RSS Feed

Category Archives: Edible Landscaping

Jewels of Opar

Jewels of Opar, an edible plant
and cottage garden favorite

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

Edible Spring Blossoms…Our Top Ten

May 11, 2021

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.

#10…German Chamomile (Chamaeomelum nobile; Matricaria recutita)

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.

#7…Begonias (Begoniaceae – Semperflorens Cultorum Group)

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. 

#2…Borage (Borage officinalis)

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.

#1…Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus)

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

Nasturtium Risotto

Nasturtium Pesto

Nasturtium Bouillon

Don’t forget our plant sale May 13th and 14th.

Master of the Woods

Sweet Woodruff

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. 

Maiwein Garnished with Strawberries

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

Ingredients

1 bottle dry German Riesling

7 sprigs young sweet woodruff

Instructions

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.

Here is a link to a wonderful recipe for Creamy Maiewien cake: gathervictoria.com.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Growing and Harvesting Shallots in the Edible Landscape

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. 

Shallots ready for harvest

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 drying out after harvest

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. 

Shallot soup looking so yummy

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

“Variegated” The Edible Landscape Theme for 2021

January 12, 2021

 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 Oregano

 

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. 

Linda Alexander

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:

botanicalinterests.com
sowtrueseeds.com
burpee.com
Etsy (sunkissedseed)
Last year we wrote this article about Jim’s seed starting methods. Review here.
And to read an article about shopping for seeds click here.

Crocus Sativus…Worth Its Weight in Gold

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”.

Crocus crying out!

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.

Crocus replanted

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!

Linda Alexander

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.

 

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

 

Growing Artichokes for Blooms or Dinner?

Starla sent pictures of her artichoke blooms. To enjoy the exotic blooms you have to forgo the harvest.  After looking at these pictures, you might pick the okra and eggplant out of your garden for dinner instead.

Looking top down at an artichoke blossom

Side view of artichoke blossom

Artichoke Bud

Artichoke plants benefit us in two ways as beautiful ornamentals and as a food source.

For those two reasons, we have grown this plant in the edible landscape on top of the hugelkultur in semi shade and they have returned for several years bearing as many as 7 artichokes per plant.

Pretty artichoke growing at Raincatcher’s in our edible landscape

We are often asked if the artichokes on the hugelkultur are cardoons. Both plants have a beautiful thistle like bloom and a striking architectural appearance in landscapes. They reach heights of 3 to 6 feet but the cardoon has a rangier growth habit and the edible part is the stem not the flower.

Now what will it be, blossom or artichoke? Feast your eyes or your stomach?

We vote both! Let some flower and cook the rest.

Here’s how Beverly Allen cooks the artichokes she harvests. https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/amazing-roasted-artichokes/

Ann Lamb with input from Beverly Allen

Pictures by Starla Willis

%d bloggers like this: