’s a special place year round, but as the Holidays approach you can find plenty of unique events and attractions you won’t find anywhere else.

If you’re looking for a special way to celebrate this year, I encourage you to join us at Moss Mountain Farm for a Holiday tour, and while you’re in the area try to catch some of the other interesting events and attractions Arkansas has to offer.


Holiday Tours at Moss Mountain Farm

Roland, AR 

December 5 – 12, 2019

Deck the halls with a special Holiday lunch tour of Moss Mountain Farm this season! Get into the Christmas spirit with a tour of my Jefferson-inspired Arkansas farm home while it is decked out for the Holidays. Experience a guided exploration of the terraced gardens overlooking the Arkansas River, the English rose garden, and ornamental one-acre vegetable garden. Take a stroll through Poultryville, where you may see your favorite animals from Allen’s television show — Trudy, Moose, Smudge & Squeak and Amos, just to name a few.

For lunch, savor a Seasonal Salad from my cookbook, Seasonal Recipes from the Garden. Dessert will be the famous buttermilk pecan pie with homemade whipped creme.

Gift someone special the experience of Moss Mountain Farm this Holiday season. Better yet, join them on a tour and make memories that will last a lifetime!

Click here to view dates and tickets.

 

North Forest Lights at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Bentonville, AR 

October 26, 2019 – February 16, 2020

While you can catch this event through the Holidays and into February, North Forest Lights is an experience you don’t want to miss. An artistic light and sound experience in the middle of the North Forest, this exhibition is unlike anything Crystal Bridges has ever presented before. Five distinct installations bring the forest to life with light, sound, and sensory effects in a captivating, family-friendly experience.

Crystal Bridges partnered with Montreal-based multimedia and entertainment studio Moment Factory to bring this concept to life. Each installation that visitors will experience on their walk through the Ozark woods translates nature’s secret music and hidden communication into a symphony of light and sound. North Forest Lights invites people to reconnect with nature and art while helping them to feel part of it.

Visit crystalbridges.org for tickets and more information.

 

Caroling in the Caverns

Blanchard Springs Caverns, Fifty-Six, AR

November 29 – December 22, 2019

Marvel at the beauty of astonishing natural formations coupled with the sounds of carols resounding through the caverns at Blanchard Springs. Musicians perform your favorite old-time Christmas songs for a magical Holiday experience you have to see and hear to believe.

Shows are every Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting November 29. Each show seats 100 people and they fill up quick, so get tickets while you can.

Visit yourplaceinthemountains.com for tickets and more information.

 

Holiday Lights at Garvan Woodland Gardens

Hot Springs, AR

November 23 – December 31, 2019

The most celebrated outdoor Holiday light display in Arkansas opens at Garvan Woodland Gardens the Saturday before Thanksgiving, running through New Year’s Eve. Garvan Gardens is a sight to behold any time of year, but during the Holidays these tranquil gardens are transformed into a magical winter wonderland aglow with over 4.5 million lights in a myriad of natural settings.

Features include the luminescent Garden of the Pine Wind, the 50-foot tall Holiday Tree which plays holiday tunes animated to a light show, the Parterre garden on the Great Lawn, and traditional holiday scenes in the woodlands. Conclude your walking tour with free hot chocolate.

Visit garvangardens.org for tickets and more information.

 

The Capital Hotel

Little Rock, AR

The Capital Hotel is known as Little Rock’s “front porch”, a beacon to southern culture, since President Grant stayed as a guest in 1876. Opened in 1870, this Downtown landmark has been the “Grand Dame” of downtown life in Little Rock for well over a century. Located only 2 blocks from the Old State House and a 15-minute walk from Riverfront Park, it’s a perfect place to stop while exploring Downtown Little Rock.

The Capital features a bevy of popular Holiday events throughout December which typically sell out quickly,  including a Tree Lighting Ceremony, Storytime with Santa, Lunch with Mr. & Mrs. Claus and more. Even if you can’t catch one of their Holiday events, it’s worth stopping by the hotel to dine at One Eleven at the Capital or enjoy a drink at the Capital Bar & Grill. Get into the Holiday spirit by catching one of many performances by local choirs in the hotel December 9-19.

Visit capitalhotel.com for more information.

