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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!

What is a Flexitarian Diet?

Healthy eating and environmental conservation are both becoming major priorities for many people these days. There’s been a lot of talk about sustainable diets lately, but what exactly is a sustainable diet?

Sustainable diets are intended to address the increasing health and environmental concerns related to food production and consumption. This means imbalanced diets that are low in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains but high in red and processed meat are responsible for the greatest health burden worldwide. The environmental impacts of food production are similarly disconcerting. Agriculture is responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, over application of fertilizers and other chemicals in some areas has led to pollution in our surface and ground waters.

Sustainable diets were designed to combine the challenges of creating a food system that supplies healthy diets for a growing population while also reducing its environmental impact.

This is where the flexitarian diet comes in. The name, Flexitarian, is a combination of the word flexible and vegetarian. Created by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, this diet is designed to help people reap the benefits of a plant-based diet without having to give up meat and animal products entirely.

The Flexitarian Diet can aid in weight loss, reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Environmentally, reducing meat consumption decreases greenhouse gas emissions and helps preserve natural resources. It’s obvious why so many people are shifting to more plant-based diets.

Guidelines for a Flexitarian Diet

The Flexitarian Diet has no specific rules or recommended numbers of calories per day. In fact, it’s more a lifestyle than a diet. It’s a great option if you’re interested in a more healthy lifestyle without necessarily having to follow a strict diet. Below are a few guidelines you can follow to maintain a flexitarian diet.

  • Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
  • Focus on protein from plants instead of animals.
  • Be flexible and incorporate meat and animal products from time to time.
  • Eat the least processed, most natural form of foods.
  • Limit added sugar and sweets.

Foods to Eat on the Flexitarian Diet

A flexitarian diet puts emphasis on plant proteins and other minimally processed plant foods while limiting animal products. Below are some flexitarian-friendly foods you can incorporate into your diet.

  • Proteins: Mushrooms, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, legumes, lentils.
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Greens, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, cauliflower.
  • Starchy vegetables: Winter squash, peas, corn, sweet potato.
  • Fruits: Apples, oranges, berries, grapes, cherries.
  • Whole grains: Quinoa, teff, buckwheat, farro.
  • Nuts, seeds and other healthy fats: Almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, peanut butter, avocados, olives, coconut.
  • Plant-based milk alternatives: Unsweetened almond, coconut, hemp and soy milk.
  • Herbs, spices and seasonings: Basil, oregano, mint, thyme, cumin, turmeric, ginger.
  • Condiments: Reduced-sodium soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast, ketchup without added sugar.
  • Beverages: Still and sparkling water, tea, coffee.

The goal of a flexitarian diet is to emphasize plant-based foods, while still allowing meat and other animal products in moderation. When incorporating animal products, choose the following when possible:

  • Eggs: Free-range or pasture-raised.
  • Poultry: Organic, free-range or pasture-raised.
  • Fish: Wild-caught.
  • Meat: Grass-fed or pasture-raised.
  • Dairy: Organic from grass-fed or pastured animals.

Due to its flexible nature and focus on what to include rather than restrict, the Flexitarian Diet is a popular choice for people looking to eat healthier.

To learn more about flexitarian diets, check out the video below.

Spring at Moss Mountain Farm

After the long winter that most of us have endured, I invite you to celebrate Spring’s arrival with a visit to Moss Mountain Farm, located just outside Little Rock, AR.

A visit to Moss Mountain Farm is an immersive experience of inspiration, education and conservation. I love welcoming guests into my home and gardens, all while promoting the local food movement, organic gardening and the preservation of heritage poultry breeds.

One of our most popular Spring events is the annual Easter Sunday Celebration. We invite guests to join us for a lunch buffet and an afternoon of fun for all.

Bring the family for an Easter portrait among the tulips, and give the little ones a chance to hold a baby chick or feed some sheep. It’s a fun-filled celebration that I look forward to every year!

For more information about visiting Moss Mountain Farm, check out our tour schedule.

Caring for Pollinators

Many home gardeners and those in the agriculture industry know we have a pollinator problem on our hands. We need pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and birds, to enjoy some of our favorite fruits, vegetables and flowers. However, some threats to pollinators include, habitat loss, pollution, the introduction of non-native animals and plants, and climate change. And while we may not be able to address all of these, activities like beekeeping, planting native species and increasing habitat can provide relief to these helpful garden assistants.

Not all of us have time to start keeping bees, but it’s fairly easy to create little pollinator gardens full of native wildflowers to give them a place to land. Pollinators are creatures of habit, and though their natural habitat may be overtaken by construction sites or development, they will stay in the same areas and won’t travel very far to find food or shelter. That’s why it’s important to have patches of wildflowers and comfortable areas for them to live and work.

In an effort to help these vital gardening assistants, I have joined with First Community Bank for the “Bloom with Us” project which will install 20 pollinator gardens in the bank’s locations across Arkansas and Missouri. These gardens will begin growing in the first week of March and will not only be beneficial for pollinators but also beautiful for the members of the community.  It’s a win-win!

I hope you’ll drop by to stop and smell the flowers, and maybe even glimpse a few bees and butterflies at work or play. If you’d like to find out more about planting pollinator friendly gardens in your backyard, check out the planting guides at pollinator.org.

 

 

 

 

And for more information on how you can support pollinators in your world, check out my YouTube video below and subscribe to our YouTube channel.