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Above: Nasturtiums, Watercress, Lavender, Fennel, and Broccoli

Gardening in North Central Texas is enough to make you throw away your trowel.  Our summers are hot enough for a blast furnace.  Our winter chill can freeze pipes and coat trees with ice.  We’re pummeled with spring storms and hail, but when we most need the rain, not a cloud is on the horizon.  Dallas’ unforgiving black clay forms clods hard as rocks and is so alkaline, its pH is off the chart.

DALLAS GARDEN BUZZ shares our journey through the triumphs and missteps of gardening in our North Texas heat, clay soil, limited water, and high alkalinity.  In the world of gardening, there is always a story to be told and sage advice to share.  As we dig, trim, harvest, and cook, we’ll give you the best information we can gather from our “hands on” work in the Earth-Kind/WaterWise Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road in Dallas.

DALLAS GARDEN BUZZ is written by Dallas County Master Gardeners, volunteers trained by the AgriLife Extension Service, an agency of Texas A&M University.

Yellow-Bellied Racers


Our progeny is not sociable.  Ana tapped on the glass of his cage, and the very young, very little, very spotted Yellow-Bellied Racer tried to bite her.

Juvenile Yellow Bellied Racer

Juvenile Yellow Bellied Racer

Ana, Judy and I were checking out Horticulture Director Roger Sanderson’s herpetarium at the Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park.  It’s the new home of our garden’s snake.  Correction: Ana and I were looking attentively at the slithering residents.  Judy was watching from a very respectful distance.

Anyway, there he was, the sole hatchling of 9, some say 10, snake eggs Hans discovered in June at the bottom of the garden’s compost pile.  Hans was excited. Other Gardeners shrieked like 14-year-olds at a rock concert.

Snake Eggs Found at our Garden

Snake Eggs Found at our Garden

If he makes it back to 2311 Joe Field Rd., the racer has long lost cousins to look up at the garden.  Mama Racer chose Cindy’s compost piles for her nest last summer, too.  Luckily we haven’t seen hide nor hair of her or the kids.

At the moment, our guy is about as round as your little finger, maybe 10 inches long, and covered with brown spots and blotches, much like a newbie whitetail deer.  By his third birthday, he’ll trade the spots for a solid blue-grey back and a yellow belly, thus the moniker.  Frogs, lizards, small snakes, rodents, birds, and insects are on the menu.  Racers aren’t constrictors or poisonous, but are very fast on their feet belly.  Don’t know that I’d want to get up close and personal.  When captured, Racers struggle violently and bite.  If all else fails, nasty stuff is expelled through their vents.

Nope, Racers can wind their quick way through the creek and brush without me.


More about long lost cousins click here.

Turk’s cap flower

Originally posted on Portraits of Wildflowers:

Turk's Cap Flower 7938

Here’s a flower of Malvaviscus arboreus, known as Turk’s cap and Texas mallow, that I photographed in Great Hills Park on July 18th. The plant was in a heavily shaded place in the woods—its familiar habitat—so I had to use flash. Don’t the clumps of pollen remind you of caviar?


UPDATE: If you check out yesterday’s post showing a feather, at the end of it you’ll see I’ve added suggestions about the identity of the bird that shed the feather.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

View original

What I Like About August

Walking through our hot, August garden last week, here are some of the things I saw and loved:

Cosmos Growing High  into the Sky

Cosmos Growing High into the Sky

Garlic Chives in Bloom

Garlic Chives in Bloom

And from my garden at home:

Orderly Okra

Orderly Okra

The tag that came with this plant reads:

Okra, Jing Orange

60 days. sun. drought tolerant. Lovely pods area deep reddish orange and quite colorful. This Asian variety produces lots of flavorful 6″pods. Unique. Pick pods when young and tender. (I recommend picking at  1.5-2″)

For an okra recipe you will love, click here.

For more about what’s blooming in August, click here.


It Keeps on Blooming

rock rose in bloom


Do you want a Texas native plant that, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps on going/or in this case, blooming throughout our over 100 degree weather?  If so, then consider planting our Texas native Pavonia (Pavonia lasiopetala).  Like many of our native plants it also goes by many different common names: Wright’s Pavonia, Rock Rose, Rose pavonia, and Rose mallow.

rock rose close up Of course, these last few names give one a clue as to the most eye catching part of the plant: its beautiful, showy, rose colored flowers that are roughly 1½ inches wide with a bright yellow center formed by the pistil and stamens.  These flowers appear from April to November on a small shrub that has velvety, scalloped leaves and that grows only four feet tall (usually smaller, if sheared back to encourage more blooms).

