Queen Wilhelmina Lodge

It’s time to saddle up and head out west; west Arkansas that is. Late October and early November is the perfect time to take a road trip along the Talimena Scenic Drive to see the fall foliage at its peak. Arkansas Highway 88 cuts a path through the Ouachita National Forest on its way to the Oklahoma border. The Talimena Scenic Drive offers mountain vistas of forested peaks and valleys with a multitude of outdoor excursions to enjoy fishing, hiking, and canoeing.

And if you’re wanting to make a weekend out of it, make a reservation at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge perched on Rich Mountain, Arkansas’s second highest peak.

Built to entice railroad passengers in the 1890’s, the original structure cost a whopping 100-thousand dollars (2.6 million in today’s dollars) to build and I’m sure a glorious site to see for weary passengers.

Dutch investors named the inn in honor of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and kept a reserved suite of rooms for her in hope she would visit, which she never did.

The lodge has been through several transformations through the years, but after an extensive renovation, re-opened its doors to the public in July of 2015.

A dramatic mountaintop setting, Queen Wilhelmina Lodge offers 40 guest rooms, fine dining in the Queen’s Restaurant, and is within walking distance of several hiking trails and family oriented activities. Including programs that teach visitors about the mountain, the flora, the fauna and the history of the area.

So saddle up and head west to Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

The Talimena National Scenic Byway stretches 50 miles from eastern Oklahoma to western Arkansas. It takes about an hour and a half to drive the entire route.

I can see why the views alone would lure American settlers to west.

The Lum and Abner Museum and Jot-Em-Down Store not only chronicles the history of the iconic radio program of the same name, but also strives to preserve an important era of American life.




Need a rest? Book a room at Queen Wilhelmina’s “Castle in the Clouds.” The lodge was renovated and reopened in July 2015.

English Garden Tour 2015: Wyken Hall

Wyken Hall is an example of a working farm that has embraced agritourism by adding features such as a vineyard, award-winning restaurant, shops and farmer’s market. Owners Sir Kenneth and Lady Carlisle have transformed Wyken into a vibrant destination. It was interesting to see and gather inspiration for what we are doing at Moss Mountain Farm.

The garden at Wyken is open to the public Sunday through Friday, 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m., 4 pounds per person. Leaping Restaurant and Country Store are open daily for lunch and Friday and Saturday for dinner. Learn more at www.WykenVineyards.co.uk.

The main entrance to Wyken Hall. The walls of this Elizabethan manor house are stucco with a pomegranate lime wash.

Formal elements in boxwood make a whimsical contribution to the front of Wyken Hall.

A chat path running behind Wyken Hall.

The gardens at Wyken were designed in the 1980s; relatively new compared to the farm and manor house. Designed to blend with the historic house, the gardens include a knot garden, herb garden, kitchen garden, wildflower meadow, nuttery and copper beech maze.

A proud peacock at Wyken.

Paths and arbors lead visitors through a myriad of garden rooms.

Loose perennials among the formal framework in the Hot Border.

A beautiful vista with a dark brahma as a focal point!

Pleached hedges define the various and intriguing garden rooms at Wyken.

Sheep sculptures punctuate the lawn.

A colonnade of clipped yews directs visitors to the next visual treat!

Herbs and boxwood are a classic combination with a sundial as the centerpiece.

Bright blue is a stunning accent color for the garden and the deep pomegranate stucco of the manor house. The purple flowering vine growing behind the bench is Solanum crispum.

Clipped boxwood in various forms define and punctuate this place in the garden.

A quiet place to sit and enjoy the beauty of Wyken.

Lady Carlisle grew up in Mississippi and her southern hospitality is evident when visiting Wyken.

Lady Carlisle and I enjoying a walk through the gardens.

The cast iron corn gates made from a New Orleans mold suggest Lady Carlisle’s southern roots.

Sir Kenneth and Lady Carlisle and I near a sheep paddock on the estate.

The Leaping Hare restaurant, located inside a restored barn, has received top awards for the food. It’s open 7 days a week for lunch and Friday and Saturday for dinner.

Beyond the house and gardens are informal landscapes: meadows, fields and a 7 acre vineyard. Glimpses of these relaxed spaces are revealed while walking through the garden.

The juxtaposition of the clipped and formal to the natural meadow is compelling.

Mown grass paths through the meadows make enchanting walks.

Four Innovative Tools for Raking Leaves

Much like death and taxes we can always count on autumn leaves and the annual backbreaking chore of collecting them with a rake and bag. I’ve decided that this is going to be the year that I get excited about raking leaves. How? Gadgetry of course. I’ve selected five tools to try out with the hope that one of them will make the job easier. Maybe you’d like to try one of these too?

