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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 at 11001 Midway 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.

A Texas Connection

Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum

Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum

Most people know of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) as the main author of the Declaration of Independence and that he was the third president of the United States.   However we gardeners know that he was also an avid gardener who collected and grew as many as 300 cultivars, representing 99 species of vegetables and herbs, during his 15 year retirement at Monticello. However, did you know that one of the experimental vegetables that he grew has a Texas connection?

Around 1812, Capt. Samuel Brown, who was stationed in San Antonio, sent Jefferson seeds of a bird pepper, Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum. According to the seed packet from Monticello, Capt. Brown said that the dried peppers were as “essential to my health as salt itself.” He went on to say “The Spaniards use it in fine Powder & seldom eat anything without it. The Americans…make a pickle of the green Pods with Salt & Vinegar which they use with Lettuce, Rice, Fish, etc.”

Jefferson planted what he called “Capsicum Techas” in pots at Monticello and hoped it would be a hardy variety of pepper at his home. He also sent the seeds to a Philadelphia nurseryman, Bernard McMahon, who sold it as an ornamental pepper in Pennsylvania. Food historian William Woys Weaver said that “Old Philadelphians used the potted peppers as a winter table ornament or as window sill plants. The peppers themselves were used to make pepper vinegar, pepper sauce, or pickles.”

Though Jefferson called the pepper “Capsicum Techas,” like many plants it has several common names. One of the common names for the pepper is McMahon’s Texas Bird Pepper, but it also goes under the names of Pequin, Tepin, Petin, Chiltepin, Bird’s Eye Pepper, and Turkey Pepper. The Aztecs called it “chilli” and many people know it by another common name, Chili pequin.

Texas Bird Pepper is the only pepper native to North America. In fact, it is considered to be the official wild pepper of Texas. It gets its name “bird pepper” from the fact that birds, who are not sensitive to the extremely hot taste of capsaicin, love to eat the fruits, which are high in Vitamins A and C. The birds then distribute the seeds through their droppings.

Chili Pequin or Texas Bird Pepper, Common Names

Chili Pequin or Texas Bird Pepper, Common Names

The plant itself is about 12 inches tall and has a compact shape with bright green pointed leaves. The tiny (about ¼”), sparkling round or bullet-shaped red fruits were described by Jefferson as “minutissimum.” But don’t let their miniscule size fool you. They are hot! Very hot! Often 7-8 times hotter on the Scoville Scale than jalapenos’ 30,000-60,000 units.

Though the peppers originated in Central America and are considered reliably perennial in plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, here in Dallas they will often freeze to the ground but come back from the roots once the temperature warms. Because of their ornamental look, they also make a good container plants and can be protected in a greenhouse during the winter. Unlike many peppers that require full sun, Texas Bird Peppers also do well in part shade, though they do get a little leggy. They have few diseases, are drought tolerant, and need little fertility.

They can be used in any recipe requiring hot peppers—but remember to add just one or two little peppers, as their heat can go a long way. One of the most popular uses for the peppers is to make pepper vinegar. The commercial hot sauce brand Cholula lists bird peppers as one of its ingredients. Recipes for pepper vinegar can be easily found on the internet.

So, if you are looking for a very pretty plant with an interesting history, remember the Texas Bird Pepper. Just don’t forget: they are hot!


Pictures Courtesy of

Chili Pequin is beckoning butterflies at The Raincatcher’s Garden. We have two!

Fried Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes for Sale at Local Farmer's Market

Green Tomatoes for Sale at Local Farmer’s Market

Fried Green Tomatoes

Have you failed to savor this traditional Southern favorite? If so, you may want to reconsider and start frying a mess of these beauties while we’re right at the peak of spectacular summer produce.   Thanks to novelist, Fannie Flagg, for modeling her book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Random House 1987, after Birmingham’s Irondale Café, which her great aunt operated for nearly 40 years. Owner, Jim Dolan says his crew cooks about 135 pounds of fried green tomatoes a day. The book and movie helped the dish’s popularity – visitors come from all over the country to sample this Southern specialty.

