A few months ago, I was asked if I’d like to visit Little Rock and P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm, a/k/a the Garden Home Retreat. How could I refuse?
So, this week, I drove five hours (after my airline canceled my flight), and I joined a group of bloggers who visited. A lot of writers have asked me why only certain bloggers were invited. I suppose we were a cross-section of the country in region and style. There were even behind-the-hand hints that we were being used. I found none of that on my visit. As at the GWA annual symposium, there were sponsors. The trip was paid for through them, but there were no restrictions on what we were to write.
I believe we were asked because Allen is launching a new blog and television show, Garden to Table. He also sent us his latest cookbook, P. Allen Smith’s Seasonal Recipes from the Garden. All of the food we ate at the farm was cooked from recipes in the cookbook by Chef Brian Kelley. A small shoutout to the chef. He worked very hard to help those of us with special diets.
After spending two very full days with Allen, and the Hortus Ltd. staff, I can truly write that if you’ve only seen Allen on T.V., you don’t know the true P. Allen Smith. You get an inkling of how much respect he has in Little Rock by the people with whom he works and serves. His landscape design business creates and installs gardens for some the biggest names in Little Rock.
When you visit the governor’s mansion gardens which he and his team created almost from whole cloth after a tornado devastated the prior landscape losing most of the mature trees, and First Lady, Ginger Beebe (who is a Master Gardener), comes out and expounds on her landscape, you begin to understand.
We also saw the home of Chip and Cindy Murphy of the Murphy Oil Corporation. It was done in the style of southern France and was oh so charming. Mr. and Mrs. Murphy use the space for entertaining in order to raise money for many different charitable organizations.
However, my favorite stop on the first night was to Allen’s art teacher, David Garner, at the Marlsgate Plantation, which because of the storms was lit only by candlelight. It lended itself well to Southern Gothic inside and out.
Throughout our visit, Allen was patient and a true southern gentleman. In spite of weather challenges, he remained cool and collected even when the schedule had to change due to storms.
Allen is much more animated, funny and knowledgeable than the gardener expert we see on television. I understand the show is for beginning gardeners, but to reach a younger audience, I wish his partners would let the real Allen show.
For example, did you know:
- The only television in the Garden Home Retreat is in the basement where the farm offices are located. I think this explains his recent entry into social media and blogging.
- He is an avid reader. There are books on every surface, and his library shelves look like mine. You can’t read and spend all your time on the computer.
- He is extremely witty and funny. Yes, funny.
- He is an avid painter, and right now, he is painting gorgeous, giant vegetables.
- Allen is a student of history and Roman pastoral poetry.
- His farmhouse is only four years old although designed and built to look like a nineteenth century structure.
- The farmhouse is built of sustainable and non-toxic materials. For example, the wall insulation is soy and shredded blue jeans. The floors are preserved with linseed oil, and the paints are all natural and based upon colors from the various trees on the farm. One of the bloggers, I can’t remember whom, asked about the colors which are lichen blue, various greens, dark brown and butter yellow.
- A special set of rooms is decorated and set aside for his nieces and nephews.
- He gardens organically and is a strong believer in organic products.
- He works to save endangered breeds of sheep, ducks, geese and chickens.
- He is a fan of our founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson. His sense of style and many of the farmhouse’s outbuildings are based on some of the designs at Monticello.
- His favorite style is that of the mid-1700s.
- He collects American antiques, but not couches because he said he’s never sat on a comfortable antique sofa. I agree.
- He is designing a rose garden of purely American heirloom roses with Noisettes to be the star performers.
- He wants to be known as an educator and not a celebrity.
He was extremely gracious with his staff, the sponsors and everyone who help make the farm what it is. One brilliant business move is how he’s allowed the farm to be a testing ground for new plants and products. He teams up with different companies like Bonnie Plants, Easy Gardener and Proven Winners, among others. The farm is used for education days, along with being a test garden. With a large brand like Allen’s, this is smart business, so I admire his acumen.
I hope this post helps everyone to see Allen as I got to know him in Little Rock.
Allen, you rock.