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.
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.
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
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.
*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
*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
Asparagus, blueberries, garlic, jalapeno peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, Italian parsley, and mint are some of our Zone 8 seasonal garden crops. If you’re growing any of these springtime and summer favorites, consider giving them a starring role for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner. Each recipe calls for a list of ingredients which can be picked, snipped and harvested directly from the garden. The combined flavor profiles will elevate that fresh-from-the-garden taste experience we find so satisfying to our palates.
You may have noticed that the common thread in each of these recipes is olive oil. This past Christmas, family members and close friends received themed gift packages from my husband and me featuring olive oil and olive wood products. From olive wood boards, bowls and spoons to different varieties of olive oil, each one was customized for the recipient. A recipe for my favorite olive oil cake was included with each gift.
As the spirit of giving continues, throughout 2022 our family and friends are receiving a monthly recipe featuring new and unusual ways of cooking or baking with olive oil. The three recipes listed above were for March, April and May. Summer recipes calling for olive oil will include farm fresh garden vegetables (corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.) and zesty, flavorful herbs. I’m even sharing a cobbler recipe that calls for ¼ cup of lemon olive oil!
If you are an olive oil fan, check back for monthly recipes featuring this versatile product and its variety of uses. Writing in The Illiad, Homer revered olive oil as having the qualities of “liquid gold”. Let’s discover those possibilities together over the next seven months.
A Bit of Trivia…It was the ancient Greeks who invented the salad dressing which was comprised of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and honey.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
We made a decision last year to fill the courtyard at Raincatcher’s garden in 2022 with lots of pepper plants. Some of the peppers will be grown to use in our very popular pepper jellies but several of the ones we selected are for ornamental purposes. Ornamental peppers are safe to eat but they are typically used for their attractive color or ornamental quality rather than their flavor. They are often considered too hot to eat by most people.
A favorite ornamental pepper that you will see growing in the courtyard is the Fish pepper. Last summer, we fell in love with this pepper plant growing in the edible garden. In fact, most visitors to the garden asked us about this plant because it is so unusual and beautiful. The Fish pepper is an African-American heirloom variety that dates back to the 1800’s. It is a large plant and the leaves range from fully white to part green and fully green. I can testify to the fact that the peppers on this plant pack a lot of heat as I was asked to try it in preparation for the pepper class that was taught at the garden last summer!!!
Fidalgo Roxa is a pepper plant from Brazil and is considered to be “one of a kind.” The flowers are white and purple and the plant will eventually be loaded with purple, pink and apricot colored peppers. It is described to have a fruity flavor that is in the upper mid heat range.
Cherry Bomb (AKA Hot Cherry Pepper) is another variety that we chose to grow this year. It is a beautiful compact plant with brilliant red cherry-like peppers. Despite its name, this pepper is described as having a heat level close to a mild jalapeno – medium heat with a sweet taste. The pepper is fleshy and juicy and can be used as a substitute for jalapenos, in vinegars and is good for stuffing and pickling.
Shishito pepper is a Japanese pepper variety that is very trendy right now. They are easy to grow and yield a lot of fruit in a short period of time. The plants are compact and do well in containers. They have thin skin which makes them perfect for quick frying, roasting and grilling. The pepper is considered to be mildly spicy but occasionally you might find one that really packs a punch!
Woody herbs are all perennials and usually hardy plants with leaves, blossoms and woody stems that contain their essential oils. Their relatively high content of volatile oils gives them an extremely aromatic fragrance. Woody herbs retain more of their flavor and aroma when dried than most green herbs do. In the garden, woody herbs require far less water than green herbs. The most important consideration is that these herbs be planted where they have good drainage.
Our journey into creating a garden bed featuring woody herbs began almost four years ago. We started with a combination of both woody and green herbs. The first few years all watering was done by hand. Then, in October of 2019, a drip system was installed. Sometime around mid-spring of this year, we noticed that our plants weren’t thriving. A soil test revealed that the garden was low in nitrogen but moderate to high in phosphorus, potassium and other minerals. Organic matter was 9.36%.
