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Raincatcher’s Welcomes The Pierian Club of Dallas

After waiting for over a year and a half to resume monthly meetings, The Pierian Club of Dallas chose Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills for their first event. The much anticipated gathering was filled with hugs, laughter and smiles of happiness on the faces of those who attended. We were thrilled to welcome them to learn about our approach to gardening in North Texas and to enjoy a garden-themed lunch prepared by our “Friends of the Garden” volunteer culinary team. 

The story of The Pierian Club is very fascinating. It began in 1888 and has continued to evolve for over 133 years. The purpose of the club is to increase knowledge. Their motto states, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring. Their shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” In Greek Mythology, it was believed that drinking from the Pierian Spring would bring you knowledge and inspiration.

With a focus on seasonally fresh herbs and vegetables from our edible gardens, we treated them to a flavor-filled menu that stirred the senses. A brief explanation of how the menu was developed includes comments about several carefully chosen items. 

The Pierian Study Club

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A couple of vases hold yellow flowers

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Lunch Menu

“Finger Sandwich Trio” 

Pimento Cheese topped with a Raincatcher’s Pickle

Cranberry Curry Chicken Salad with Orange Blossom Honey

Sliced Radishes on Salad Burnet Spread Dusted with Fresh Fennel Pollen

Marinated Vegetables with French Tarragon and Anise Hyssop Blossoms

Grilled Figs topped with a Dollop of Mascarpone Cheese, Drizzled with Orange Blossom Honey and Fresh Thyme 

Iced Tea Flavored with Garden Fresh Lemon Verbena

Our finger sandwich trio included the following:

1. A tribute to Martha Stewart’s favorite sandwich…buttered white bread topped with thinly sliced radishes sprinkled with salt. Taking inspiration from herbs growing in our garden, we substituted a spread made with whipped cream cheese, freshly snipped salad burnet leaves and onion chives. Radishes were added next, sprinkled with sea salt and then lightly dusted with delicate fennel fronds. Each sandwich was topped with a thinly sliced Armenian cucumber brought in from the garden.

2. Pimento Cheese. This recipe is a favorite from a recently closed restaurant in Fredericksburg, Texas…The Peach Tree Tea Room. While the original recipe calls for jalapeno juice, we omitted it, as requested, for this event. Each sandwich was topped with a pickle made by one of our volunteers. Pickles were made from the variety, ‘Homemade Pickles,’ currently growing in our garden. 

3. Cranberry Curry Chicken Salad with Orange Blossom Honey. We love using this special honey from Savannah Bee and available locally at Central Market. It adds just the right amount of sweetness to the earthy flavor of curry.

Marinated Vegetables were embellished with fresh-picked French tarragon from our edible landscape. Served in individual clear glass flowerpots, they made a colorful addition to the menu with pretty purple anise hyssop blossoms scattered over the top.

Dessert was on the lighter side. Fig leaves from the garden cradled two figs halves that were lightly grilled and topped with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of Orange Blossom Honey. Tiny lemon-flavored thyme leaves added that fresh from the garden effect that rounded out the meal.

Following lunch, a short program introducing the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills was presented by Dallas County Master Gardener, Lisa Centala. Master Gardener volunteers then joined Lisa and our guests for a delightful tour of the demonstration gardens. With their newly acquired horticultural knowledge, members of the study group left inspired and feeling as if they had been refreshed by drinking from the Pierian Spring. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

From Junk Bug to Green Lacewing

Diane, a frequent visitor to Raincatchers Garden, saw a little bit of debris on a leaf. To her surprise it began to move purposefully. She learned that the debris was called a junk bug. It covers itself with the bodies of insects it has preyed upon. This creates a convincing camouflage that fools birds and the ants that tend aphids. Aphids are a frequent snack.

Junk Bug with a purpose!

The junk bug is a larva that becomes a green lacewing, a beautiful insect with delicately veined gossamer wings.Per Diane, “I almost missed it till it started moving, and this is my very first one to ever see, or even hear of.”

Thanks, Diane, for your close observation. It’s great to know we have an insect ally to help us keep the aphids in check.

P.S. The eggs on a stalk shown in the picture above are also part of the lifecycle of this beneficial insect.

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

PIctures by Diane, a friend of The Raincatcher’s Garden

A Sensory Garden Reimagined

“The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.”

-Hanna Rion

Almost thirty years ago, my husband and I took our first trip to France. Our destination was Paris but along the way we scheduled a romantic anniversary visit to the lovely town of Reims. It is considered an essential stop on France’s champagne trail with big-name bubbly houses headquartered there among wide boulevards and well-preserved medieval churches.

