Tag: Travel

Halloween Haunts in Arkansas

Tracking the Legendary Monsters & Ghouls (as well as the less scary goblins too) of Arkansas…

Halloween has a special place in my heart because it was also my grandmother’s birthday. Every year my mother would throw a party in her honor with Halloween decorations, fall foods like chili, costumes, plus trick-or-treating. Although my grandmother has passed, I still carry on that tradition at the farm each Halloween with the preparations being made far in advance. In my book Halloween is the best party of the season! Read more

New York City Trip – 5 Places I Never Miss

For a guy who loves his fruits and veggies, the “Big Apple” can’t be beat. New York City is a place that inspires me every single time I visit, and I was lucky to be there early this summer. I’ve been going to New York for years, and while I love hunting for new restaurants or book stores or furniture shops, there are few staples that I can’t seem to pass up when in the city.

The Met

Located in the heart of Manhattan, The Met is as much an architectural gem as it is art museum. Besides the fact that it’s one of the world’s largest art galleries- it holds over 2 million permanent works!- it also is packed with an incredible array of temporary exhibits that I like to research before I arrive. If you get to visit, I recommend the rooftop garden. With a café© and bar, it’s the perfect place to sit and ogle the Manhattan skyline and Central Park.

The Whitney

As much as I adore The Met, it’s the much smaller and less well-known Whitney Museum of American Art that I turn to first. I have always been a fan of American History, and the museum focuses on 20th and 21st-centuray American Art, pieces that tell the story of our country’s modern history. My favorite aspect of the museum it that it sources many of its works from living artists and showcases young and upcoming artists each year.


Whether it’s off Broadway or on, the theatre scene in New York is unbeatable. I always try to make time for at least one show, and on my most recent visit I got to see Wicked! I’ve been in the audiences of some of the most famous and long-running shows like Cats and The Lion King, and gotten to be one of only a few thousand people who have seen shorter-lived productions, but you just can’t go to New York and NOT see a show. I think it’s actually a state law…

NY Public Lib

I never seem to spend as much time as I want to at the New York Public Library, a space whose history is almost as lovely as the building itself. The library originated in the 19th century from the combined efforts of all different kinds of groups- grass-roots organizations, social libraries, and private donations from bibliophiles and philanthropists alike. Each time I visit the newly-restored Rose Main Reading Room I feel like I’ve entered one of the great cathedrals of Europe- the ceiling is painted with murals that give the impression that you’re actually look through the ceiling, up to the sky- but it’s the thick red quarry tile from Wales that gives the room its powerful echo, reminding you just how big the space is.

Union Square Farmers Market

You can take a farm boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy! New York may be famous for its restaurant scene, but on a breezy day there’s nowhere better to be than the Union Square Farmers Market. At the peak of the season, there are almost 150 farmers, fishermen and bakers sharing their New York-sourced goods, but there are also 60,000 shoppers enjoying the cooking & canning demonstrations, recycling & composting how-to’s and general camaraderie of the market. I recommend grabbing some local cheese and tomatoes and fresh bread, sitting down in the grass, and watching the world pass by.

Best of all, New York is the perfect place for people-watching. No matter when you go, or where you stay, just make sure you have time to wander through the different boroughs and imagine your life as a New Yorker.

England Garden Tour 2015: Arley Hall

Visiting Arley Hall is like returning to a favorite college haunt, perhaps this is because the estate was one of my favorite places while I was in England studying garden history. I discovered Arley by happenstance while on my way home from dropping my sister off at the airport. During this first tour I met Lady Elizabeth Ashbrook, mistress of the house, and we became fast friends. Over the years I’ve maintained my connection to Arley – Lady Ashbrook’s son Michael has even been to Moss Mountain Farm – and go back whenever I’m in England.

Arley is open to the public March 2015 – October 2015
(Monday – Sunday inclusive) 11am – 5pm (last entry 4.30pm)
Visit www.arleyhallandgardens.com for more information.

