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Tag Archives: Edible Gardening

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

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.

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

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


Arbequina Olive Tree in the Edible Landscape at Raincatcher’s

Olive tree surrounded by garlic chives.

It was just over one year ago that a quick trip to a local garden center had surprising results. After visiting with the owner for a few minutes, I was convinced that nothing would be statelier in front of our greenhouse than a five-foot-tall arbequina olive tree. Ruth, the owner, was already growing olive trees at her house just minutes away. She assured me that all twelve trees had been thriving in her garden for over eight years. 

An on-the-spot decision was made, and Ruth helped me select a nicely shaped olive tree that just fit into my vehicle. Back at the garden, one of our strong and capable male volunteers dug the hole and lifted our arbequina olive tree in place. Carefully staked and secured with rubber tubing, our tree was ready for late fall and winter weather in its new sunny location.

We were so pleased to watch as it continued to grow through a mild winter and into spring. But the real thrill for us happened this summer when the tiny little green olives started popping out on some of the lower branches. 

Ripening olives

Now, at the end of September, it is exciting to see the olive harvest multiplying. As we arrive at the garden each Tuesday to tend to our chores, we’ve noticed that the olives are slowly transitioning from green to rose and then a deep, dark purple. By mid-November the olives should have ripened enough to be harvested and ready for the next step. 

After searching through various internet sources, we’ve decided to experiment with two different methods for enjoying our olives. 

#1 – Curing and Brining (Water Method)

#2 – Curing and Brining (Salt Method)

If you’re interested in growing an olive tree in your garden, here are some helpful facts that we learned about the Arbequina variety:

*It is one of the most extensively planted olive cultivars in the world (USDA hardiness zones 7 through 11).

*The name comes from the village of Arbeca (Spain) where it was first introduced to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in the seventeenth century.

*Arbequina olive trees are hardier than other varieties and are resistant to drought and pests. 

*Arbequina olive trees prefer four to eight hours of full to partial sunlight. They are adaptable to different conditions of climate and soil but do best in alkaline soils. 

*Arbequina’s are often described as a small olive that packs big flavor. They have a rich and flavorful fruity, buttery taste with a texture that is meaty and firm. 

Linda Alexander

Click here to read about brining olives.

 

Edible Landscape Garden Tour

Tracy and Aaron

Tracy and Aaron McLaughlin live only a few miles away from the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills. But after an hour and a half tour of the edible landscape last week, visits to the garden may be happening on a regular basis. 

Tracy first discovered the garden a few weeks ago when dropping her 3-year-old son off at preschool. A casual stroll around the garden resulted in a friendly conversation with several master gardeners working in the edible landscape. Sensing her desire to know more about the garden, an appointment was scheduled for the upcoming Friday evening with Tracy and her husband, Aaron.

 

Our tour began with an overview of the edible landscape garden objective of using only edible plant material to create a visually stunning design spanning all four seasons of the year. Tracy and Aaron were anxious to learn as much as possible during our visit. As we emphasized during our conversation with them, composting is the core project of building healthy garden soil. The method we use in the edible landscape was carefully explained. They were ready to give it a try. 

Time seemed to pass far too quickly as we toured each unique feature of the edible landscape. From the white velvet okra standing like soldiers in the Hügelkultur to the Stonescape surrounded by impressive mounds of Mexican Mint Marigold and the feathery gray, green curry plant, our guests left with hearts of gratitude and happy smiles across their faces. 

Following their visit, Tracy and Aaron shared some highlights of the tour:

We found a lot of awesome plants that we want to incorporate into our garden. Overall, we thought that learning about the expanded shale to help improve our soil was a huge discovery. We will be incorporating it into our garden beds! 

The tips about composting were especially helpful. Also, locating plants with similar watering needs together was good information.  And, using a variety of plant material in the garden.

We loved the scented pelargoniums. The overall beauty of the garden was inspiring. Going forward we would like to learn how to rotate crops and always plan ahead.”

Tracy and Aaron McLaughlin

 

Linda Alexander and Beverly Allen

Garden Tour Guides

Growing Artichokes for Blooms or Dinner?

Starla sent pictures of her artichoke blooms. To enjoy the exotic blooms you have to forgo the harvest.  After looking at these pictures, you might pick the okra and eggplant out of your garden for dinner instead.

Looking top down at an artichoke blossom

Side view of artichoke blossom

Artichoke Bud

Artichoke plants benefit us in two ways as beautiful ornamentals and as a food source.

For those two reasons, we have grown this plant in the edible landscape on top of the hugelkultur in semi shade and they have returned for several years bearing as many as 7 artichokes per plant.

Pretty artichoke growing at Raincatcher’s in our edible landscape

We are often asked if the artichokes on the hugelkultur are cardoons. Both plants have a beautiful thistle like bloom and a striking architectural appearance in landscapes. They reach heights of 3 to 6 feet but the cardoon has a rangier growth habit and the edible part is the stem not the flower.

Now what will it be, blossom or artichoke? Feast your eyes or your stomach?

We vote both! Let some flower and cook the rest.

Here’s how Beverly Allen cooks the artichokes she harvests. https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/amazing-roasted-artichokes/

Ann Lamb with input from Beverly Allen

Pictures by Starla Willis

Amaranth

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth Growing at The Raincatcher’s Garden

The leaves of Hopi Red Dye Amaranth are edible and the plant is commercially grown in southeast Asia and India for this purpose.  I haven’t eaten the leaves but was told by a neighbor that in India the leaves are quickly cooked in a hot pan with garlic and chilies and are delicious.

The tiny seeds are also edible and are often part of ancient grains mixtures.  The seeds have to be separated from the flower petals which is harder than it sounds.  The high price of amaranth products is justified!  When just a few plants are grown, which is usually the case since they are huge, one could try popping the seeds in a hot dry skillet and using them for a snack or for salad topping. This has been my plan for a long time; this may be the year!

Close Up View of the Beautiful Amaranth Seeds

Amaranth were once very common plants and should be again.  They are not difficult to grow and add that touch of drama every garden needs.

I will be glad to share seeds just come and ask. You can usually find me at The Raincatcher’s Garden in the butterfly habitat on Tuesday mornings. The seeds should be ready to share in a month or so.

Susan Thornbury
Pictures by Starla Willis

Try the Herb, Papalo!

Are you familiar with papalo? We first learned about papalo last summer. This year we found a seed source online, placed the order and started growing it in the edible landscape. Papalo is an ancient Mexican herb whose ancestral home is thought to be South America. Today it grows wild in Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas. And now, as you can see from the photo, right in the heart of Dallas County.

Papalo growing at Raincathcer’s Edible Garden

Papalo’s bluish green leaves have a somewhat complex, distinctive flavor reminiscent of cilantro and arugula. But unlike cilantro, it grows throughout the summer and does not bolt. It is best used fresh as it doesn’t dry well. Once cool weather arrives, the growing season is over.

Papalo seeds

When starting papalo from seeds you must be very careful not to separate the seed stem from the umbrella-like top. Master Gardener, Gail Cook, started the seeds for us in March. She carefully laid them on top of the potting mix in 4” pots. They were then covered lightly with more of the mix. Once the seedlings were about 3-4” tall, around mid-May, we transplanted them into our Ole Garden.

Plants are thriving in well-draining soil in an area that receives mid-morning to late afternoon sun. After that, they are in full shade. Just last week we noticed that the plants are producing those uniquely shaped seed heads that will be harvested for next year’s crop.

If you’re looking for a vibrant herb substitute for cilantro, check out our Ole Garden by the red shed in the edible landscape. You’ll find a large patch of papalo growing in an area immediately south of the sidewalk. Feel free to snip some for a taste!

A few ideas for using papalo include the following:

Chopped up in guacamole, leaves as a topping for a pimento cheese topping and shredded over fresh tomatoes. Enjoy!

Guacamole with Papalo

Ingredients:

1 or more (to taste) jalapeno or serrano chili peppers, finely minced (optional)

2-3 tablespoons finely diced yellow or red onion

1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh papalo

Coarse salt to taste

 3-4 avocados

½ cup finely diced fresh tomatoes

Topping: ¼ cup finely diced fresh tomatoes, 1 tablespoon finely diced onion, 1 teaspoon finely shredded papalo leaves 

Garnish: whole papalo leaves

Directions:

Crush the onions, chilis, salt, lime juice and papalo in a mortar and pestle or a molcajete until they are just paste-like. Add the avocado flesh and mash it roughly into the paste until well mixed. Stir in the tomatoes and place the guacamole in a serving dish or molcajete. 

Mix the tomatoes, onions and shredded papalo that were reserved for the topping. Pile on top of the guacamole. Garnish with whole papalo leaves and serve.

Linda Alexander

Photos by Linda and Starla Willis

 

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