Category: Travel

We Eat A Lot of Pie in Arkansas

I’ve heard that food and music hold the personality of a region most strongly. After a recent road trip  I feel safe in taking it one step further and specify that a local favorite dessert really shows off a place’s personality.

Whether they’re fruit, nut, cream, meringue or cheese, baked, fried or frozen — pies come in a dazzling range of combinations. We like our pie in the south. The baker who masters the perfect flour to butter ratio in a crust is spoken about with the utmost reverence, given a place of honor in the community and undoubtedly, asked to bring a pie to every gathering until the end of time. While pies can be graham cracker or cookie crusted, hot or cold, latticed or exposed on top, they must all be delicious to survive in these parts.

Now you’ve probably heard the phrase easy as pie, but I’m not a fan. It strikes me as flippant. The creation of pies shouldn’t be reduced to anything less than an art. Bakers mix a tremendous amount care, thought and tradition into their pies, and most of them have worked on their technique for years. Respect for my favorite dessert led me to travel from Little Rock to Northwest Arkansas along Highway 65 in a quest to experience Arkansas’ pies.

Banana Split Pie

We first stopped at the Wagon Wheel in Greenbrier. Restaurants like these work as anchors and a hub of community life in small towns— a place to connect at lunch or celebrate with the team after a game. Don’t be fooled by this restaurant’s nondescript exterior. It boasts a spectacular spread and is known for its meringue pies. The bakers in this kitchen know how to whip egg whites and sugar into heavenly bliss. I had a banana split pie that had about three inches of meringue on top. So decadent!

Strawberry Pie

Every one of the restaurants we visited has a top pie, a pie that’s flavor is discussed like a legend, and at the Skylark Café in Leslie, that pie is strawberry pie. Cool and refreshing with impeccable balance between sweet and tangy, this dessert is a summer staple not easily forgotten. The filling is just the right consistency, not too thick and packed with juicy strawberry pieces. I dined on the porch and took in the café’s equally charming exterior. Originally a home, they remodeled the building into a restaurant, painted the outside turquoise with red trim and surrounded it with garden art and potted plants. Save me a seat on the porch. I’ll be back.

In addition to the sugary ecstasy, I also experienced a treat for the eyes. Highway 65 winds elaborately, offering dramatic views of the mountains and valleys, and the October leaf display has earned the region the nickname the New England of the Ozarks.

We detoured to Gilbert, an old railroad town with one sign that reads ‘population 33’ and another that reads ‘coolest in the state.’ They’re referring to temperature, but it works on multiple levels. The little town sits right on the edge of the pristine Buffalo National River. We had to pull over, not for pie, but for a view of the water.

The production crew and I stopped for lunch at Big Springs Barbecue in St. Joe after that, and I ate a bacon-filled “sammwhich.” It was nice to taste something fat-laden and savory to break up all the sweet. Plus they roast the meat themselves. I sampled an apple pie, and tried to wheedle the crust recipe out of the baker to no avail.

Apple Pie

In Jasper, we stopped at the Arkansas House, a restaurant that uses organic, locally produced ingredients, to learn the subtleties of the nut pie. Janet Morgan, the owner, showed me how to make her signature black walnut pie. Time, she said, makes all the difference between a mediocre dessert and a perfect dessert.

Black Walnut Pie

Top Six Must-See List for Arkansas This Fall

I’ve always known that Arkansas is the place to be and now the secret is getting out. Just this year Little Rock was named a top ten midsized city by Kiplingers and Editor’s Choice by Outside magazineIn this guest post Arkansas Tourism Director Joe David Rice shares six great places to visit in Arkansas during one of the best times to come – fall.

All four of Arkansas’s seasons have their charms, but fall’s my favorite. That first crisp morning after the dog days of summer recharges my flagging batteries and reminds me that cooler days are coming. Shown below, in no particular order, are half a dozen options for entertaining autumn getaways in The Natural State:

1) Driving the length of Crowley’s Ridge Parkway in eastern Arkansas should be on everyone’s bucket list. For nearly 200 miles, this national scenic byway traverses the winding terrain of Crowley’s Ridge, a fascinating geological anomaly extending from Helena-West Helena north to the Arkansas-Missouri state line. Civil War battlefields, historic districts, cemeteries, state parks, antique shops, golf courses and some fine barbecue joints line the route – and the fall foliage can be stunning.

2) Checking out the harvest in southeastern Arkansas is worth a trip, especially when you work in visits to Lakeport Plantation, historic Arkansas City and the Japanese internments sites at McGehee and Rohwer. Bargain shoppers will enjoy a stop at Paul Michael Company in Lake Village.