Friends of the Spade! Lord Ashbrook and Lady Tollemache and I take a walk around the gardens at Arley.

The park surrounding Arley Hall includes the 18th century approach to the hall. The massive English Oaks and sheep add to the bucolic mood.

Arley Hall, in its present form, was built in the Elizabethan style in the 1840s.

The herbaceous borders, often cited as the crown jewels of the gardens at Arley, were laid out in 1846. The alcove serves as a terminus and a place to sit and admire the borders.

Yew buttresses€� punctuate the borders and provide evergreen structure to the garden.

Loose plantings of bulbs and annuals provide contrast to the structure provided by the yew.

Many North American native plants can be seen planted in the borders.

Topiary yew finials and benches frame the view of the park from the borders.

A sequence of flowering from early May through October makes the borders interesting through the season.

The Ilex Avenue is made of large clipped cylinder shaped holly oak – Quercus ilex.

The terminus of the Ilex Avenue is a sunken garden punctuated by a sundial. The large urns were added by my great friend Lady Elizabeth Ashbrook.

English Garden Tour: Helmingham Hall

This week begins a series of English garden tours on my blog highlighting a recent trip to Cheshire – Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Surrey. I have seven gardens to show you starting with this one at Helmingham Hall, the home of my good friend and garden designer Xa Tollemache.

Hellmingham Hall gardens are open to the public May through early September.
Opening Times – 3rd May to 20th September 2015
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday 12.00 – 5.00pm
Open Bank Holiday Mondays
(opening times on event days may vary)

In addition to the gardens at Helmingham Hall, Xa has designed landscapes for homes in Great Britain, the U.S. and Europe. She took me to see the gardens she designed at Denston Hall.

Maestro guards the knot garden at Helmingham.

The parterre gardens are a favorite spot of mine. I love the combination of grey and green.

Head gardener Roy Balaam has been working at Helmingham since 1952.

A grand urn surrounded by white ‘Sonata’ cosmos is a beautiful focal point.

Water plays a magical role in the garden’s design reflecting the sky and the hall. An eco-friendly bank of wildflowers edges the moat.

A lovely urn planted with Campanula ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ and purple bell vine (Rhodochiton)

Deer in the park are beautiful to observe at the end of the day as they move closer to the hall.

The element of whimsy is incorporated into the garden with fanciful topiary like this comfy chair and jolly snowman.

 Xa discussing the merits of Deutzia.

The herbaceous borders feature a glorious and diverse range of plants. Many American native wildflowers are in the garden such as Joe-pye weed and purple coneflower.

Globe artichokes.

This sundial is a subtle focal point.

A beautiful late flowering clematis.

The dahlias were magnificent.

Road Trip to the English Countryside

I discovered my inner Anglophile shortly after college while studying garden design and history at the University of Manchester. England felt like a home away from home for me and I don’t think there was a more ideal place in the world for me to hone my landscape design skills.

I recently returned to England on a tour of houses and gardens. While I started in Cheshire for a stay with my friends at Arley Hall, the majority of my visits were made in Norfolk and Suffolk. There was so much to take in and discover. I certainly came home with more than enough material to share with you on my blog. Over the next few months I’ll post a series of installments about my trip. This first one gives the 30,000 foot view.

Arley Hall, Cheshire. A favorite haunt of mine as a student in England. Lady Elizabeth Ashbrook wrote the forward to my 1st book, Garden Home.

Roses and lavender are a classic. Arley Hall gardens.

Arley Hall walled garden. Catmint, 'Halcyon' hosta  and 'Rosemary Rose' roses.

The herb garden at Arley Hall. Lady Ashbrook designed this years ago.

Themed gardens! This one is for golden plants. Very striking! Next to this garden room was one done in silver foliage.

'Fire and Water' fountain at Houghton Hall. David Cholmondeley has done great things with the garden in the past 10 years.

The Mediterranean garden at Houghton Hall. Note the 'bullnose' boxwood border around the raised pool. Brilliant! Love the potted agaves too.