Linda at The Garden of the Five Senses

 Our three-night stay was at an elegant boutique hotel known as Domaine Les Crayeres. Nestled discreetly in a seven-hectare park full of lush vegetation, it remains one of my most treasured travel memories. During our stay, it was suggested that we visit a little-known sensory garden in a charming village just outside of town. We were told that not many tourists take time to visit the garden but because of our desire to experience the lesser-known places, we were excited to make the trip. The cost to enter the garden was minimal but the joy we shared that afternoon was priceless.  Our enchanting visit was to a place called, “The Garden of the Five Senses”.

It was a beautiful day in August with temperatures hovering comfortably in the seventy-degree range. Unlike summer weather in Texas, we had chosen a perfect time to spend the day outdoors. An incredible bottle of French champagne led to countless toasts and smiles as we leisurely enjoyed a beautiful afternoon in the garden.

Each of the five individual gardens were created using a loosely defined circular formation. Plants were carefully selected for the role they would play in stirring up the senses:  sight, smell, taste, sound and touch. Unhurried and totally caught up in the moment, our hearts and souls were rejuvenated. A quaint, little “off the beaten path”, and privately owned garden, had given us the gift of a lifetime memory.

Reflecting on that wonderful day in France, this spring our volunteers introduced a Texas style version of a sensory garden to the edible landscape. Our sensory garden is on a much, much smaller scale than the one in France, but we’ve packed in a pleasing variety of edible plants. Summer into early fall we will be featuring some of the following:

Sight: Variegated Oregano, Variegated Tomato, Hibiscus Topiary, Balsamic Blooms Basil, Calendula, Epazote, Hoja Santa, Red Roselle Hibiscus, Hyacinth Bean ‘Moonshadow’, Lamb’s Quarters

Smell: Alyssum ‘Oriental Nights’, Anise, Apricot Coral Drift Rose, Cinnamon Basil, French Tarragon, Provence Lavender, Red Stemmed Apple Mint, Scented Pelargoniums: Chocolate, Lavender and Peach

Taste: Cutting Celery, Dill, Eggplant, Lemon Variegated Thyme, Mushroom Plant, Peppers, Stevia, Vietnamese Coriander, White Velvet Okra, White Leafed Savory

Sound: Bay Laurel ‘Lil Ragu’ (gently rustling in the breeze), Bees buzzing around all of the pollinator-friendly plants, Wind Chimes

Touch: Archer’s Gold Thyme, Curry Plant, Golden Pineapple Sage, Purple Sage, Rosemary, Variegated Lemon Balm


We invite you to visit the sensory garden anytime you’re in the area.
You might even consider bringing along a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the experience.

10 Tips for Creating a Sensory Garden

1. Choose an ideal location. Find a quiet place in your yard or somewhere that naturally draws you into a “time-out” or relaxing place in the garden. 

2. Measure the space and create a map of the area. Detailed information is beneficial when the time comes for selecting plants.

3. Decide what plants and features will best achieve the atmosphere that is desired. Accessories like gazing balls, mirrors and sculpture can add to the visual effect.

4. Provide a bench, swing, or some place to sit and relax. A unique idea would be to install a chamomile lawn. The recommended variety of chamomile for this particular purpose is Roman Chamomile (C. nobile ‘Treneague’).

5. Create a safe place using plants that are non-toxic, non-allergenic and with no pesticide application.

6. Choose plants that will keep the senses aroused each season of the year.

7. When selecting plants pay close attention to growing conditions whether sun or shade, poor or good drainage, clay or other types of soil.

8. Decide which plants are best for stimulating each of the five senses. Start with 3 plants for each one, then expand as space and growing characteristics allow.

9. Feature elements that appeal to the five senses:

Color – may be seasonal, grouped in clusters or spaced for maximum contrast.

Texture – use plants that add a variety of tactile stimulation.

Water and Wind Chimes – items like bird baths, fountains and small ponds provide a refreshing sensory experience for sight, sound and touch while attracting birds, butterflies and other pollinators to the garden. Enhance the sense of sound with wind chimes and/or whirligigs.

10. Be inspired throughout the process. Creating a sensory garden will elevate your environment into one that gives interest and stimulation to people of all ages.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Fall Peas, Please

As each new season approaches gardeners are on the receiving end of a barrage of enticing offers and promises of easy-to-grow lush plantings for our gardens.  The results are not usually as promised.  However, this article from a seed company has some useful information about growing peas.  It includes descriptions of three types of peas; snow, shelling, and snap.  It also has a helpful explanation of how to use the days to maturity and average first freeze dates to calculate ideal dates for planting. 

In the Edible Landscape we are interested in comparing seeds sown in the fall with spring peas.

Happy gardening. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Photo courtesy of John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seed

Summer Rain, Summer Blooms

Summer rain tapped on our garden. And just like Johnny Rivers so sweetly sang, she stepped out of a rainbow. Lavender blossoms filled the air with their intoxicating fragrance as bee balm welcomed the bees with tiny, tubular petals in shades of pink, purple and red. The showy yellow flowers of baby butternut squash plants told us it was time to get out the recipe for Squash-Blossom Quesadillas. 

Our Edible Landscape ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of summer blossoms and flowers continues to evolve. The early bloomers are starting to fade while the colorful hibiscus, impatiens and marigolds refresh us with their summer beauty. Stroll down the garden path for a glimpse of these seasonal stars. Or as the lyrics suggest…stay awhile, then sail into the sunset and let tomorrow be.

#1 Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Some people believe that this is one of the tastiest edible flowers. If you are curious, stop by the Sensory Garden and pick a few tiny petals. You might taste a flavor somewhat between anise and root beer. Leaves and petals, if used sparingly, are very pleasant in salads, iced drinks, soups, tea breads and dessert. 

This highly ornamental plant is an easily grown herbaceous perennial that reaches from three to six feet. Leaves are gray green with dense one- to three-inch flower spikes ranging from mauve to lavender to white. Grow it in full sun in average soil and keep it fairly moist. The plant dies down in winter and often reseeds itself the next spring. Our anise hyssop was lost to the extreme cold this winter but has been replaced with a new plant that is thriving in a sunny location.

#2 Basil (Ocymum basilium)

Spicy Globe Basil

The Edible Landscape Garden is filled with over 12 different varieties of basil. Their blossoms and leaves vary in color, taste and texture. During the summer months our temptation to start deadheading is sometimes delayed by the bees. Bees love basil and can be found collecting both pollen and nectar from the white, pink, purple and light-blue flowers. That’s the dilemma we face once those fragrant blossoms start appearing. A convincing answer is found in the reason for removing the blossoms. Basil is grown primarily for the tender, fluffy leaves. Adding them to soups, tomato caprese and, best of all, whirring up a tasty batch of pesto is what summer is all about. But, once the plants develop flowers that mature and turn into seed pods, the taste profile changes and the plant becomes woody. Fortunately for the edible landscape, we generally plant three of each variety. That gives us the opportunity to allow one plant in each variety to grow from blossom to seed. For the remaining two plants, the entire flowering branch gets snipped off. With the flowers gone, the plant’s focus will shift back to growing new leaves, and it will become bushier. Since basil is a very edible plant, those flowering tops get added to salads or tossed with other greens. The bees keep buzzing and our culinary summer desires have been satisfied.  

#3 Bergamot ‘Bee Balm’ (Monarda didyma)

This plant lives up to its name. Once it begins to bloom the bees arrive and find their happy place sipping its nectar. The variety we chose to plant on either side of the greenhouse is ‘Marshall’s Delight’, a lovely shade of lavender. Depending on your preference, it also comes in bright red, pink and white. Bergamot is a perennial, in the mint family, that prefers a rich, well-drained soil. Native Americans of the Oswego tribe showed the colonists how to make a substitute “freedom tea” from its fragrant leaves…thus another common name, Oswego tea.

Bergamot grows from 2-1/2 to 4 feet high. After reaching 12 inches in height, support the branches with stakes to help keep plants upright. Flowers appear in whorls of frilly tubes and have a lemony mint fragrance and taste. Use flowers sprinkled on fruit, cold dishes and fish. Or enjoy a refreshing cup of Oswego Tea. (Recipe: Use 3 teaspoons fresh or one teaspoon dried leaves per cup. Place in a glass or China pot, cover with boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Sweeten with honey. Garnish with freshly picked bee balm blossoms.)

#4 Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva)

Daylilies got their name from the Greek hemera, for “day,” and kalles, for “beauty.” Each beautiful flower lasts for only a day, but another replaces it the next. The flowering period of an established clump is usually several weeks long. Daylilies perform best if given full sun and an area with well-drained, fertile soil. We’ve located our daylilies in the garden bed just in front of the greenhouse where they receive full sun most of the day. The variety we chose is the traditional ‘Stella de Oro’. It has numerous yellow flowers per scape that bloom all summer. Daylily buds will keep in the refrigerator for several days, but the delicate flowers should be consumed the day they are picked. Several interesting recipes for using them include Daylily Cheesecake, Daylily Curry and Daylily Petal Salad. 

#5 Dianthus ‘Sweet William’ (Dianthus barbatus)

Gardeners have been cultivating this short-lived perennial since at least the 1500’s. In the language of flowers, dianthus stands for love, fasciation, distinction and pure affection. With such descriptive words, we should all be growing dianthus in our gardens. Dianthus flowers are in bloom from late spring until midsummer. (They are related to carnations, another edible, which we also have growing in the Sensory Garden.) The nickname “pinks” is derived from the color of the flower. If you’ve ever used a pair of “pinking shears” then you should know that they are so named because they create a fringe much like the ruffled petal edging on this beloved flower.