Native to the Edwards Plateau through the Rio Grande Plains, Pavonia prefers dry, rocky woods and slopes, and open woodlands.  Though it will grow larger and bloom more profusely in full sun, it can even take partial shade.  Unlike many members of the Mallow family, it prefers to be dry, growing on well-drained limestone soils or even our clay soils.  It requires very little water, once established, and is a great plant for a WaterWise landscape.

Perhaps the only downside to Pavonia is that though it is considered a perennial, it is a short-lived perennial, tending to decline after three or four years.  However, it readily self-seeds and younger plants will come up to replace the older one.  Pavonia can also be propagated, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, from softwood tip cuttings.  “These cuttings should be taken in the spring before the plant starts to bloom.  Cuttings with big buds or blooms are at a disadvantage.  The cuttings root and grow fast in hot weather.  Cut a stem three to six inches long, just below the node.  Remove all but the top leaves and place in vermiculite.”

If you haven’t already decided that Pavonia is the plant for you, another one of its very favorable attributes is that it is a hummingbird and nectar-loving butterfly and moth attractant.  So if you are looking for a tough little native plant that is not only beautiful but feeds the hummingbirds and butterflies, consider planting a Pavonia/Rock Rose.  You won’t be disappointed.



Pictures by Starla



Squash Recipes Following our SQUASH ME Event

Squash blossom quesidilla

Squash Blossom Quesadillas


Flores de Calabaza (squash blossoms)

Oaxaca cheese, shredded

Corn tortillas

Anaheim chiles, roasted, peeled, stemmed, and cut into ½-inch strips (optional)

Basil leaves (optional)



Prepare Flor de Calabaza Squash Blossoms:

Remove the woody stems.  Pluck out the stamen/pistil from the inside of the squash

blossom (careful there might be bugs or bees inside).

Trim off the sepals (the small, wavy leaves that grow from the base of the blossoms).

Discard stems, stamen, and sepals.  Gently rinse blossoms in cold water and place them on a paper towel to drain.  At this point you may cut the base from the flower, open and lay it flat.

Squash blossom male with stamen

Make Quesadillas: 

Place a dry griddle or cast-iron griddle over medium-high heat.  Melt 1 tablespoon of butter on the griddle.  Place a tortilla on the griddle and sprinkle with cheese.  Add 2 to 3 squash blossoms, and roasted chile, if using, on slightly warmed tortilla.   Or, place three or four basil leaves on top of the squash blossoms. Cover with tortilla.  Cook until light golden, about 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese melts.  Flip over and cook until golden brown.

Serve warm and, if desired, with salsa.

Above: Stuffed Squash Blossoms Ready to Fry

Above: Stuffed Squash Blossoms Ready to Fry

Fried Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms




1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups club soda, as needed

16 zucchini or squash blossoms

½ cup ricotta

4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil

1 garlic clove, crushed through a press

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil, for deep-frying


  1. To make the batter, using a fork, stir the flour and salt in a bowl to combine.  Gradually whisk in the club soda to make a batter-there should be a few lumps of flour.  Let stand 10 minutes to thicken slightly.
  2. Using a small knife, cut a slit down the side of each zucchini blossom, and remove the pistil from inside each blossom. (If a blossom tears, don’t worry).  Mix the ricotta, basil, and garlic in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Using a small spoon (a demitasse spoon works well), insert a heaping spoonful of the ricotta mixture inside each blossom through the slit.(Rather than cutting a slit in the side, try a simpler approach; carefully open the blossom, remove the stamen with tweezers then “pipe” in ricotta filling – about two teaspoons.  Gently twist to close and fry according to instructions).

Be sure that the cheese filling is completely enclosed by the blossom.  Transfer the blossoms to a platter.

  1. Place a wire cake rack on a rimmed baking sheet.  Pour enough oil into a large skillet to come halfway up the sides.  Heat over high heat until the oil reaches 360 degrees F on a deep-frying thermometer.  One at a time, holding the blossom by the stem, dip the blossom into the batter and remove, letting excess batter drip back into the bowl.  There should be only a light coating of batter.  Place in the oil and fry, turning once, until golden brown, about 2 minutes.  Fry the blossoms in batches to avoid crowding them in the skillet.  Using a wire skimmer, transfer the blossoms to the cake rack to drain.  Serve hot.

