The Garden Home for the Holidays

Nancy Nolan
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At Home in Arkansas: Describe the holidays at Moss Mountain Farm, your country estate overlooking the Arkansas River. 

 P. Allen Smith: We have our holiday open houses, where anyone can come see the farm fully decorated, and then I have smaller gatherings with family and friends. I enjoy cooking, so I try to keep the numbers manageable, like a dinner for 10. Guests who are handy in the kitchen pitch in, and that’s part of the fun of getting together.  


AHIA: What’s your philosophy on decorating for the holidays?  


PAS: It’s important to me that the holiday décor work with the existing décor of my home. Even though the traditional colors are red and green, I’ve never followed that literally. To me, it’s about a celebration and the spirit of the season, and I tend to look for colors and ideas that will fit harmoniously with the interiors. 


AHIA: What color palette do you find works best here?


PAS: I really love dark chocolate brown, and brown plays well with all colors. It’s beautiful with chartreuse greens, and it pops against natural greens. Many of the items I gather around the farm are earthy browns and greens with other subtle colors worked in—Eastern Red Cedar, which has blue berries, as well as magnolia branches, the beautiful brown leaves of bracken, mosses and lichens, various sizes of pine cones and native deciduous holly with red berries.



AHIA: Fruits and vegetables seem to figure into the décor as well.


PAS: Sometimes they’re grown on the farm, and a visit to the grocery store can be inspiring too. I’ll come home with artichokes, kumquats, pomegranates and such. Last year, the Satsuma oranges were beautiful, and if you add a few camellia leaves to a grouping, it resembles the foliage of an orange. After the holidays, I used the oranges to make marmalade—nothing gets thrown out.


AHIA: Do you keep historical references in mind, elements that could have been used a century ago on a country estate?


PAS: Rather than getting too hung up on history, for me it’s more about the overall effect and feeling. I tend to use items I already have and add what I can collect and gather on the farm. Then I go on a hunt for anything additional I need, and I’m likely to find things for holiday decorating at a craft or discount store, or a second-hand shop. I prefer a juxtaposition of something earthy and natural against something shiny and glamorous. All the hardware in the house is polished nickel, so I tend to go with silver as a metallic accent rather than brass or gold. Those kind of little details make the difference in the sense of harmony, which is an element you can’t identify but can feel.



AHIA: Did the family traditions you grew up with influence how you decorate your own home for the holidays?


PAS: Growing up, Christmas was always a big event. I’d call my mother a serial decorator—she was always making things over. She and her mother both made slipcovers and adhered to the concept that as the seasons changed outside, the interior needed to change as well. I follow that philosophy too, warming up rooms by switching out pillows, slipcovers and some art. Natural elements were also a big part of our holidays, gathering bowls of pecans and mistletoe from the trees, and we always made a lot of our ornaments, so the creative element figures in.



AHIA: Speaking of ornaments, that’s a beautiful Christmas tree decked out for the holidays.


PAS: The tradition of a large tree that reaches all the way to the ceiling began on our first holiday here, when my young niece just couldn’t wait to figure out where the tree would go and kept saying she wanted a really big tree. So the corner in the parlor became the spot, and every year we bring in a 12-foot fresh cut tree that my niece loves. I look for a tree where you can see the trunk, and the limbs are more open and layered so the ornaments are visible, as well as a more natural, unclipped look rather than one that’s been shaped.



AHIA: Between your television shows, books, public appearances and the myriad of events you host, it could be tempting to reserve the holidays for just private time, yet you open your doors on several occasions throughout the season.


PAS: I’m happy to share this place and share the experience. I maintain my private time for writing, reading and painting, and I balance that with the activity of the farm and visitors. The hope is that they come and are inspired to reach out and do something themselves to beautify their own homes and gardens, that they have an experience that inspires and instructs. My goal is to give them the tools to be successful in their own endeavors.

A Colorful Tradition: In Sheridan, Beverly Wells and her designing daughter, Tobi Fairley, put a fresh spin on holiday décor and complement a colorful entertaining area with a bright blue and green palette


Holiday Help from P. Allen: The designer offers expert advice on using easy-to-find greenery and plants to create inspired seasonal decor in a pinch


Set the Table in Seasonal Style: Local tastemakers share festive looks sure to inspire any setting

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