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The Old Red Shed is Gone

After many years of service as a storage facility for both the church and garden, the old red shed was in a state of disrepair. Rotted floors, bulging sides, leaking roof and collapsing doors made it unsafe for volunteers to use. Watching as it was torn down gave us a sigh of relief. 

What happened next, with nothing left but an empty space, allowed for a time of reflection. The area bordering the north side of the shed had been transformed into a lovely sensory garden, one of our newest additions to the edible landscape. Expansion to the now vacant area would require the installation of an irrigation system but the church had suggested that they might need the space for future use. The other option was to relocate the sensory garden. Our decision was something unexpected which, ultimately, proved to be a magical solution. 

Just a few yards away and bordering the stone pathway was a garden area we had previously christened as “The Kaleidoscope Bed”. With an eclectic mix of evergreen and perennial flowers and herbs as well as colorful annuals, it seemed as if we were being invited to consider yet another transformational opportunity. In the blink of an eye followed a sweet smile of happiness, the blending of gardens began. The Kaleidoscope Bed would graciously surrender its name while allowing existing plants and ornamental features to remain in place. 

Our plan going forward is to maximize the sensory impact that the garden has on its visitors. Adhering to the 70/30 rule, our primary focus will be the addition of more edibles supported by a small percentage of non-edibles. We’ll be including textural plants such as lamb’s ear for it’s soft, fuzzy feel and an upright, aromatic rosemary for both smell and touch. 

For real summertime garden beauty, we’re going to feature Balsamic Blooms Basil once again. It’s the basil that received a Texas Superstar designation in 2017. We first fell in love with its deep purple blooms and the sweet flavor of its gorgeous foliage in the spring of 2018. When we learned that this was the first basil to have flowers and leaves growing at the same time, our vote was unanimous to move it to the top of our seasonal list. Balsamic Blooms will always have a place of honor in the edible landscape. 

Balsamic Blooms Basil and Begonias

Our newly relocated and appropriately named Sensory Garden offers triple the amount of space than before to feature a wide variety of plants that stimulate the senses. Come by for an inspirational visit and let your soul be nourished by the wonderful world of nature.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Avocado Toast…Dressed Up in Seasonal Colors

It was only a few years ago when just an ordinary piece of toast topped with gently smashed avocado became the rage. You’ll find it now on menus across the country from small cafes to upscale restaurants. Everyone seems to have created their own version by using an alphabetical listing of edibles including everything from artichokes and micro greens to tomatoes and tarragon for appeal. My approach tends to be more simplistic in style. 

An early morning harvest from my edible garden provides a seasonally fresh selection of blossoms, greens, herbs and vegetables. On Saturday mornings from April until November a visit to our local farmer’s market gives me additional options. Here are a few delicious suggestions that my husband and I have recently enjoyed but be creative with your choices because any combination that pleases your palate is a winner. 

Springtime

*Thinly Sliced French Breakfast Radishes, Onion Chives and Nasturtium Blossoms

*Broccoli Florets, Arugula and Mrs. Taylor’s Scented Pelargonium Blossoms

*Thinly Sliced Carrots Topped with Caraway Sprigs

*Swiss Chard Perpetual Spinach and Nepitella Blossoms

Summertime

*Sliced East Texas Peaches and French Tarragon

*Campari Tomatoes Sprinkled with Chopped Balsamic Blooms Basil Leaves

*Sliced East Texas Peaches, Sweet Banana Peppers and Purple Basil

*Armenian Cucumbers with Salad Burnet and Watercress

Avocado toast is something we enjoy for breakfast, brunch, lunch and as a delightful appetizer. For a light summer dinner we often serve it alongside homemade gazpacho or chilled cucumber soup. Our goal is simply to use garden fresh ingredients! The only exception is when I’ve made a visit to purchase fresh eggs from my master gardener friend who raises chickens at her ranch. A delicately fried egg sitting on top makes for a very scrumptious breakfast experience.

