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DIY All-Natural Hand Sanitizer

This recipe is a natural solution for everyday use but at this time we suggest everyone follow the CDC guidelines for sanitation and the proper disinfectants identified for combating Covid-19.

 

MATERIALS

  • 2/3 cup witch hazel
  • 1 cup Aloe vera (more if desired)
  • 18 drops essential oils
  • 1 tsp fractionated coconut oil (optional)
  • Empty gel container 
  1. Add all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir together until everything is well combined.
  2. Using a funnel, transfer the mixture into an empty container.

A Hydrangea For Every Garden

 

I am hard-pressed to name a shrub that matches the hydrangea for drama, splendor, and elegance in the garden. From the subtle white starry-shaped lacecap flower of  ‘Hayes Starburst’ to the dramatic, large white globes of ‘Incrediball’ — one of my favorites — there’s a hydrangea to fit almost any spot in the garden.

 

And with more advances in plant breeding, hydrangea selection has continued to expand to meet the still-growing demand for new plants. Now gardeners can choose from a wide array of re-blooming mopheads, a variety of new flower color options, and a multitude of dwarf sun- or shade-loving hydrangeas, starting at 12 inches in height.

It’s a great time to discover the versatility of this flexible shrub or reacquaint yourself with a plant that you might have written off as old-fashioned or poor blooming. Make no mistake — today’s hydrangeas are versatile, dynamic, and easy to grow.

While there are thousands of different hydrangeas and cultivated varieties, I’m going to talk about four main species and some of the varieties you may want to be on the lookout for H. arborescens (smooth hydrangea), H. macrophylla (bigleaf hydrangea), H. paniculata (hydrangea paniculata), and H. quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea).

And while the different hydrangea species vary greatly, they all benefit from being planted in soil that is rich in organic matter and sited in a location with moist but well-drained soil. Adding compost or manure when planting will help with moisture retention, and, ironically, drainage. Despite its water-loving name, you don’t want your hydrangea to sit in soggy soil.

 


Arborescens — Smooth Hydrangea
H. arborescens is one of the hydrangea varieties native to North America, which makes it a fairly care-free selection. Hardy in zones 3 to 9, ‘Annabelle’ is probably the most well-known arborescens with large white round mophead flowers. It grows to about 4 feet by 4 feet, but blossoms will flop to the ground when it rains. Lucky for us, plant breeders have introduced an improved ‘Annabelle’ with thicker stems for more support — the ‘Incrediball’ hydrangea.

‘Incrediball’ makes a spectacular hedge, is great for cut flowers, and can be enjoyed as a specimen plant or placed in the back garden where its blooms can even be appreciated from a distance. And the variety just gets better. New this year is the dwarf version of ‘Annabelle’ — the ‘Invincebelle Wee White.’ At just 2-feet by 2-feet, this little powerhouse gives you an abundance of white flowers in a mini form. Also new is a pink/mauve version — ‘Invincibelle Mini Mauvette.’ It stands at about 3-feet tall and wide with strong stems.

This species blooms on new wood or the current season’s growth, so you don’t have to worry about improper pruning, hard winters, or late freezes that might kill off precious flower buds. They are best situated in the morning or dappled sun.

 

Macrophylla — Bigleaf Hydrangeas
Bigleaf hydrangeas, with their intense blue or deep pink round fluffy flowers, are the holy grail of blossoms for many gardeners. The old classic ‘Nikko Blue’ and many others only develop flower buds on old wood, or growth from the previous season, so extremely cold temperatures can result in damaged buds and no flowers. Or as I call it, “hydrangea heartache.”

Hydrangea Macrophylla ‘Rose’

Plant breeders have come through with new hydrangea varieties that bloom on both old and new wood. The leader in this field is the ‘Endless Summer’ series of hydrangeas, including the original ‘Endless Summer,’ which blooms pink, purple, or blue, depending on your soil pH and measures about 4 feet by 4 feet. It’s hardy in zones 4 to 9. Its sister plant, ‘BloomStruck,’ has similar flowers on dark purple stems. ‘Blushing Bride’ is a white version that is hardy in zones 5 to 9, and ‘Twist-n-Shout’ is a beautiful lacecap variety with red stems, hardy in zones 4 to 9.

And more remontant varieties are coming out every year. I especially like ‘Let’s Dance Rhythmic Blue,’ which is about 3 to 4 feet tall and wide and hardy in zones 5 to 9. But just like Nikko Blue, ‘Rhythmic Blue’ flowers will actually be pink in alkaline soil, so you may have to amend your soil with an acidifier product to create blue flowers.

H. macrophylla perform best when situated in the morning or dappled sun.

 

Paniculata — Panicle Hydrangea
Gardeners with full sunlight should consider the paniculata hydrangeas, so named because of their panicle-shaped flowers, which open a creamy white and age to a dusty rose as the summer progresses. And because they bloom on the current season’s growth, paniculatas are reliable, hardy bloomers.

