Category: Uncategorized

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.

 

My Top Spots to Visit in Arkansas


It’s no secret that I love living in the Natural State.

There’s so much to see and do, from outdoor adventures to unique cultural experiences. Even as a longtime Arkansan, I’m constantly discovering new ways to experience this beautiful state.

Check out a few of my favorite spots to travel in Arkansas!

 

BUCK ISLAND

As a nature enthusiast, I never grow tired of exploring the Natural State and all the outdoor experiences it has to offer. I’m always looking for areas I haven’t seen before, and Buck Island has quickly become a new favorite of mine for outdoor adventures.

Located just outside Helena, AR along the Mississippi River, Buck Island is a public island featuring 880 acres of native forests, 620 acres of white sand beaches, five miles of hiking trails and a three-mile side channel.

Buck Island gives visitors a chance to experience the natural wonders of the Mississippi River in a whole new way. Recently conserved for public access, the island offers new opportunities for camping, hiking, paddling, swimming, fishing and more.

The island also supports numerous wildlife species, some of which are endangered, and is a stop-over site along the Mississippi Flyway, used by 65 percent of North American migratory bird species, making it a bird-watcher’s paradise!

 

SUBIACO ABBEY

I love exploring unique spots around Arkansas, especially those that offer a glimpse into what feels like a whole other world. Subiaco Abbey offers just that.

Located in the small town of Subiaco in the Arkansas River Valley is Subiaco Abbey, which houses a community of over forty Benedictine monks and includes a preparatory academy and retreat center.

Established in 1878, Subiaco Abbey features Old World architecture, such as the massive Romanesque-style Abbey Church. Perched on a hillside, the Abbey also offers scenic views of the surrounding area.

Subiaco Abbey isn’t just known for its breathtaking views and architecture. Since 2003, the monks at Subiaco have been making their famous hot habanero pepper sauce known as “Monk Sauce.” Made fresh from habanero peppers grown in the Subiaco gardens, “Monk Sauce” packs a fiery punch and is a favorite among visitors.

 

CRYSTAL BRIDGES

If you’re looking for an incredible cultural experience, look no further than Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Crystal Bridges is a state-of-the-art museum which has created a nationwide buzz since its opening in 2011. Located in Northwest Arkansas, this museum attracts visitors from all over the country.

Any art lover would be impressed by the museum’s world-class permanent collection, which spans five centuries of American masterworks. Crystal Bridges also features a year-round schedule of exciting and unique temporary exhibitions.

The architecture of Crystal Bridges is just as impressive as the artwork inside the museum. Surrounded by native forest, the exterior of Crystal Bridges was designed in a way that blends nature and art seamlessly.

The museum grounds also feature a classic “Usonian” home designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which is an absolute must-see!

 

THE UNEXPECTED

I love seeing how art can rejuvenate an area or space, which is exactly what the Unexpected has done for Fort Smith, Arkansas.

If you’re passing through the Arkansas River Valley, you’ll want to stop by downtown Fort Smith to catch a glimpse of the colorful, unique murals that are scattered about the area.

The Unexpected is an annual public art festival and downtown revitalization project created by the nonprofit, 64.6 Downtown, which brings renowned artists to the Fort Smith Area to create outdoor art over the course of one week.

As you explore downtown Fort Smith you’ll find that the urban murals truly are, as the name says, unexpected! The public art is a walkable experience that also allows you to explore the downtown Fort Smith area and all it has to offer. While in the area, check out some of Fort Smith’s well-known historic sites, such as Judge Isaac Parker’s courthouse and the National Historic Society.

 

To learn more about my favorite spots in Arkansas, check out the video below or visit Arkansas.com.

It’s A Good Day To Have A Good Day!

From the splendors of spring through the holiday season, I love welcoming guests into my home and gardens. As I have said many times, I love to share the farm with all of you because keeping Moss Mountain Farm to myself wouldn’t be near as fun!

Some of the kindest and most genuine folks visit the farm, and it makes me so happy to receive messages with kind words from them regarding their experience! It is not only encouraging to myself and the staff, but I hope you find a little encouragement in the following words as well!

Thanks again to everyone who has visited or plans to in the future! You can find tickets here!

-Just a short note to let you know how much we enjoyed our tour at the farm last Friday.  My niece seemed to have a wonderful time and appreciated the special attention with the gluten free crackers. Please tell Ellen how much fun we had. Maybe another trip in the future.

Best regards,
Sherry Dale & Lynne


– A group of ladies (and our male driver) from the Murphysboro United Methodist Church visited Moss Mountain Farm on Friday, Nov. 9th. I just wanted to let you and your staff know that we had a splendid day and how much we appreciated your hospitality. You have such a beautiful home, barn, gardens, structures, animals, etc., and you are kind enough to share that beauty with the world!

Since I’m a 4-H Leader in Illinois, I very much appreciated how much time you took in answering my question about your involvement in the 4-H Program in Arkansas (and how you caught your first chicken). Teaching our youth important life skills has been a priority in my life for the past 20 years. Several years ago, I started an Apple Pie Workshop for youth, and now they have created a new youth division with a cash prize in the Apple Pie Contest at the annual Murphysboro Apple Festival. We hope to continue this tradition for years to come. I’d love to bring our 4-H club members to visit Moss Mountain Farm!!!

The lunch was divine, and the Buttermilk Pecan Pie was scrumptious – coming from one pie snob to another. Several on our church bus purchased your cookbook and enjoyed reading the recipes and stories about the recipes on our trip back home. Well, you might think our trip would end with good conversation and laughs about our trip. However, on the way home, one of the ladies suggested that we have a P. Allen Smith Dinner Party (after we have had time to try some of the delicious recipes, of course). We will all make and bring a couple of our favorite dishes from your cookbook to share with each other.

Thank you again for your genuine hospitality for a fabulous day at Moss Mountain Farm!

Rosie


– I just want to say how impressed we were with the whole experience of the tour, grounds and especially the staff! We got lost on our way there. We got a call asking if we were lost and did we need help!! 5 min. later we arrived! Even the rain did not dampen how much we enjoyed the gardens, lunch, chickens and houses.   The lunch was delicious and well done. Ellen was our guide. She charming, knowledgeable and personable.  I bought a book in the gift shop then hurried back to the tent for Allen’s signature. We enjoyed having a personal visit with him! Then left with better directions this time. A short time later we received a call from Diane saying I had left my credit card in the gift shop. She asked where we were and told me it was on her way!! She brought the card to us!!! We are very grateful for her extra effort and felt it was way beyond normal !!! We are totally impressed with our wonderful day!
Thank you!

Jerri

Ralston Family Farms Rice Contest

I don’t know about you, but I like to know exactly where my food comes from. I could go on and on about all the reasons I love Ralston Family Farms rice, but you wouldn’t understand until you try one of their delicious farm-to-fork rice varieties for yourself!

Head over to my Instagram to enter to win a Ralston Family Farms prize package including 3 of my favorite rice varieties and a rice cooker to make meal prep a breeze!
Enter HERE!