The variety growing in our cottage garden, ‘Sweet William’, has a spicy fragrance with hints of clove and cinnamon. When grown organically, the flower petals can be crystallized with sugar and used for decorating cakes or other desserts. And, if you happen to enjoy the liqueur Chartreuse, it is composed of distilled alcohol aged with dianthus petals and 130 other herbs, plants and flowers. This very historic French liqueur has been made by the Carthusian Monks since 1737.

#6 Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculate ‘Party Girl’)

Every cottage garden needs some type of phlox. This summer we chose one of the four “Garden Girl” varieties, ‘Party Girl’. Displaying bright white flowers with star-shaped pink centers, we’re hoping she will bring the party to the garden. Hardy in zones 3-8, ‘Party Girl’ flowers mid to late summer with an excellent rebloom. Two of our plants receive morning sun, afternoon shade while the other receive just the opposite. We’ll continue to monitor the progress of this long-blooming perennial and adjust the location, if needed. Phlox are pollinator-friendly plants known for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. The perennial phlox is the only type that is edible. Their flavor is sometimes described as slight spicy but, also, quite sweet. Use them crystallized on cakes and desserts or floating in summer drinks.

#7 Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Do you think of hedgehogs or sea urchins when admiring a coneflower? The genus name of Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos meaning, you guessed it, hedgehog or sea urchin. A gentle touch of the spiny center cone found on most flowers in the genus explains the connection. Echinacea is an herbaceous perennial native to moist prairies, meadows and open woods of the central to southeastern United States.

Before growing echinacea, decide where you want them to grow permanently. Because they establish deep taproots, moving to a different location is not recommended. The plant can reach heights of five feet. Their showy daisy-like purple coneflowers bloom throughout summer making them an excellent, long-blooming flower for massing in the garden. Leaves and flower petals are edible. Harvest echinacea leaves for tea by cutting a few from each plant as needed. Use them fresh or dry the leaves and store them in a cool, dry place. 

#8 Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

A summer garden without hibiscus is like a rainbow absent of color. Tropical-looking showy flowers in tones of yellow, coral, orange, pink, red and countless other color combinations make this member of the mallow family a true seasonal superstar. Even the well-known paint company, Sherwin-Williams, features SW 6851 Hibiscus in a stunning shade of deep pink for both interior and exterior use. 

 As a special culinary treat, combine hibiscus flowers with fresh summer blackberries to make Hibiscus Chutney or try the adult version of Hibiscus Popsicles made with champagne and hibiscus simple syrup. Petals can also be torn and tossed into your favorite salad. You’ll enjoy their mild flavor with just a slight tanginess.

Hibiscus plants are lovely grown in containers or in ground. For the best growth and flower production give them a full sun location. It is important to keep the soil moist, but they must have good drainage. Hibiscus flowers open daily and last for only one day, after which they die. Simply remove all wilted or unsightly flowers and keep grooming daily.

For a fascinating and very comprehensive look into the world of hibiscus plants go to:

www.hiddenvalleyhibiscus.com

#9 Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)

My husband and I have lived in Dallas for almost fifty years, and I can’t think of a summer when we didn’t have impatiens growing in the shady areas of our garden. Their bright and cheerful flowers add a touch of pizzaz anywhere you choose to plant them.  At Raincatcher’s this year we purchased four hanging pots of purple impatiens to feature as bedding plants in the Cottage Garden. They have almost tripled in size since their April addition to the garden and have maintained their large mounding shape. 

We were already aware of their growing characteristics which require moist well-draining soil and partial to deep shade. The bed where they are located is irrigated but during extreme heat, we give them supplemental watering. 

Impatiens are considered to be one of the most popular bedding plants in the Northern Hemisphere. As a big bonus for the edible landscape, they also have tasty edible petals. The sweet petals can be used to flavor desserts, salads and drinks. Thankfully, there is plenty of time left to enjoy beautiful and edible impatiens in your yard and on your plate.

FYI…next year we plan to use impatiens in other areas of the edible landscape. And, in those sunnier spots, SunPatiens will be making a showy appearance.

#10 Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’ (Oxalis deppei)

Do you need a bit of “good luck” in your garden? You may find ‘Iron Cross’ exceptionally rewarding. It is a bulbous perennial forming a lush mound of heart-shaped green leaflets. Each leaf has a dark purple blotch at its base which is reminiscent of a cross. During the day the leaves open out to receive sunlight but at night they retract and fold up like umbrellas. From early summer until frost, the rich green foliage is topped with sprays of trumpet-shaped bright pink flowers. Plant Iron Cross in a sunny to partly shady area of the garden where the soil drains well and has a light, loamy or sandy texture. 

The edible leaves and stalk give salads and soups a pleasant, tangy taste. Dark pink oxalis flowers are a nice garnish for desserts and summer salads.