After doing further research, we read an article advising that two things to avoid when starting a Mediterranean garden were horse manure and wood chips. We had unknowingly used both when building our bed. A decision was made to excavate the existing soil 6-8 inches down and start fresh.
On November 11th, Soil Building Systems delivered 5 cubic yards of a rose mix selected especially for our Mediterranean bed. Volunteers worked carefully while spreading the mix to create a mound shape for optimal drainage requirements. Once established, a protective plastic weed barrier was custom cut to cover the entire bed. Using a box cutter, an “x” was made in the plastic where each herb was planted. The finishing touch was a 3 inch topping of pea gravel to give our bed the look of gardens circling the Mediterranean basin.
The short list of woody herbs found in most Mediterranean gardens includes:
Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
Lavender (Lavandula species)
Marjoram and Oregano (Origanum marjorana and vulgare)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Winter Savory (Satureja montana)
In addition to the woody herbs listed above, we added curry plant, myrtle, summer savory and a dwarf fig tree. In the early spring of 2022, our Mediterranean garden will be embellished with a colorful display of other drought-tolerant plants that thrive in the same conditions. Some additions will include Rock Purslane and a pleasing selection of succulents.
We hope that our reimagined Mediterranean landscape with its soft colors, gravel beds and informal, drought-tolerant plantings will hint of a visit to the countrysides of France, Greece or Italy. Perhaps you will be captivated by the intoxicating fragrance and earthy flavors characterized by these essential woody herbs of the Mediterranean region.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
The Raincatcher’s team has been busy putting in new gardens. Led by Leonard Nadalo and Beverly Allen a ridge and furrow garden was built in October with the purpose of growing food for the North Dallas Shared Ministries’ food pantry and demonstrating an alternative to raised bed gardening on our clay soil. It is aptly named The Donation Garden. One of our turf beds has also become a new veggie plot and is the home for turnips, beets, spinach and some struggling carrots.
If all this planting is making you crave cruciferous crops, don’t delay. It is a little late to start seeds outdoors but transplants are available at garden centers. Which brings me to an important discovery: mini broccolis (thanks Beverly!) We planted Broccoli Atlantis F1 by seed in our garden.
It is called a mini because it is harvested mainly from side shoots that are smaller than what you buy in your grocery store. When you harvest the center first, side shoots branch out and can be harvested all through the winter. Other mini broccolis, such as Artwork F1, are also available as transplants at local garden centers.
The vegetable team has plans for the future that include increasing the production capacity of The Donation Garden and finding a carrot variety that can get happy in Zone 8a.
Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005 with additional information by Beverly Allen, class of 2018
Photo of Broccoli Artwork F1 courtesy of All-America Selections
Note: We chose Atlantis F1 for it’s shorter days to maturity (33) when compared to standard broccoli (56 or greater).
he North Garden continues to thrive with a crew of three to five gardeners on Mondays and help with hardscaping from the regular workday group on Tuesdays.
We were especially grateful for the substantial progress made on Intern Day in the new Donation Garden where we will be demonstrating ridge and furrow gardening and donating the produce to area food banks.
This week we harvested peppers, okra and pole beans and put together 10 family packs of the vegetables for donation. There were plenty of peppers left for the jam and jelly team to make their popular jalapeño jelly. We also harvested the calyces of Roselle Hibiscus for jam.
The pepper varieties we have growing are North Star, Gypsy, Jimmy Nardello, Tajin, Emerald Fire, Poblano, and Sweet Roaster. North Star and Gypsy peppers are heavy producers and 0 on the Scoville Scale. North Star is known for production under a wide range of conditions. Both it and the Gypsy variety are very easy to grow. The Jimmy Nardello peppers are not quite as productive but they have an excellent sweet taste and nice crispy texture.
The Tajin and Emerald Fire are very productive jalapeño hybrids with low to moderate degrees of spiciness. We didn’t see many Poblanos in the Spring and Summer but now that temperatures have dropped, the plants are heavily laden with mild green peppers. The Sweet Roasters were productive and flavorful but unexpectedly hot.