The first recipe is from Southern Living 2003 Annual Recipes and is considered a classic. However, you might want to give the second one a try, also from Southern Living Annual Recipes, June 1999. The point is, a good southern recipe will make you a believer!

Fried Green Tomatoes with Aioli Sauce

Fried Green Tomatoes with Aioli Sauce

Golden Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes 


1 large egg, lightly beaten

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup all-purpose flour, divided

½ cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

3 medium-size green tomatoes, cut into 1/3 inch slices

Vegetable Oil

Salt to taste


  1. Combine egg and buttermilk; set aside.
  2. Combine ¼ cup flour, cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl or pan.
  3. Dredge tomato slices in remaining ¼ cup flour; dip in egg mixture, and dredge in cornmeal mixture.
  4. Pour oil to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch in a large cast-iron skillet; heat to 375˚. Drop tomatoes, in batches, into hot oil, and cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels or a rack. Sprinkle hot tomatoes with salt.


Blue Willow Fried Green Tomatoes

From the Southern Living Test Kitchen, this recipe garnered its best marks. The Blue Willow Inn reports that their fried green tomatoes are consumed like there’s no tomorrow in Social Circle, Georgia. 


1 ½ cups self-rising flour, divided

1 ½ cups buttermilk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1 teaspoon pepper, divided

3 green tomatoes, each cut into 4 slices

2 cups vegetable oil


  1. Whisk together 1 tablespoon flour, buttermilk, eggs, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Stir together remaining flour, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a shallow bowl.
  3. Dip tomato slices in buttermilk mixture; dredge in flour mixture.
  4. Heat oil in heavy 10-inch skillet to 350˚. Fry tomato slices 2 ½ minutes on each side or until golden.
  5. Drain tomato slices on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Serve fried tomatoes immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Note: For an extra treat, make up a batch of Spicy Aioli and use as a dipping sauce for these yummy gems.

Spicy Aioli


2/3 cup mayonnaise

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon cayenne


  1. Mix mayonnaise with garlic, lemon juice, mustard, and cayenne.
  2. Cover and chill to store.

Yield: Makes 2 cups


Pictures by Ann and Linda


It’s Fall at the Garden, Maybe you Didn’t Realize

Celebrity Tomatoes on the Vine

Celebrity Tomatoes on the Vine

It’s been a good year for tomatoes in Dallas. Dorothy, one of our veggie garden experts, talks about her tomatoes as if they were her best friends. “The Celebrities, the Cherokees and Zebras have been fabulous. I couldn’t pick a favorite.  The Zebras and Cherokees are heirloom, which usually just give me one good round, but with this weather, they have stayed covered. ”

So imagine my surprise when Dorothy told me to radically cut back my tomato plants now and prepare for fall!  She leaves only the limbs bearing large tomatoes, all others are cut to a height of 3 feet.  The smaller tomatoes literally go into the skillet to become fried green tomatoes.

She recommends foliar feeding with fish emulsion every two or three weeks to help the  tomato plants rebound for fall.

Trash the  dead or diseased tomato plants,  they are not worth saving.

What else is Dorothy doing about fall?  Seeds of Carrots, Beets, Kale, Contender and Gold Rush Green Beans, and Oats are being planted at The Raincatcher’s Garden. A few new tomato transplants will be added and  hope abounds for the tomato plants who endured the harsh pruning.

When it gets a little cooler; lettuce, spinach and snow pea seeds along with broccoli and Brussel sprout transplants will be added.

Thank you, Dorothy, now what time is that dinner of friend green tomatoes?


Pictures by Starla

Hoemgrown Tomato Atop a Bed of Rosemary

Homegrown Tomato Atop a Bed of Rosemary

Fall back on some of our good advice: Fall, What’s not to Love and Fall Crops for Dallas Veggie Gardens 



Cycle and Soak Irrigation

May 2015 was the wettest single month on record in Texas. June followed with almost 4 inches of rain. But now things are heating up and you may be thinking it’s time to water your grass.

