A couple of weeks ago, I was part of a group of garden bloggers invited to Little Rock, Arkansas, for P. Allen Smith’s fourth annual Garden2Blog event, an all-expenses-paid meetup to learn about new trends in the industry. (Check out the highlights from this event — all in the form of a music video!)
Allen (just Allen, ’cause we’re friends now) is a celebrated garden designer, bestselling author, and TV and radio personality. His show, P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home, is syndicated on KCET, our Southern California PBS affiliate. Every week he talks gardens, home designs, and how-to projects, and offers glimpses into the expansive estate he owns on the south bank of the Arkansas River — an estate that is basically his testing ground for those very gardens, home designs, and how-to projects on his show.
The estate is called Moss Mountain Farm and encompasses the P. Allen Smith Garden Home, terrace gardens, rose garden, apple orchard, stone fruit orchard, a one-acre vegetable plot, a field full of hundreds of daffodils, and the aptly named Poultryville, where Allen works to conserve heritage breeds.
I knew all this heading into Garden2Blog because of his show, but to see this place in all its glory is something else.
Now, I could easily make this post all about the Garden Home, of which I took too many pictures and felt like I was a tourist going through an open house. It’s hard to put the camera down when there were so many things I wanted to add to my “future home” filing cabinet…
Like these separate fridge and freezer units. Need!
And my dream sleeping porch. This one’s fully screened in to guard against those monster mosquitoes in the south.
And this gorgeous copper bathtub that sits on the other side of the sleeping porch… for when you want to take a soak and slide right into bed.
And this view of the Arkansas River from your bed.
An outdoor kitchen, complete with a red brick oven.
An art studio right in the middle of the garden, with said view of river. (Would you ever tire of all that inspiration surrounding you??)
And this beautiful, grand old oak, which I considered the anchor of the whole property.
But despite wanting to spend the rest of the afternoon under that tree, sipping some kind of Southern bourbon cocktail, my favorite part of the farm was the farm itself — all the different “garden rooms,” as Allen calls them, that feel like you’re exploring an outdoor home.
Behind the Garden Home are the terrace gardens, filled with beautiful flowers and shrubs of all kinds (spring was a good time to visit!). Can you picture yourself getting married here? Apparently, you can! We saw two weddings getting set up on the property for that weekend.
Here you can see the upper sleeping porch. The bottom porch is a dining and lounging area.
While I can appreciate the beauty of a flower garden, I get really, really excited when it comes to a vegetable garden. And Allen’s one-acre plot of edibles did not disappoint. The garden is filled to the brim with brambles, herbs, and vegetables in raised beds, with plenty of plants left to bloom for the pollinators.
Got an old, rusty wheelbarrow that no longer works? Turn it into a planter.
So what does Allen do with all these vegetables? He eats them, of course. And he sells them to restaurants in Little Rock. And as you might have seen on his show, the garden serves as a testing ground for various organic gardening methods and a breeding ground for new varieties of plants.
From the vegetable garden, we made our way to Poultryville, whose architecture included these rather rudimentary chicken tractors…
Until you get to the big mamba jamba, aka the Poultry Palace. It was so big, I couldn’t even get the whole thing in frame. And it serves as Allen’s chicken coop, though to call it simply a coop is highly underrating it.
Allen founded the Heritage Poultry Conservancy, whose mission is to preserve and support threatened heritage breeds and strains of domestic poultry.
For the most part, commercial broiler and layer farms (which produce the chickens you eat and the eggs you buy) raise only a select handful of breeds. These breeds have been crossed and created to be highly efficient as fast growers or productive layers, and rarely is an industrially raised chicken both.
That leaves the many, many other breeds of chickens — like my beloved ladies — to decline in number as their genetics become lost in favor of what’s “bigger and better.” Think of it as the chicken equivalent to the heirloom veg versus hybrid veg scenario: If it weren’t for generations of farmers saving seeds and preserving their favorite varieties of ribbed, speckled and scarred tomatoes, all we’d ever know are those perfectly uniform, red and round tomatoes we see in the store. No character. Less flavor. Same with chickens — there’s a noticeable difference in how a pastured heritage chicken cooks and tastes. And even if you don’t eat them, heritage breeds produce some of the most beautiful eggs in all shades of brown, pink, green, and blue.
I saw so many gorgeous, showy roosters at the Poultry Palace, I almost considered getting one for my backyard. Almost.
These little fellas haven’t moved into the Poultry Palace yet — but they’ll get there soon!
Allen also raises and preserves heritage ducks and geese.
Can you believe these are ducklings? They grow so fast! And are adorably clumsy, constantly tripping over their own feet.
After a full afternoon of touring the grounds, it was back to the Garden Home for happy hour under the tree.
This is Arkansas farm life? I’ll take it.
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