We also grew Clemson Spineless and Hill Country Red okra. The Clemson Spineless is very productive but must be harvested daily to keep the pods from getting tough and stringy. The Hill Country Red is not as productive but it tastes great and the pods are very tender despite their ridged barrel shape.
The Northeaster pole beans are surprisingly delicious. Several gardeners and visitors have tasted them in the garden and all were in agreement that they were very enjoyable even uncooked.
Raincatchers volunteers are always welcome to sample any produce growing in the North Garden. It’s a great way to tell if you would like to grow the same variety in your home garden.
Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018
After waiting for over a year and a half to resume monthly meetings, The Pierian Club of Dallas chose Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills for their first event. The much anticipated gathering was filled with hugs, laughter and smiles of happiness on the faces of those who attended. We were thrilled to welcome them to learn about our approach to gardening in North Texas and to enjoy a garden-themed lunch prepared by our “Friends of the Garden” volunteer culinary team.
The story of The Pierian Club is very fascinating. It began in 1888 and has continued to evolve for over 133 years. The purpose of the club is to increase knowledge. Their motto states, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring. Their shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” In Greek Mythology, it was believed that drinking from the Pierian Spring would bring you knowledge and inspiration.
With a focus on seasonally fresh herbs and vegetables from our edible gardens, we treated them to a flavor-filled menu that stirred the senses. A brief explanation of how the menu was developed includes comments about several carefully chosen items.
The Pierian Study Club
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
“Finger Sandwich Trio”
Pimento Cheese topped with a Raincatcher’s Pickle
Cranberry Curry Chicken Salad with Orange Blossom Honey
Sliced Radishes on Salad Burnet Spread Dusted with Fresh Fennel Pollen
Marinated Vegetables with French Tarragon and Anise Hyssop Blossoms
Grilled Figs topped with a Dollop of Mascarpone Cheese, Drizzled with Orange Blossom Honey and Fresh Thyme
Iced Tea Flavored with Garden Fresh Lemon Verbena
Our finger sandwich trio included the following:
1. A tribute to Martha Stewart’s favorite sandwich…buttered white bread topped with thinly sliced radishes sprinkled with salt. Taking inspiration from herbs growing in our garden, we substituted a spread made with whipped cream cheese, freshly snipped salad burnet leaves and onion chives. Radishes were added next, sprinkled with sea salt and then lightly dusted with delicate fennel fronds. Each sandwich was topped with a thinly sliced Armenian cucumber brought in from the garden.
2. Pimento Cheese. This recipe is a favorite from a recently closed restaurant in Fredericksburg, Texas…The Peach Tree Tea Room. While the original recipe calls for jalapeno juice, we omitted it, as requested, for this event. Each sandwich was topped with a pickle made by one of our volunteers. Pickles were made from the variety, ‘Homemade Pickles,’ currently growing in our garden.
3. Cranberry Curry Chicken Salad with Orange Blossom Honey. We love using this special honey from Savannah Bee and available locally at Central Market. It adds just the right amount of sweetness to the earthy flavor of curry.
Marinated Vegetables were embellished with fresh-picked French tarragon from our edible landscape. Served in individual clear glass flowerpots, they made a colorful addition to the menu with pretty purple anise hyssop blossoms scattered over the top.
Dessert was on the lighter side. Fig leaves from the garden cradled two figs halves that were lightly grilled and topped with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of Orange Blossom Honey. Tiny lemon-flavored thyme leaves added that fresh from the garden effect that rounded out the meal.
Following lunch, a short program introducing the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills was presented by Dallas County Master Gardener, Lisa Centala. Master Gardener volunteers then joined Lisa and our guests for a delightful tour of the demonstration gardens. With their newly acquired horticultural knowledge, members of the study group left inspired and feeling as if they had been refreshed by drinking from the Pierian Spring.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
Some people argue that watermelons are a fruit, others a vegetable, and still others that it is both!