Here’s advice from Texas A&M: “Rather than watering on the same schedule each week, adjust your watering schedule according to the weather. Irrigate deeply. Then wait until the grass begins to show signs of drought stress before watering again. Symptoms of drought stress include grass leaves turning a dull, bluish color, leaf blades rolling or folding, and footprints that remain in the grass after walking across the lawn. To time watering properly, look for the area of the lawn that shows water stress first. Water the entire lawn when that area begins to show symptoms.”

When it’s time to water, use the cycle and soak irrigation method as described by Dr. Dotty Woodson.





Happy 4th of July

coreopsis and flag


4th of July

Pictures by Starla!

The Color Purple

One of the main tasks at The Raincatcher’s Garden right now is installing drip irrigation.  Our liscensed irrigator, Doug Andrews of Double D Landscapes is at the helm.

Doug Andrews, Double D Landscapes

Doug Andrews, Double D Landscapes

The process of irrigating a large garden like The Raincatcher’s Garden is cumbersome.  Purple has become our new favorite color and the reason is that our future plans include harvesting water collected from the roof of  nearby buildings. The color purple is used to identify pumps, tanks and pipes carrying reclaimed water for reuse. Purple or what looks like a pretty shade of lavender  means non potable or non drinkable water.  At our garden on Joe Field Road we had two large 2500 gallon cisterns collecting rainwater off our large shed. We don’t have them yet for our new garden and will judiciously use city water in the meantime. Anyone want to donate rainwater cisterns?

Purple Tubing  for Drip Irrigation Installed at The Raincatcher's Garden

Purple Tubing for Drip Irrigation Installed at The Raincatcher’s Garden

In the meantime, our plant success  depends on our amended soil, heavy mulch application, and hand watering.  More rain is welcome!

Find out more about Drip Irrigation as taught by Dr. Dotty Woodson, here.









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PLEASE READ THIS BOOK:   Bringing Nature Home-How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens by Douglas Tallamy PhD

Do you feel pretty good about your understanding of the importance of native plants in your landscape?  Or—do you think “the native plant thing”  is yet another fad and  you know red roses and nandinas form the framework for all “good” gardens?  It doesn’t matter at all—either way—this is the book for you.

This is not the perfect book for us here in Texas.  The author lives in the Northeast and any of the plants profiled are specific to that region.  However, that in no way diminishes its value.  The basic ideas remain the same whatever the location.  Dr. Tallamy, whose doctorate is in entomology, presents the wonderful, terrible idea that what we, as caretakers of our land, no matter the size, are making life or death decisions for a host of creatures simply by our plant choices.

The book effectively makes it clear that  Nature is “here” in our gardens now.  We cannot assume that plants and animals are fine somewhere “out there in the wild”  because  there just is so little of the wild left.

That’s upsetting—it means taking responsibility for our actions.  But it’s also an incredible opportunity to make a difference for ourselves, our family, our community—and beyond.

The introduction presents the major concepts to be considered.  The wild creatures we want in our world simply will not be able to live without food and places to live.  Things look grim,  for creatures are gone or greatly reduced in numbers.  But hope is there  it’s not too late to save many plants and animals—but to do it we must change our ways.

Alien plants have replaced native ones  to an alarming extent.  Now all plants capture the energy from the sun but most alien plants are not able to  provide support to native insects they cannot eat them.  Insects are the major way that energy is transferred to other creatures.  This is not just the author’s opinion—there is research to prove it.

Increased use of native plants can produce at least a simplified version of the diverse ecosystem that used to exist.  The charts that show the insect populations supported by native plants as opposed to alien ones are truly eye-opening.

All the chapters on insects are educational—but the one on aphids—do not miss it.  Aphids are amazing creatures—you will never think of them as disgusting little pests ever again.

If you read even a part of this book you will gain insight into the complex web of interactions between plants insects and other animals.


Pictures by Starla



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