 

Bright the Night at Capitol Plaza

Little Rock, AR

November 25, 2019

Kick off the holiday season with Bright the Night – a lighting ceremony for downtown Little Rock’s public tree at Capitol Plaza. This is the perfect way to experience the sights and sounds of downtown Little Rock during the Holidays. The celebration will take place at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Main Street and will feature festive music from Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

The lighting ceremony begins at 6 PM, and to make the event more sustainable, this year’s tree is coming from Bemis Tree Farm, right here in Pulaski County, and will be replanted following New Year’s Day. Enjoy hot chocolate and cookies, and bring your little ones for a photo with Santa Claus. Best of all, the event is free to attend.

Visit downtownlr.com for more information.

 

Growing Dragon’s Breath Celosia

I’m always looking for plants that can provide interesting color in both the garden and home, particularly during the fall. One of my favorites in recent years is Dragon’s Breath Celosia.

It’s akin to cockscomb, but what’s so unique about this particular variety of celosia is that it features both fiery red plumes as well as beautiful red foliage.

These plants, which can be started from seed, grow to be about 20-24” and add plenty of drama to the autumn landscape. I like to use them in borders, but they also work great as a container plant. Planted by itself in a container, you get that huge pop of color, but it also works well paired with other sun-loving plants.

Not only does Dragon’s Breath brighten up the garden, it also makes an unusual and interesting cut flower. I like to pair these deep-red, feathery blooms with marigolds and ornamental grasses for the perfect fall arrangement.

Below are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way since I’ve incorporated this stunning plant into my fall garden.

  • Dragon’s Breath can take the heat and is incredibly low-maintenance, which is perfect for my zone 8 garden. It likes full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sun per day.
  • Keep young plants well-watered. However, once established, Dragon’s Breath is incredibly drought-tolerant. Simply ensure that you provide plenty of water during hot, dry periods in order to get as many blooms as possible.
  • You may feel reluctant about cutting the blooms off of this beautiful plant, but it will continue producing blooms and the plant will grow larger throughout the fall season.

Learn more about Dragon’s Breath Celosia by watching the video below!

 

Blending Art and Nature at Crystal Bridges

I recently got a chance to visit the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR. It was not my first visit to Crystal Bridges, but I find that you can visit the museum several times and never run out of new things to see.

I was able to catch two of their newest exhibitions that are on view this summer, Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment and Color Field. Both of these exhibitions blend art and nature, and I was thrilled to be able to experience them.

Viewing “George Washington at the Battle of Princeton” by Charles Willson Peale

Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment explores the connection between art and nature. The exhibition examines American art and its impact on shaping environmental understanding and stewardship, tracing 300 years of evolving ideas about the relationship between humans and the natural world. Nature’s Nation features 100 artworks by renowned artists such as Thomas Moran, Frank Lloyd Wright, Dorthea Large and more.

I’ve always been inspired by classic American art, and I found it fascinating to explore all the different ways nature influences art through this impressive collection of American works.

Color Field is a new outdoor exhibition featuring large, colorful sculptures against the lush backdrop of the Ozark forest. The exhibition invites viewers to engage all the senses for an immersive experience that explores the impact color has on our lives. Featured works include Spencer Finch’s Back to Kansas, a billboard-sized grid derived from the artist’s repeated viewings of The Wizard of Oz, as well as Sam Fall’s interactive sculptures that welcome viewers to explore color through sight and sound. Color Field is accompanied by soundscapes created by Arkansas-based composer Amos Cochran, featuring synthetic tones and abstract sounds that add to the dream-like, whimsical experience of the exhibition.

Visiting with three young fans in front of “Back to Kansas” by Spencer Finch

This exhibition is perfect for all ages, and will capture the imagination of adults and children alike. Wandering through the Ozark forest and happening upon these large-scale, colorful works of art in a natural setting is truly an experience like no other.

You can catch both Nature’s Nation and Color Field at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art this summer. To learn more about the museum or purchase tickets, visit crystalbridges.org.

To see more from my visit to Crystal Bridges, check out the videos below.

 

Decorative Finishes and Fooling the Eye

While designing my home at Moss Mountain Farm, my vision was to build a greek revival home that looked as if it had been built in the 1840’s. However, I wanted it to utilize modern, green technology so the home would be environmentally-friendly. We faced the unique challenge of building something that was new, but looked convincingly old.

