RSS Feed

Squash Vine Borer Part II

June 29, 2021

Master Gardeners share information which is one of the perks about becoming a Master Gardener. Beverly wrote this email to me recently and knowing how devastating it is to have your squash plants devoured by pests like the squash vine borer, I wanted to send this on to you.


Ann, it may be too much information in more ways than one but do you think readers would like a follow up on the squash borers?  I read advice to slice the affected stem to remove borer larvae and did that for the first time today. Sharon Law Wright and I were picking blackberries and checking on the plants in the north garden today and noticed frass on the kuri squash. The stem had a large opening. We opened it further with sharp secateurs and found the borer easily. One squash plant that I replanted in the Edible Landscape after removing borer damage has survived. We did the same thing with the otherwise healthy kuri squash today. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

A Delightful Summer Tour

June 28, 2021

Today was a refreshing day in the garden. For the first time in over a year and a half, Raincatcher’s hosted a special garden tour. Our guests for the event were members of the Senior Adult Ministry at Park Cities Baptist Church. They came prepared for a warm sunny morning in the garden followed by a boxed lunch under the shade pavilion. 

Jon Maxwell, Co-Leader of the garden, welcomed the group with comments about the Master Gardener program, our work at Raincatcher’s and the variety of gardening venues our volunteers manage on over an acre of land.

 Next came a very educational and informative visit to the vegetable garden. Beverly Allen and Ruth Klein from our vegetable team highlighted the seasonal crops and different styles of vegetable gardening. The group was especially impressed with the “lasagna method” of preparing garden beds. A quick visit to the blackberry patch gave our guests a chance to pick and taste juicy, fresh blackberries.

Our featured snack during the vegetable garden visit was Tarragon Tomatoes made from freshly harvested Cherokee Carbon tomatoes and French tarragon from the edible landscape. 

Next stop was with Abbe Bolich, Dallas County Master Gardener Association President. She inspired the group with suggestions for adding pollinator friendly plants to their home gardens. In celebration of National Pollinator Week (June 21 – 27), a snack of dried apricots topped with goat cheese and drizzled with local honey was happily shared. Fresh spearmint from the garden topped the treat.

The final stop on the tour was to the edible landscape garden with its cool, shady environment. Our guests were amazed to learn about the countless numbers of edible herbs and flowers growing in some of the themed garden beds; the Hügelkultur, Cottage Garden and Mediterranean beds.  Freshly baked Lemon Verbena Bread made from our perennial lemon verbena plant left the group smiling and happy.  

If you or your group are interested in visiting the garden or would like to schedule a tour, please reply in the comments section of our blog. We are thrilled to be “open” and ready to welcome guests to Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Taarragon Tomatoes

Lemon Verbena Bread

Dried Apricots Topped with Goat Cheese

Introducing Our Cottage Garden

June 22, 2021

“The best cottage gardens look like they planted themselves”.

Raincatcher’s Cottage Garden Beginnings

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 Growing Curry Plant?

June 15, 2021

You may have seen Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) at local garden centers. Its silvery-gray to silver-green leaves are needle-like in shape, much like lavender or rosemary. Crushing the leaves gently in between your fingers, that familiar curry-like fragrance is easily released. If you happen to be in the garden after a refreshing rain, the scent intensifies. 

The Curry plant is a perennial with a bushy growth habit reaching to about 28 inches. It is in the daisy family (Asteraceae), and is related to many other herbs such as the marigold, dandelion, tarragon and chamomile. As is typical of herbs that originated from the Mediterranean it prefers a dry, sunny location. Planting in less humid, even sandy soils which have good drainage is recommended. Water sparingly and avoid a damp, moist location. During the flowering period, usually between late June and mid-September, it produces relatively small, bright yellow flowers. 

This easy to grow shrub usually requires no fertilizer. At Raincatcher’s we have grown it in the same spot for several years, choosing to mix in a little compost in early spring. Although the Curry plant is frost hardy, the extreme winter temperatures this year did cause some damage to our plants. We gave them a careful spring trimming which has helped to regenerate and restore most of the plants.  