True Temper Clog-Free Rake

It’s hard to beat a rake when it comes to gathering leaves. Even if you use a leaf blower, you still need a rake. My main frustration with rakes is the leaves get woven between the tines. This incarnation has tines that bend down 90 degrees and connect to make a V-shape. Because it’s made of poly instead of metal the tines won’t bend out of shape either. Reviews I’ve read say that the rake works well on leaves, twigs and pine needles. It’s available in 24-inch and 30-inch sizes.

Leaf Scoops from Gardex®

A thought that frequently crosses my mind while bagging leaves is “I wish I had giant dinner-plate-shaped hands.” Well, that wish is going to come true this year with the help of Gardex Leaf Scoops. The promise here is the ability to grab more leaves at one time without having the rely on the awkward rake and hand method. These will also be great for picking up thorny stems when I prune my roses in spring

Bag Butler®

This is a pretty simple concept that I’m hoping will make a big difference in how I bag leaves. The Bag Butler® is a piece of heavy duty plastic with side panels that fold flat when not in use. One slips a bag over the Bag Butler® and bends the side panels backwards so that the tension will cause them to stand open. I feel certain that there will be some finessing required to get the Bag Butler® set up, but I think it will be worth it because the plastic sleeve prevents twigs from ripping through the bag. You can also lay the leaf bag on its side to rake leaves right in.

Leaf Loader from Structured Solutions

This tool is a flexible disc that bends into a cannoli shape. Cover one end with a bag or yard waste bin, rake leaves onto the Leaf Loader then tip everything up and the leaves slide right into the bag or bin. An center strap adjusts to make the Leaf Loader as wide or narrow as you need. This looks like it would be an excellent tool for carrying leaves to the compost bin.

Follow the Proven Winner

How a Proven Winners® Plant Becomes an All-star.

Plants just like athletes have to go through rigorous trials before they can become a trophy winner. It takes a lot of work to get to a garden center shelf. So how does a plant evolve from bench warmer to starting line up? I spoke with my friends at Proven Winners®, the all-star team of the plant world, and they explained how their plants become winners.

The training starts in the tropics sometime in January by running prospects through meticulous tests to evaluate performance and disease resistance. Follow the process in this video we taped that shows plants going from tiny cuttings to the gorgeous flowers and foliage you purchase at the nursery.

England Garden Tour 2015: Arley Hall

Visiting Arley Hall is like returning to a favorite college haunt, perhaps this is because the estate was one of my favorite places while I was in England studying garden history. I discovered Arley by happenstance while on my way home from dropping my sister off at the airport. During this first tour I met Lady Elizabeth Ashbrook, mistress of the house, and we became fast friends. Over the years I’ve maintained my connection to Arley – Lady Ashbrook’s son Michael has even been to Moss Mountain Farm – and go back whenever I’m in England.

Arley is open to the public March 2015 – October 2015
(Monday – Sunday inclusive) 11am – 5pm (last entry 4.30pm)
Visit www.arleyhallandgardens.com for more information.

Friends of the Spade! Lord Ashbrook and Lady Tollemache and I take a walk around the gardens at Arley.

The park surrounding Arley Hall includes the 18th century approach to the hall. The massive English Oaks and sheep add to the bucolic mood.

Arley Hall, in its present form, was built in the Elizabethan style in the 1840s.

The herbaceous borders, often cited as the crown jewels of the gardens at Arley, were laid out in 1846. The alcove serves as a terminus and a place to sit and admire the borders.

Yew “buttresses” punctuate the borders and provide evergreen structure to the garden.

Loose plantings of bulbs and annuals provide contrast to the structure provided by the yew.

Many North American native plants can be seen planted in the borders.

Topiary yew finials and benches frame the view of the park from the borders.

A sequence of flowering from early May through October makes the borders interesting through the season.

The Ilex Avenue is made of large clipped cylinder shaped holly oak – Quercus ilex.

The terminus of the Ilex Avenue is a sunken garden punctuated by a sundial. The large urns were added by my great friend Lady Elizabeth Ashbrook.

English Garden Tour 2015: Helmingham Hall

This week begins a series of English garden tours on my blog highlighting a recent trip to Cheshire – Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Surrey. I have seven gardens to show you starting with this one at Helmingham Hall, the home of my good friend and garden designer Xa Tollemache.

