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Tag Archives: Dallas County Master Gardener Association

Natural Inspiration

In the “paint” world, each new year begins with the big reveal. For 2023, Pantone has taken inspiration from the natural world with the announcement of Viva Magenta as their color of the year. Described by the company as a powerful and vibrant shade of red deeply rooted in nature, it promises to be “bold and fearless” while adding a joyful and optimistic tone to your interior.

Pantone’s glamorous appeal is convincing; “Viva Magenta descends from the red family and is inspired by the red of cochineal. The cochineal beetle is an insect that produces carmine dye, one of the most precious, strongest, and brightest natural dyes the world has known”.  They add, “it was chosen to reflect our pull toward natural colors.”

Seems the botanical industry has taken notice with promotional ads now featuring a stunning array of floral options for your landscape. Not surprisingly, it would be difficult to find a flower that more dramatically captures the true essence of “magenta” than the zinnia.

As you can see from this stunning photograph, I was, indeed, “drawn in” and quick to imagine the perfect sunny location for it in my summer garden. It’s from The Gardener’s Workshop in Newport News, Virginia.

The name and description they’ve given this zinnia is impressive; ‘Uproar Rose’. It is being held as the next knock-out zinnia by cut flower growers everywhere.

My seeds have been ordered and will be planted directly into the garden after our last danger of frost. I’ll follow their very professional harvesting tips:

*Harvest the blooms when fully mature.

*Make the first harvest cut above the bottom two side shoots as this establishes a branching habit for the season.

*Make future cuts at the base of the stem.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener class of 2008

Broccoli Romanesco

November 21, 2022

Grow your own garden art! Romanesco is a cole crop with characteristics of broccoli and cauliflower. It is widely grown in Italy and gaining popularity in Texas. Thanks to Romanesco, vegetable gardening is not just rewarding and nutritious it is also beautiful.

Romanesco produces thick stalks and wide, rough leaves. Leave a large space to grow this vegetable. The central head grows very large and eventually the plant can span 2 feet in diameter.

Me-Ann Lamb holding a Brocolli Romanesco from my garden in 2016

Sow seeds in a fertile location from February 1 to March 5 for a spring crop or August 20 to September 20 for a fall crop. Fall crops are ofter more sucessful as this plant thrives in cool weather. Sow seeds tinly and cover with 1/2 inch of fine soil. Keep evenly moist. Seedlings will emerge in 10-21 days. Thin to about 16 inches apart when seedlings are 1-2 inches high. Transplants are also available and much easier to grow. These plants will reach maturity in 75-100 days. To harvest, pick the enitre head before it begins to seperate.

Romanesco is a true photo opportunity. Take a close-up shot and it looks like and apple-green mountain range. The scientific name for this unusual ordering of rows is a “fractal.” Fractals can be thought of as never-ending patterns-nothing wrong with bringing math into the kitchen.

Susan Thornbury, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Photo by Starla Willis, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

The Raincatcher’s Garden Fall 2022

November 18, 2022

A note from Jackie:

I thought I would follow up the beautiful fall photos Starla submitted to the blog with these photos of our garden that I recently received from our friend, Diane Washam.

Check out this bee visiting our Mexican Honeysuckle Plant. This plant blooms from late spring to fall.
I have never seen garlic chive seeds look so beautiful!
This lizard looks quite comfortable on the spotted manfreda plant.
Mexican Mint Marigold looking pretty after the rain.
Lambs Quarter is in the same plant family as spinach, chard and beets.
This is the Fidalgo Roxa pepper. We planted it on the courtyard as an ornamental plant. The beautiful, colorful peppers look like candy! However, don’t let the candy like appearance fool you as this pepper is extremely hot.
It was a good year for peppers! This is one of the many pepper plants that we planted in the edible garden, the donation garden and the courtyard garden. Many of these wonderful peppers were donated to the food bank, many of them were used to make our jalapeno jellies and a few were just there as ornamental plants to add interest to our gardens.

