Woody herbs are all perennials and usually hardy plants with leaves, blossoms and woody stems that contain their essential oils. Their relatively high content of volatile oils gives them an extremely aromatic fragrance. Woody herbs retain more of their flavor and aroma when dried than most green herbs do. In the garden, woody herbs require far less water than green herbs. The most important consideration is that these herbs be planted where they have good drainage.
Our journey into creating a garden bed featuring woody herbs began almost four years ago. We started with a combination of both woody and green herbs. The first few years all watering was done by hand. Then, in October of 2019, a drip system was installed. Sometime around mid-spring of this year, we noticed that our plants weren’t thriving. A soil test revealed that the garden was low in nitrogen but moderate to high in phosphorus, potassium and other minerals. Organic matter was 9.36%.
After doing further research, we read an article advising that two things to avoid when starting a Mediterranean garden were horse manure and wood chips. We had unknowingly used both when building our bed. A decision was made to excavate the existing soil 6-8 inches down and start fresh.
On November 11th, Soil Building Systems delivered 5 cubic yards of a rose mix selected especially for our Mediterranean bed. Volunteers worked carefully while spreading the mix to create a mound shape for optimal drainage requirements. Once established, a protective plastic weed barrier was custom cut to cover the entire bed. Using a box cutter, an “x” was made in the plastic where each herb was planted. The finishing touch was a 3 inch topping of pea gravel to give our bed the look of gardens circling the Mediterranean basin.
The short list of woody herbs found in most Mediterranean gardens includes:
Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
Lavender (Lavandula species)
Marjoram and Oregano (Origanum marjorana and vulgare)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Winter Savory (Satureja montana)
In addition to the woody herbs listed above, we added curry plant, myrtle, summer savory and a dwarf fig tree. In the early spring of 2022, our Mediterranean garden will be embellished with a colorful display of other drought-tolerant plants that thrive in the same conditions. Some additions will include Rock Purslane and a pleasing selection of succulents.
We hope that our reimagined Mediterranean landscape with its soft colors, gravel beds and informal, drought-tolerant plantings will hint of a visit to the countrysides of France, Greece or Italy. Perhaps you will be captivated by the intoxicating fragrance and earthy flavors characterized by these essential woody herbs of the Mediterranean region.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
Over four years ago, plans were approved for a new Dallas County Master Gardener project on the campus of Midway Hills Christian Church. The area once used as a children’s playground would be repurposed as an edible landscape. Our mission was to provide attractive and easy to implement landscape design ideas using only edible plant material.
As the space has evolved, our volunteer team has grown in our understanding of seasonal expectations and requirements. Through numerous failures we’ve learned how environmental factors such as soil structure, shade, moisture and even pest invasions can teach you how to be a better gardener. Thankfully, we’ve also enjoyed great success while venturing into new avenues with different varieties of plants. It has been fun to celebrate those victories.
Looking ahead, we believe that it is now time to move the edible landscape forward with a slightly different approach. Starting this fall, our edible landscape team will begin the process of integrating non-edibles into our lovely garden spaces. This will give us the ability to demonstrate, more fully, how to creatively use both edibles and non-edibles together in well-planned garden projects. We’re hopeful, that as we introduce an artistic palette of harmonious colors, shapes and textures, others will be inspired to use them also.
We invite you to join us in this journey as we continue to explore exciting new possibilities. Our desire is to provide a place where the natural world gives you a feeling of peace and serenity. As the garden evolves may your spirits be lifted and your soul refreshed.
Linda Alexander and Fern Brown, Co Leaders
Beverly Allen, Research and Seed Selection Coordinator
In honor of our new Co Leader, Fern Brown, it seemed very appropriate that the first non-edible introduction to the Edible Landscape Garden would be a lovely assortment of “ferns”. A “tip of the hat” to Fern for donating holly ferns from her yard to get us started.
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)
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:
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.
*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
“The best cottage gardens look like they planted themselves”.