One important element of this design was the front door of the home. For this task, I brought in David Zoellner, and amazingly talented artisan who specializes in the ancient art of decorative finishes.

We started with an ordinary Spanish Cedar door, and by using an incredibly detailed graining technique, David was able to completely transform the door into what looks exactly like Cuban Mahogany.

Using his unique skillset, David can take ordinary materials and transform them into something extraordinary. He uses graining, marbleizing, and gilding techniques to create finishes that are virtually impossible to distinguish as faux.

This art form has been around for ages. Great painters of Europe used marbleizing techniques on wood to create the appearance of marble with great detail. These techniques were often used throughout the 1840’s in homes and other buildings, since materials like marble and fine wood were difficult to come by, and were often expensive.

Unfortunately, like many great forms of art, these techniques have been nearly lost in the modern age. Thankfully, David is passing his considerable knowledge to the next generation, his son and protege Jesse Zoellner. David and Jesse travel the country with their ancient skill set of creating decorative finishes.

To contact or see more of David Zoellner’s work, visit his website.

To learn more about decorative finishes, check out the video below!

 

Our Peony Garden: 7 Tips for Success

I’m a hopeless collector….of everything; you name it. Books, funky art, even funky friends, chickens, daffodils and lots of other flowers.

So, it’s easy to understand why I’d be be drawn to peonies too…like, in a big way. They are truly the queen of the flowers. You know, those kinds of flowers that evoke that… ‘Oh! Be still my heart’ kind of moments in life when you see them.

Allen with fresh cut peonies at Moss Mountain Farm

I’ve planted peonies in fits and starts my whole life, but mainly for others. Occasionally you’ll find a design client with enough space and passion for the flower to really go all out, but those are fairly uncommon these days. For the most part, many gardeners want a few in the garden integrated among other perennials, and I will be the first to say there is nothing wrong with that. Peonies, any way you want to grow them, get my attention and full support. However, I will say that over the years I’ve learned a few things about harnessing my enthusiasm and succumbing to my weaknesses…peonies being one of them. Perhaps the most important lesson in order to avoid heartache, no matter the scale of your planting, is to get it right the first time. So last year, true to my uncontrollable and unbridled passions, I embarked on a garden of 360 peonies from Gilbert H Wild. Yep… 360 plants ( tubers), 36 varieties, 10 each. The results were spectacular.

Peony Garden at Moss Mountain Farm

Here are some of my notes and takes aways from the field to consider if you’re serious about peonies. Hopefully, you’ll find them helpful:

  1. They don’t like to be disturbed. So plant them in a good place and leave them. So what’s a good place you might asking. Well, full sun or a spot with at least six hours of sunlight. I prefer morning light over hot afternoon. They need good average soil that drains well. Peonies do not like ‘wet feet’, so plant in well-draining soil or else the tubers will surely rot. And don’t scrimp on adding good amendments to the soil, like plenty of humus and well-rotted manure (Yeah, manure. Go make a friend with a farmer).
  2. Let’s face it, these flowers are extremely ephemeral, like most beauty. So plant multiple varieties that bloom early, mid and late in the season. This will extend the blooming season and your joy. And stop complaining about how the flowers don’t last long! Enjoy the moment and be content. Years ago a customer came into our nursery and wanted a landscape that was evergreen, bloomed all year and was low maintenance. I suggested they move to another hemisphere, perhaps near the equator or take up residency on another planet.

    ‘Krinkled White’ Peony
  3. Buy nice tubers (as I said, ours all came from Gilbert H Wild and Son) with 4 to 5 eyes and take your time planting them.
    Don’t skimp on size, or if you do, don’t complain if they don’t bloom the first year. And, don’t plant the tubers too deep. The eyes are red and needn’t be too deep underground. In the North, deeper planting is advised, but here in the South, I’ve only covered the eyes with about 1/2 inch of soil with great success.