Jackie James, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993

Photos by Diane Washam

Before the First Frost

This is look at The Raincathcher’s Garden before the first frost. Temperatures may drop this weekend and then around mid to late November you can expect our first frost. Take a good look now through these pictures from Starla. She snapped many pictures and kept saying “the garden looks amazing.” Starla saw butterflies, a Texas spiny lizard and laybugs enjoying our fall garden.

Lots of pollinators like this Orange Sulphur on Mexican Mint Marigold

A Gulf Fritillary on Red Salvia
A Queen poised for her next flight
And a Morning glory blossom hosting a honey bee

Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005

All photos by Starla Willis, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008


Today is the pick-up day for The Raincatcher’s Pansy and Plant Sale 2022. Thank you all for your orders! We’ve had a very successful sale and can’t wait to see you today for pickup.

If you haven’t already made arrangements for delivery (larger orders only) or late pickup, please plan to come by the garden on Wednesday afternoon between 1pm and 4pm to pick up your order. There will be volunteers on hand to help you load them from the north parking lot at the shade pavilion.

Raincatcher’s is located on the campus of Midway Hills Christian Church at 11001 Midway Road, Dallas, TX.

Searching for a Borer Resistant Squash

October 11, 2022

I have to say that the squash vine borers (SVBs) were getting me down.  After spending the summer of 2021 removing borers from the squash plants and still not seeing much of a harvest, I swore off growing squash, almost. 

The SVB larva grows inside the squash vine (often killing the plant) and then makes a cocoon that overwinters in the soil. The adult moth emerges from the cocoon in spring and lays eggs on the undersides of the squash leaves. The eggs hatch and the larvae begin destroying your plants again. 

One solution is not to have any squash handy for the adults to lay their eggs on (thus the almost swearing off). You can also interrupt this cycle by finding and removing the eggs. That is a real challenge unless you have a small number of plants and time to check every single leaf every day.

We started off the spring season with some lovely Italian cucumbers that were producing well but suddenly began to droop just like the squash had the previous summer.  It turns out that if they don’t find any squash, the borers may settle for your favorite cucumber.  It almost seems spiteful. 

I was persuaded by a team member to try growing butternut squash in late summer. Cucurbita moschata has a reputation for borer resistance.  Throwing caution to the wind, we decided to try zucchino rampicante and calabacita as well.

Despite my skepticism, we have a raised bed full of butternut squash maturing now with no sign of SVBs.

Cucurbita moschata, Butternut squash

The zucchino rampicante is in the same family and has a hard stem that I assumed the borers would not be able to breach. However, we found a few larvae in the stems and removed them. The plant now has huge beautiful leaves and vines that run about 12 feet.  It is producing two foot long fruits that weigh a pound or so. 

The calabacita (Cucurbita pepo), also known as tatume or Mexican zucchini, has a tough, thin vine and has shown few signs of distress from SVBs.  It is taking up a lot of garden space but makes up for it by being very productive. The fruit may be eaten like a thin skinned summer squash or allowed to grow into a soccer ball sized pumpkin.

Going forward I will swear off swearing off. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Savor This…and That!

September 13, 2022

Summer Savory, Winter Savory

One is known as having a special affinity for beans of every sort, the other is considered “not worth the trouble of growing” because it lasts for such a short time in the hot South.  Differences aside, both are worthy of consideration. Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis) and Winter Savory (Satureja montana) are aromatic, flavorful and make delightful additions to the herb garden. Both varieties are currently growing in the Edible Landscape at Raincather’s Garden of Midway Hills.

Summer Savory is a cold-tender annual herb native to Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean. It is the sariette (savory) of France, otherwise known as an essential ingredient in the herbs de Provence blend. Though not as popular as its perennial cousin, some believe it has the most superior flavor. 

Winter Savory is also called dwarf savory or mountain savory. It is an especially decorative, low-growing and densely spreading shrub. Classical Greeks and Romans were familiar with this herb. Virgil, the Roman master of poetry, advised putting honey (saturated with the aroma of roses, thyme and savory) into the bee house as a solution to swarm’s disease. Hippocrates ascribed medicinal properties to it. Early American settlers treated colds and fever with savory tea.

