At Home With P. Allen Smith
You can’t spend the night, but you can tour the ultimate spot for Southern design and gardening in Arkansas.
by Erin Z. Bass
In March, just as spring was beginning to make an appearance, 275,000 daffodil bulbs were also beginning to peek their heads out at the home of P. Allen Smith. Arkansas’s answer to Martha Stewart, Smith retreats from Little Rock to his garden home just 30 minutes outside the city overlooking the Arkansas River. More than 500 acres on a farm dating back to 1840 contain a Greek Revival-style cottage, summer kitchen, art studio, barn, second guest cottage and just about every type of garden imaginable.
If any of this sounds familiar, you may have seen Smith and his home on public television programs “P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home,” “P. Allen Smith’s Garden to Table” or “P. Allen Smith Gardens.” But for any novice or master gardener, a visit to the source is a must. Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm is open for tours, which include the farm and gardens, house, lunch and a booksigning and photos with Smith himself.
Built to be eco-friendly but maintaining its rustic, farmhouse charm, the cottage contains such innovations as soybean insulation and a radiant solar roof, but you’d never know this from the look of the decor. Architectural details remain true to the period and most of the furniture is Southern made prior to 1830.
“I’m crazy about American history,” says Smith, “particularly the founding fathers.” That explains why they get a prime spot in the entryway. Smith’s own paintings of organic vegetables mix with furnishings that get changed out for the seasons. Visitors to the home in fall and winter will find darker, more earthy colors and heavier rugs that get swapped out for lighter slipcovers and airier decor in spring and summer.
After ogling at the expansive river view from the back of the house’s enclosed sleeping porch, visitors will be ready to step outside and meet some of the resident chickens. Smith founded the Heritage Poultry Conservancy in 2009 and has about 400 chickens that are a blend of modern and old breeds, some endangered. It’s obvious he loves his chickens as much as his plants.
Smith says he’s loved poultry since he was 10 years old and showed a white silkie hen at the Warren County Fair in Tennessee. He took home a blue ribbon. Now, his conservancy is dedicated to the preservation and support of all threatened breeds and strains of domestic poultry through education, stewardship and good breeding practices.
On the farm, Smith’s fluffy chickens can be found roaming the front lawn, in the barn or one of the many gardens, which he refers to as “rooms.” Terrace gardens behind the house lead to an heirloom apple orchard, vegetable garden, stone fruit orchard, blueberry parterre, Daffodil Hill and the latest addition – the rose garden. Nestled along the bank of the river, the 18,000 square foot rose garden is dedicated to Smith’s friend Lady Elizabeth Ashbrook, who lived at and tended the gardens at Arley Hall in Cheshire, England, until her death in 2002. A wrought iron gate leads the way, and live oak trees surround, with Gothic garden houses with parapettes on each end. Parterres and pathways are filled with roses, while boxwood hedges planted in a herringbone pattern protect the garden from the river.
The vegetable garden serves as a sort of laboratory for testing methods of organic gardening and new plant varieties. And all of Smith’s gardens are testing ground for his partnership with the Proven Winners brand, available at Home Depot and Lowe’s.
A gift shop, where Smith’s books, heritage poultry t-shirts and caps, items from his product lines and garden accessories, are available for purchase, along with lunch, round out the tour. Slices of heritage grilled chicken over organic greens and buttermilk pecan pie are the perfect ending to a day on the farm with P. Allen Smith.
Photo Credits: Side view of home with chickens by Deep South; daffodils in bloom courtesy of P. Allen Smith; sleeping porch and master bathroom by Deep South; aerial view of garden courtesy of P. Allen Smith; and grilled chicken salad by Deep South.