3) Walking the grounds at Crystal Bridges is a true delight. We’ve all heard about the outstanding collection of masterworks in the Moshe Safdie-designed complex of buildings, but don’t forget the 120-acre site includes 3.5 miles of splendid trails – complete with outdoor sculptures, picturesque bridges and a gurgling stream. Park your car on the square in downtown Bentonville and walk to nearby Compton Gardens where you’ll catch trails winding through the lush landscapes to the museum.

4) Floating the lower end of the Buffalo National River (from Buffalo Point down to Rush – or on to the White River if you have time) can be a wonderful fall experience. With the summer crowds pretty much gone, your chances of seeing wildlife are that much better. The gravel bars and bluffs provide great scenery, particularly if you can time your trip with the peak of fall colors. Bring your camera and poke around a bit in Rush, one of the state’s only surviving ghost towns.

5) Touring Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs is always a special treat, but it’s even better with the enchanting Splash of Glass exhibit featuring 225 pieces of James Hayes’ handcrafted art (through September). This 210-acre peninsula, located on the shores of Lake Hamilton south of Hot Springs, includes 3.8 miles of easy-to-negotiate trails. For those not up for a good walk, tours by golf carts are available.

6) Last but not least on the list is hiking the Cossatot River Corridor Trail. Maybe a bit lengthy for most at 12 miles, this southwestern Arkansas treasure can be broken down into more manageable segments. There’s no better place to grasp an appreciation of the Ouachitas than along this relatively unknown footpath which parallels a beautiful mountain stream.

Between football games, county fairs and festivals, fall in Arkansas can slip away before you know it. So grab your calendar and set aside a couple of days for yourself. If none of the above ideas appeal to you, check out for plenty of others.

Buffalo, Yoga and Black Walnut Pie

I recently spent a great couple of days around the Jasper area shooting some segments for an upcoming episode of my Garden Home television show. This scenic town is nestled in the Ozark Mountains and surrounded by the natural beauty of the Buffalo River.

The Buffalo River Valley

My trip included a stay at the historic Arkansas House. This inn is ideally located along scenic Highway 7 with easy access to both the Buffalo River and Ozark National Forest. Janet Morgan, owner of the Arkansas House with her husband, Joseph, graciously taught me how to make her famous Black Walnut Pie.

Janet showed me how to make the famous Arkansas House Black Walnut Pie.

I also visited with the Ratchford family on their farm. Originally founded in the 1950s, Ratchford Farms grazes buffalo, elk, and cattle on a 500 acre spread. The farm is located along the Buffalo River, which provides a beautiful area for the cattle to roam the open meadows and drink from pure spring water.

Jethro mugs for the camera and for a treat.

Finally, I visited with Holly and Matt Krepps, owners of the Circle Yoga Shala. They were kind enough to walk me around the 25 acre working homestead located on Shiloh Mountain. The property includes a fruit orchard, grape vineyard, pastures, and walking trails. They also showed me some easy, but beneficial yoga poses for gardeners.

A little yoga before gardening.

It was a wonderful trip and I highly recommend spending a few days in this beautiful part of our state.

Ten Cool Things I Discovered in Chicago

There was lots to see at the IGC show.

Whatever way you spin it, Chicago is a great getaway. Pair a week there with a gardening conference, fabulous fall weather, and interior design shopping and you get a better picture of why I loved my visit to the Windy City. My production crew and I headed north for the annual Independent Garden Center Show where we met up with old friends, bloggers, Garden Home partners, and a whole slew of Chicagoans ready to show off their city. These were a few of my favorite experiences and finds:

Peterson Garden Project

The Peterson Garden Project is a collection of Chicago’s urban gardens started by my friend LaManda Joy and inspired by WWII victory gardens. I love American history, so pair this with my appreciation of community gardening and you’ll understand just how much I enjoyed learning about them.

Moss Garden at Garfield Park Conservatory

I spent a morning at the Garfield Park Conservatory and each of their nearly dozen garden rooms were fabulous. While the outdoor garden drew my attention, it was the moss garden full of ferns and other tropical growth that really transported me to a different place.


Artiflor is a Dutch company that had a booth of home and garden décor at IGC. Besides the fact that the two owners were a couple of the nicest men I’ve met in a long time, they had some fabulous and fun designs.

Topsy-turvy Pots

As I was rushing to find the room where I was meant to speak, I got distracted by this funky, and functional, garden sculpture. I can’t remember who made it, but I sure do wish I had bought one.

Colorful Dramm Water Tools

Having lived through this summer’s Arkansas drought, I’ve become well acquainted with my hoses, sprinklers, and water tools. Coming across the Dramm booth at IGC was like stepping into the sunlight! These watering tools are not only functional, they’re beautiful! I wanted one of everything, all in different colors.