One of the best-known and hardest working paniculatas is ‘Limelight,’ hardy in zones 3 to 9 and reaching up to 8 feet tall. But if that’s too much hydrangea for you, consider ‘Little Lime,’ a dwarf version that you can keep to about 3 feet tall with late winter or early spring pruning.

Other dwarf H. paniculatas worth considering include ‘Bobo’ and ‘Little Quick Fire,’ both hardy in zones 3 to 8.

H. paniculatas are the only hydrangea variety that will perform happily in full sun, but will also take part-sun.

Quercifolia — Oakleaf Hydrangea
Oakleaf hydrangeas are the other hydrangea species native to North America, making them low-maintenance, reliable, and outstanding in beauty. They also have the distinction of being a true, four-season shrub, with oak-leaf shaped foliage in spring; large, creamy white panicle flowers in the summer that age to a rosy hue; beautiful fall orange, red, and gold fall foliage; and an ornamental cinnamon-colored pealing bark that is visible in the winter. If you don’t have an oakleaf hydrangea already, then put it on your wish list.

 

Delicate and beautiful white Hydrangea quercifolia flowers close up. Also known as Oakleaf hydrangea or Oak-leaved hydrangea.

 

The true oakleaf species can reach 8 feet or taller and just as wide, so it’s not for the faint of heart. But if you’ve got the room, nothing beats the majesty and size of its foliage and flowers.

More manageable oakleaf hydrangeas include ‘Snow Queen’ and ‘Alice,’ both about 5 feet tall and hardy in zones 5 to 9.

Dwarf oakleaf version includes ‘Pee Wee,’ ‘Sikes Dwarf,’ and the relatively new ‘Ruby Slippers,’ which reaches about 4 feet tall and wide and has flowers that darken to a more ruby color. It’s hardy in zones 5 to 9.

And because oakleaf hydrangeas have woody stems, pruning is not recommended so that the stem’s original character and shape can be appreciated in the winter months. If you need a shorter variety, it’s worth searching for a dwarf form to prevent having to prune for size later. These hydrangeas prefer to be located in the morning or dappled sun.

 

Hydrangeas are available today in more colors and sizes than ever before, and with advances in plant breeding and growing consumer demand, the future looks bright for even better selections. Heirloom hydrangeas will always have a place in the garden, but I hope you consider one of the newer varieties if a spot opens up in your garden. You’ll be amazed by their performance and ease, which are plant traits that all of us gardeners seek.

Win-Win: Succulents offer pizzazz while thriving on neglect

As gardeners, we all have our favorite plants. Maybe you love hydrangeas (rightly so), daylilies, or hostas. Me? It’s no secret I’m a sucker for daffodils and peonies. But I’ve got to tell you, over the last few years I’ve had the most fun in the garden and in containers with succulents.

Working with these little beauties is almost like painting with plants because of their exceptional colors, and you get the added benefit of remarkable, quirky leaf shapes and textures — spiny and pointy, smooth and curvy, deliciously ruffled, flat as a pancake, or even perfectly round like a green pearl. It really is a delight to work — and create — with these unusual plants.

What is a succulent? This family of plants stores water in their leaves and stems, which makes them especially drought-tolerant, so perfect for neglectful gardeners. They can be annuals or perennials, depending on your plant zone, and you’ll find them in weather conditions ranging from northern Canada to the rainforests of Brazil.

You might automatically think of cactus, and it’s true, they are succulents — but not all succulents are cactus. Here are a few common plants that fall in the succulent category: aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis), mother-in-law tongue (Sansevieria), jade (Crassula), and hens and chicks (Sempervivum).

And honestly, because succulents have exploded in popularity in recent years, so many other fun and unusual varieties are readily available. I’ve seen them in big box stores, grocery stores, and department stores (although these are often faux, they look incredibly real).

Succulents are terribly easy to grow. They thrive with neglect and are usually only killed by overwatering. And when I say overwatering, that might mean watering more than once or twice a month — it is possible to kill these plants with kindness! All they require is a spot in the house with bright, suffused light. Hardy plants can be grown outdoors in full hot sun with steep drainage.

One of the keys to getting succulents to thrive indoors in containers is using potting soil specially designed for succulents or cactus. If you can’t find any, you can make your own by mixing regular potting soil with sand at a 1:1 ratio. Think desert.

Plants can be grown in shallow dish containers with holes for drainage, or shallow containers without holes if you water sparingly and judiciously.  You can also add a layer of rock at the bottom of the dish to hold any extra water that might collect.