January 2021 our cottage garden was still in the dream phase. Researching, studying and looking at pictures on the internet filled up most of our time. We had envisioned the look, but a great deal of work lay ahead before this distinctive style could be implemented into our existing Statuary bed. Our goal was to find the perfect blend of colorful edibles transitioning from season to season, much like a butterfly gently flutters among flowers blooming in the garden. We hoped the rhythm of a good design would guide us along the way.
The English invented the cottage garden, probably in the 1400’s when even the humblest plots of land were pressed into service to produce food for families. Every inch of earth counted—with herbs, fruit trees, and flowers (which attracted bees to pollinate crops) jammed close together. Aside from being practical, the effect was charming. And so, we chose two descriptive words to guide us in our adventure…we wanted our garden to be graceful and charming.
While studying Gertrude Jekyll’s philosophy (1843-1932), we learned that she popularized the informal borders associated with country houses in England and picket fences in the U.S. Instead of the fussy formal planting of the Victorian era, she advocated a more natural look with plants arranged by color, height and flowering season.
After a series of discussions with our team of volunteers, ideas were tossed out for consideration as we started the process of ordering seeds for a Spring presentation. Our time spent learning about the cottage garden style was especially beneficial as flowers were specifically chosen for the role they would play. Variety would create interest while selecting plants with the proper form and texture promised a more pleasing landscape design.
Guidelines used to establish a Texas version of our edible modern cottage garden were:
*Expand Boundaries – plant flowers at the edge of garden beds, allowing them to spill over onto paths.
*Consider Climate – select flowers, herbs and vegetables that are known to thrive locally.
*Embellish Gracefully – provide ways to produce focal points and places of interest. Plant shrubs among flowers to add height and structure.
*Lure Pollinators – use “bee and butterfly” friendly plants.
*Edit Sensibly – remove annuals at the proper time and groom perennials to maintain beauty.
*Evaluate and Experiment – cottage gardens evolve, seasonally. Remove plants that failed to flourish. Add new plant material, as needed, for variety.
Edible plants selected for our cottage garden include, but are not limited to, the following:
Spillers-to expand boundaries: having used scented pelargoniums in previous years, we were familiar with their growth habits and characteristics. For this project the varieties we chose were ‘Old Fashioned Rose’ and ‘Mrs. Tabor’s Red’. Tucked in between the pelargoniums we planted nasturtiums ‘Alaskan Mix’ to satisfy our 2021 variegated theme and to promote the spiller effect. The herbaceous evergreen perennial ‘Pink Chintz’ creeping thyme with its ground-hugging habit of growth brings a delicate texture to the perimeter of the garden.
Thrivers-previously used plant material proven to flourish in our Zone 8 climate: herbs in this category are the familiar basil varieties ‘Cardinal’ and ‘Red Rosie’. Onion chives were planted around the perimeter over two years ago and continue to thrive. Summer Phlox ‘Party Girl’ is a new addition with vintage appeal. ‘Iron Cross’ Oxalis is a frost tender perennial in bloom from June to November.
Embellishers-bring interest to the garden: two varieties of marigolds (tangerine and lemon gem) will bring delicate pops of yellow and orange to the design. ‘Pinks’ (Dianthus) that grew prolifically in many of our grandmother’s gardens provide little dots of color amongst the herbs and flowers. Wax leaf begonias and purple impatiens give long lasting seasonal color to the garden. For a striking touch of blue, Bachelor’s Buttons (Cornflower) add both drama and height. One carefully chosen coral drift rose bush was planted to grace each wedge. Three upright lavender scented pelargoniums softly embrace the centrally located garden statue.
Pollinators-bee and butterfly friendly plants: blue borage has been growing in our edible landscape for the past two years. Adding it to the cottage garden was an easy decision. Bees love those adorable star-shaped blue blossoms as much as we do. Echinacea is a reliable perennial that adds color and height. Radish flowers are not only tasty but attract beneficial insects to the garden. Some will be harvested, others will be allowed to bolt. Yellow yarrow is a pollinator friendly plant that is known to attract butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects. We added one yarrow plant to each wedge.