Jellies at the Shedd Aquarium

Speaking of colors, I have never seen color composition like the jellyfish exhibit at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. We got an early morning pass and had those silent wonders all to ourselves. With about 10 different species in the exhibit, I found myself simply mesmerized. Luckily we had penguins to visit post-jellyfish, otherwise I may still be there!

Salvaged Metal Cello

My friend Julia Edelmann from Buckingham Interior Design has a simple, stylish and somewhat quirky sense of design, and this upright bass shows that off. It was resting in a corner of her office, and she mentioned that it was made of recycled WWI aircraft metal! She bought it for her a son, a cello player, but it ended up in her shop. Sadly, it didn’t fit into my carry-on.

Jute Light Fixture

Julia also brought us to an apartment in downtown Chicago that she had recently redesigned. While the views stole the show, this particular light fixture made from jute really centered the breakfast nook and gave the airy space a cozy feel.


We began our final day in Chicago at the former Sears Tower, 103 floors up at the SkyDeck. While a couple members of my crew were nervous about the glass-floor lookout, I couldn’t wait to experience that view!

All in all, it was a fabulous trip full of good finds and great memories. I can’t wait to head back to IGC again next year.

New York City Trip – 5 Places I Never Miss

For a guy who loves his fruits and veggies, the “Big Apple” can’t be beat. New York City is a place that inspires me every single time I visit, and I was lucky to be there early this summer. I’ve been going to New York for years, and while I love hunting for new restaurants or book stores or furniture shops, there are few staples that I can’t seem to pass up when in the city.

The Met

Located in the heart of Manhattan, The Met is as much an architectural gem as it is art museum. Besides the fact that it’s one of the world’s largest art galleries- it holds over 2 million permanent works!- it also is packed with an incredible array of temporary exhibits that I like to research before I arrive. If you get to visit, I recommend the rooftop garden. With a café and bar, it’s the perfect place to sit and ogle the Manhattan skyline and Central Park.

The Whitney

As much as I adore The Met, it’s the much smaller and less well-known Whitney Museum of American Art that I turn to first. I have always been a fan of American History, and the museum focuses on 20th and 21st-centuray American Art, pieces that tell the story of our country’s modern history. My favorite aspect of the museum it that it sources many of its works from living artists and showcases young and upcoming artists each year.


Whether it’s off Broadway or on, the theatre scene in New York is unbeatable. I always try to make time for at least one show, and on my most recent visit I got to see Wicked! I’ve been in the audiences of some of the most famous and long-running shows like Cats and The Lion King, and gotten to be one of only a few thousand people who have seen shorter-lived productions, but you just can’t go to New York and NOT see a show. I think it’s actually a state law…

NY Public Lib

I never seem to spend as much time as I want to at the New York Public Library, a space whose history is almost as lovely as the building itself. The library originated in the 19th century from the combined efforts of all different kinds of groups- grass-roots organizations, social libraries, and private donations from bibliophiles and philanthropists alike. Each time I visit the newly-restored Rose Main Reading Room I feel like I’ve entered one of the great cathedrals of Europe- the ceiling is painted with murals that give the impression that you’re actually look through the ceiling, up to the sky- but it’s the thick red quarry tile from Wales that gives the room its powerful echo, reminding you just how big the space is.

Union Square Farmers Market

You can take a farm boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy! New York may be famous for its restaurant scene, but on a breezy day there’s nowhere better to be than the Union Square Farmers Market. At the peak of the season, there are almost 150 farmers, fishermen and bakers sharing their New York-sourced goods, but there are also 60,000 shoppers enjoying the cooking & canning demonstrations, recycling & composting how-to’s and general camaraderie of the market. I recommend grabbing some local cheese and tomatoes and fresh bread, sitting down in the grass, and watching the world pass by.

Best of all, New York is the perfect place for people-watching. No matter when you go, or where you stay, just make sure you have time to wander through the different boroughs and imagine your life as a New Yorker.

The Natural State

[Image: Etsy]

Travel has been the name of the game for me this year. I have been fortunate enough to travel everywhere from San Francisco to Chicago to Morocco! While all of these trips have been amazing (and very inspirational!!), I often find that my creative energies are most refreshed and recharged when I am here in my home state of Arkansas — also known as The Natural State.

And why wouldn’t that be true?? I am always intrigued to hear fellow designers say they are inspired by landscapes or trips to their country homes on the weekend. The truth is, I have the best of both worlds because I get to enjoy the amazing city of Little Rock, but can also travel just outside of the city to see beautiful rolling landscapes such as this view of Allen’s home, Moss Mountain Farm…

I can pick fresh berries…

Watch the leaves change (on my way to Fayetteville to cheer on the Hogs, of course!)…

and catch a lakeside sunset all without leaving my beloved home state!!