#11 Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender has been called the ‘fragrance of Provence’, and today, in France, it is still referred to as “blue gold.” If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit Provence when lavender is bloom, it’s easy to appreciate the mesmerizing affect its beauty and fragrance have on you. My husband and I first made the trip over 20 years ago returning to Texas with the dizzying effects of lavender fever lingering in our heads. That’s when my love affair with lavender began.

It has grown wild throughout the Mediterranean for millennia. And now it’s found growing all over the state of Texas, especially down in the Hill country area. The story of how it came to the Texas dates back to the year 1999. Robb Kendrick, a photographer for National Geographic magazine was assigned to do an article about the perfume industry in France. While there, he was struck by the similarity of a lavender-growing area in southern France to his own land near Blanco, Texas. After a careful study of the soil and climate, he decided to start growing it on his property. Texans embraced the idea wholeheartedly and a booming new business was started. For a real Provence-type experience, be sure to put the Blanco Lavender Festival on your calendar. It’s held annually in June and features “all things” lavender. 

Growing Tips:

*Lavender does best in a sunny location with well-drained soil. The ideal pH for lavender is between 7.5 and 8.5. A slight slope helps promote drainage.

*Best time for planting seedlings is March and mid-October, before the first frost. A fall planting will give the plants a better chance of getting established.

*Consider growing lavender in raised beds to help keep roots out of water during heavy rains. 

*There are at least 47 varieties of lavender with an infinite number of cultivars. Do some research to determine the variety best suited for your location. We chose Provence Lavender.

*Lavender is a perennial, which should give you 8 to 12 years of beautiful growth if properly cared for. 

#12 Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia)

If you are unfamiliar with Signet Marigolds, take a stroll around The Edible Landscape Cottage Garden where they are in full bloom. These showy, single-flowered marigolds feature small, but abundant, richly colored blossoms covering the finely divided lacy foliage. We expect the compact and busy plants to reward us with their tiny blooms summer into fall. 

This year, the varieties we chose are ‘Lemon Gem’ and ‘Tangerine’. Master Gardener, Gail Cook, started the seeds for us in early spring. The four-to-six-inch seedlings were transplanted in May. Over the past few months, we’ve enjoyed the elegance of their petite, single, lemon and tangerine blossoms with a citrus-forward, subtly peppery flavor. Harvest the flowers just before using by separating petals from the flower base as it contains a bitter, unpleasant flavor.

#13 Roses (Rosa Meidrilfora’ (Coral Drift®))

Every color of rose has a different meaning. In the language of flowers, coral is desire or passion.  We are excited to have four Coral Drift rose bushes growing in our Cottage Garden Bed, one in each wedge. Drift® roses are intended to function as groundcover or carpet type roses. As all gardeners know, roses are sweet and highly aromatic. While color doesn’t affect the flavor of roses, scent does. The stronger the scent of the rose, the stronger the taste. And, if it smells good chances are it will taste good. Roses generally bloom in early summer but Coral Drift blooms continuously from spring until frost. It produces abundant clusters of small, vibrant coral flowers about 1.5 inches across filled with up to 25 petals. They open up in a softly cupped shape to reveal the stamens. The glossy deep green foliage is noted for its strong disease-resistance. Sometime around mid-September our desire is to use those beautiful coral rose petals to make Pistachio Rose Shortbread and Fig and Rose Cream Trifle.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Texas Black Diamond Watermelons at Raincatchers’ Garden

Some people argue that watermelons are a fruit, others a vegetable, and still others that it is both!

The argument for both is that the watermelon is a fruit (the seed bearing ovary of a plant), and a vegetable (an edible plant).  Watermelon has a place with the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins and different things that are traditionally known as vegetables.  Its logical name being Citrullus lanatus.  Regardless of its classification it has been a welcome addition to our Raincatchers’ garden this year.


Watermelon Patch at The Raincatcher’s Garden

Our vegetable team took over an in-ground planting bed and planted watermelon seeds earlier this spring, but they didn’t just plant any old watermelon, no they chose what has been called the “king” of the garden, Texas Black Diamond watermelons!  Texas Black Diamond watermelons are an heirloom, open-pollinated, oblong variety of watermelon, which grows on vigorous vines and produces a black-green rind. Its bright red flesh is noted for its juiciness and sweet taste, best eaten ice cold after sitting in tubs of ice for several hours!

Growing up in Oklahoma we called this variety, “Rush Springs” watermelons, since they were mostly grown around that small south central town – but they are the same variety as Texas Black Diamonds.  Rush Springs’ citizens, population about 1,300, call their town the “Watermelon Capital of the World”.  The town’s largest event, in mid August, is the annual Rush Springs Watermelon Festival, which attracts more than 20,000 people each year, who consume about 50,000 pounds of locally grown watermelons.