Not to be confused with the spice called curry, curry plant is used in many different recipes including rice, pasta, paella, vegetable dishes, soups and meat dishes. Curry leaves are best enjoyed when freshly chopped. Branches can also be used for cooking certain dishes but should be removed before consuming. (For clarification, curry powder is a combination of herbal seeds and other seasonings including coriander, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, turmeric and various other spices.) 

In England, fresh curry plant leaves are chopped up and used in a cream cheese spread on sandwiches. From Germany, a recipe using a combination of herbal seeds and spices caught my eye. Curry plant leaves are stir fried into the mix. It is an Indian style potato dish topped with yogurt and mango chutney. Figs and curry plant leaves are used to decorate the dish. 

For a multi-cultural experience, give curry a place in your garden.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Squash Vine Borers

June 12, 2021

If you are like me, you dread the thought of pests like the squash vine borer invading your garden. Beverly sent this helpful note this afternoon with a few tips.


I have been enjoying the stunning growth of the squash “volunteers” around Raincatcher’s. Last year’s plants dropped seeds that have become this year’s squash plants.  Having a big concern about squash borers, I read up on the subject.

 It seemed necessary to check each plant daily for the sawdust colored frass (poop) that appears at the stem when the larva is present.

After a week of wondering if I would be able to identify it, eureka! The squash plant below was planted in the Sensory Garden of the Edible Landscape. It went from healthy looking to kind of unhealthy looking overnight.

The next picture shows a close-up of the frass.  I removed the diseased section of the plant and replanted the remainder of the squash plant with 3 nodes in the soil.

Extra mulch seems to be helping other squash plants evade the borer so far. Continued vigilance will help us to slow down the squash borer population at least a little bit.

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Many years ago at our Joe Field Location we had a lunch with every menu item made from squash starting with squash blossoms quesadillas! Links to the articles are provided below.

Squash squash and more squash

Squash recipes following our squashme event

Plan Ahead-Easy To Grow Late Summer and Fall Gardening

June 9, 2021

Planning your garden can be panic inducing. What do I plant? Do I start from seed or transplant? I like squash but so do squash borers (a lot)!


When planning our gardens we keep the basics in mind like irrigation plans, soil, light, and available space. But what to plant and when?


You might find it helpful to start with some tasty and easy to grow plants. 
Here are some plants with minimal requirements other than regular watering starting with okra as early as July.

Okra, seed outdoors in July or August. Harvest the pods every two or three days. Slice in half lengthwise, toss in olive oil, and roast in the oven at 425֯ F for 15 minutes or so. 

 

Swiss Chard, seed outdoors mid-August to late September.  It grows in hot and cold weather and usually can be harvested all year.  Remove stems and sauté as you would spinach.

 

Radishes, seed outdoors late September to mid-November.  Many varieties take only 25 days until ready for harvest. The French Breakfast variety was a favorite with the vegetable team this year.  Serve thinly sliced on buttered bread or a whole wheat tortilla. 

Artichokes (perennial!), plant transplants in mid-October.  We get many compliments on the beauty of the artichokes in the Edible Landscape at The Raincatcher’s Garden. You may harvest the globes or allow them to develop into an eye catching and exotic looking flower. 

Happy gardening!

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

New DCMGA Partnership Brings PlantTAGG Mobile Experience to Their Gardens

June 4, 2021

Gardening in North Texas has a unique set of challenges. We know there’s always a story to be told and advice to share, from coping with the scorching, dry summer heat to planting in the unforgiving, heavy clay soil. Part of our mission at Dallas Garden Buzz is to share our journey through the triumphs and missteps of gardening. To that end, we are delighted to announce the new partnership between the Dallas County Master Gardener Association (DCMGA) and PlantTAGG!