**Additional edibles from summer’s bounty will include anise hyssop blossoms, blueberries, shaved yellow crooked neck and zucchini squash, onions, jalapeno and shishito peppers. To complete the flavor kick be sure to consider a sprinkling of these herbs; anise, dill, fennel, lovage, mint, papalo, pipicha, lemon thyme and rosemary or any of your personal favorites. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Fiddlehead Fern Fronds in Dallas

Don’t be misled by the title. You won’t find them in our Zone 8 climate as the predominant species for fiddlehead fronds is the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) which is found growing primarily in the Northeastern United States and Canada. Fiddleheads are the tightly coiled tips of early spring ferns. Their unique structure is like the ornamental scroll at the end of a violin’s neck.

Surprisingly, just a few days ago, Central Market was featuring a freshly delivered batch of the fronds for $24.99 per pound. Only vaguely familiar with the Ostrich fern, but being an inquisitive gardener, I couldn’t resist the temptation to gather up a small bundle ($7.98) of the fronds to serve with our dinner that night. A careful online search gave me some very helpful tips and useful information for preparing them. Since this was my first experience cooking fern fronds, I chose to go with a simple recipe.  Just a few basic instructions are needed to enjoy this fresh and tender taste of nature. 

1. Select fronds with a rich, green color. They should be wound nice and tight. (I made the mistake of just snatching up a handful which included some that should have been discarded. Note: Take time to be selective.)

2. Once purchased, refrigerate and use within one or two days. 

3. When ready to cook, trim about ¼” off the stems then place fronds in the sink and wash thoroughly. Lift them up into your hands and rinse well. This helps to remove the papery brown covering. 

To prepare; boil the fronds gently for only a few minutes in enough water to cover them. Next, sauté the fronds in about a tablespoon of butter and a teaspoon of minced garlic until al dente (firm to the bite). Salt and pepper to taste and finish with a light squeeze of fresh lemon.

Our lightly sauteed fronds made a nice topping for some freshly roasted green beans. The taste profile, according to online sources, is best described as mildly nutty with flavor notes of asparagus, spinach and/or green beans. My husband and I agreed that ours were more closely aligned with a hint of asparagus. It was a delightful taste experience that we may enjoy again. 

The seasonal window for fiddlehead fern fronds is extremely short and will soon be closing. Should you desire a new taste adventure give them a try. Also, read the article about Fiddleheads from Mother Earth Gardener and The Spruce Eats for more information about this springtime treasure.

A word of caution: Fiddlehead fronds must be cooked before consuming.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Dates to Remember:

Dallas County Master Gardener Spring Tour-April 30 and May 1st

Raincatcher’s Plant Sale-May 19th, 10am-3pm

Beverly’s Seed Starting Saga

April 5, 2022

It is Spring. I will have my breakdown now.  

Things were going great in my expanded seed starting operation at home. The goal was to start every plant for the north vegetable garden from seed indoors. I admired the strength of teeny seedlings as they pushed through the potting soil. I delighted as true leaves formed. I carefully reapplied vermiculite to the trays to control algae at the first tinge of green.  I loved the camaraderie at our newly donated potting tables as fellow gardeners moved the seedlings from their trays to four inch pots. 

Then…screech….mornings and afternoons became a tiresome slog as I carried each tray of seedlings outdoors to harden off – first in the filtered light of the patio then in the harsh western sun of the backyard.  I increased their sunlight exposure at the agonizingly slow rate of one hour per day.  My family helped.  It was still a daily trial. 

The last week of March my slightly sunburned seedlings and I headed back to the north garden. The volunteer gardeners there placed them into the raised beds with loving care. 


I feel like Jeff Foxworthy might have something to say about a person driving around with 12 dozen tomato seedlings in their car. 

Now I miss them. 

The fellowship of the potting table – Gerry Infantino, George Coelen, Beverly Allen, and Colleen Murray. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Dates to Remember:

Dallas County Master Gardener Spring Tour-April 30 and May 1st

Raincatcher’s Plant Sale-May 19th

Spring Is In The Air!

At the garden today, Jeff Raska will demonstrate orchard pruning. We have begun the task, but now it is time to hear from our expert. Our garden is bursting with energy, seedlings are sprouting, and things once dormant are alive again.

We hope you will also come out to work with us or take a spring stroll through the garden. Thank you to Starla for these pictures. Information will be coming about our spring plant sale on May 19th.

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis

DCMGA Spring Garden Tour, April 30th& May 1st

Tickets for the Dallas County Master Gardener Association (DCMGA) 2022 Spring Garden Tour are now on sale! They can be purchased for $15 through 6:00 pm on Friday, April 29th on the DCMGA website or online for $20 on the days of the Tour or at any of the gardens.  Your ticket is good for either or both days, Saturday, April 30 from 10 am to 4 pm and Sunday, May 1 from 1 to 5 pm.  There are six residential gardens and one school garden on the Tour, all located north of I-635 between Carrollton/Farmers Branch and Richardson. New this year, all the gardens will be PlantTAGG® -enabled, allowing tour visitors to access the most current, research-based horticultural information about featured plants using their cell phones.  There will also be a variety of educational programs presented in the gardens. 

You can preview all of the Tour’s stunning gardens on the DCMGA website: https://dallascountymastergardeners.org/first-peek-at-our-spring-garden-tour

Click here to buy your tickets: https://form.jotform.com/220395346419156

From the Heart

Valentine’s Day this year is on a Monday and we are staying home for a warm, cozy dinner by the fire. Our menu isn’t going to be fancy. Instead, we’ve chosen to flavor it with a touch of nostalgia. To start our meal, the salad course is a revisit of an iconic 60’s dish known as “Southern Wilted Lettuce Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing”. Wilted lettuce is also known as “killed lettuce” or “kilt lettuce” because the greens soften under the hot, tangy dressing.   It was my late father-in-law’s favorite salad. Grandmother prepared it for him at least a few times a month.

 

Wilted Lettuce Salad

Wilted lettuce salad likely came from Eastern Europe with versions of it appearing in Poland and other countries. After the dish traveled to America with immigrants, Southerners began putting their spin on this wonderfully delectable salad. And, in true southern style, it was enjoyed with freshly baked cornbread or cornbread muffins. 

Outdoor spring seed starting season for lettuce is typically sometime between February 1st and March 15th so now is a good time to consider your options. A sturdy, spring lettuce such as romaine, spinach or red leaf works well for this salad. Look for other varieties that will keep some of their “crunch” when tossed with the hot bacon dressing.

Botanical Interests features a Chef’s Gourmet Spicy Mix with over six different texture-filled greens to excite your taste buds. Guerney’s offers a Premium Lettuce Seed Blend with a colorful combination of various textures and shapes. Have fun planning your spring salad garden.

Southern Wilted Lettuce with Hot Bacon Dressing

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

What Happened to Taking It Easy in Your Winter Garden?

Don’t believe it when garden writers say winter is a time to relax.  Here in the north garden vegetable area we are speeding up to get everything done in time for spring.

The cooler temperatures make it great time to take on hardscaping projects. We made an 80 foot long blackberry trellis from cattle panels and T-posts. The cattle panels are inexpensive, sturdy, and versatile but their 16 foot length requires some planning for how to transport them.

The vertically trained blackberry canes will get more sun and the berries will be much easier (and less hazardous) to harvest. Fortunately we pruned the second year floricanes after they fruited last summer making the task of training the remaining canes much easier.

Blackberry picking will be so much easier in May!

The vegetable team has been hard at work sheet mulching to create four new in ground beds.  We are also amending the soil in the Donation Garden and former watermelon patch with mycorrhizal fungi, dried molasses, and compost to enhance nutrient uptake. We have planted fava beans in the central in ground bed to fix nitrogen for the next crop.

Amending the soil in the Donation Garden.
Gerry Infantino and Len Nadalo .

January is the time to plant short day and intermediate day onion slips in Dallas. The day length refers to the amount of sunlight needed for the onions to bulb. We have planted the sunniest side of the Donation Garden with two short day varieties, the TAMU developed Texas Super Sweet Onion which is on the Texas Superstar list; and a disease resistant hybrid called Southern Belle Red Onion.

