Road trip to Arkansas recommended

Published 3:53 pm Thursday, December 3, 2020

Today’s Special

Here’s something to put on your next places-to-go list or maybe even your Christmas list. DW and I took a road trip to P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm back in October for my birthday.

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Smith is a renowned garden and floral designer from Arkansas. He appears regularly on the Today Show, The Weather Channel and PBS; and he’s written several books. I knew it would be good.

And I’ll say right away that every safety precaution was followed to keep visitors and staff as safe from the virus as possible. Though most of the tour was outside, guests’ temperatures were taken and all the staff wore masks.

Masks were required in the gift shop and inside the home, though most visitors kept theirs on the entire time. Hand sanitizers and hands washing stations were provided.  The 100 guests for this day were divided into three groups making distancing easier.

DW and I traveled to west Little Rock the afternoon before. Our hotel was 30 minutes away from Roland, Ark., where the farm is. The weather had been so pretty the week prior but we woke up to thunderstorms, thankfully, though, the sun showed up just in time to start our tour.

First the pumpkin house. A metal frame had been devised with round hoops to hold all the pumpkins and gourds that made the walls. Hundreds of pumpkins in shades of cream, yellow, green, blue, plus pumpkin orange in just as many shapes as colors created quite a seasonal photo op. And, the little house had windows and doors with a straw and twig pitched roof topped with… my favorite feature…a witch weathervane.

Our group’s tour started with the terraced gardens. Because of the warm fall most of the summer flowers were still in bloom. We saw Smith’s art studio, where he was working on a snowy landscape at the time. His house sits up high on the site but his property terraces down rather dramatically to the Arkansas river below with spectacular views.

The flower beds were anchored with Vitex trees, hollies, boxwood, sweet olives, knock-out roses, hydrangea and filled in with all kinds of colorfully blooming annual and perennial flowers. All along the garden walk were places to pause to take in the view or to stop and sit a spell. I would have loved to.

Smith got creative with twig arbors, trellises, and tunnels for climbing vines, hanging gourds and pass-throughs, too. His vegetable garden was fenced in to keep the deer out and grew quite a variety of veggies, which he used for his recipes. And we walked through a favorite venue for outdoor weddings with gorgeous iron gates and old brick steps where a bride could make her grand entrance.

And his favorite potted plant for the summer was hard to miss. Huge agaves filled concrete and metal containers all around the property, they were soon to be removed to winter greenhouses for safe keeping. I made a note…agave next summer.

Then, the house, built 10 years ago but looked like it could have been built in 1840. He sourced most everything for this house within a 150-mile radius, which included Viking appliances and a type of stone from Mississippi.

I would have enjoyed at least 30 minutes in each room to study all the beautiful fabrics and furnishings. The second floor screened-in sleeping porch was my favorite, comfortably furnished with beautiful views all around to the relaxing sound of a splashing fountain out back. Oh, for a cup of coffee out there on a cool fall morning.

Lunch was served under a huge white tent: a roasted sweet potato and feta salad topped with grilled chicken and a nice wedge of his famous buttermilk pecan pie for dessert (yummy) with tables set for the season.

As we dined a local craftsperson made goat’s milk soap and then Smith, himself, pulled up a stool and talked with us. And in the background thunder rumbled. He promised that it would quickly pass on over, but no, the rain blew in sideways and lightning popped all around. Umbrellas were useless.

We tried to wait it out, but eventually ran back to the truck without taking the last leg of the tour… a stroll past pastures of sheep, cows, donkeys, and a horse named Trudy down to Poultryville.

Here the University of Arkansas conducts research on the ancient chicken breeds that he has re-established (and no, none were served for lunch!).  He explained that these birds have been bred back to their original DNA.  Smith is also very involved with Arkansas 4-H in gardening, cooking as well as poultry science.

Now it’s Christmas on Moss Mountain, but I’m taking DW back in the spring to see the 825,000 (Smith has counted them) daffodils blooming.  Smith promised a breath-taking sight and a bouquet for each guest.

I bought his cookbook and look forward to his next book now being written. You can find his buttermilk pecan pie online. I’ve already made it twice including the easy pie crust, it would be a delicious addition to your holiday dessert repertoire.

Book your tickets online, pack your masks and take a trip to the farm.  It’s an easy drive.  I was inspired and added several projects to DW’s every growing to-do list.  He’s already planted more daffodils.