When my family and I lived in San Antonio it was always a big event when the Texas Black Diamond watermelons were brought into town, up from the “valley” or from Luling, TX.  Even some of the radio stations would get involved by broadcasting the locations of the make shift farmer’s markets, where the watermelon farmers would sell their prized produce off the back of their farm trucks.

One of my fondest memories involving watermelons, was taking a very long drive from Oklahoma City to Carlsbad, NM to tour the unbelievable caverns, when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  On our return leg we stopped overnight in Midland, TX for a visit with relatives.  A tremendous panhandle thunderstorm roared through the town taking down the electricity – not a problem for our gaggle of 14 kids, we still enjoyed the ice cold Texas Black Diamond watermelons and had a fun filled evening participating in a spontaneous seed-spitting contest followed by a rowdy game of tiddlywinks, using the seeds as the game pieces!  Oh what fun, but oh what a mess to clean-up in the light of the coming day!

The Texas Black Diamond Watermelons do take up a lot of valuable land and the farmers have been switching to different varieties that consume less land and produce more prodigiously.  The demand for Texas Black Diamonds is still quite strong and those that are grown hardly ever make it up into Dallas area anymore, unfortunately.

When to start growing watermelon?

Most gardeners choose to plant their seeds early in the spring so they can enjoy their ripe fruits during the hottest summer months, as watermelon needs about 90 – 120 days to fully grow, from start to finish.

Where do you plant watermelons?

Plant your watermelon seeds outside when there’s no more danger of frost. Watermelons must be planted in soil that is warm a few inches (centimeters) below the surface. You can place mulch on the soil to keep it warm.

Seeds may be planted in hills or in rows. Space watermelon plants 6 feet apart in hills. Thin to the best three plants per hill.  If planting in rows, watermelon seeds or seedlings should be seven to 10 feet apart.

How tall do watermelon plants grow?

Generally, watermelon plants will grow to a height of approximately 24 inches, and sprawl approximately 3 to 20 feet wide. The vine produces coarse, medium-green leaves, while the fruit can weigh anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds with solid dark green skin.

  Young Watermelon

When Is a Black Diamond Watermelon ready?

Calculate the age of the plant, starting with the day of planting. Black Diamond watermelons take 90 to 120 days to reach maturity, so if the plant is younger than that, the fruit is probably not ripe. 

Feel the skin of the watermelon. When Black Diamond watermelons are ripe, the skin is somewhat rough.  I generally also use the “thump” method, if you get a somewhat hollow sound it generally means the watermelon is ready to be picked.

Even if you only have space for one or two Texas Black Diamond Watermelon plants, you will enjoy the results of your labor and maybe make your own memories.

Jon Maxwell, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2015

Pictures and additional input by Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

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A Summertime “Pop Up” Pepper Class

August 2, 2021

A pile of vegetables

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It was a sizzling hot morning with no breeze other than the gentle air provided by fans turning overhead in the shade pavilion. Our pepper class and tasting event started at 10:00am but even by then, the temperatures were already in the low 90’s. We knew it was going to be a hot one! Thankfully, those who came were seriously interested in learning more about peppers.

Highlights from the Class, Pepper Tasting and Lunch

*Peppers are in the Solanaceae family of nightshade plants as are tomatoes, Irish potatoes and eggplants. There are over 50,000 varieties of peppers. The two broad categories we discussed during the class were sweet peppers and hot peppers. 

*Peppers originated in the Mesoamerica territory which includes Central Mexico down across Central America and as far as northern Costa Rica.  In the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures of Mexico chili peppers were prized for their fiery flavor and spicy kick. These native tribes had fully domesticated chili peppers as far back as 5,000-6,000 BC. The word “chili” can be credited to Nahuatl, the Aztec language from which many modern terms are derived.

*Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter the chile pepper. When eating the fruit he felt the same “burn” or “heat” as from black pepper, so he called it “pepper.” This the reason today that chile peppers are called peppers.

*Is it a fruit or a vegetable? Depends on who you are talking to. 

Botanists see it as a fruit. A botanist would use the botanical classification which is based on the plant’s physiological characteristics like the structure, function and organization of the plant. Botanically speaking, a ‘fruit’ is the seed-bearing product that grows from the ovary of a flowering plant. A nutritionist or chef would use the culinary classification system. The culinary explanation says that a ‘vegetable’ usually has a tougher texture, tastes blander and often requires cooking. A general consensus finds that peppers are both a fruit and a vegetable! 

*Thick Walled/Thin Walled 

Peppers are a flavorful addition to a wide variety of recipes. In general, thin walled peppers work well fresh in salads and sandwiches. They may also be sauteed or grilled. For example, shishito peppers may simply be tossed into a pan with olive oil and sauteed until they blister. 