Catmint 'Six Hills Giant' framing the view to the glass house at Houghton Hall.

My friend Xa Tollemache and Carla Carlisle at Lady Carlisle's home Wyken Hall. They are standing behind the Cornstalk Gates. Love it!

Silver parterre at Wyken.

Guinea fowl on the lawn at Wyken. Carla loves poultry!

Wyken Hall. Love the color!

Gifford's Hall. So attractive. David Hicks did the interior design back in the '70s & it still looks great! So hip!

Helmingham Hall was built in 1510. It's completely moated & the drawbridge comes up every night.

Helmingham is so majestic! I love the punctuation & rhythm of the boxwoods along the moat.

One of Xa's beautiful designs at Helmingham.

Columbine Hall and its moat.

The kitchen at Columbine. So charming!

Columbine's dinning room. I was so taken by the generous fireplace.




Ten Cool Things I Discovered in Chicago

There was lots to see at the IGC show.

Whatever way you spin it, Chicago is a great getaway. Pair a week there with a gardening conference, fabulous fall weather, and interior design shopping and you get a better picture of why I loved my visit to the Windy City. My production crew and I headed north for the annual Independent Garden Center Show where we met up with old friends, bloggers, Garden Home partners, and a whole slew of Chicagoans ready to show off their city. These were a few of my favorite experiences and finds:

Peterson Garden Project

The Peterson Garden Project is a collection of Chicago’s urban gardens started by my friend LaManda Joy and inspired by WWII victory gardens. I love American history, so pair this with my appreciation of community gardening and you’ll understand just how much I enjoyed learning about them.

Moss Garden at Garfield Park Conservatory

I spent a morning at the Garfield Park Conservatory and each of their nearly dozen garden rooms were fabulous. While the outdoor garden drew my attention, it was the moss garden full of ferns and other tropical growth that really transported me to a different place.


Artiflor is a Dutch company that had a booth of home and garden décor at IGC. Besides the fact that the two owners were a couple of the nicest men I’ve met in a long time, they had some fabulous and fun designs.

Topsy-turvy Pots

As I was rushing to find the room where I was meant to speak, I got distracted by this funky, and functional, garden sculpture. I can’t remember who made it, but I sure do wish I had bought one.

Colorful Dramm Water Tools

Having lived through this summer’s Arkansas drought, I’ve become well acquainted with my hoses, sprinklers, and water tools. Coming across the Dramm booth at IGC was like stepping into the sunlight! These watering tools are not only functional, they’re beautiful! I wanted one of everything, all in different colors.

Jellies at the Shedd Aquarium

Speaking of colors, I have never seen color composition like the jellyfish exhibit at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. We got an early morning pass and had those silent wonders all to ourselves. With about 10 different species in the exhibit, I found myself simply mesmerized. Luckily we had penguins to visit post-jellyfish, otherwise I may still be there!

Salvaged Metal Cello

My friend Julia Edelmann from Buckingham Interior Design has a simple, stylish and somewhat quirky sense of design, and this upright bass shows that off. It was resting in a corner of her office, and she mentioned that it was made of recycled WWI aircraft metal! She bought it for her a son, a cello player, but it ended up in her shop. Sadly, it didn’t fit into my carry-on.

Jute Light Fixture

Julia also brought us to an apartment in downtown Chicago that she had recently redesigned. While the views stole the show, this particular light fixture made from jute really centered the breakfast nook and gave the airy space a cozy feel.


We began our final day in Chicago at the former Sears Tower, 103 floors up at the SkyDeck. While a couple members of my crew were nervous about the glass-floor lookout, I couldn’t wait to experience that view!

All in all, it was a fabulous trip full of good finds and great memories. I can’t wait to head back to IGC again next year.

Garvan Woodland Gardens

In the world of gardening, shady areas are often described as difficult to design or as
troublesome spots where few plants will grow. If this sounds familiar take heart because
there is a beautiful woodland garden in Hot Springs, Arkansas, that illustrates just how
easy it is to have a gorgeous landscape without full sun.