Yield:  Makes 16 blossoms

Squash ribbons


Shaved-Squash Salad with Tomatoes, Zucchini Blossoms,Ricotta and Thyme Oil

Baby zucchini and small yellow squash sliced on a mandoline add to the lovely,delicate nature of this colorful salad



1 generous handful fresh thyme springs (about ¾ ounces)

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 baby zucchini (3 ounces total), thinly shaved on a mandolin

4 small yellow crookneck squash (3 ounces total), thinly shaved on a mandoline

4 ounces mixed teardrop or cherry small tomatoes, cut in half crosswise (1 cup)

6 zucchini blossoms, halved or quartered if large

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn if large, plus more for sprinkling (optional)

Pinch of red-pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

Coarsely ground pepper

3 ounces fresh ricotta (1/3 cup)


  1. Place thyme on a cutting board, and bruise with the dull edge of a knife.  Place thyme and oil in a small saucepan.  Cover and heat until small bubbles appear.  Turn off heat, and steep thyme, covered 20 minutes.  Discard sprigs, leaving loose thyme leaves in oil.  Whisk together lemon zest and juice and 2 tablespoons thyme oil (reserve remaining oil for another use; it can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks).
  2. Combine half the dressing with the zucchini, squash, tomatoes, zucchini blossoms, basil, red-pepper flakes, and salt.  Season with pepper, and toss.  Divide the salad between 2 plates, and dot with half the ricotta.  Top with remaining salad and remaining ricotta.  Drizzle with remaining dressing, and sprinkle with basil.

Yield:  Serves 2

Note: Squash blossoms can be replaced with a leafy green such as spinach.

squash salad

Zucchini Carpaccio


5 medium zucchini, trimmed

Coarse kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

One cup French feta

½ cup lightly toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or mint


  1. Using knife or mandoline slice, cut zucchini into paper-thin rounds.
  2. Arrange rounds, slightly overlapping, on a large platter.  Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt and pepper.
  3. Whisk lemon juice and oil in a small bowl.  Drizzle dressing evenly over zucchini.
  4. Drop small spoonful’s of cheese all over zucchini.  Sprinkle with the pine nuts, basil or mint and serve.

Squash Soup

Squash Blossom and Gruyere Soup with Stuffed Blossom Garnish



For Soup:

About 1 lb. squash blossoms

1 small onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons butter

4 cups light vegetable or chicken stock

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For garnish:

6 large unblemished squash blossoms, prickly stems and interior pistils removed

1 cup ricotta cheese

¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated

A handful of chopped fresh herbs: basil, thyme, tarragon, sage, rosemary

¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Chopped fresh herbs, for garnish


  1. Prepare the blossoms by cutting off the prickly stems and removing the yellow pistils from inside each flower.  Chop coarsely.
  2. In a large heavy pot, sauté the diced onion and garlic in the butter over medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent but has not started to brown.  Stir in the chopped squash blossoms, and sauté for a minute or two until they wilt.  Stir in the stock, and let simmer for about 20 minutes, until everything is soft.
  3. Puree the mixture, either by using an immersion blender or in batches in a blender.  Return the soup to the pot and stir in the cream.  Gradually add the gruyere cheese, stirring occasionally until completely melted.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Keep warm without boiling until ready to serve.

For garnish, combine the ricotta with the parmesan and herbs.  Just before serving, stir in the pine nuts so they don’t get soggy.  Season the mixture to taste, and stuff each of the reserved whole blossoms with a spoonful of the mixture.  Float the blossoms on the soup and sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs.

Extra “processing” with an immersion blender, food processor or Vita Mix may be necessary to obtain a velvety smooth consistency.

Serve immediately.

squash casserole close up

Southwestern Squash Casserole

This one made it to our top ten list. Imagine, a casserole with saltine crackers in the filling being a family favorite.


8 medium yellow squash, sliced

½ cup sour cream

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons chopped chives

6 slices bacon, crisp-fried, crumbled

1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

12 saltine crackers, crumbled

Paprika to taste


1. Place the squash in a saucepan with water to cover.  Cook over high heat until tender; drain well.

2. Combine with the sour cream, butter, cheese, salt, eggs, chives, bacon, green chilies, cilantro and crackers in a bowl, mixing well.