General Characteristics of Both

Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae) (Mint)

Type: Annual (summer savory), perennial (winter savory)

Location: Full Sun

Planting: Start seed in the winter, set out transplants in the spring.

Height: 8 to12 inches or somewhat taller

Spread: 20 inches

Bloom/Fruit: Blooms are small, white-to-lilac whorls of small star-shaped flowers.

Growth Habits/Culture: Summer savory is more upright with aromatic, dark green leaves and grows a little taller. It features square-shaped stems covered in tiny hairs. The ideal temperature range is 55-85˚F. Winter savory is more compact, low and spreading with needle-like, dark green leaves. It is a stiffer, woodier evergreen plant that will survive winter temperatures to around 23˚F. Savory requires rich, moist well-drained soil.

Taste: While both have a definite peppery bite reminiscent of thyme and marjoram, summer savory is fruitier, like apples and floral with a hint of lavender and basil. Winter savory with its coarser aroma and flavor is welcome at summer’s end when a fresh herb is desired during the cooler months. 

Harvesting: When summer savory reaches 6 to 8 inches in height, start harvesting. After blooming, the plant is not as vigorous so be attentive about snipping off buds. Once summer savory flowers, its leaves are at their most flavorful. At this time, the entire plant can be clipped and used. Winter savory can be harvested for fresh use at any time. 

Culinary Uses: Both summer and winter savory are traditional companions to all kinds of bean dishes, including soups, salads and spreads. Winter savory can be an alternative to sage in poultry dressing. Milder summer savory adds a flavorful punch to egg dishes, creamy soups and rich, cheesy casseroles. A liberal sprinkling of fresh leaves from either one gives new life to cooked vegetables. The good news is that both varieties can be used in much the same ways and are fairly interchangeable. When replacing winter savory with summer savory, add a touch more than called for in the recipe. When substituting summer savory with winter savory, start with about half the amount called for in the recipe and adjust according to taste.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008


Three recipes with savory:

Goat Cheese Seasoned with Lavender Seeds and Winter Savory

Summer Savory Pound Cake

Baked Beans with Winter Savory

Shishito Peppers, Sea Salt and Papalo

If you’re growing shishito peppers in your summer garden, this recipe should be on the menu. Blackened, blistered and dipped in a creamy Greek yogurt flavored with papalo, it’s a global experience not to be missed. 

As you may have guessed, shishito peppers originated from Japan. The name “Shishito” is derived from the combination of “shishi,” “lion,” and “togarashi,” which means “chili pepper.” Take a closer and decide for yourself, “does the creased tip of the small and finger-long shape somehow resemble a ferocious lion?” 

Grrrrr…ferocious lion or tasty pepper?

After blistering your harvested peppers in a cast-iron pan, sprinkle with fine, gray sea salt from France. The history of this unique salt will inspire you to use it in many other dishes. But take note, due to its robust flavor, use only ⅓ of the amount of salt you would normally use.

(In Guerande, western France, pristine Atlantic, seawater passes through the locks of the salt marshes and rests for six months until the salt is ready to be harvested. In summer, the salt is gathered by hand using wooden tools, as it has been for centuries. The rich clay in the marshes lends a pale gray color to this salt and also adds beneficial trace minerals.) 

Next, mix up a little Greek yogurt for dipping. Its rich flavor and thick texture offers a higher concentration of protein and probiotics than traditional yogurt. Stir in some grated garlic, lime juice and zest to give it a little kick.  Chop up a few fresh papalo leaves from Mexico if you desire a cilantro-like finish. When cilantro succumbs to our summer heat papalo rises to take its place. Use it in any dish where a substitute for cilantro is needed. 

Shishito peppers have an interesting flavor profile and one that calls for a bit of caution. About one in ten peppers contains a fiery punch that dials up the heat factor. Overall, though, you can expect a sweet, typically mild spiciness that registers between 50 and 200 Scoville heat units. Their grassy, citrusy taste touched with a slight hint of smoke makes the shishito pepper’s flavor pretty unique. Not surprisingly, today they can be found as a popular appetizer on many restaurant menus. Are you ready now to take an international trip with shishitos?

Do shishito peppers “pop” when being blistered, charred, etc.? The short answer is “yes”. 
*Is there a way to prevent the “popping”? Yes, just use your handy cake tester or a toothpick. Poke a hole in each pepper before blistering to prevent popping.

Note: Now is the time to start planting peppers for a fall crop.  

One local Italian restaurant features a lovely “Little Gem Lettuce Salad” drizzled with Charred Shishito Vinaigrette. Delizioso! 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Charred Shishito Viangrette

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Papalo Yogurt Dip

Sunflowers, Summer Sunshine

Sunflowers are such happy plants.  I fondly remember Maximillian sunflowers at Joe Field Road probably in 2012 as a relatively new Master gardener – Michelle planted them in the nature area, and then they were everywhere!  That’s when I first noticed the striking contrast of the golden flowers against the blue sky! 

Sunflowers at our first garden on Joe Field Road

In my yard, a few sunflowers have magically appeared, most likely with the help of our feathered friends. These volunteers have brought unexpected color to the area that had once been a shade bed. This year, as Spring started to transform to Summer I began to notice more sprouts and is my habit, I let them grow.   The striking flowers started to put on a show the first week in June, and with it came the buzzing bees covered in pollen.  Stalks appeared near my very sunny, dry riverbed and shot 8 -10 feet in the air.  

These bringers of cheer needed to be shared, so my plan was to begin clipping from the top, bending the stalks down. Cutting didn’t make them shorter, it made them more prolific. 

With June being my birthday month, there were opportunities to share these lovelies and some of the other flowers from my yard.  These arrangements made it to my former and new workout groups, and their families as well as friends, and neighbors.  Sharing these gifts from my yard brings me so much joy!  

My gift of sunflowers came anonymously, but they are also readily planted from seeds. and are hardy from   zones 2a-11b.   Planted in spring after frost,   they grow quickly and produce flowers throughout the summer.  The blooms track the sun from east to west during the day.  This is known as heliotropism. 

These yellow disks up against the blue sky reminded me of the opportunity to serve in Ukraine. The fields were covered in miles and miles of Sunflowers.  It was seen first-hand from a train across the country.  A very powerful memory as well as a present reminder.

Sunflowers in Ukraine

It is well known that the best time to cut flowers is early morning and it is recommended to put them immediately into a bucket of water before arranging.   One morning, this plan was implemented, and it went according to plan.   The second time, however, there wasn’t a chance to de-bloom the plant till midday.  Oh dear, it didn’t take long for my happy flowers and buds to go sad and limp, even in the water.   I hurriedly brought them inside, filled the vases with water, cut flower food and used the best specimens.  Hours later, most of those became viable once again, but it was a stark reminder of why we heed best practices.

It’s now the end of July and while the flowers still make me smile, it is time to reclaim my sunbed.  They are still producing in this 100+ degree heat, although not as readily as earlier in the summer.   Stalks will be stripped of flowers and buds, and then chopped down to make room for the Fall plantings.  There will be a chance for yet a few more arrangements. Don’t worry though, there are many other flowers in my crazy cottage garden for the pollinators.  

Even in the dog days of Summer, there is joy in the unexpected volunteers that grace our yards and there are flowers that thrive and make us happy even in this inferno that we find ourselves in during this season of HOT!  

Starla Willis, Class of 2011 

More summer thoughts:

Summer’ s Sky

Summer Song

The Rainbow Garden at Raincatcher’s


My Affection for ‘Kent Beauty’ is Growing

August 2, 2022

One of the showiest ornamental oreganos, Kent Beauty, a hybrid between Origanum rotundifolium and Origanum scabra, has charmed me with its attractive foliage and flowers. Mine was planted in a 12” terra cotta pot over two years ago but, come fall, I’m transplanting it to a new sunny location in my raised bed. Its intriguing beauty during the heat of summer and into fall will be refreshing.

Gathered from the garden; purple pentas, cinnamon basil, society garlic and Kent Beauty oregano.

Kent Beauty is an impressive oregano, having received the prestigious Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society. (The AGM is a mark of quality awarded, since 1922, to garden plants by the United Kingdom, Royal Horticultural Society.) A cup symbol on a plant’s label shows it has earned the AGM – the UK’s seal of approval that the plant performs reliably in the garden. It is only awarded to plants that are:

  1. Excellent for use in appropriate conditions
  2. Available
  3.  Of good constitution
  4. Essentially stable in form and color

Optimum growing conditions include full sun, dry to medium soil with excellent drainage. It performs well during extreme heat and drought but is intolerant of high humidity. Allow room for it to grow approximately 6 to 9 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide. Bees are attracted to the tiny purple, tubular blooms. An easy-to-care for plant that is disease free and has few pests.

Kent Oregano growing in a pot

Kent Beauty is an herbaceous perennial that forms a low trailing mound of silver-veined blue-green aromatic leaves. In early summer it starts producing whorls of pendulous, drooping heads of hop-like flowers in dreamy shades of shrimp pink, cream and pale green. This visual feast for the eyes continues into the cooler autumn months.

Take advantage of its versatility and use in alpine and rock formations, as a border plant, in containers, hanging baskets and for cascading over walls. Snip stems of the draping flowers for a dramatic addition to fresh floral arrangements.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

THE JOY OF SELF-SEEDING PLANTS—WITH A SIDE OF CAUTION

July 11, 2022

Lovely and tough plants for free—who wouldn’t want that??  Great plants that often carry memories of gardens and gardeners long gone can be yours; plants that in many cases would be hard to find in a shop.

Pollinator gardens are perfect for self seeding plants.  They attract and nourish the bees that carry out the pollination for one thing  Seeds cannot form with out pollination.  The garden and the bees need lots of plants and flowers—big  and small simple and complex—all sorts of plants and flowers.  Perennials are the backbone of the garden, of course ,but the bees and butterflies need flowers for as long as possible and as many of them as possible—so annuals are a must have.  Planting lots of annuals can be expensive.  There is the cost of buying them of course and that can be significant.  But its not the only thing to consider.  Think of all those plastic pots—really the world needs a lot fewer of those no matter how hard the gardener may work to recycle.  Then there is the growing medium—what really is involved with that—something to think about!. Those plants were likely transported from a distance—another cost.  It takes time and effort to plant them and additional water to get them started.  

Plants that come back all by themselves—those are starting to look better and better.

So why aren’t they loved by all???  There is no perfection in this world and there are no perfect plants.

There are so many good things about self seeders—they come up at the right time for them and seem strong from the very beginning without special effort to get them established.  

But they aren’t perfect and the faults cannot be ignored.

One of the big problems is—they come up where it suits—them—not the gardener!  The middle of a garden path often seems a great place.  How to get around this—some plants will have to simply be pulled out but be alert often young plants can be easily transplanted to  a different place with minimal effort.  A bigger problem can be sheer numbers.  This is so variable some years seem to favor certain plants and at times the self seeding can be for the gardener—way too successful.  Again, be alert its almost always very easy to simply pull out the tiny plants—remember just because you have too many a friend may have none—a sharing opportunity.

They are not predictable every now and then—they don’t come up as expected.  Its always good to save some seeds from treasured plants—remember its not so easy to obtain these plants.

The last—but significant problem is that for a plant to self seed—it must form seeds!!  Seems obvious right—but the gardener can fail to realize that this means the plant must fully mature, flowers cannot be deadheaded.  Unfortunately—this is rarely a pretty sight. 

The circle of life must be accepted.  However—this does not mean that every plant has to be allowed to go to seed.  Choose only the best plants—the others can be deadheaded or removed altogether.  In allowing a few plants to go to seed the gardener not only ensures new plants for the next year but look at it as an educational opportunity the whole cycle can be explained to garden visitors—maybe even share a few seeds.

On your next visit to Raincatchers pollinator garden be sure to look for self seeded plants—and try some in your own garden.

Susan Thornbury, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Rather than being broiled outside in our summer heat, read about these self-seeders indoors with a glass of ice cold tea:

Separating the Seeds from the Chaff

That Doesn’t Look Like Milkweed!

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