In conclusion: Six months later, the circular bed once referred to as our Statuary Garden has been reclaimed and given a new identity. Yes, the adorable bronze statue of a little boy and girl remained in its original location, a constant reminder that the entire edible landscape was once a much-loved children’s playground. The same four pie-shaped wedges now feel more relaxed with their harmonious gathering of edible flowers, herbs and a few vegetables. We are overjoyed with the seasonal arrangement of jewel tones displaying their glowy color palette. Varying shades of green gracefully weave their way through a tapestry of color bringing a sense of harmony to each bed. Our new ‘Cottage Garden’ stands proudly as the focal point of the edible landscape. As with the cottage gardens of old, we are hopeful that ours will evolve slowly over time, changing with the seasons yet always impressing with its charm. Please enjoy your visit to our garden whenever possible.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
Are you imagining a rare and brilliant necklace worn by a beautiful Persian woman of antiquity? If so, it may surprise you to learn that Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) is a plant which is native to the New World. My first experience with it was a few years ago when ‘A Year on the Plate’ was being created for the Dallas County Master Gardener Association.
Ann Lamb, my dear friend and one of the photographers for the cookbook, brought a small floral arrangement to the photo shoot for Lemon Verbena Scones. Earlier that morning, she had gone to her yard and gathered up a lovely collection of flowers and herbs. Placed perfectly in an ordinary “ball jar”, its simplicity was stunning. But it was the delicate addition of a branched display filled with tiny jewel-colored balls that caught my eye.
My curiosity led to a discussion of the plant which she quickly identified as Jewels of Opar. And so, the story continues with the gift from her garden and a recently discovered piece of information. True gardeners are always learning about the plant world. And, that information is easily shared through emails and texts or as we are working together in the garden.
Thanks to Susan Swinson, one of the volunteers at Raincatcher’s, we have just learned that Jewels of Opar is also an edible plant. Hooray! Remembering what Ann had told me back in 2016, to “choose your location carefully because once planted, your will always have it your garden”, our “Jewels” is growing in a small, manageable garden bed.
Growth Habits and Characteristics:
*A self-seeding perennial that prefers full sun but can tolerate a small amount of shade during the day. Grows to about 24” tall.
*Does best in well drained soils and is tolerant of poor soils and heat.
*Stunning lime green leaves with sprays of tiny pink flowers followed by ruby-orange seedpods.
*Elliptical to rounded oval leaves are succulent and make an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches.
*Seeds are tiny but nutritious and have recently been compared favorably with flaxseed.If you would like to add this beaded beauty to your garden, stop by Raincatcher’s on Tuesday, May 25th from 9:00am – 1:00pm. We have about two dozen small Jewels of Opar plants ready to be “gifted” on a first come, first served basis.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
Want to bring some unexpected tastes to your palate? A recent walk around our edible landscape gave us the answer. Yes, we are growing kale for the foliage, chervil for its delicate, lacy leaves and chives to top baked potatoes and egg dishes but many other beautiful spring blossoms offer special gifts not to be missed.
Salads become more vibrant and enticing, soup receives a touch of elegance and lightly steamed or sauteed vegetables sparkle when flower blossoms garnish the dish. We’ve selected ten of our favorite spring blossoms to whet your appetite. Some are familiar, others may surprise you with their distinctive and very pleasant tastes. Enjoy your springtime visit to our garden to catch a glimpse of these lovely blossoms before they fade away.
Dainty, apple scented, daisy-like spring blossoms become the perfect ingredient for brewing a cup of German chamomile tea. To make the tea, place 1 tablespoon fresh (or 1 teaspoon dried) flowers in a cup. Pour 1 cup boiling water over the top and steep for 5 minutes. Strain out the petals before drinking or using in a recipe. Let the soothing taste calm and comfort you on a crisp spring morning. Petals can also be used in salads.
