When I was 7 years old, I grew my first obsession.
Little House on the Prairie.
I became Laura Ingalls. Seriously. I wouldn't answer to any other name. I called my parents "Pa" and "Ma." (My dad went along with this better than my mom. She really didn't appreciate being called "Ma.") I scrounged some rope from the garage and tied my books together to carry to my suburban school, eschewing my cute book bag. I begged my mother to put my lunch in a pail, but my request fell on deaf ears. I read the books dozens of times, and to further ignite my Laura Ingalls passion, the TV series arrived on our three-channel set.
But the ultimate euphoria for this Laura Ingalls wanna-be?
My summer visits to my Aunt Georgie and Uncle Hugh's farm.
My aunt and I shared a June 16 birthday, which forged a bond between us. I don't think she understood my obsession with farm life, since to her it was just, well, life. A sometimes hard life, busy, and not exactly glamorous.
I thought it was marvelous.
Aunt Georgie's talent with a sewing machine helped supplement their income. Although she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and polio as a child, leaving her hands misshapen and gnarled, she created the most beautiful wedding dresses. I made toys for the farm kittens from the empty thread spools, much as I imagined Laura did back on the prairie, when she wasn't busy saving the family farm.
In the height of my Little House on the Prairie obsession, my aunt made me this:
Yes. My very own Laura-inspired dress and bonnet.
My visits to the farm provided the freedom and imagination a suburban child craved. The open fields, streams, and animals gave me an innate sense of peace and happiness.
While I no longer wear bonnets or carry my lunch in a bucket, I still harbor that inner love of farmland.
As our bus drove up the long approach to the farm, that unmistakeable sensation of inner peace took over, much as it did each time I arrived at my aunt and uncle's farm in Ohio.
From the first glimpse of Moss Mountain, you understand the significance of Allen's vision. A stately, enormous post oak tree anchors the property, with six sister oaks scattered throughout the acreage. The tree provides a dramatic focal point. In fact, Allen selected the site for the home based on the location of this spectacular tree.
It IS picture perfect. Not only does the tree add stately elegance and centuries-old authenticity to the six-year-old farmhouse, it serves as a gathering place for entertaining. As one of Allen's central philosophies in garden design, the tree serves as a "garden room"--a shady destination for drinks, a gathering place for discussions, and a spectacular site to sit and enjoy the views.
Our first taste of Moss Mountain was exactly that--tasty. We gathered under that lush lady, resting our blistered feet and enjoying delicious beverages and treats. (And boy, did we need that drink after a full day of touring Little Rock. One blogger who wore her FitBit informed us that we had logged 6.5 miles that day!)
As we rested, Allen introduced us to Moss Mountain. Created on more than 500 acres of farmland, with the original farm dating from 1840, Moss Mountain's Garden Home Retreat is designed to meld home and gardens. The landscape serves as an extension of the home, with garden rooms incorporated throughout the property.
While we sipped strawberry lemonade, Allen discussed his vision to create a sustainable garden home retreat. In fact, while the home sports a traditional American Greek Revival Style, it is also a showcase of modern green technology. In both his design of the home and the gardens, Allen believes in "living lightly on the land." Not only did he incorporate energy efficient technology in the home, but he also used nature to help achieve energy efficiency. From the site orientation that allows natural light and cross ventilation throughout the home to harvesting rainwater and graywater, Allen combined the best of nature and technology in building Moss Mountain. Radiant heat under the roof, walls insulated with soy foam and denim, energy efficient windows and American made appliances, the home is a testament to Allen's vision of environmental responsibility.
From the coral-hued porch furniture that invites resting, reflection, and a round of blogger chatting to the elegant interior, Allen understands comfortable design.
No detail is overlooked.
Yet, even with every book and flower perfectly positioned, a guest feels like she's in a friend's home, not a designer showplace.
The interior is stunning yet inviting.
You can imagine curling up with a book and a piece of to-die-for pecan pie in this home.
In fact, several bloggers had no problem making themselves cozy.
Oddly, there are no swarths of dog hair billowing across the living room floor.
I don't understand...where's the dog hair? Do people truly live in homes without dog hair?
Each level of the house made me fall in love just a little bit more.
From the kids' rooms in the attic...
...to the "seven fanny kitchen"...
...each room drew "ahhs" from us all.
But the sleeping porch...
...oh, the sleeping porch! If I could add one thing to my ultimate home wish list, it would be the sleeping porch with its spectacular views.
Can you imagine falling asleep to lightning bugs and waking with the soft sunrise?
My inner Laura decided she was never leaving.
But wait--we haven't even visited the gardens yet!
As you look out over the meticulously maintained terrace gardens, you'll find Allen's art studio to the left...
...and a summer kitchen to the right.
(Really? Is there anything this man can't do? I particularly love his "Big Ass Vegetable" series of paintings.)
The expanse looking over the formal terrace gardens provides a stately--yet open and welcoming--view from the house. The perfectly manicured lawn, the clipped boxwood, the central pond...all work to lead your eye to the horizon.
Our garden tour began in the terraced garden, which follows the natural contours of the old farm, curving around the side of the hill. A mixed border of shrubs, roses, perennials, and annuals frame the upper terrace, while the lower terrace includes flowers for cutting, herbs, and fruit.
(Some day, my cutting garden will be grand enough to fill every room with bouquets, all year long.)
Our tour wound through the lushly landscaped paths.
The Moss Mountain orchard includes plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines, while 1,700 blueberry bushes in more than 60 varieties outline the orchard.
The one-acre vegetable garden is the perfect example of blending edibles and ornamentals into beautiful, delicious designs.
Thick, lush plantings and pops of color throughout to attract pollinators demonstrate that vegetable gardens can look beautiful front-and-center in a landscape.
Yum. (What does Allen do with all of this food? Besides using it in the kitchen at Moss Mountain, it's sold to restaurants throughout Little Rock.)
You all know I'm DYING to recreate his vegetable gardens!
We continued on to the rose garden.
Although the rose garden is large (18,000 square feet), again Allen's design offers intimate spaces. In fact, as we sipped wine, the rose garden provided ideal, cozy spaces to gather and have one-on-one chats with some of the other bloggers and sponsors.
My favorite part of the gardens?
Allen gardens organically. By using Integrated Pest Management techniques, organic fertilizer, conditioning the soil with organic amendments, and planting many low maintenance plants, he continues his sustainability efforts in the garden, making certain his gardening practices are safe for the Earth, his farm animals, and wildlife.
I admit--after touring the gardens of Moss Mountain, I came home, looked at my poor, neglected, weed-laden gardens, and felt a bit like Laura when she envied all of the possessions of Nelly's.
Moss Mountain is an enviable, beautiful home.
But it's also extremely motivating. I may not own a 500-acre farm, but I can apply some of Allen's techniques to make our little less-than-an-acre suburban farm more charming. I might not have the talent to paint a veggie portrait to hang on the wall, but I can finish painting the new trellis so I can design the beds around it. And while I know I'll never have his interior design flair, I can do something about the never-ending dog hair that gathers under the piano.
Baby steps, right?
Truly, P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain is an inspiration, and I feel incredibly lucky to share the experience.
P.S. Stay tuned about the great workshops and my favorite--Poultryville--still to come!
P.P.S. Disclosure: As a guest at Garden2Blog, my transportation, accommodations, and meals were provided...but all opinions are my own and in no way influenced by the scrumptious food or delectable drinks provided by my host...honest!