What is PlantTAGG?

PlantTAGG is the most technically advanced mobile solution for helping gardeners learn about and care for their plants. It’s FREE to use; and because it’s a web app, there’s nothing to download or install and no credentials to remember. PlantTAGG uses patented formulas to analyze data from NOAA, USDA, Texas A&M AgriLife, and Master Gardeners from around the country. This data is turned into accurate, easy-to-follow plant care guidance localized for your yard and plants.

Beyond the technology, PlantTAGG’s goals to educate gardeners blends seamlessly with the mission of the Master Gardener program. Abbe Bolich, President of the DCMGA, said it best,

“We’re thrilled to partner with PlantTAGG on this exciting new program. Our shared mission to educate the public about best horticultural practices really comes to life in our community gardens with this new mobile experience.”

What does the partnership mean for Dallas gardeners?

This partnership sets the gold standard in gardening by coupling sophisticated, easy-to-use technology with proven, research-based horticultural information for gardeners of all levels. As part of the partnership, we’re rolling out PlantTAGG-enabled gardens across the DCMGA ecosystem – and Raincatcher’s Garden is one of the first to benefit from this new mobile experience. 

It’s easy to use PlantTAGG in the DCMGA gardens – as you can see in this quick video:

For now, you can also try the PlantTAGG mobile experience at R&B 1, Bath House Cultural Center, Lakewood Elementary School Gardens, and Plano East Senior High Pollinator Garden. Other community gardens will launch in the coming weeks, including the Texas Discovery Master Gardeners’ Garden.

What’s next?

Come and see us! We’d love for you to visit Raincatcher’s (or any of the DCMGA gardens) and try out the new PlantTAGG-enabled mobile experience.

Learn more about the DCMGA and PlantTAGG partnership on the Dallas Garaden Buzz blog at https://planttagg.com/planttagg-and-dallas-master-gardeners/

Be sure to follow @dallascountymastergardeners and @planttagg on Instagram to be alerted of new garden launches and other program updates.

Until then, text PLANTS to 46376 to get started at home with PlantTAGG. 

We’ll look forward to seeing you in the gardens!

Cynthia Jones, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2013

Lemon Balm and Rainy Days

May 27, 2021

After two glorious weeks of puddle-filling, gutter-gushing rain, I’ve had time to think and cook a little more than usual. Initially, my thoughts turned to an experience shared with another master gardener a few days ago in the edible landscape.

The two of us were having a discussion about a big clump of the common herb, lemon balm, that had taken over a small area of the Hügelkultur bed. It wasn’t planned for the space but, this spring, had volunteered to take up residence in that location.  Now, completely covering a new rosemary plant and a low growing French tarragon, the space was too crowded for all three to survive. Too many plants in too small a space and that “real estate”, we determined, belonged to our ‘Arp’ rosemary plant. Patti offered to dig up the lemon balm and move it to an open spot in our newly designed sensory garden.  

Lemon Balm on the left, Variegated Lemon Balm right

Because lemon balm is known for growing like a weed, some gardeners choose not to have it their gardens. The big clump Patti dug up could just as easily have been tossed into the compost pile but then we would have missed the fun of using it in more beneficial ways. Thankfully, the rainy weather had given me some time to research and learn more about this fragrant and tasty herb. 

Lemon balm is a lemon-scented, aromatic perennial plant native to the Mediterranean. It belongs to the Lamiaceae (mint) family of plants with four-sided stems. The genus name, Melissa, is derived from the Greek word meaning “honeybee”. This herb’s lemony fragrance attracts bees. Hives were once rubbed with its leaves to bring in swarms.

Lemon balm is easy to grow, accepting partial shade to full sun exposure. You can expect the leaves to turn pale yellow green in full sun. Some gardeners believe the plant is happier and more handsome when grown in the shade. Prefers moist fertile soil with good drainage. 