#9…Scented Geraniums (Pelargoniums spp.)
At Raincatcher’s we’ve fallen head over heels with scented pelargoniums (geraniums). Their fragrance is so captivating that we’re constantly searching for new varieties. This spring, we’re growing some of the following: chocolate peppermint, lavender, lemon fizz, rose, peach and pink champagne. From smooth-as-velvet rounded leaves to deeply lobed, the foliage of scented pelargoniums makes a lovely statement in the garden. Use scented geranium leaves to lend a nice fragrant addition to cookies, cakes, butter, drinks, and many other types of foods. Garnish the beverage of your choice with a tiny blossom. For a sweet finish, give it a gentle swish in the liquid before consuming.
#8…Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
After the deep freeze of February, chervil gave us a spirit-lifting surprise. Our tender little plants growing in the Hügelkultur stayed nestled in the ground just long enough to survive the bitter cold. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been drawn to tiny white anise-flavored blossoms covering the plants. Harvest chervil blossoms and leaves as close to preparation time as possible. Partner it with eggs, salmon, cream soups, and many classic sauces. Use the blossoms to garnish watercress for a simply divine salad.
We are growing the wax leaf variety in our Statuary/Cottage Garden. The fleshy leaves and flowers are edible both cooked and raw. In Japan, India and Indonesia they have been cooked up as potherbs. The Chinese use them to make a sauce for meat. Children in northern Mexico and China eat them as a snack. Tuberous begonias are also edible. The flowers have a delicious, light, lemon taste and a crisp texture. We hope to add some in the shady parts of our garden.
#6…Rat’s Tail Radish(Raphanis sativus var. caudatus)
Edible podded radish plants look very similar to traditional radish plants except that the flowers are allowed to go to seed and form seed pods. Rat’s Tail radish is grown for its edible pods. The pods are green and pencil-thin with a smooth, somewhat lumpy appearance. Flowers can range from white to pink and purple and can be added to salads. Pods can be eaten raw or cooked, sliced and added to salads or crudité platters. Because Rat’s Tail radish plants are heavy producers, it’s fun to use both flowers and pods in different dishes.
#5…Kale, Red Russian (Brassica napus)
Kale is typically grown as a leafy green crop. But have you tasted the blossoms? Surprisingly, they are very tender and delicious. And, with the extreme cold in February, it brought out their sweetness even more. If fully opened, use them in salads. If they are still in the bud stage, try adding them to stir fry dishes. Or, after a light sauté, add them to soup or pasta. Other members of the brassica family also produce these tender flowering tops known as raabs. Raab is a tangible, edible sign that the kale (or broccoli or whatever you have) “overwintered” and survived into spring.
#4…Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
With nicknames like pot marigold and poor man’s saffron, you might have missed the opportunity to grow calendula. At Raincatcher’s, we’re thrilled to have it growing alongside the greenhouse beds and in our sensory garden. Springtime is the best time to enjoy calendula flowers in the landscape and, especially, for culinary purposes. Calendula flowers have a spicy, peppery taste that give a nice flavor to cornbread, quiche, ravioli and sweets.
#3…Wasabi Arugula (Diplotaxis erucoides)
If you’re ready for tasting notes of horseradish and peppery aromatics, give wasabi arugula a try. It has deep green spoon-shaped leaves with slightly toothed edges and stems that are delicately crisp. Once it bolts, let the edible flowers attract pollinators or enjoy their tender, tangy bite in salads and as a garnish for your favorite bowl of soup.
In our crescent bed, you’ll find both white and blue borage in full bloom. Bees are buzzing and can’t stay away from the striking star-shaped blossoms. Borage is an extremely old plant, originating from an area around Aleppo, a Syrian city that dates back to the eleventh century B.C. After spreading to Europe, Pliny the Elder wrote, “it maketh a man merry and joyful.” His comment, along with others, may refer more to the wine it was drunk in than the herb itself. Fresh borage flowers can be used in salads, dips and cold soups as a garnish.