3. Spread evenly in a buttered baking dish.  Sprinkle with paprika.

4. Bake at 350⁰ for 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Yield: 8 servings


Pictures by Starla












Squash, Squash, and More Squash Coming

We are going to be sharing many, many squash recipes from our SQUASH ME event yesterday.  We had beautiful, lower temperature weather and a fabulous speaker who talked to us about the wide and inviting subject of squash.  While you are waiting for a complete write up, we thought you might like a few of the recipes.  Please also spend a little time reading about The Sex Life of Squash on the blog, Garden Betty to prepare  for the scintillating squash info we will be presenting in the next few days.

Michele and Sue Serving Squash Muffins with and without Gluten and Banana  Zucchini  Bread

Michele and Sue Serving Squash Muffins with and without Gluten and Banana Zucchini Bread

Squash Muffins 


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup grated yellow squash

1 egg, beaten

¾ cup milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil


  1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and squash in large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.  Combine egg, milk, and oil; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.
  2. Spoon batter into lightly greased muffin pans, filling two-thirds full.  Bake at 350⁰ for 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove muffins from pans immediately.

Yield:  1 dozen.

Banana-Zucchini Bread


3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups mashed bananas

2 cups unpeeled shredded zucchini

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts


  1. Combine flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder in a mixing bowl, and set aside.
  2. Combine oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl; beat well.  Stir in bananas and zucchini.  Add flour mixture, stirring just until moistened.  Stir in pecans.
  3. Pour batter into two greased and floured 8 ½- x 4 ½- x 3-inch loaf pans.  Bake at

350⁰ for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Yield:  2 loaves.

squash chocolate cake

Chocolate-Zucchini Cake


½ cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, melted

2 cups sugar

3 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

3 eggs

½ cup milk

2 teaspoons grated orange rind

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups coarsely grated unpeeled zucchini

2 ½ cups flour

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Whole fresh strawberries (optional)


  1. Cream butter; gradually add 2 cups sugar, beating until light and fluffy.  Beat in chocolate.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in milk, orange rind, vanilla, and zucchini.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon; add to creamed mixture, mixing well.  Pour batter into a greased and floured 10-inch Bundt pan.  Bake at 350⁰ for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool cake in pan 10 to 15 minutes; remove from pan, and place on a wire rack.
  3. Combine powdered sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon; sift over warm cake.  Cool completely.  Fill center of cake with strawberries, if desired.

Yield:  one 10-inch cake.


Recipes by Linda

Pictures by Starla



Texas Can Academy Visits The Demonstration Garden

Texas Can Academy visited us Tuesday bringing 39 kids and 3 adults. Instead of the usual field trips to water parks and amusement centers the teachers wanted to build on what they are learning in class about healthy eating and nutrition.  Gardening efforts were already underway at Texas Can Academy with the students planting squash, green beans, peas, and tomatoes. They wanted to learn more about how to set up a “real garden” so a trip to our Demonstration Garden was the perfect next step. 

Keeping a Garden Journal is introduced to our students. This future gardener is writing about herbs he has just tasted, touched, and smelled.

Keeping a Garden Journal is introduced to our students. This future gardener is writing about herbs he has just tasted, touched, and smelled.

We have had 210 students visiting our gardens since the beginning of April, 2014. Our Field Trips are designed to augment the school’s curriculum.  Annette, our educational director, works with teachers to set up learning centers in our gardens taught by Dallas County Master Gardeners.

This little girl is holding up a self watering container she made.  She will be able to take this home and sprout her own seeds.

This little girl is holding up a self watering container she made. She will be able to take this home and sprout her own seeds.

 It’s rewarding to introduce these little children to the joys of gardening.  We like to remind little folks that their t-shirts and jeans are made from the produce of this plant. Note the wonder and surprise in this little girl’s face; a precious moment for us as well. Read more about cotton here.

Excitement in the garden is contagious.  Jim is showing students our cotton plants and cotton bolls.

Excitement in the garden is contagious. Jim is showing students our cotton plants and cotton bolls.

Dallas County Master Gardeners spend a good deal of time and energy with compost! Grass clippings, brown leaves, and vegetable and fruit scraps create the fertilizer for our gardens which eventually feeds us.  We hope to inspire a whole new generation of future composters.

Good compost smells good!

Good compost smells good!

Improve your compost skills by reading Cindy’s Compost tips and you will see why we call her “the compassionate composter”.  For more field trip information click on this link.  Plan your fall visit now.

Thank you Texas Can Academy for visiting us, we will see you again in the fall!

Ann and Annette

Pictures by Starla


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