The argument for both is that the watermelon is a fruit (the seed bearing ovary of a plant), and a vegetable (an edible plant). Watermelon has a place with the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins and different things that are traditionally known as vegetables. Its logical name being Citrullus lanatus. Regardless of its classification it has been a welcome addition to our Raincatchers’ garden this year.
Our vegetable team took over an in-ground planting bed and planted watermelon seeds earlier this spring, but they didn’t just plant any old watermelon, no they chose what has been called the “king” of the garden, Texas Black Diamond watermelons! Texas Black Diamond watermelons are an heirloom, open-pollinated, oblong variety of watermelon, which grows on vigorous vines and produces a black-green rind. Its bright red flesh is noted for its juiciness and sweet taste, best eaten ice cold after sitting in tubs of ice for several hours!
Growing up in Oklahoma we called this variety, “Rush Springs” watermelons, since they were mostly grown around that small south central town – but they are the same variety as Texas Black Diamonds. Rush Springs’ citizens, population about 1,300, call their town the “Watermelon Capital of the World”. The town’s largest event, in mid August, is the annual Rush Springs Watermelon Festival, which attracts more than 20,000 people each year, who consume about 50,000 pounds of locally grown watermelons.
When my family and I lived in San Antonio it was always a big event when the Texas Black Diamond watermelons were brought into town, up from the “valley” or from Luling, TX. Even some of the radio stations would get involved by broadcasting the locations of the make shift farmer’s markets, where the watermelon farmers would sell their prized produce off the back of their farm trucks.
One of my fondest memories involving watermelons, was taking a very long drive from Oklahoma City to Carlsbad, NM to tour the unbelievable caverns, when I was about 8 or 9 years old. On our return leg we stopped overnight in Midland, TX for a visit with relatives. A tremendous panhandle thunderstorm roared through the town taking down the electricity – not a problem for our gaggle of 14 kids, we still enjoyed the ice cold Texas Black Diamond watermelons and had a fun filled evening participating in a spontaneous seed-spitting contest followed by a rowdy game of tiddlywinks, using the seeds as the game pieces! Oh what fun, but oh what a mess to clean-up in the light of the coming day!
The Texas Black Diamond Watermelons do take up a lot of valuable land and the farmers have been switching to different varieties that consume less land and produce more prodigiously. The demand for Texas Black Diamonds is still quite strong and those that are grown hardly ever make it up into Dallas area anymore, unfortunately.
When to start growing watermelon?
Most gardeners choose to plant their seeds early in the spring so they can enjoy their ripe fruits during the hottest summer months, as watermelon needs about 90 – 120 days to fully grow, from start to finish.
Where do you plant watermelons?
Plant your watermelon seeds outside when there’s no more danger of frost. Watermelons must be planted in soil that is warm a few inches (centimeters) below the surface. You can place mulch on the soil to keep it warm.
Seeds may be planted in hills or in rows. Space watermelon plants 6 feet apart in hills. Thin to the best three plants per hill. If planting in rows, watermelon seeds or seedlings should be seven to 10 feet apart.
How tall do watermelon plants grow?
Generally, watermelon plants will grow to a height of approximately 24 inches, and sprawl approximately 3 to 20 feet wide. The vine produces coarse, medium-green leaves, while the fruit can weigh anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds with solid dark green skin.
When Is a Black Diamond Watermelon ready?
Calculate the age of the plant, starting with the day of planting. Black Diamond watermelons take 90 to 120 days to reach maturity, so if the plant is younger than that, the fruit is probably not ripe.
Feel the skin of the watermelon. When Black Diamond watermelons are ripe, the skin is somewhat rough. I generally also use the “thump” method, if you get a somewhat hollow sound it generally means the watermelon is ready to be picked.
Even if you only have space for one or two Texas Black Diamond Watermelon plants, you will enjoy the results of your labor and maybe make your own memories.
Jon Maxwell, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2015
Pictures and additional input by Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018