Having deep family roots here in the state with the added bonus of enjoying all of these fabulous “Natural State” amenities make Arkansas the perfect place for me to feel inspired to pursue my passions and take my design work to the next level.

On July 10 I’ll be sharing more about my experiences growing up and growing a business here in Arkansas on “Tales from the South” popular Southern storytelling hour known as “The Tin Roof Project.” If you live in the central Arkansas area, come out to join us at The Starving Artist Cafe for a live reading of my story and dinner. You can find all the details here. If you aren’t in The Natural State, you will be able to hear the recording on this site later in the month.

Oh…and if you haven’t already checked it out, don’t miss Allen’s appearance on “The Tin Roof Project.” You will definitely be inspired by his story and love for all things Arkansas and Southern!

Be inspired! -Tobi

[Images: Unless Specified Google Images]

Happy Birthday Mister President

In honor of one of my personal heroes and in celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday on April 13th, I’d like to share a very brief visual tour of when I went to Monticello recently. We filmed an entire episode there for my show P. Allen Smith’s Garden to Table but I’d just like to remember back right now some of grounds and gardens with some imagery from my visit.

The Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Home

Josephs’ Coat (Amaranthus tricolor) found along the Winding Walk on Monticello's West Lawn.

The Pavilion with its double-sash windows, Chinese railing, and pyramidal roof in the Vegetable Garden that Jefferson frequently used as a quiet retreat where he could read in the evenings.

The remarkable Vegetable Garden Terrace Wall as viewed from the South Orchard.

Here I am in the Northwest Vineyard with Gabriele Rausse, one of the founders of the modern Virginia grape industry. Gabriele oversees the production of wine at Monticello as well as the care of the restored vineyards, which continue to serve as experimental gardens of unusual varieties of grapes.

This is Monticello Grove on the northwest side of Monticello Mountain and a spectacular sunset on an amazing trip that checked off another item from my bucket list.

The Doors at Canterbury Shaker Village

Doors are symbolic of opportunity, new life and passing from one state to another. But what about the doors that welcome us home everyday? It seems to me these passages represent a return to shelter and comfort, a return to the familiar.

During a recent trip to Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire I couldn’t help but wonder over the building entrances. Since the late 18th century these entries have ushered residents and visitors into meeting halls, workshops, dinning rooms and living quarters. What stories they could tell! Each door must have represented something different to every person who crossed the threshold.

Canterbury Shaker Village is located in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Built in 1792, it was one of 19 Shaker communities in the United States. The last Shaker resident, Ethel Hudson, died in 1992. Today Canterbury Shaker Village is a non-profit museum tasked with preserving the heritage of the Shakers who called the area home for 200 years. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1993. If you want to see the Canterbury Shaker Village doors in person you can tour the site May through October and for special winter holiday events. Learn more by visiting




Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival

“But though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener”
Thomas Jefferson to Charles Willson Peake 1811

Thomas Jefferson is one of my biggest heroes. He and George Washington loomed large in my imagination as a child and throughout my school years. In fact my graduate work focused on the tour of English gardens that Jefferson and Adams took together in 1786. I’ve been happy to see the renewed interest in the personalities surrounding the founding of our country and have enjoyed the numerous histories and television programs such as the John Adams series.

Although I’m a few centuries too late to meet the man, I can still learn a lot from Thomas Jefferson by visiting his home Monticello. In fact, I used many of the ideas gleaned there to design the Garden Home Retreat.

On September 16 I’m heading to Monticello for the fifth annual Heritage Harvest Festival celebrating Jefferson as America’s “first foodie.” Appropriate title don’t you think?

You can learn from Jefferson too when you attend this family-friendly weekend featuring food, music and workshops.  I’m giving the keynote address Reflections on Jefferson: Gardening, Farming and Democracy on Friday the 16th at 6 p.m. Hope you can join me for a lively discussion and good food. Click here to learn more.

The mountain top estate and other farms encompassed over 9,000 acres at its peak.

Construction on the house that we know today was started in 1769.

Lord Burlington's Chiswick house and gardens. Jefferson visited English gardens with John Adams in 1786

The 1,000 foot long vegetable terrace with views of Mount Alto beyond.

Flowers specific to Jefferson's time line the walks at Monticello today.

A springtime view of the gardens and orchards, which were essential to the vitality of the estate..

Jefferson's garden book, which he kept from 1766 - 1824, illustrates this commitment to trialing new plant varieties & his scientific appraoch to botany, farming & gardening.

Jefferson kept a pet Mockingbird sometime during his tenure as president between 1801 - 1809..

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.