Hellmingham Hall gardens are open to the public May through early September.
Opening Times – 3rd May to 20th September 2015
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday 12.00 – 5.00pm
Open Bank Holiday Mondays
(opening times on event days may vary)

In addition to the gardens at Helmingham Hall, Xa has designed landscapes for homes in Great Britain, the U.S. and Europe. She took me to see the gardens she designed at Denston Hall.

Maestro guards the knot garden at Helmingham.

The parterre gardens are a favorite spot of mine. I love the combination of grey and green.

Head gardener Roy Balaam has been working at Helmingham since 1952.

A grand urn surrounded by white ‘Sonata’ cosmos is a beautiful focal point.

Water plays a magical role in the garden’s design reflecting the sky and the hall. An eco-friendly bank of wildflowers edges the moat.

A lovely urn planted with Campanula ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ and purple bell vine (Rhodochiton)

Deer in the park are beautiful to observe at the end of the day as they move closer to the hall.

The element of whimsy is incorporated into the garden with fanciful topiary like this comfy chair and jolly snowman.

 Xa discussing the merits of Deutzia.

The herbaceous borders feature a glorious and diverse range of plants. Many American native wildflowers are in the garden such as Joe-pye weed and purple coneflower.

Globe artichokes.

This sundial is a subtle focal point.

A beautiful late flowering clematis.

The dahlias were magnificent.

Twelve Daffodil Varieties to Plant this Fall

If you are looking for the ideal garden flower, you can’t go wrong with daffodils. Once the bulbs are planted in the fall, they emerge and flower reliably each spring for many years with little care. Their cheery, bright blooms illuminate the landscape and announce that winter is over and warmer days are ahead. The deer don’t bother the plants and over time the bulbs multiply so you can transplant them around your garden or share them with friends and family. How’s that for ideal?

The “proper” or botanical name for the plant is Narcissus. But you may know them by one of their many their common names such as buttercup, jonquil and Lent lily. Most people recognize them by their familiar yellow and white trumpet shaped blooms, but they also come in a beautiful range of other colors, shapes and sizes. And by planting varieties that bloom at different times in the spring, (early, mid and late season), you can enjoy several weeks of continuous flowers.

Here is a list of daffodil’s I grow in my garden and you should too.

‘Winston Churchill’
Double flowering
Very fragrant

Small cup

‘Barrett Browning’
Small cup
Early to midseason
Good naturalizer

‘Ice Follies’
Large cup
Early to midseason
One of my all-time favorites.


‘Perfect Lady’
Early to midseason
Small cup

‘Pheasant Eye’
Narcissus poeticus recurves
Late season

Early season

Double flowering
Early to midseason

‘Rhijveld’s Early Sensation’

‘Yellow Cheerfulness’
Double flowering

Mid to late season

American Farmer: Dyess Colony

My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.
We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home,
But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.

“Five Feet High and Rising” Johnny Cash

The countless tales of overcoming adversity is one reason I love American history. From the Revolutionary War to the Great Recession there are so many stories that illustrate the resilience of our spirit. And while I love a good book, I find the best way to get a full sense of these narratives is by visiting the sites where the events occurred. I recently got a lesson on the courage of the American farmer when I visited the historic Dyess Colony in the Arkansas Delta region.

The Dyess Colony was created out of east Arkansas swampland in 1934 through Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. The idea was to relocate 500 farmers from barren land to an area where they could start again. It was the largest agricultural resettlement community in the country. About 500 families took part in the program and each family was given 20 acres, a house, tools and livestock. In addition to the homes there was a town center with a cannery, movie theater and hospital. Being chosen for the Dyess Colony was like winning the lottery for the families, many of whom had never lived in a house with exterior paint before coming to Dyess.

This was a helping hand, not a hand out. The families were responsible for clearing the land and paying the government back – around $2,000. Paying off the debt took a few years, but it gave them the opportunity to own their property rather than farm as tenants.

In 1937 a flood wiped out the farmers’ crops and many families left, but those who stayed learned that “good things come from adversity.”

The population of Dyess began to decline after World War II when better jobs than picking cotton became available. The colony might have been overcome by kudzu were it not for the efforts of Arkansas State University. The university has embarked on a project to restore the town center buildings and the home of its most famous resident – Johnny Cash.


Today you can visit Dyess to learn the farmers’ stories of survival and overcoming incredible odds. These folks made something out of nothing. You can literally touch soil that is part of our American heritage. The experience is a real testament to the human spirit.

Good to Know:
The Cash family arrived in Dyess in 1935. It’s said that Mrs. Cash sat on the floor and cried when she discovered her new house had painted walls. Today you can see the Cash home exactly as it was when Johnny Cash lived there including his mother’s piano. Visiting Dyess gives you context to understand the man. The hardships and successes he experienced helped form his music. If you are a fan or just love American history, it’s a must see.