Thick walled peppers are excellent for stir frying, stuffing or roasting. For easy oven roasted bell peppers, cut them into strips and place on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 450˚F about 25 minutes or until tender.

*Understanding the Scoville Scale 

Bell peppers have zero Scoville Heat Units (SHU), jalapenos have around 5,000 and habaneros have in the neighborhood of 300,000. What does that mean? The Scoville Heat scale measures the concentration of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes peppers hot. Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist, invented the scale in 1912. Originally it measured the dilution needed to make the heat in an extract of a pepper undetectable to a panel of 5 people. A SHU measure of 300,000 indicates that the extract would have to be diluted 300,000 fold before the capsaicin was undetectable. 

Now High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) gives us a direct measurement of capsaicin that is more accurate than sensory methods and is reported in American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) pungency units. One ASTA pungency unit is equivalent to 15 SHU’s. The Scoville scale remains out of tradition so ASTA pungency units are multiplied by 15 to convert them to SHU’s. 

*Recommended AgriLife Varieties 

Sweet Peppers: Bell Tower, Big Bertha, California Wonder, Gypsy, Jupiter and Yolo Wonder

Hot Peppers: Hidalgo Serrano, Hungarian Wax, Jalapeno, Long Red Cayenne and TAM Mild Jalapeno

*Hottest Pepper in the World  

With a rating of 2,200,000 SHU’s, Carolina Reaper holds the record since 2017 for the world’s hottest pepper. (FYI…We aren’t growing it anywhere in the Raincatcher’s Garden).

*Our Favorite 2021 Selection Growing at Raincatcher’s 

2021 Grower’s Choice: Jimmy Nardello

We just adore this curvy little pepper with waxy skin and a sweet flavor. Jimmy Nardellos’ parents immigrated to the United States from Southern Italy in 1887 and brought their beloved pepper seeds with them to their new hometown of Naugatuck, Connecticut. Before his death in 1983 Jimmy donated the seeds to a seed preservation organization. Since then, this delicious chili pepper plant is known as the Jimmy Nardello pepper worldwide.

*Growing Peppers 

Pepper plants like warm weather. Plant in heavier, well drained soil. Direct sow seeds or move transplants outside late April to mid-May. Give them at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.

Water plants enough to keep them from wilting. Harvest peppers as they mature as this will make the yield greater. Store in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Do not wash before storing. Peppers can be frozen.

For more information on growing peppers go to: https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/gardening/peppers/

A Delightful Pepper Themed Lunch Menu

Griddled Quesadillas with Mexican Three Cheese Blend, Baby Spinach and Sauteed Peppers-

We layered the tortillas with Mexican Three Cheese Blend, Baby Spinach and Sautéed Peppers. Neil Bolich cooked them on a griddle over heat onsite. We topped them with a dollop of  Jalapeno Pepper Jelly from our Raincatcher’s Jam and Jelly Team and a Hot Chili Pepper.

Mexican Fruit Cups Drizzled with a Squeeze of Fresh Lime and Sprinkled with Tajin

Jalapeno Shortbread Cookies Dipped in Ghirardelli Chocolate

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

The Edible Landscape and North Vegetable Garden theme for 2022 is still four months away from being revealed. Here is the August clue.  This very important person is known for calling agriculture “the crown of all the other sciences” as it required knowledge in many other sciences like botany and chemistry. Have you guessed it yet? If not, check back in September for yet another insightful clue

Summertime

July 23, 2021

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”

—Charles Bowden

When you think of summer, think of The Raincatcher’s Garden!

Cool off in the shade of Japanese Maples in our courtyard.

Drink in the beauty of this Crinum. We think it is a variety called ‘Super Ellen‘ described as a monster super hero crinum!

“Chill out” by thinking of our rain garden’s purpose. Hint, it nature’s best response to summertime downpours.

Quench your thirst for the unexpected with iron cross oxalis.

Like a hummingbird be refreshed by Turk’s Cap.

Dallas County Master Gardeners welcome visitors. If you would like to come to our garden at 11001 Midway Road while we are working, come Tuesday mornings. For a planned visit, leave a note in our comment section.

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis


Sign up for our Taste the Heat Pepper event. The educational class and lunch will be at our garden on Wednesday, July 28th. Deadline to sign up is Sunday.

https://www.signupgenius.com/go/805084eafad22a4fc1-pepper

The Edible Landscape Kaleidoscope Garden

Kaleidoscope Garden Glass Ball to be Placed in the New Garden Area

July 16, 2021

The history of a much-loved children’s toy takes us back to Great Britain in July of 1817. British patent no. 4136 “for a new Optical Instrument called “The Kaleidoscope” for exhibiting and creating beautiful “Forms and Patterns of great use in all the ornamental Arts” had just been granted to its inventor Sir David Brewster. 