Garvan Woodland Gardens is the legacy of Louise Cook Garvan, who began designing and
planting the site in 1956. Since her death, the gardens have continued to flourish
under the guidance of the University of Arkansas’ Department of Landscape Architecture.

Garvan is designed to fit harmoniously with the natural setting and has something to
behold in every season.

What’s Cool About Garvan Gardens

  • An extensive collection of rare shrubs and trees selected and planted by Mrs. Garvan; some are over 40 years old.
  • Over 2,000 azaleas. Imagine that in spring!
  • 300-plus varieties of blooming perennials and groundcovers.
  • Garden Pavilion designed by nationally known architects E Fay Jones and Maurice Jennings.
  • Close to three miles of walking paths.
  • Tulip Extravaganza with 90,000 blooms from early March through April.
  • Two-acre wildflower meadow.
  • An enclosed one-acre children’s garden featuring a cave, maze, treetop boardwalk and stone climbing slopes.


  • Open Daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. February through mid-November; 12 noon to 9 p.m. mid-November through December 31
  • Holiday Light Display: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Saturday before Thanksgiving through December 31) *Note: Special admission rates apply at 5 p.m. when lights are switched on.
  • The Garden is CLOSED Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and the entire month of January.


  • Adults $8.75
  • Seniors 55+ $7.75
  • Children under 12 $4.50
  • Children under 5 Free
  • Dogs $4.50

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art welcomes all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of landscape. We explore the unfolding story of America by actively collecting, exhibiting, interpreting, and preserving outstanding works that illuminate our heritage and artistic possibilities.

— Crystal Bridges Mission Statement

During the fall of 2011 my home state of Arkansas became the talk of the art world. Everyone was discussing the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. It’s a museum that not only boasts a fabulous collection, but the architecture itself is an expression of art and certainly the grounds are a masterwork as well.

The first thing you’ll notice about the museum is the landscape, which covers 120 acres of woodland with 6 nature trails. The Ozark Mountain region is breathtaking at any time of the year, but I suggest visiting in October for the fall foliage or April when the dogwoods are in bloom.

The museum complex is nestled at the bottom of a ravine and is made up of a collection of buildings encircling a pond. Two glass-walled pavilions cross over the pond creating a circuit for visitors to follow. The architect, Moshe Safdie, selected materials for the exterior that blend into the woodland – copper roofs, concrete, and wood.

Housed inside the buildings are four galleries, a cafe, museum store, auditorium, library and, of course, art. The art collection is a survey of American art spanning from the Colonial period to contemporary works. There are well-known pieces such as Charles Willson Peale’s George Washington (ca. 1780 – 1782), Asher Brown Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849) and Andy Warhol’s Dolly Parton (1985) and lesser known diamonds-in-the-rough too.

As you walk through the galleries the scenery of the Ozark Mountains is always quietly in the background. Expansive glass walls offer views of the pond or valley and building materials such as wood beams recall the forest just outside. It truly is a combined experience of art and nature.

Whether you are passionate about art, nature or Americana a visit to Crystal Bridges is a must. It will be a trip to remember.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival

I hesitate to call eating locally produced foods a trend A) because I hope it’s more than a passing phase and B) because it’s not a new concept; we’re just finally making our way back to it.

Farmers markets are an obvious way to find ingredients grown or made in your area, but if you really want to get to know your food visit some of the food festivals going on in your state. All across the country celebrations are planned for regional specialties. Garlic, raspberries, bourbon, shrimp, corn and huckleberries are just a few of the honorees. Not only is it a fun and usually free way to spend the day, but you’ll learn more about locally produced food.

Here in Arkansas the pink tomato is so beloved it was designated the state’s official fruit in 1987. Of course we’ve been exalting the pink tomato long before it received its official title. The first Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival was in 1956 and now it’s the oldest continuously running festival in the state.

The week-long fete includes events such as a tomato packing contest, a 5K run/walk, fish fry, turtle races, carnival and a tomato eating contest, of course. It’s a fun way to spend a day and show support for a regional farming community.

