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Raincatcher’s Press

Linda Alexander wrote the following article for the magazine, Estate Life Old Preston Hollow and Bluffview (October edition.) It’s a lovely way to introduce friends to our garden. After reading, enjoy a delightful musical and photographic tour of this special place by watching the video at the end of the aritcle.  And, remember to visit us anytime.

Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills

Situated just a half block north of the Midway and Royal Lane intersection is a Dallas County Master Gardener project that you are welcome and encouraged to visit. Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills is located on the grounds of Midway Hills Christian Church at 11001 Midway Road. Master gardeners are on site every Tuesday from 9am until noon to manage and care for 12 different garden areas. Here you will find lovely examples of unique and beautiful garden demonstrations:

North Garden areas:

*Pollinator Garden – Birds, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds all seem to find their place here.  Swallowtails and fritillaries along with small skippers and honeybees are attracted to the flowers of ‘Miss Huff,’ a huge variety of lantana.  Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ is a favorite of our large native bees. Painted Ladies and duskywing butterflies find the lovely lavender flowers of prairie verbena to their liking. And, the Eastern Black Swallowtail larvae make good use of the common fennel plant.

*Color Wheel – If you need help creating a specific look in your landscape, check out the options in our color wheel. Lemon thyme, jalapeno peppers and airplane plant are stars of the green spoke. Blue lovers might give Stokesia aster, black and blue salvia and Gregg’s mist a try. For a bold red look, we’re growing autumn red sage, salvia Greggii and amaryllis. If you’re drawn to mellow yellow try growing columbine, rudbeckia and Stella d’Oro lilies in your garden.

*Grape Arbor – This year our Champanel vines produced enough grapes to make over 40 jars of jelly. Yummm! You might be inspired to start your own grape arbor.

Fruit Orchard – Peach, pear and plum trees were perfectly selected, trimmed and shaped per our Dallas County Extension Agent’s instructions to yield maximum production. We’re especially excited about the new apple tree espalier added to the orchard last year.

*Raised Vegetable Beds – Gardening enthusiasts will find good examples of what grows best in our Zone 8 climate every season of the year. Fall and winter crops include tomatoes, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, greens and winter squashes.

*Composting Area – This is the place where food scraps, leaves and grass clippings are turned into the “black gold” of our garden. Digging into a pile of sweet smelling, finished compost is a gardening joy. Applying it to the soil assures us that we are creating a nurturing environment for growing healthy plants.

Central Garden areas:

*Rain Garden – This area directly in front of the church demonstrates the benefit of capturing rainwater overflow and directing it to a low-lying bed filled with plants that thrive in both wet and dry conditions. Look for crinum, purpleheart, purple coneflower, Turk’s cap, dwarf palmetto and American beautyberry.

*Courtyard – Most visible to church members and tenants is an area of sun and shade between church buildings. Ample shade provides the perfect growing conditions for a variety of Japanese maples and redbud trees, bear’s breeches, beautyberries, cast iron plant, hellebores and sedums. Sunny spots welcome a variety of spring- and summer-blooming bulbs, a dramatic candlestick plant, rosemary and hoja santa among many others.

*The Edible Landscape – Located directly behind the church is an old, abandoned children’s playground where we introduced the concept of combining food with landscaping. Throughout the garden we demonstrate creative ways to integrate edibles into traditional beds and borders. It’s a daunting task to follow the criteria that every plant added to this garden must have at least one part that is edible. With over 75% shade and small pockets of sun to work with, our greatest challenge is finding innovative ways to create an edible landscape each season of the year. We are constantly searching for the lesser-known edible annuals, perennials and evergreens to use in creating a pleasing design aesthetic. Sweet woodruff, variegated society garlic and dwarf trailing sweet myrtle are some new examples of adding style and beauty to our edible landscape.

Raincatcher’s garden is a unique place to visit. We often meet guests who come just to experience the tranquility of a quiet and relaxing environment. Others come to have their senses stirred by the vast array of blooming flowers or herb-lined pathways filling the air with their fragrance. Many come for the educational programs and helpful information which can be applied to the home garden. Children delight in finding caterpillars chomping away on the fennel or monarch butterflies darting from one bloom to the next.

