Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

Posts by Risa Quade

Sometimes, gardening projects simply fail. Hail, deer, squash borers, hurricanes—peril can strike at any time. For the home gardener, this can be disappointing. If you are growing something particular for a magazine photo shoot, then you need a Plan B.

This happened to me last summer with the popcorn patch I had planted for Easy Garden Projects™ magazine. Oh sure, the 100 cornstalks were pretty and green and getting tall at midsummer. Then a gang of raccoons found the new ears of popcorn and began gorging. I tried a repellent, sprinkling it liberally around the perimeter of the patch and through the rows. Then life got in the way, and when I returned in late August to check on the patch, it was gone. A mess of broken stalks and ravaged husks.

This is my popcorn patch after the raccoon raid in August.

We could have cancelled the project, but I had a backup plan.

Tom and Diane Decker, farmers in Calhoun County, Iowa, run a non-GMO popcorn farm. One brilliantly fine autumn day my brother and I went to visit the Decker farm and pick up some ears of popcorn. Combine tractors were just starting their soybean harvest in surrounding fields, and the air had that Midwestern scent of dry husks. Tom and Diane greeted us and graciously gave us a tour of everything from the fields where they grow the popcorn to the white metal sheds where they store and package the dried kernels. Their popcorn business, Farmer’s Best, is a true mom-and-pop business. They do everything from growing to packaging and driving the popcorn to regional stores. It hasn’t been the most profitable venture, but Tom was looking for a way to diversify. And he found it.

Diane sent us off with a good supply of Farmer’s Best popcorn, a bushel of popcorn ears, and several long stalks, which I kept whole by threading them through the seats of my car for the trip back to the office. A few days later, we re-created a popcorn patch in the Better Homes & Gardens Test Garden®, and I sat down to shell the dried popcorn kernels from the cob under the camera’s watchful lens. Yes, it wasn’t the popcorn I had planted last May, but a magazine gardener has to get a little creative now and then. A humane raccoon trap wouldn’t have hurt, either.

For ordering Farmer’s Best popcorn, go to www.farmersbestpopcorn.com

Farmer’s Best Popcorn fields in early October.


Dried popcorn ready for popping.



Coin-shaped seed pods have earned Lunaria the common names of ‘money plant’ and ‘silver dollar plant.’

When I was young, one of my mother’s close friends had a garden tucked with all sorts of interesting things, such as  dill, horseradish, and strawflowers. But my favorite plant was her Lunaria because it yielded bouquets of silvery, translucent disks. Though named the “money plant” or the “silver dollar plant”, to me the seedpods looked like bundles of tiny moons tethered to the earth by slender but tenacious stems. The Latin name ‘Lunaria’ means “moonlike.”

Last year, my 7-year-old son discovered “money plant” seeds at the nursery and was instantly attracted to the idea of growing money. Lunaria is easy to grow, though we actually forgot we had planted it until this summer when the distinctive pods emerged. The Lunaria plant itself looks unremarkable in the garden, with broad, floppy leaves and clusters of shy, purple flowers. When the seedpods sprouted, they looked like flattened sugar peas. Then they turned a dirty brown that definitely looked unappealing (in fact, when I harvested a Lunariaplant this summer and left it on a patio table to dry, my husband tossed it on the compost pile). But peel back the dry husk and a shiny, papery moon reveals itself, ready to last for years in a dried flower arrangement or on its own.

The green seed pods and purple flowers of Lunaria.

My son, though, was a little disappointed he couldn’t spend the “money” we raised in our garden.


The dry, brown seed pod husks peel off easily to reveal translucent surprises inside.

Lunaria, a member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family, originated in Europe and migrated to America with early settlers.  The plants are biennials, growing one year and flowering the next. The seeds sprout easily, making them a nuisance in tidy gardens. They bloom spring through early summer. In Zone 5, where I garden, the pods were dry and ready for cutting by early August.


How to Grow:

Direct sow Lunaria seeds in the spring and cover lightly with soil, then water.

Lunaria thrives in most soil types (even my clay!), prefer sunny sites but deal with partial sun. Fertilize once a year, if you’re into that sort of thing, and water if they seem droopy (but remember that Lunaria dislike consistently soggy soils). After the seedpods have turned brown, they are ready for harvesting. If not quite ready, you can hang upside down and dry for an additional week or two. Then simply peel off the brown layers on each side of the pearly “coin” and your Lunaria are ready for display.

In the Fall 2015 issue of Country Gardens® we feature a honey-themed party hosted by organic herb and vegetable farmer, Val Jorgensen, in Westerville, Ohio. Bees, integral to her farm, provided the central ingredient to the pulled pork piled atop corn cakes, ricotta sauce, figs drizzled with thyme-infused honey, and pumpkin tea bread served with honey butter. Enjoy the sweet and timeless flavor of honey yourself with Jorgensen’s scrumptious recipes.

Jerry’s Pulled Pork with Honey-Balsamic BBQ Sauce

COOK: 10 hours in slow cooker

1          3 to 4 pounds organic, boneless pork roast

1½      cups water

2          tsp. seasoned salt

2          tsp. garlic powder

1          tsp. smoked, Spanish paprika

1⅓      cup organic balsamic vinegar

1          cup organic ketchup

½        cup organic brown sugar

1 ½     Tbsp. organic Worcestershire sauce

¾         tsp. salt

⅛        tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1½      tsp. organic garlic, minced

½        cup local, raw honey

1. Add roast to slow cooker. Stir salt, garlic powder, and paprika into water and pour over roast. Cook on low for 10 hours or until meat falls apart.

2. After 9½ hours, combine vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper, and garlic in a medium saucepan and bring to boiling over medium heat. Continue gently boiling over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Let cool to about 130°F and then blend in honey. Mixture should be thick and syrupy.

3. Shred pork and stir in half of the prepared sauce. Serve remaining sauce alongside pork. Makes 12 servings.


Skillet-Toasted Cornmeal Corn Cakes

1          cup organic, all-purpose flour

¼         cup (generous) coarse-ground, organic grits

¼         cup (generous) organic cornmeal

1½      tsp. baking powder

½        tsp. baking soda

½        tsp. salt

1          large organic egg

3          Tbsp. local, raw honey

3          Tbsp. unsalted, organic butter, melted and cooled

1¾      cup plain, organic yogurt

1. Toast grits and cornmeal in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat for 8 minutes or until fragrant and a deeper yellow.

2. In a large bowl add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, toasted cornmeal and grits. Combine with a whisk. Set aside.

3. In another bowl blend one egg with honey and cooled butter. Add yogurt, and whisk until combined.

4. Pour yogurt mixture into dry ingredients. Blend with a whisk just until combined—do not overmix. Let mixture sit for 6 to 8 minutes.

5. While batter is resting, preheat a griddle to 375°F and coat with a thin layer of coconut oil or butter. Drop generous tablespoons of batter onto hot griddle and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. When underneath is golden, flip corn cake and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter. Makes 12 medium corn cakes.


Pumpkin Honey Bread

1          cup local, raw honey

½        cup unsalted, organic butter, softened

1          can (16-oz.) organic, solid-pack pumpkin

4          large, organic eggs

4          cups organic, all-purpose flour

4          tsp. baking powder

1          tsp. baking soda

1          tsp. salt

2          tsp. ground cinnamon

2          tsp. ground ginger

1          tsp. cloves

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a large bowl cream honey with butter until light and fluffy. Stir in pumpkin. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated.

3. Sift together remaining dry ingredients. Stir into pumpkin mixture, blending thoroughly without overmixing.

4. Divide mixture equally between two well-greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Bake on middle rack for 1 hour or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let loaves cool in the pan for 10 minutes; invert pans to remove bread and to finish cooling on racks. Makes two 9x5x3-inch loaves.


Dorothy Mae’s Honey and Lavender Biscotti

2¼      cups unbleached, organic, all-purpose flour

½        tsp. baking soda

1          tsp. baking powder

¼         tsp. salt

⅔        cup granulated sugar

3          large, organic eggs

3          Tbsp. lavender and rose petal-infused honey

½        tsp. vanilla extract

2          Tbsp. minced zest from one large organic orange

1          Tbsp. dried, organic lavender

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Oil baking sheet and cover with parchment.

2. Sift first four ingredients together in a small bowl.

3. Whisk sugar and eggs in a large bowl to a light, lemon color. Stir in next four ingredients. Sift dry ingredients over egg mixture. Fold into dough until just combined. Do not overmix.

3. Divide dough in half and transfer each portion onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Using floured hands and working quickly, shape each portion of dough into a log shape, roughly 13×2-inches. Allow about 3 inches in between the two portions on baking sheet. Smooth each shape by patting gently.

4. Bake, turning pan once, until loaves are golden and just beginning to crack on top, about 35 minutes.

5. Let cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

6. Using a serrated knife, cut each loaf diagonally into 3/8 -inch slices. Lay the slices about a ½ inch apart on baking sheet, cut side up, and return them to the oven. Bake, turning over each piece halfway through baking, about 15 minutes or until crisp and golden brown on both sides.

7. Transfer biscotti to wire rack and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for a least a month. Makes approximately 4 dozen.


Honey Butter

6          oz. (1½ stick) unsalted butter, softened

¼         cup local, raw honey

¾         tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl by hand or with a mixer. Makes about one cup.


Honey-Mustard Sauce

1          cup Dijon mustard

½-¾    cup local, raw honey

Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix honey and mustard together until smooth. Add salt and pepper. Refrigerate leftovers. Makes about 1½ cups.


Honey and Herb Ricotta Spread

3          cups fresh ricotta cheese

¼         cup local, raw honey

1          tsp. fresh, whole thyme leaves

2          Tbsp. good-quality olive oil

Coarse sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

1. Warm honey and thyme gently in a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (the bottom should not touch the water). Do not heat the honey above 100°F.

2. Place ricotta in a shallow bowl. Pour honey mixture over ricotta. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Makes 10 servings.


Figs ’n Honey Topping

12       ounces dried figs, chopped

¼         cup local, raw, thyme-infused honey

3          Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3          Tbsp. water

Juice of 1 organic lemon

Combine dried figs with honey, olive oil, water, and lemon juice. Warm gently in a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water). Warm thoroughly and continue heating for 10 to 15 minutes or until figs swell up. Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers and use within a week. Makes 1 cup.






Freeland Tanner created this wall art by arranging vintage tools, antique sprinkler, trellis, and used garden hoses on a base made from an old teak tabletop.

Every once in a while, you see something in someone’s garden that hits a chord. The Tanner garden in Napa, California, which we featured in the summer issue of Country Gardens, struck me not for the verdant plantings but for the innovative use of old garden tools, hoses, sprinklers and other cast-off items from gardens of the past.  In the Tanner garden, spades and pitchforks became a garden gate; metal flower frogs became wall art; old faded hoses were braided together to make garlands or used as stems for antique sprinkler “flowers”.

Antique sprinklers sprout from the ends of old hoses that have been threaded over bent rebars to create this fanciful sculpture.

It’s always endearing to me to see castoffs refreshed with new life.

Vintage metal flower frogs are skewered by repurposed bits of trellis for this artwork.

And for me, as Father’s Day approaches, the Tanner garden reminds me of my dad, who collected old tools. He spent years going to farm and house sales, buying boxes of old hammers and saws, bundles of rakes and wide brooms. Dad owned a large brick building, and he would take all his treasures to his “shop,” clean and fix them, and arrange them in patterns across the walls and along display shelves through the center. Dad has been gone for many years now—his collection sold to other collectors.

Shovels, pitchforks, and other garden tools, painted Ponderosa Green, form the core of this unique and emblematic gate.

He would have thoroughly enjoyed the Tanner garden. I know a lot of people who combine nostalgia with functionality and art, which extends to most of our Country Gardens audience as well.

Freeland braided worn-out hoses and hung them in swags to display a collection of vintage watering cans.

My three sons helped make polymer clay plant markers for the garden.


Sometimes, the do-it-yourself projects we attempt do not turn out exactly as seen on the internet or television. At least in my experience.

While editing the 2015 issue of Easy Garden Projects, I watched dozens of DIY ideas materialize into useful and interesting garden improvements under the expert hands of our contributing editors. I vowed to tackle a handful of the projects featured in the magazine to see if my skills matched those of our experts. To start, I picked a project my kids could assist with – plant markers made of polymer clay.

My three elementary-school-aged boys helped me select the colors of polymer clay at the craft store. They also helped roll out the clay (once I kneaded it to soften) and cut out the markers using a template. After arguing over letter stamps and puzzling over the correct spelling of “thyme” they also stamped herb names into the clay. According to the teeny-tiny print on the clay packaging, I baked the finished markers at a low temperature until hard.


Many hands make interesting work – my boys crafting their own plant markers for herbs and flowers.

The kids were thrilled with the finished product. It doesn’t quite look as perfect as the ones made by Marty Ross and her husband for the Easy Garden Projects photo shoot, but my kids were thrilled with the results.

For detailed instructions and other inspiring ideas, check out Easy Garden Projects, on sale this summer at newsstands across the nation.

Plant markers made by very enthusiastic boys.

The plant markers made for Easy Garden Projects magazine.


Nothing has served as a better “welcome home” greeting this spring than my  Suncatcher tulips.  The tulips began blooming in mid-April and continue to dazzle my slowly-waking front yard with petals of brilliant yellow and cherry red. They are the first thing I see as I return home, sparking life into the southwest corner of my front yard where all passers-by stop to admire their rather optimistic cheerfulness projecting above the brown pine needles and hesitant green spikes of new spiderwort.

Last fall, when I hastily poked a dozen holes into the slope of my front garden, I gave little thought to the fat tulip bulbs that had just arrived from Longfield Gardens. Pressed for time, I covered the bulbs with soil and promptly forgot all about them until pops of color announced that winter was over. Even my young sons noticed the tulips after they first bloomed. “They should have named these ‘Rainbow Tulips’” decided my 8-year-old. “Because these tulips have the first three colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow.”

For those who live in the colder climes, where months of gray and brown prevail, a clutch of tulips planted along driveways or front entrances makes an ideal greeting. Returning from work at the end of the day seems like arriving at a little spring party (and shouldn’t it be that way this time of year?).





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