Gerry Planting Onions

It is also a very busy time for seed starting.  Buttercrunch lettuce started indoors on December 23 was ready to plant but the unusually warm December weather turned into a wave of freezes after New Year’s Day.  We ended up harvesting the outer leaves in a “cut and come again” fashion and adding them to a food bank donation of salad greens and the last of the fall tomatoes. The lettuce seedlings can still be transplanted outdoors and will tolerate light frost (28 to 33 degrees Fahrenheit).

Buttercrunch Lettuce

We are cutting it a little bit close but can still start our tomato seeds before the end of January.  This year we are sticking mainly with small and medium size tomatoes. Why? There is less time for things to go wrong before they mature!  Our varieties will include Super Sweet 100, Sweetie, Sun Gold, Early Girl, Roma, and Berkeley Tie Dye Pink, which was submitted as a favorite by area gardeners to The Dallas Garden School.

The Atlantis F1 Hybrid Mini Broccoli produced very well but we lost several plants during the worst of the early January freezes. Because it requires only a few weeks to mature we will able to have a second crop along with another fast maturing mini broccoli called Sweet Stem F1.

We tried several varieties of peppers last year and were pleased with how productive and easy to grow they were.  Also, our preschool visitors were delighted when they were each allowed to pick one.  This year we will be growing Jimmy Nardello, Gypsy, North Star, Marconi Rossi, Tajin, and Aji Dulce peppers. They can be started indoors by seed now and throughout February.

Radishes require only about a month to mature so we have a habit of planting the seeds anywhere we have a bit of extra space during the cooler months. Spinach takes 40 – 60 days but can be planted outdoors now through early March. It has been another easy to grow crop.

Garden writers, take note, winter is a time to get a lot done that will make spring and summer more productive.

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Holidays and The Big Three

Dallas Garden Buzz readers, save this for next year’s ideas or refresh your arrangements now from your garden. We wish you a Merry Christmas and thank you, Linda!

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A collection of Chinoiserie and Delftware gets a botanical touch with sprigs of boxwood and red baubles

You may be thinking of a Bowl Game or the ever popular football playoffs occurring this month. As with many spouses, mine included, sports seem to dominate the evening and weekend television options. My time has been spent unpacking boxes and deciding how to repurpose over 50 years of collected Christmas treasures. But this year I’m going to approach it differently and with a more natural touch. I’ve made the decision to go green for Christmas 2021. 

For me, there is no better way to breathe the spirit of Christmas into my home than decorating with greenery from the garden. Boxwood, holly and magnolia are ‘the big three’ growing abundantly in our yard. Most of them are over 40 years old and have plenty of foliage to share.

Let’s discover a few simple ways to allow freshly gathered greenery to invigorate our senses and fill our homes with the fragrance of nature. May the warmth of the holiday season bring you joy and peace this year.

Peppermint candy canes add sparkle to a boxwood wreath greeting guests at the front door
Our favorite Christmas appetizer is this Cheddar Cheese Ring filled with Strawberry Preserves. Sitting it inside a boxwood filled twig wreath brings nature to the table.
A boxwood wreath encircling one of the antler mounts is the perfect backdrop for ten shiny red balls.

With this extravagant combination of “The Big Three” (Boxwood, Holly and Magnolia) it feels as if the spirit of Christmas has been breathed into our home. Hopefully you will be inspired to celebrate old traditions and make new ones in the warmth of your home, also. Wishing each of you a joyful holiday season filled with family, friends and all those you love and cherish. Blessings from the Alexander Family.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Cold Weather Tips, Poinsettia care, and how to get your Amaryllis to bloom next year

Poinsettias are so pretty at Christmas. Click here for an article to help you care for them. It was written in 2005 but it is still pertinent. After reading it, I realized my poinsettias would rather not be on my front porch. They are now indoors getting indirect, natural light.

For information about recycling your amaryllis bulbs after Christmas, read here.

Merry Christmas to all our readers. We plan to have at least one more article this year and loads more gardening advice in 2022.

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005

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