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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.

Annual Plant Sale at The Raincatcher’s Garden

May 4, 2021

Our annual plant sale started many years ago during the time when our garden was on Joe Field Road (too many years ago to remember the exact date of the first sale!).   Raincatchers Garden at Midway Hills Christian Church is our home now and we have continued our annual plant sale at our new location.  We have always enjoyed having an in person sale on our beautiful courtyard but last year due to the pandemic we put on our thinking caps and came up with a socially distanced, online, drive thru sale.  Thanks to all of our loyal customers, it was a great success!

This year, we are happy to announce that our sale will be on the courtyard again.  All volunteers are fully vaccinated, masks will be required and hand sanitizer will be available.  We plan to limit the amount of shoppers on the courtyard if needed so there might be a short wait directly outside the courtyard before you can start your shopping spree!!!  

Now for the fun part – we have tons of decorative planters of all sizes planted with succulents, house plants and a variety of herb pots including pizza pots (a combination of a bell pepper plant with oregano and thyme).   We will have a good variety of perennials, annuals, herbs, veggies, and ground cover starting in 4 inch pots or larger.  We have apricot trees from Oklahoma and both red yucca and soft leaf yucca plants plus many more plants to numerous to list here.  There will also be yard art and when you check out, you can select a packet of free seeds from our garden.  However, a photo is worth a thousand words so please check out our slide show below to see a sample of what you will have to look forward to at our sale.  

Hope to see you on the courtyard on Thursday, May 13th.  More details will follow closer to the date of the sale!

Jackie James Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993

Sarah Sanders Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2006

Please thank Beverly Allen for this preview of some of the plants that will be for sale:

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

Aji Dulce – Paco’s Peppers

April 29, 2021

This article is about my friend Paco.  We met on a pickleball court 5 or 6 years ago and have been good friends ever since.  The first time I stepped into his backyard, I discovered we had something other than pickleball in common – gardening!  Paco is from Puerto Rico and he has turned his backyard into a tropical paradise.  Last year at a summer pool party, I noticed a pepper plant with small, wrinkly looking red and green peppers.  He explained that he collected the seeds from peppers he got in Puerto Rico because it is an important ingredient for sofrito.  I left the party with a baggie full of seeds.

The Aji Dulce peppers (Capsicum Chinese) are small, sweet peppers.  They have the shape and size of a habanera pepper but without the heat.  They start out light to dark green and eventually turn red and orange if left on the plant to mature.  Aji Dulce is used to season dishes in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba.  My research found that in Puerto Rico, it is most commonly used in sofrito (which translates to stir fry or sauté in English).  It is a perennial in the tropics but is an annual here.  

With the seeds Paco gave me last year, we have been able to start a number of these pepper plants for the Raincatcher’s Garden annual plant sale which will be held at the garden on Thursday, May 13th.  I am looking forward to growing a couple of these plants myself this summer and will be looking up sofrito recipes once I get a good crop going!  

This plant goes by several names.  In Puerto Rico it is know as aji dulce, ajicito or ajies.  In the Dominican Rebuplic it is called aji gustoso and in Cuba it is aji cachucha. To me, this plant will always and simply be referred to as Paco’s peppers!  

Jackie James

Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993 

We will be posting more details on this blog about the May 13th plant sale in the near future.  

Raincatcher’s Garden Glorious Spring

April 11, 2021

Come see our garden at 11001 Midway Road. Nestle carefully in front of our bluebonnets for photos!

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis

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

Rising Sun Redbud Tree Continued….

On October 6, 2020, we posted an article on this blog about our new Rising Sun Redbud Tree.  We planted it with such great expectations of year round color including spring flowers and a combination of three different colors of leaves throughout the summer.  Then came February 2021!  For the past several weeks, we have been wondering whether this newly planted tree would survive the “storm of the century.”   A couple of days ago we got our answer.  At close inspection, we saw flower buds starting to form.  Within a few days, it exploded with beautiful light purple flowers closely followed by some light green leaves. 

I have been encouraged watching plants coming back to life over the past few weeks.  Many plants looked dead but now are starting to show signs of life.  I’m sure we will lose plants at Raincatcher’s garden as well as our own gardens, but so far I am feeling hopeful that these plants have a great will to continue to live!!!

Jackie James – Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993

Photos by Jackie and Starla Willis

Arbequina Olives

We harvested the arbequina olive tree last November and preserved the fruit in a very strong brine. The brine leaches out the bitter oleuropein that makes olives straight off the tree inedible. The result was tasty but very salty!

Gardeners at Raincatcher’s took every precaution possible in mid-February to stave off sub-freezing temperature damage. Looking back, we wish we had double wrapped our precious Arbequina Olive. We don’t think our olive tree will survive but are waiting a few more weeks to see how it fared.

Brown leaves due sub freezing temps

In the meantime, we have olives to enjoy!

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018


Going for the Green

March 15, 2021

St. Patrick’s Day is quickly approaching and we’re ready to bring out the ‘green’. But with last month’s devastating winter weather event, our garden needs a little “luck of the Irish” to show more of its true color. 

Plants that persevered under a blanket of fallen leaves include chervil, cutting celery, French sorrel, bloody sorrel, salad burnet, red stemmed apple mint, spinach, everbearing strawberries, creeping thyme and sweet woodruff. A few others are just now peeking out from the cold ground with their delicate little leaves and branches: anise hyssop, calendula, dwarf trailing winter savory, German chamomile, lemon and bee balm, pineapple sage, sweet fennel and summer savory.

With the help of Gail Cook and Jim Dempsey, our very own ‘seed starting saints’, an impressive list of seedlings are due to make an early spring appearance in the edible landscape. Alyssum, anise, aster, bachelor’s button (cornflower) impatiens, variegated rocket cress and sweet William will start arriving in late March and April. 

In early May our gardens will be filled with three different varieties of basil, Jimmy Nardello peppers, jalapeno peppers, tomatillos, marigolds – ‘lemon gem’ and tangerine’, papalo, roselle hibiscus and white velvet okra.

It makes us so happy to see the garden going green again. Let’s celebrate with an old Irish wish…

May your paths bloom with shamrocks, and your heart ring with songs, and the sky smile with bright sunshine all this happy day long.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener class of 2009


Dallas County Master Gardener Japanese Maple Sale Coming Soon

The Joy of Japanese Maples

You may have noticed the brilliant reds and golds of Japanese Maples around town in recent months. The foliage colors and textures were more reminiscent of an autumn drive through New England than fall in North Texas!

The Dallas County Master Gardeners are hosting a sale of Japanese Maples in March. Many of us are familiar with the variety “Bloodgood,” however the Maples we are offering are varieties not often available at local nurseries. This is your opportunity to purchase these trees in one- and two-gallon sizes.

There is a place in every garden for a Japanese Maple. They thrive in afternoon shade (the perfect understory tree!) and will make that special spot in your garden a focal point year-round.  

Watch for  the sign-up genius link and additional information including varieties available, pricing, and contactless pick-up details, in February. 

Cindy Bolz Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2013

Before shopping for your Japanese Maple, please read these two articles:

 The Japanese Maples at the Raincatcher’s Garden

Dallas County Master Gardeners and Japanese Maples

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