Starting in late winter and spring of 2021 we hope to resume our educational agenda of lectures, seminars, tasting lunches and tours of the garden. Follow us on dallasgardenbuzz.com for a listing of upcoming events and registration information as well as gardening tips and recipes.

When creating and sampling recipes for our 2016 cookbook, A Year On The Plate, these two autumn recipes received rave reviews. There’s still time to plant Swiss chard, turnips and kale for a delicious garden-to-table meal.

Kale Salad with Warm Cranberry Almond Vinagrette 

Minestrone Soup

Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills is a research, education and demonstration garden and project of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Dallas County Master Gardeners located on the campus of Midway Hills Christian Church.

Linda Alexander

Video by Starla Willis

Rising Sun Redbud Tree

During the stay at home order, I found myself watching most of the Texas A&M AgriLife’s Water University online training classes.  The classes were great but one thing I particularly liked was that a lot of the classes are at 6 or 6:30 PM – HAPPY HOUR!!!  I would set up my laptop on the kitchen table, pour myself a glass of something and get out a bag of chips and salsa.  When I knew my friend Sarah Sanders was also watching the class, she would do the same and we would text back and forth about the plants we liked.  It was not the same as attending a meeting together but we are doing the best we can under these unusual circumstances.

We noticed one tree that was mentioned in almost every class.  It was the Rising Sun Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis).  The instructor, Daniel Cunningham (Horticulturist) said he has one planted outside his kitchen window.  Sarah and I were determined to find a spot for one in the courtyard at the Raincatcher’s Garden at Midway Hills Christian Church.  We have a large, square brick planter that was initially planted as an herb garden, which was a great idea since it was so close to the kitchen where we do all our cooking for the garden luncheons.  However, years passed and we now have a huge fabulous edible garden just a few steps away.   It seemed like a great time to repurpose the area for a beautiful view from the church windows.

Rising Sun Redbud Tree, so aptly named. Look at that foliage!

Here is what we love about this tree.  It’s a compact tree (10-12 feet tall with a 10-15 foot spread) and has multiple seasons of interest.  It blooms pink flowers in the spring and attracts birds and butterflies.  Then, the heart shaped leaves start out as yellow, orange and apricot and turn to lime green when it gets hot.  The very best part is that, at some point during the growing season, all of these colors are on the tree at the same time.  Then in the fall, the leaves turn orange.  I’ve also read that the bark is smooth and yellow, making it attractive in the winter months.  It almost seems too good to be true!

 

 

Since September is an ideal time to plant trees, Beverly Allen, Sarah Sanders and I strapped on our masks and headed to the courtyard with shovels and rakes in hand.  Eight bags of compost were added to the bed.  We dug a hole and hoisted a 15 gallon Rising Sun Redbud tree into the planter.

Jackie James, Sarah Sanders and Beverly Allen, the planters.

We are hoping we chose just the right tree to plant in just the right spot so it will be a beautiful and fun addition to the courtyard and also easily visible from the Fellowship Hall window.  Can’t wait until we can get together again to attend a monthly meeting or enjoy one of our delicious luncheons and have the added bonus of getting to look at this tree out the window. Thanks for the idea, Daniel!

Jackie James – MG Class of 1993


As Jackie said, this is a great time to plant trees and here are two videos to help you:

How to plant a bare root tree

Redbud Tree planted by Dallas County Master Gardener Eric

 

Arbequina Olive Tree in the Edible Landscape at Raincatcher’s

Olive tree surrounded by garlic chives.

It was just over one year ago that a quick trip to a local garden center had surprising results. After visiting with the owner for a few minutes, I was convinced that nothing would be statelier in front of our greenhouse than a five-foot-tall arbequina olive tree. Ruth, the owner, was already growing olive trees at her house just minutes away. She assured me that all twelve trees had been thriving in her garden for over eight years. 

An on-the-spot decision was made, and Ruth helped me select a nicely shaped olive tree that just fit into my vehicle. Back at the garden, one of our strong and capable male volunteers dug the hole and lifted our arbequina olive tree in place. Carefully staked and secured with rubber tubing, our tree was ready for late fall and winter weather in its new sunny location.