To learn more about the Bradley County Tomato Festival visit BradleyPinkTomato.com.

Pink Tomato Varieties

  • Arkansas Traveler – Slicer, indeterminate, tolerates hot, dry weather
  • Bradley Heirloom – Slicer, indeterminate, good for canning and freezing
  • German Johnson – Slicer, indeterminate, tolerates humidity
  • German Queen – Beefsteak, indeterminate, low acid and meaty
  • Pink Brandywine – Beefsteak, indeterminate, a favorite for flavor
  • Pink Girl – Slicer, indeterminate, extra juicy
  • Porter Improved – Cherry, indeterminate, prolific

Good to Know:

Arkansas tomato farmer David Forrester says the way to determine if a pink tomato is ready for harvest is to look for a pale star on the bottom. Pick it before the star fills in with color.

This Summer Spend Some Time on a Farm

I am a card-carrying, lifetime blueberry lover. So you can imagine how thrilled I am that it is fresh-berry-picking season in Arkansas. U-pick opportunities are in full swing all across the state. If you’re searching for the perfect summer getaway, why not pick your own blueberries at an Arkansas U-Pick Farm? A match made in vacation heaven — travelling and eating.

Agritourism such as this is a great way to learn about your local eats and the benefits go beyond just fresh foods. You can help support your local economy by visiting local farms run by local people. You’ll receive a unique experience and give farmers the opportunity to earn supplemental income through the sales of jam and jellies and by hosting tours and workshops.

Agritourism is not new. It is well established in many parts of Europe, especially in Italy, France, Ireland as well as in the UK, New England, and Northern California. It’s a vacation option that’s right at home in Arkansas where agriculture runs deep.

Today’s visitors to the Natural State are increasingly interested in learning more about the region they are visiting – its local traditions, its regional cuisine, and its rural culture and agriculture. Arkansas agritourism offers visitors opportunities to look behind the scenes, to experience Arkansas’s small farms and rural communities providing a wide-spectrum of memorable experiences. Activities are wide ranging and include festivals, farmers markets, U-pick farms, farm tours, winery tours, hayrides, pumpkin patches. Visitors are invited to observe the growing crop, to view the processing of the harvest and to taste and to purchase the final product. The whole visit usually takes just one or two hours, but some farms have facilities for visitors to linger, perhaps to have a picnic and simply enjoy the rural ambiance. I see agritourism as a way to build a bridge between rural and urban Arkansas, plus it’s a lot of fun!

Similar to a farm visit, a pick-your-own operation additionally allows visitors to pick their own fruit or vegetables. For example, after your blueberry harvest and once you get home, toss the sweet berries in salads; make a bubbling blueberry cobbler or hand dip them in chocolate as treats.

I urge everyone to discover and explore all the flavors and experiences that Arkansas agriculture makes available. Our Arkansas producers look forward to extending our famous southern hospitality! Go out and experience life on a family farm, taste wine from locally-grown grapes, marvel at acres of fresh Arkansas soybeans, enjoy the bounty of Arkansas’s fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables and see the innovations of today’s modern agriculture.

Show your children live cows, ducks or pigs. Let them pick a blueberry right off the bush in the summer or pumpkins off the vine in the fall. Teach them where their food really comes from – before it is picked, processed and distributed to the grocery stores. Celebrate fall with a wagon ride or a walk through a corn maze, or discover the treasure troves of handcrafted gifts in many of the farm gift shops. There are also eco-tourism ventures and trail rides a-plenty in Arkansas too. Start a family tradition and return to the farm in the winter and chop down your own Christmas tree.

Throughout the year you’ll find fresh, locally-grown produce, meats and a range of other Arkansas food products from honey to elk meat to goat cheese at the state’s farmers’ markets. Arkansas agriculture truly has much to offer! Pick your passion, there’s a lot to choose from in Arkansas agritourism!

Find out more about agritourism in Arkansas.