    Peony tuber from Gilbert H. Wild

     

  4. Choose varieties suited to your climate. Peonies, by their very nature, prefer a cold winter. So if you live in Minnesota you probably grow amazing Peonies, but not so much in Texas. Sorry, it’s just a fact of life. Look at it this way, you don’t see fields of Texas bluebonnets in St. Paul, Minneapolis, right? So, it’s a trade off, like so much of life. I will say, however, I’ve found that the early bloomers perform the best in my zone 8a garden. Old standbys like ‘Festiva Maxima,’ ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ as well as ‘Coral Charm,’ ‘Coral Sunset ‘ and many other single bloom types.
    ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ Peony

     

  5. Once they have bloomed I remove the seed heads. There’s no reason for the plant to continue to put energy into seed production when I’d rather it pour its resources into making larger tubers, which means… you guessed, it will have larger and more abundant blooms next year.
  6. And, another tip… for the first couple of years refrain from cutting the blooms from the plants with extra long stems (Yes, tempting, I know.) The plants with extra long stems and plenty of foliage left intact are your friends, so don’t get greedy the first few years. You see, these remaining stems and leaves are the workhorses of the plant and continue to help build larger stronger future tubers and thereby more plentiful blooms in seasons to come. Later, once the clumps are established you can cut blooms with long luxurious stems.
  7. Oh, and one last thing, the ANTS.
    Of all the questions I receive about peonies, those concerned about the tiny ants that congregate on the flower buds outweigh all questions combined. These ants are drawn to the sweet nectar-like sap that the bud produces. They do no harm to the peony, or will they you. Just rinse them off with cool water and let them go about their day…live and let live!

Below are a few photos of our new peony garden after only one year after being planted at Moss Mountain Farm, and some of the resulting blooms.

‘Largo’ Peony

 

Field of Peonies at Moss Mountain Farm

 

‘Mons Jules Elie’ peony

 

To learn more about growing peonies, check out the video below!

Tips for Growing Peony Growing Peonies

5 Things I’ve Learned From Designing with Tulips

This weekend marks the end of this year’s tulip bloom. The last of the flowers will take their final bow and step off the stage this week. Sad, yes, but much more joy. What a glorious season despite the vagaries of weather varmints. I will revel in the memories of such exquisite and luxurious blooms all summer and into the fall when I begin to orchestrate the next chorus of bloom.

Over the years I’ve planted more tulips than I can count, and through trial and error I’ve learned a few things about designing with these beautiful flowers that I’d like to share.

Bold color blocking is the way to go, so be generous.
I’ve never regretted planting too many bulbs in the fall, even though my back might say otherwise. I like to see 25 or more bulbs in a single area. The visual impact can’t be over estimated. Even better, planting a large amount of tulips in a single color results in a blanket of color that will catch the eye even from a distance.

Mix up the flower shapes.
The range of bloom shape and form is exciting, if not daunting…given all of the choices these days. But, be fearless. One can hardly go wrong. The slender and elegant Lily-Flowered next to peony types, those set again juxtaposed Darwin and cottage forms all will sing together. Like the large and wide ranging cast in a musical…everyone brings a voice and presence.

Early to late.
When I see the first bloom I get greedy…I hear my inner self saying “Give me more, more,
more!” Choosing early bloomers as well as mid and late season bloomers will extend the pleasure of having these in your life. This is a great way to plant bulbs even if you are growing them in containers.

Color preferences are personal.
Among the tulips you have just about any color you can find on a paint store color fan. I tend to prefer to creat themes…like all pinks and purples. Or a range of whites and cream…pushing it a bit with the palest butter yellow. Or, go bold with contrasting colors of purple orange and red for a retina gripping comb. The possibilities are endless.

Mix it up with good bedfellows.
I delight in seeing a cacophony of other cool season plants chiming in as companions with my tulips, anything goes. I frequently uses the usual suspects like violas and pansies, or perennials such as coral bells and hosta. Vegetables, or edibles, can also add flare. Consider the bolting pink blooms of radishes (last fall’s late crop) or the sulphur yellow flowers of turnips, kale and collards to accent your tulips.

15 Great Companion Plants for Tulips

Cool Season Annuals

  • Nemesia
  • Viola
  • Pansies
  • Kale
  • Snapdragons

Reliable Perennials

  • Coral Bells
  • Hosta
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Candytuft
  • Strawberry Begonias
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Sedge ‘Ogon’
  • Dianthus

I’m always learning and I take great joy in trying new colors, combinations and plant palettes. Nature itself brings an overall harmony to the garden so that whatever we do we can never go wrong.

To learn more about designing with Tulips, check out the video below!