Not surprisingly, nasturtiums are the number one pick in our edible landscape. There are almost a dozen varieties of nasturtium on the market but this year we chose ‘Variegated Alaska Mix’ for our Statuary/Cottage Garden bed. Their unique variegated foliage delivers a colorful display of gold, orange, salmon and mahogany flowers on compact plants reaching about one foot in height. A big attraction for growing nasturtiums is that the flowers, leaves and seed pods are all edible. Their tangy flavor is mustard like with an added perfume and sweetness. (For a special treat, go to our link for Nasturtium Risotto. This incredible recipe includes all parts of the nasturtium plant.)
(FYI…Come back in a few months for our next seasonal look at a Baker’s Dozen favorite edible summer flowers.)
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
If the title sounds like the name of a new novel, continue reading for a charming introduction into an often-forgotten herb, sweet woodruff – Waldmeister (Galium odoratum formerly known as Asperula Odorata.) According to German folklore it is known by many sources as master of the woods. Delving deeper into its history and uses, you may want to obtain some quickly for a refreshing sip of Maiwein to celebrate May 1st.
In the edible landscape we chose sweet woodruff because it is an ideal herb to use for planting under trees and along shady walkways. With its whorls of emerald green leaves and white starry flowers, it is a welcome sight in late spring while the foliage is attractive all season long.
Sweet woodruff prefers a rich, loamy, well-drained slightly acidic soil but tolerates both sandy and heavy, alkaline clay soils. The shady side of our hügelkultur bed provides it with an optimum growing environment. It typically grows to about a foot tall and spreads indefinitely by stringy yellow underground runners. In our Zone 8 climate it is considered an evergreen. A light covering of mulch this winter helped it survive during the freeze.
The German name, Waldmeister (master of the woods), reflect its habitat, the common name bedstraw, applied also to other members of the genus, refers to its use. During the middle ages it was used as a fragrant strewing herb and mattress filling. When dried, the leaves smell pleasantly of new-mown hay, honey and vanilla.
Today, sweet woodruff is probably best known as an ingredient of German May wine. It is traditionally drunk on May Day both to welcome the season and as a spring tonic. Follow this simple recipe for a refreshing sip of an historical beverage. The recipe was taken from a German Culture website which specified that only the tender, young leaves should be used in this drink, before sweet woodruff is in bloom. As you can see from the photograph, our sweet woodruff fits that description, so we are ready to enjoy a glass of Maiwein on Saturday, May 1st!
Sweet Woodruff Wine
1 bottle dry German Riesling
7 sprigs young sweet woodruff
Tie the stems of the woodruff with a string and stuff it into the opening of the wine bottle, leaving the string outside the bottle. Let it soak for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bunch and serve the wine chilled. Note: Germans like to garnish the Maiwein with fresh strawberries and mint.
Last fall around early November we filled two of our swing set raised beds with shallot bulbs. During the winter months they continued to grow, even through the unprecedented freeze. This past week we noticed that the green tops were starting to wither and fall over. Our shallots were letting us know that harvest time was close.
Tuesday morning, we made the decision to pull them out and prepare the ground for our next crop. A little careful digging around the base of each clump followed by a gentle tug helped us to coax them out successfully. The next step was to let them dry for about a week or two.
Shallots typically mature in about 90 to 120 days. Because ours were started as a fall crop, we chose to pull them after about 120+ days. If we had allowed them to stay in the ground until mid-April, a more pronounced bulb shape would have developed. But the pepper plants that Jim started for us were growing rapidly in the greenhouse and needed to be transplanted in the shallot bed. Springtime weather had arrived, and our shallot days were over.
Over half of the shallots were spread out across a wire mesh frame for drying in the sun. On rainy days, they were moved to the garage. The remaining shallots were used to make an incredibly flavorful spring soup from Half Baked Harvest, Herby French Shallot Soup.