We were so pleased to watch as it continued to grow through a mild winter and into spring. But the real thrill for us happened this summer when the tiny little green olives started popping out on some of the lower branches. 

Ripening olives

Now, at the end of September, it is exciting to see the olive harvest multiplying. As we arrive at the garden each Tuesday to tend to our chores, we’ve noticed that the olives are slowly transitioning from green to rose and then a deep, dark purple. By mid-November the olives should have ripened enough to be harvested and ready for the next step. 

After searching through various internet sources, we’ve decided to experiment with two different methods for enjoying our olives. 

#1 – Curing and Brining (Water Method)

#2 – Curing and Brining (Salt Method)

If you’re interested in growing an olive tree in your garden, here are some helpful facts that we learned about the Arbequina variety:

*It is one of the most extensively planted olive cultivars in the world (USDA hardiness zones 7 through 11).

*The name comes from the village of Arbeca (Spain) where it was first introduced to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in the seventeenth century.

*Arbequina olive trees are hardier than other varieties and are resistant to drought and pests. 

*Arbequina olive trees prefer four to eight hours of full to partial sunlight. They are adaptable to different conditions of climate and soil but do best in alkaline soils. 

*Arbequina’s are often described as a small olive that packs big flavor. They have a rich and flavorful fruity, buttery taste with a texture that is meaty and firm. 

Linda Alexander

Click here to read about brining olives.

 

Cardboard Gardening

Our first article about using cardboard in the garden was written in 2014.   Starla takes up this subject again below. Save your cardboard, and read her instructions.

Some tasks in the garden are not glamorous-ok a lot of garden tasks are that way-weeding, deadheading, and putting down mulch to name a few. With covid restrictions and shelter in place requirements keeping me at home,  several of the mundane jobs finally got my attention.

The trees have been trimmed, beds transformed,  plant material rearranged,  and, with the help of my husband, areas were weeded that were long overdue.

Now I need to mulch the paths in the area which were formerly my raised garden bed. You see, several years ago, I was inspired by friends to plant a vegetable garden and wrote about it in Dallas Garden Buzz.

I am a social gardener, so veggie gardening solo, was not as fruitful as I had hoped and now my beds are filled with weeds and paths are not walk-able. I wasn’t sure what to do about this problem until I read our garden’s weekly email.  Instructions on how to lay cardboard and mulch for a new garden area were included. Perfect timing!

Cardboard layer, mulch will be put on top

While at the garden, I found  cardboard had already been laid in several layers and then I came across Master Gardener intern, Dotti Franz. Tirelessly and seemingly indefatigable she was working to cover the 8 x 20 patch of cardboard with mulch.  It was hot with no shade, not ideal weather but because of determined Dotti I was inspired to pitch in and work with her.

Now it’s my turn in my yard.  These simple steps will help me as I take back yet another area of my yard!

Finished project, Dotti has covered the cardboard layer with mulch.

Here are the steps:
·        Place cardboard down overlapping and possibly several layers–
·       BE SURE THAT TAPE IS REMOVED FROM THE CARDBOARD BEFORE LAYING IT DOWN -the cardboard will decompose but the tape will NOT and it will be a nuisance.
·       Water the cardboard after it has been placed where you want it. – The heavier material is not likely to move and shift as much and the mulch has a better chance of sticking.  It will need to be watered again before all the mulch is distributed.
·       Put mulch down
·       If you have to transport mulch from a pile, a ”mulching”  pitchfork and wheelbarrow are needed-– we came to love the gorilla dump cart–Pull the lever and the back dumps!
·       Place the mulch on the cardboard and spread it with the flexible tine leaf rake.
·       Continue by overlapping where you’ve already been and then rake it to achieve coverage and the 4 inches of mulch –
·        After the mulch has been laid down, water it so it doesn’t blow away – There was a slight breeze which helped with our perspiration but not the fly away mulch.
This is not a one time job, good mulch will last a year or so, then you will need to have new mulch added.  Remember, the mulch is used to improve your soil and to keep weeds down and some people like it for its aesthetics.
Supplies:
  • Cardboard (the larger the better) – Remember remove tape
  • Water hose / water
  • Mulch – we have rough shredded tree mulch delivered to our garden —   bags are options as well
  • Rake with flexible tines
  • Wheel barrow to transport
  • “Mulching” pitchfork to move from pile to wheelbarrow
  • Water – moving mulch is hard work and we need to stay hydrated — before, during and after
  • Hat
  • Gloves
Thanks Jon, Fern, and Dotti for inspiring me and letting me know that I can do it.  I will tackle this job now that the weather is cooler.
Starla Willis

Edible Landscape Garden Tour

Tracy and Aaron

Tracy and Aaron McLaughlin live only a few miles away from the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills. But after an hour and a half tour of the edible landscape last week, visits to the garden may be happening on a regular basis. 

Tracy first discovered the garden a few weeks ago when dropping her 3-year-old son off at preschool. A casual stroll around the garden resulted in a friendly conversation with several master gardeners working in the edible landscape. Sensing her desire to know more about the garden, an appointment was scheduled for the upcoming Friday evening with Tracy and her husband, Aaron.

 

Our tour began with an overview of the edible landscape garden objective of using only edible plant material to create a visually stunning design spanning all four seasons of the year. Tracy and Aaron were anxious to learn as much as possible during our visit. As we emphasized during our conversation with them, composting is the core project of building healthy garden soil. The method we use in the edible landscape was carefully explained. They were ready to give it a try. 

Time seemed to pass far too quickly as we toured each unique feature of the edible landscape. From the white velvet okra standing like soldiers in the Hügelkultur to the Stonescape surrounded by impressive mounds of Mexican Mint Marigold and the feathery gray, green curry plant, our guests left with hearts of gratitude and happy smiles across their faces. 

Following their visit, Tracy and Aaron shared some highlights of the tour:

We found a lot of awesome plants that we want to incorporate into our garden. Overall, we thought that learning about the expanded shale to help improve our soil was a huge discovery. We will be incorporating it into our garden beds! 

The tips about composting were especially helpful. Also, locating plants with similar watering needs together was good information.  And, using a variety of plant material in the garden.

We loved the scented pelargoniums. The overall beauty of the garden was inspiring. Going forward we would like to learn how to rotate crops and always plan ahead.”

Tracy and Aaron McLaughlin

 

Linda Alexander and Beverly Allen

Garden Tour Guides

Paloma Eggplant…Creamy Texture and Slightly Sweet

Paloma Eggplant

Searching through the 2020 spring seed catalogs earlier this year, we found something that caught our eye. Entering into the new year, our garden “theme” had already been announced. The edible landscape would be adorned with the color “white”. From white pansies and alyssum to white carrots and white velvet okra, seeds were ordered and the fun began.

But, still needing that extra touch of white magic, we went back to the catalogs and started flipping through the pages. Almost immediately, we found the answer. A bell-shaped, velvety white eggplant named ‘paloma’ was the perfect solution. As soon as the seeds arrived, they were placed into our seed starting mix of perlite, vermiculite and sphagnum peat moss. After a few months in the greenhouse they were transplanted into several different locations in the edible landscape.

The summer heat seemed to slow down their growth initially but nearing the middle of August, things improved. We continued to keep them evenly moist in their sunny garden beds and waited for the first fruits to appear. And finally, over the past few weeks, we have been blessed with the most adorable little white eggplants you’ve ever seen.

Harvested Paloma Eggplant

Not surprisingly, the best part was yet to come. Anxious to experience the taste profile of our little gems, we tossed around a few recipe ideas for volunteers to try.

The one we chose to share with our readers is a favorite from a ‘Grow and Graze’ event last summer. We hope you enjoy revisiting Raincatcher’s Garden Summer Ratatouille with us.  Paloma’s smaller size makes it perfect to use with other vegetables in the ratatouille.

Linda Alexander

 

Candlestick Tree

Candlestick Tree

I should have realized that gardening was going to be an important part of my adult life as I stood in front of a candlestick tree as a child at the State Fair of Texas.  I stood staring at this beautiful, tropical-looking plant with a corn dog in one hand, cotton candy in another and a lizard on a string “leash” pinned to my shirt.  (As far as the lizard is concerned, I feel compelled to quote Maya Angelou:  “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”!!!).

Years went by and I didn’t give that fabulous plant a thought until I volunteered as a docent for one of the first Master Gardener fall garden tours.  I spent several hours at Kay Passmore’s garden that day and found myself staring at the candlestick tree again.  She had many in her yard and commented that they reseed freely.

For the past couple of years, we have been planting candlestick trees in the courtyard at Raincatcher’s Garden at Midway Hills Christian Church.  At this very moment, there is a big candlestick tree in the courtyard that just starting blooming.  Every time I work in the courtyard, I find myself standing and staring at this awesome plant, but without the corn dog (vegetarian now) and cotton candy (yikes!).  And, thank goodness, the only lizards in the vicinity are the ones running freely in our garden rather than pinned to my shirt (what were we thinking?)!!!

Our lopsided well loved Candlestick Tree in the Raincatcher’s courtyard

The candlestick tree (Cassia alata) is native to Central and South America.  It is an annual in Dallas and grows easily from seed.  It is best to soak the seeds in water overnight and then plant them directly in the ground in full sun after the danger of frost has passed.  It can grow from 6 to 15 feet in a season and it blooms late summer to fall.  It is a drought tolerant plant and it attracts pollinators to the garden.  Another fun fact about this plant is that the leaves fold up at night.

Next time you’re at the garden, take the time to check out this plant.  Or make a special trip to the courtyard just to see it – it will be worth your effort!

If you have never grown this plant, I strongly suggest you try one next spring.  Hopefully, we’ll have some seeds to share by then!

Jackie James, Master Gardner class of 1993

Pictures by Starla Willis

 

Summer Song

Have you discovered a summer symphony of enchanting sights, aromatic smells and textural pleasures playing in your garden? Does the air around you seemed to be filled with an overture of sweet and elegant melodies?

Let’s meander along the herb scented pathways together. Pause to listen as the music of the morning opens your senses. Find solace in nature’s serenade.

 

Papalo, sunflowers and juicy peaches soothe the spirit

 

Hoja Santa, and society garlic blossoms play a peaceful rhythm.

 

Celeste fig and purple basil create a pleasing tempo.

 

Okra leaves and blue borage in perfect harmony.

 

Carrot blossoms, eggplant leaves and lemon thyme keep up the beat.

 

Zucchini leaves and blossoms give garden sage a smooth, silvery sound.

 

Sweet potato leaves and balsamic basil for a jazzy little tune.

 

Cinnamon basil and scented geraniums (chocolate and peach) hit those base notes.

 

Lemon verbena in an encore performance.

Linda Alexander

More seasonal flower arranging inspiration-Bundles of Love

Desert Willow

When you visit the Pollinator Garden at Raincatcher’s, please take a moment to walk in the garden and see how beautiful and large the desert willow has grown. Tom Wilten would be proud! He gave us this tree just last year, and it’s happily blooming away. I wonder how many trees owe their lives to Tom’s passion for propagating and teaching us how to do it, too? What a wonderful legacy.

Desert Willow given to The Raincatcher’s Garden by Tom Wilten

 

Lisa Centala

Other Dallas Garden Buzz articles with Tom’s advice:

Tomatoes and North Texas

Seed Saving: It’s a Good Thing


More information about Desert Willow trees from Texas AgriLife Extension

and Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center.

 

Pictures From A Master Gardener’s Very Own Yard

Jon Maxwell, MG class of 2015, is one of the leaders of The Raincatcher’s Garden. Below he is sharing pictures of his home landscape.

In August, do you feel like I do? Your yard is a wilting mess and you want to throw in the trowel!

Jon recognizes the  same challenges and reminded me this is a portfolio of his garden taken over many months.

Here’s a late summer tip: Jon says, ” August is a trial because our water is alkaline so I plan ahead to catch rain water in multiple 5 gallon buckets and use it to water planters and hanging baskets.”

As for his stunning summer flower pots; Jon writes “Each year, other than this one due to the virus, I try to make visual statements that draw your eye to the container. Notice the Brazilian Plume with wild pink slender petals.  My two plants are now 4 years old.  I try to carry them over each winter without a greenhouse.”

Thank you, Jon.

Ann Lamb

Other posts by Jon Maxwell:
Eagle Scout Project
Step by Step, How to build decomposed granite flooring and paths 
Protecting Fig Trees and Grapes
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