Dyess Colony Visiting Hours and Location.
Tours begin at 9 a.m. with last tours of the day at 3 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays

Admission (includes the administration building and the Cash family home):
$10 general admission
$8 senior rate
$8 group rate (groups of 10 or more- comp tour operator and bus driver)
$5 student rate (children 5-18 or with a university ID)
$5 field trip rate (comp all bus drivers and 1 chaperone per 10 students)
Free-children under 5 and ASU students

Celebrating Our Songs

As we approach the July 4th holiday I can’t help but think of Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” from his collection of poems Leaves of Grass. The first line is particularly poignant for me – “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear.” I love the idea that each of us has our own melody, don’t you? Our diversity is our strength and our song; from old and young alike; from this land that sustains us, a place of hope and bounty, a land that we love.

What would the words be to your personal anthem? Definitely something to ponder as we celebrate our country’s 239th birthday.

I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as
he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning,
or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
– Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

Nine Flowers for your Vegetable Garden

A vegetable garden without blooms is like a cocktail without a garnish. Flowers aren’t essential in a vegetable garden, but they sure make it better. From a practical stand point flowers work to attract pollinators and add the unexpected to your garden’s design. Plus by combining ornamentals and edibles you’ll maximize your available space.

If you want to mix and mingle vegetables and flowers with success remember, as with all bedfellows, to choose plants with the same growing requirements. Typically vegetables require at least 6 hours of sun each day. There are exceptions such as lettuce, parsley and spinach that will tolerate light shade. Vegetables also need well-draining soil and consistent moisture. There is a huge selection of blooming plants that like full sun as well and benefit from a similar watering routine as their edible companions but always check the plant tags to make sure.

Below are nine plants from my Proven Winners® Platinum Collection that will add the maraschino cherry and twist of lime to your vegetable garden.

‘Cat’s Meow’ Nepeta

Catmint is an excellent companion plant to help keep away flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, and weevils. I also place bowls of the dried blooms on the kitchen counter to deter ants. ‘Cat’s Meow’ will cover itself with blue flowers without much attention from you.
Perennial zones 3 – 8; full sun; upright habit; 17 to 20 inches tall.

Dark Knight™ Lobularia

This low growing plant is an excellent choice to use as edging or mix among salad greens. The fragrant, deep lavender flowers are favored by butterflies and honey bees.
Annual; full sun to partial shade; mounding; 4 to 6 inches.

Supertunia® Pretty Much Picasso® Petunia

Petunias are a helpful pest control plant that repel asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, aphids and tomato worms. These flowers are a delightful blend of hot pink and chartreuse – a real conversation starter.
Annual except in zones 10 and 11; full sun; trailing habit; 8 – 12 inches tall.

Senorita Rosalita® Cleome

This cleome is thornless with sterile flowers that don’t produce seeds, which means it won’t spread. The lavender pink blossoms are produced on upright stems. It’s a great plant for mixing with bold-leaved vegetables such as squash.
Annual except in zones 8 – 11; full sun; upright habit; 24 to 48 inches tall.

Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum® Petunia

These hearty petunias will produce mounds of bubblegum pink blooms even during periods of heat and drought. I like to plant them where they will spill over edges and into garden paths.
Annual; full sun; mounding habit; 16 to 24 inches tall.

Luscious® Bananarama Lantana

Butterflies and hummingbirds will gravitate to the clusters of yellow flowers. This is a great plant to take the attention off of a heat weary vegetable garden because it really kicks into high gear during hot weather.
Annual except in zones 10 – 11; full sun; mounding habit; 18 to 30 inches tall.

Supertunia® Black Cherry Petunia

Smoky red blooms shaped like a gramophone horn send out a clarion call to honey bees and other nectar seeking beneficials. The color is lovely when paired with purple basil.
Annual; full sun; mounding and trailing habit; 8 to 12 inches tall; trails to 24 inches.

Lo & Behold® ‘Lilac Chip’ Buddleia

The pollinators love the fragrant, lavender blooms that appear from spring until fall. ‘Lilac Chip’ is non-invasive so it won’t spread through your vegetable garden.
Shrub zones 5 – 9; full sun; mounding habit; 2 feet tall.

My Monet® Sunset Weigela

My Monet® has a compact habit (18 inches tall) that makes it perfect for edging vegetable beds or planting in a container. The foliage transforms from chartreuse to purple to sunset orange as the seasons change.
Shrub zones 5 – 8; full sun; mounding habit; 12 to 18 inches tall.