Shallots are easy to grow and add a perky touch of green to the winter garden. Next fall, we’ll expand our crop to other sunny areas of the edible landscape where shallots can be harvested at different times during the spring. A big pot of Herby French Shallot Soup will be our reward.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener, Class of 2008
In the edible landscape we look forward to a new calendar year and the joy of introducing our annual theme for the garden. Planning starts months in advance as we pour through catalogs, the internet and numerous books filled with ideas that inspire and excite us. Even Pinterest captures our attention with a global look at interesting possibilities used throughout the world.
Over the previous few years, we’ve filled our garden beds with edible plants that help promote the theme. In 2019 we choose an ombre theme. Tiny little green basil plants in our raised sidewalk beds were followed by red rubins that gracefully yielded to the dark purple opal varieties. It was a visual feast for the senses. For 2020, we used the color white in various garden beds. With the early spring arrival of white alyssum as a ground cover to white velvet okra standing like soldiers in the Hügelkultur, we were pleased. But it was those spectacular lacey white blooms of the carrots growing in our raised sidewalk beds that made the most stunning appearance.
For 2021 our plan is to explore and find creative ways to use variegated edibles in the garden. Several plants had a pre-introduction this past fall: variegated society garlic in the raised sidewalk beds and lemon variegated thyme in the Mediterranean bed are up and growing. But there’s more to come.
Variegated Society Garlic Growing Now In Our Garden
It wouldn’t be spring without nasturtiums, so we’ve ordered seeds for the variegated Alaska mix. We even found a grower in Pennsylvania who has shipped variegated tomato seeds to us for our summer garden.
Our Statuary bed will have a new spring cottage garden design. Look carefully and you’ll see variegated oregano, dianthus and basil plants with variegated leaves. And just when you couldn’t imagine another kind of mint, we’re filling our crescent beds with variegated apple scented mint.
Variegated Apple Scented Mint
During the next few months, we’re going to “dig in” and get this theme moving forward. By spring, our edible landscape should be showing signs of a variegated wonderland. We invite you to take a stroll around the garden and enjoy our work.
Seeds were started in late December and will continue through January. Plants will go into our garden beds after about 7 weeks of growth. Here are some of our seed sources. We do not gain any compensation for listing these but want to help you in your seed search:
As autumn leaves began to fall throughout the edible landscape, we noticed little touches of purple peeking through the bee balm in our greenhouse beds. Much to our surprise, crocus bulbs that had been planted over two and a half years ago, were starting to bloom. As we gently lifted back drooping branches of bee balm more crocus plants appeared. It seemed that the crocus was whispering to us for help, “please don’t cover me up”.
With many other garden chores on the agenda that day, we took a quick departure and started the process of carefully digging up over 15 clumps of crocus plants. Everyone agreed that a new location was essential for the health and survival of our precious plants. We choose three spots in between the raised beds under the swing set frame. Our crocuses now have their own permanent, mostly sunny, location with no competition from other plants.
If you are interested in growing crocus in your garden, here is some helpful information to get you started:
*Crocus sativus is an autumn blooming crocus which produces the highly prized and expensive spice, saffron. The spice is actually the red stigmas of the crocus flower.
*Each saffron crocus bulb will only produce one flower. Each flower will only produce three yellow styles, each of which ends with a crimson-red stigma. It takes about 50 to 60 saffron flowers to yield about 1 tablespoon of saffron spice.
*Saffron crocuses need well-draining soil and lots of sun.
*Saffron crocus multiply rapidly so in a few years’ time you should have enough for your garden.
*Saffron crocus are hardy down to -15F. Fertilization may be applied annually but isn’t required.
*Saffron crocus only blossoms during a short period in the fall. Once a flower blooms, it must be harvested that same day, as it begins to wilt almost immediately.
If you’re wondering why saffron is so expensive, consider this; since each flower contains only three delicate stigmas, it takes upwards of 50,000 flowers to yield one pound of dried saffron.
Conclusion: At Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills, we’re hopeful about a venture into the saffron market someday!