The name is derived from the Greek words kalos (“beautiful”) eidos (“form”) and skipein (“to view”). Interestingly, kaleidoscope roughly translates to beautiful form watcher. From the Brewster Society we discovered this lovely explanation of its purpose. “Kaleidoscopes are portals of remembrance that open onto the familiar, yet unexpected. Allowing the eye to marvel, the mind to explore and the heart to leap, the mirrored tubes of magic have developed into a significant new art form.”

When searching for a more illustrious and descriptive name for our underused Forest Garden bed Beverly Allen, Master Gardener Class of 2018, thoughtfully tossed out the idea of a Kaleidoscope Garden. After spending over an hour discussing the possibility of embracing not only the concept but the practical approach to its design and functionality, we agreed that it would be an exciting project. Here is Beverly’s description of how she views our new garden bed through the lens of the natural world.

“The idea of light diffused through the overhanging oak branches brought to mind a kaleidoscope. We realized this was a good opportunity to use color and pattern to engage the mind and senses. It is challenging to find a variety of edible plants that will look and perform well in a setting that transitions from morning sun on the east end to bright afternoon sun on the west end with deep shade in the middle.

 Planning a themed garden is captivating. Stay tuned as we consider the possibilities of such plants as tulips, peonies, lilac, elderberry and a surprise herb we are hoping to feature.”

-Beverly Allen

And so, our newly named Kaleidoscope Garden has been introduced. It will remain as is during the heat of July and August. Moving into September and cooler fall temperatures, watch for an explosion of color and patterns to appear within its borders. We hope you will experience its childlike wonder.

Corning Ware and Cornflower’s

July 11, 2021 

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If you are a baby boomer like me, this is probably a familiar dish. Chances are you might have received similar pieces as wedding gifts during the late 60’s – 70’s. I certainly did. And for the early part of our marriage, corning ware was used often in my kitchen. But I never gave much thought to the blue floral design embossed on the side until we started growing bachelor’s buttons at Raincatcher’s in the edible landscape cottage garden.

A quick google search led me to a fascinating story dating back to the time of Napoleon. As Queen Louise of Prussia was being pursued by Napoleon’s army, she sought protection for her children by concealing them in a field of cornflowers. In order to distract them and keep them quiet, she made wreaths from the flowers. In 1871, the year of Germany’s unification, Wilhelm, son of Queen Louise, honored his mother when he made the cornflower the symbol of unity. Later, the cornflower became the National flower of Germany. 

The name “bachelor’s button” refers to a time when single men with an interest in a specific woman wore them on the lapel of their jacket. If the flower faded too quickly, it was a sign that a woman’s interest in him was not mutual.  Additionally, English maidens wore the cornflower as a sign they were eligible for marriage. If the girl concealed the cornflower under her apron, she had her choice of bachelors.

So, why then, did Joseph Baum, an artist at the Charles Brunelle Advertising Agency in Hartford, Connecticut, choose to feature the cornflower as Corning Ware’s trademark design in 1958? That part of the story seems to have been lost but an endearing answer might be found in the flower’s symbolism. Today, the cornflower symbolizes remembrance, anticipation, fertility, wealth, prosperity, love and the future. Could it be that he was suggesting we should use our lovely corning ware dishes for favorite family recipes that would transcend time? If so, I’m thrilled to still have one of those memorable vintage dishes in my kitchen. And, that adorable blue cornflower emblem on the dish has a new and special meaning for me.

Tips for Growing Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus)

*To get the most blooms and sturdier stems, plant in a location that receives full sun. (At Raincatcher’s, our cornflowers get a little afternoon shade.)

*If soil is predominantly clay or is sandy, mix in some organic material. We add compost yearly.

*Place plants at least 7 inches apart. Mature growth height is around 15-30 inches. 

*Deadhead plants regularly to prolong their flowering periods. For taller species, staking may be necessary. We’ve had ongoing issues with them falling over so all plants are now supported with bamboo stakes.

*Mulch around plants with bark to keep soil moist and to prevent the root system from getting too much sun. 

*Regular watering will keep the plants healthier.

*Cornflowers make excellent cut flowers and attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating and beneficial insects.

*Cornflower seeds are easy to harvest. When the seeds are ripe, the seedpods open up. Once this happens, extract the seeds for next year.

*Enjoy the vibrant blue flowers in salads, raw or cooked. Their sweet to spicy flavor will remind you of cloves. 

A bit of trivia: 

Bachelor Buttons were the favorite flower of President John Kennedy. His son John John wore one at his wedding to honor his father.

And, it has been reported that the most valuable blue sapphires are called Cornflower blue, having a medium-dark violet-blue tone.

Cornflowers Growing in the Edible Landscape Cottage Garden

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

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