Just a few feet away from the clump Patti transplanted is a new variety of lemon balm that we found at a local garden center this spring; Melissa officinalis ‘Aurea’ (Variegated Lemon Balm). It is a robust grower with variegated gold/green foliage. Like its cousin, the variegated variety can be used for many culinary purposes. 

A refreshing trio: Lemon Balm Shortbread, Roasted Blueberries and Lemon Balm Ice Cream and Lemon Balm Infused Green Tea

Acclaimed chef and cookbook author, David Leibovitz, combines lemon balm with roasted blueberries for a delicious ice cream treat. Other delightful recipes include Lemon Balm Shortbread with fresh Lemon Balm Tea. 

Give lemon balm a try this year. Hopefully, you will agree with poets and herbalists of old who referred to it as “heart’s delight” for its uplifting qualities. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Salad From The Garden

May 25, 2021

Thank you, Starla Willis, for the video and Beverly Allen and Sharon L. Wright for teaching us about salad gardening. It is my understanding that your lettuce varieties were planted the first week of March and may last through June.

If you are like me, and hate to see your salad garden coming to an end, make summer plans!

I hear Beverly is trying a heat resistant romaine lettuce from Johnny’s seeds called Monte Carlo. Along with using a location with part shade, she plans to harvest often and early to beat the effects of our summer heat. She also said with this cool spring, there might be time to get one more round of quick growing radish seeds such as Cherry Belle or French Breakfast planted and harvested before summer. Her favorite sandwich consists of thinly sliced radishes from the garden and arugula. Sounds good, Beverly!

More summer salad ideas-Swiss Chard and Malabar Spinach. Buy transplants from your local garden center and put them in your garden when your spring lettuce begins to bolt or turn bitter.

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018


Here’s more information from Johnny’s Seeds about heat resistant varieties. We can’t vouch for them yet, but plan to try some in our gardens. Dallas Garden Buzz readers, what do you grow for your salad bowl when the heat comes on? We would love to know.

Garden Guests

May 23, 2021

Carolina Wren Hatchlings

The Audubon Society describes it as a “rush and rumble” sound. It was exactly what I was hearing repeatedly over the past month while working in the greenhouse. Close by, yet unnoticed, a little wren kept darting in and out of potted plants on a high shelf just outside the back of the greenhouse. 

Sometime around mid-March, when the chance of freezing temperatures had ended, our scented pelargoniums were moved from inside the greenhouse to a large 5-tiered shelving unit outside. We were getting them acclimated to the cooler temperatures before planting in the edible landscape. Nestled on the top shelf, right next to the back greenhouse wall, five medium-sized peach scented pelargoniums were thriving in their temporary environment. 

As temperatures warmed, a decision was made to get the plants into the ground and ready for their semi-permanent, seasonal home. Reaching carefully for one of the taller plants, it seemed odd to find a scattering of leaves, twigs and stems surrounding the base. As I gently lifted the plant down to eye level, that familiar chirping sound filled the air. 

Thankfully, Starla, had agreed to meet me at the garden to take pictures. With our iPhones in hand, we quietly moved in to get a closer look. Much to our surprise, at least three tiny baby wrens were snuggled down in the make-shift nest waiting for mamma to feed them. Mamma wren had done such a fine job of camouflaging her babies that it was difficult to see how many were in the nest. Respectful of the home she had made for them, Starla quickly snapped a few photos of babies anxiously awaiting, with beaks wide open, for mamma to appear.

Seconds later, Starla had captured the perfect photo and we returned the plant to its location on the shelf. Two of the five peach pelargoniums have now been planted in the edible landscape. The pelargonium holding the wren’s nest will remain undisturbed until the little birds are old enough to leave. Two other pelargoniums are flanking it, giving them a little added protection from rain and high winds. Eventually, all pelargoniums will go to their new home in the edible landscape but, for now, we’re enjoying the sweet sounds of the wren’s cheerful trilling songs.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Picture by Starla Willis, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2011

%d bloggers like this: