Risa Quade

Gathering Nuts

The Fruit & Nut Gatherer tool from Lee Valley makes picking up walnuts much more enjoyable.

I have found a new tool to battle the onslaught that besieges my back yard every other year. It is the “Fruit & Nut Gatherer” from Lee Valley and this handy device has made the chore of plucking black walnuts from my yard rather addictive.  Even the kids fight over who gets to roll it around the ground.

Anyone familiar with walnuts knows how these large nuts can quickly litter the ground starting in late summer. They drop with ferocious intensity and could easily knock out a small child or pet.  Walnuts cover the yard, making a trip to the shed or clothesline perilous. They stain the patio and outdoor furniture and smother the grass.  And worse yet, they give the squirrels loads of treasures to bury in my container gardens.

Over the years, I have spent many hours raking and bent over picking up walnuts, which are surprisingly heavy when fresh. At first, I attempted to dry and crack them for eating, but the time expenditure outweighed the taste of my black walnuts, which tasted oddly like a sharp Camembert cheese.

But this fall, while trying out ergonomic tools for an upcoming Country Gardens story, I experimented with the Fruit & Nut Gatherer.  Comprised of a long handle with a rolling wire cage at the end, it easily gathers up the walnuts.  When the cage is full, I separate the wires and dump out the contents into my walnut bin (I store the nuts for my squirrels in hopes of distracting them from up my planters).  The gatherer tool holds about a dozen walnuts when full, which means I need to empty it often. But that hardly matters when the task is entertaining and my back isn’t barking at me.

The mature walnut tree in my backyard provides superb shade in the summer and thousands of walnuts in the fall.

James A. Baggett


A few years ago, I was fortunate to attend a photo shoot at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois. Sometime during the day, I realized that the massive Gingko biloba tree that dominates the courtyard of this open-to-the-public destination was a female (because of the foetid fruit littering the ground beneath it’s heavy limbs). So I asked the groundskeeper how he kept the courtyard clear of the persimmonlike fruit. He rolled his eyes and motioned for me to join him behind the garage, where he unlatched a wooden gate to reveal a sea of baby gingko trees that had sprouted where he had dumped the fallen seeds encased in their fleshy, fruitlike skins which, at maturity in autumn, are messy and emit a foul odor upon falling to the ground and splitting open. Before I could even get the words out, the groundskeeper handed me a hand trowel and a growers pot so I could dig up a Frank Lloyd Wright gingko seedling of my very own. I’m proud to say that little sapling is now more than 20 feet tall in my yard here in Iowa, right at home in front of my own Arts and Crafts bungalow.

This past August I traveled to Pittsburgh to attend the annual Garden Writers Association Symposium (where my friend and contributing editor Marty Ross took home the gold medal for best magazine writing for an article she wrote for Country Gardens!). I knew I couldn’t spend time in the City of Bridges without visiting the “best all-time work of American architecture,” Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Marty, our friend Sally Ferguson (the consummate garden publicist), and I played hooky from the symposium and drove to Mill Run in the rain for a drizzly, early morning architectural tour of this modern masterpiece that hangs over a waterfall. That’s me paying homage (above). Wright described his architectural style as “organic”—in harmony with nature, and though Fallingwater reveals vocabulary drawn from the International style in certain aspects, this country house exhibits so many features typical of Wright’s natural style, as you can see the house is very much engaged with its surroundings.

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Risa Quade

Edible Garden Tour Lesson

Buckwheat grows next to asparagus at the Food at First community garden in Ames, Iowa.

Buckwheat possesses a dainty charm, its frothy white blossoms buzzing with bees above its kelly-green leaves. And buckwheat makes an excellent cover crop in the veggie patch once you’ve harvested your early-summer lettuce and peas.  Just a little interesting discovery I learned last weekend during the second annual Edible Garden Tour in Ames, Iowa.  The garden tour involved eight different gardens (both community and residential) scattered across town.

I had gone to reap a few ideas for my own front-yard garden. Along the way I met people passionate about edible gardening, sustainable agriculture and community involvement. I also found pretty, red-stemmed okra and masses of rudbeckia luring beneficial insects into the garden. I found tomato plants heavy with fruit and blueberries just starting to turn red.

Garden tours serve as wonderful motivators to try something different,such as cover crops to add nitrogen to your soil and suppress weeds. Which is exactly what I will do, before it’s too late in the season.

Rudbeckia swarms with beneficial insects in this lush residential edible garden.

Food at First grows, collects and redistributes food items to those in need in Ames, Iowa.

James A. Baggett

Celebrate Sustainable Farming

Summer is the season to celebrate sustainable farming. We talk a lot about farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), urban gardens and hand-crafted food. Something that doesn’t get talked about all that much is the changing face of the American farmer. It turns out there are some pretty wonderful folks out there taking up the reins with skill and intelligence. Their enthusiasm is infectious. My new friends Gretel and Steve Adams are twentysomething organic flower farmers whose creativity and determination to earn a living from their land in Ohio is inspiring.

You can read about their Sunny Meadows Flower Farm and see how Gretel fashions her gorgeous flower arrangements next summer in Country Gardens! In the meantime, that’s the three of us admiring their hoop house filled with lovely lisianthus.

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Risa Quade

Squash Vine Borer Wins

The vigorous Jack Be Little pumpkin vines that once scaled my rustic tripod have succumbed to the ravenous caterpillars.

ARGHHH, they are back this year.  Yes, I’ve read that collars around the stem are the best prevention. Yes, I figured they wouldn’t strike again this year. But they did.  The squash vine borers are back and they are destroying the Jack Be Little pumpkin vines in my front yard.

And this year, I’m not fighting back.

Last year I declared war when the leaves of my summer squash and my zucchini started to droop and turn brown.  Armed with an Exacto knife and a bucket of mud, I would search the stems and vines for the tiny holes and golden sawdust-like frass.  Then, I would slice into the stem until I found the hungry little larva (hatched from eggs laid by the Melittia cucurbitae moth) that were killing my plants.  I must admit there was a certain pleasure to extracting and crushing the caterpillars.  Finally, I would pack the stem’s wound with mud and water it well.  My squash and zucchini survived, but my kids and I had to perform multiple “surgeries” to destroy the squash vine borers.

This year, I’m not doing it.  I give up.  And early next summer I will try wrapping the stems of my young plants with aluminum foil collars to prevent the moth from laying her eggs.  I am interested in learning about what methods have worked for anyone else so please let me know if you have a success story.

James A. Baggett

Rocky Mountain High

Fans of the late Dan Fogelberg may recognize the name Nederland (as in Colorado) as the inspiration for his 1977 album Nether Lands as well as the place where he made his home beginning in 1974. All I knew was that I was heading to meet photographer Bob Stefko and his assistant Shelby Kroeger at the garden of Kristin-Lee Baillie, a Country Gardens Awards winner who has spent the past eight years carving out a beautiful garden at some 9,000-feet elevation within the Roosevelt National Forest not far from Boulder. You can check out the results of our photo shoot in the Fall 2015 issue of Country Gardens. That’s Bob and me hanging out with Kristin-Lee’s undownable children, Jasper and Lili, who taught me how to run like a fox and is my new penpal.

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