These plants make a nice show when they’re planted snugly up against each other to fill a pot. The appearance of abundance is matched only by varying leaf colors in shades of greens, silver, gray, orange, and red. You also have the added texture and shape of different leaves, which can take a container arrangement to a whole new level of artfulness.

Or consider planting a single succulent in a small container and top-dress the potting soil with colored sand, rocks, or small seashells for an added pop of color. Have fun with it — plant a small cactus and add a miniature tombstone, long-horned steer skull, and a few tumbleweeds.

Some of my favorite succulents to play around with include:

  • Echeveria
  • Ox tongue (Gasteria)
  • String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)
  • Flapjack succulents (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora)
  • Living stones (Mesembryanthemum)

If you mix any combination of these five plants together, you’ll have a colorful, textural masterpiece. There’s something very tactile about these arrangements that make me want to touch them or even pat an arrangement with my fingers.

If you’re not yet on the succulent bandwagon, I encourage you to hop aboard. In fact, consider giving a small succulent arrangement as a gift to someone in your life who has a black thumb. If you take away their watering can, they’re bound to have years of enjoyment and you’ll be the horticultural hero who introduced them to these easy, tough, colorful plants.

Starting seeds indoors is easy, inexpensive, and a whole lotta fun

This time of year can be tough for gardeners. The holidays are over and we’re in a sort of gardening purgatory — I can see it on the horizon, but we’ve got plenty of cold, dreary days ahead before we can get outside and dig.

That’s one reason why I love starting seeds indoors — it gives me an opportunity to think about what lies ahead and actually do something. The ground may still be frozen, but I can start working on my vegetable and flower garden now.


If you’ve never tried starting seeds indoors, you’re missing out on one of the true delights of gardening. There’s something pretty great about having someone compliment me on something in my garden and being able to say in response, “Thanks, I grew it from seed.” It’s also a fun way to get my hands on plants that aren’t readily available at the local garden center, like heirloom plants, and rare and unusual vegetable and flower varieties.

Kick-off your seed growing venture by carefully reading the back of each seed packet. Some seeds require special treatment before planting, like soaking in water, chilling (called stratification), or nicking the seed coat (called scarification). You don’t want to find yourself ready to plant and then discover that your seeds need to chill in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

Another key to seed-starting success is timing, and that starts with your last average spring frost date. Here in Little Rock, we’re zone 8a, so our last average frost date is March 28. Most seed packets will tell you when to start growing indoors, often saying “Start 4 to 6 weeks before your average last frost date.” So I simply look at the calendar and countback.


Next, choose containers for growing. You can use a variety of things around the house, including old yogurt cups, egg cartons, or hand-rolled pots made from newspapers. I picked up some seed starting trays from a nursery that I can reuse each year. I simply sterilize them between uses with a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water.

I’ve also had good luck using a quality potting soil to grow my seeds, but you can certainly invest in a soil-less seed starting mix. Whichever you choose, put your growing medium in a bucket with some water so that the soil is slightly damp before you fill your containers.

Seed packets will tell you how deep the seed needs to be planted. For example, Bachelor’s Button ‘Blue Boy’ (Centaurea cyanus) seeds need to be planted 1/4″ deep, with three seeds planted every 8″ – 10.” The packet also tells me that seedlings will emerge in seven to 14 days, so I have a good idea when to start looking for signs of life.

Once seeds are planted, you need to water. This is where it helps to have your potting mixture already moist. You can use a spray bottle filled with water to give your seeds a thorough misting, which provides enough moisture without roiling all your hard work.

I always cover my seed trays with plastic to create a mini greenhouse. Some seed trays come with plastic domes, or you can use kitchen plastic wrap, sandwich bags, or you can even slip your containers inside a clear plastic dry-cleaning bag. It doesn’t have to look pretty, just be effective.

Also, most seeds don’t need light to germinate, but they do need heat. I recommend finding a location that is ideally around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which may be in your kitchen, near your oven or on top of a refrigerator. (It helps to have a spouse or roommate who doesn’t mind dirt in the kitchen.) You can also use a seed heating mat, which is specially designed to heat soil and seeds from the bottom.

Once you see seedlings, remove the plastic covering and place plants in a spot with bright light. If you’re using a spot by a window, rotate your containers every few days so that seedlings don’t develop a lean. If you don’t have enough sunlight, you can always use grow lights or even fluorescent shop lights. Place the bulbs so that they’re only a few inches above the seedlings and set a timer so that lights are automatically on 12 to 16 hours a day.

The final step is to keep plants growing until it’s time to harden them off as they move outside in the spring. I’ll admit, I’ve had a few bombs — seeds that were too old to germinate or a tray that got overwatered and killed a crop of seedlings. But there are way more successes than failures, and that’s what keeps me coming back to seeds year after year. And on cold gray February and March days, seed starting is a life-line to spring gardening that I’ll grab every time.

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!