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Tag Archives: Edible Landscape

Raincatcher’s Welcomes The Pierian Club of Dallas

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

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Lunch Menu

“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

Summer Rain, Summer Blooms

Summer rain tapped on our garden. And just like Johnny Rivers so sweetly sang, she stepped out of a rainbow. Lavender blossoms filled the air with their intoxicating fragrance as bee balm welcomed the bees with tiny, tubular petals in shades of pink, purple and red. The showy yellow flowers of baby butternut squash plants told us it was time to get out the recipe for Squash-Blossom Quesadillas. 

Our Edible Landscape ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of summer blossoms and flowers continues to evolve. The early bloomers are starting to fade while the colorful hibiscus, impatiens and marigolds refresh us with their summer beauty. Stroll down the garden path for a glimpse of these seasonal stars. Or as the lyrics suggest…stay awhile, then sail into the sunset and let tomorrow be.

#1 Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Some people believe that this is one of the tastiest edible flowers. If you are curious, stop by the Sensory Garden and pick a few tiny petals. You might taste a flavor somewhat between anise and root beer. Leaves and petals, if used sparingly, are very pleasant in salads, iced drinks, soups, tea breads and dessert. 

This highly ornamental plant is an easily grown herbaceous perennial that reaches from three to six feet. Leaves are gray green with dense one- to three-inch flower spikes ranging from mauve to lavender to white. Grow it in full sun in average soil and keep it fairly moist. The plant dies down in winter and often reseeds itself the next spring. Our anise hyssop was lost to the extreme cold this winter but has been replaced with a new plant that is thriving in a sunny location.

#2 Basil (Ocymum basilium)

Spicy Globe Basil

The Edible Landscape Garden is filled with over 12 different varieties of basil. Their blossoms and leaves vary in color, taste and texture. During the summer months our temptation to start deadheading is sometimes delayed by the bees. Bees love basil and can be found collecting both pollen and nectar from the white, pink, purple and light-blue flowers. That’s the dilemma we face once those fragrant blossoms start appearing. A convincing answer is found in the reason for removing the blossoms. Basil is grown primarily for the tender, fluffy leaves. Adding them to soups, tomato caprese and, best of all, whirring up a tasty batch of pesto is what summer is all about. But, once the plants develop flowers that mature and turn into seed pods, the taste profile changes and the plant becomes woody. Fortunately for the edible landscape, we generally plant three of each variety. That gives us the opportunity to allow one plant in each variety to grow from blossom to seed. For the remaining two plants, the entire flowering branch gets snipped off. With the flowers gone, the plant’s focus will shift back to growing new leaves, and it will become bushier. Since basil is a very edible plant, those flowering tops get added to salads or tossed with other greens. The bees keep buzzing and our culinary summer desires have been satisfied.  

#3 Bergamot ‘Bee Balm’ (Monarda didyma)

This plant lives up to its name. Once it begins to bloom the bees arrive and find their happy place sipping its nectar. The variety we chose to plant on either side of the greenhouse is ‘Marshall’s Delight’, a lovely shade of lavender. Depending on your preference, it also comes in bright red, pink and white. Bergamot is a perennial, in the mint family, that prefers a rich, well-drained soil. Native Americans of the Oswego tribe showed the colonists how to make a substitute “freedom tea” from its fragrant leaves…thus another common name, Oswego tea.

Bergamot grows from 2-1/2 to 4 feet high. After reaching 12 inches in height, support the branches with stakes to help keep plants upright. Flowers appear in whorls of frilly tubes and have a lemony mint fragrance and taste. Use flowers sprinkled on fruit, cold dishes and fish. Or enjoy a refreshing cup of Oswego Tea. (Recipe: Use 3 teaspoons fresh or one teaspoon dried leaves per cup. Place in a glass or China pot, cover with boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Sweeten with honey. Garnish with freshly picked bee balm blossoms.)

#4 Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva)

Daylilies got their name from the Greek hemera, for “day,” and kalles, for “beauty.” Each beautiful flower lasts for only a day, but another replaces it the next. The flowering period of an established clump is usually several weeks long. Daylilies perform best if given full sun and an area with well-drained, fertile soil. We’ve located our daylilies in the garden bed just in front of the greenhouse where they receive full sun most of the day. The variety we chose is the traditional ‘Stella de Oro’. It has numerous yellow flowers per scape that bloom all summer. Daylily buds will keep in the refrigerator for several days, but the delicate flowers should be consumed the day they are picked. Several interesting recipes for using them include Daylily Cheesecake, Daylily Curry and Daylily Petal Salad. 

#5 Dianthus ‘Sweet William’ (Dianthus barbatus)

Gardeners have been cultivating this short-lived perennial since at least the 1500’s. In the language of flowers, dianthus stands for love, fasciation, distinction and pure affection. With such descriptive words, we should all be growing dianthus in our gardens. Dianthus flowers are in bloom from late spring until midsummer. (They are related to carnations, another edible, which we also have growing in the Sensory Garden.) The nickname “pinks” is derived from the color of the flower. If you’ve ever used a pair of “pinking shears” then you should know that they are so named because they create a fringe much like the ruffled petal edging on this beloved flower.

The variety growing in our cottage garden, ‘Sweet William’, has a spicy fragrance with hints of clove and cinnamon. When grown organically, the flower petals can be crystallized with sugar and used for decorating cakes or other desserts. And, if you happen to enjoy the liqueur Chartreuse, it is composed of distilled alcohol aged with dianthus petals and 130 other herbs, plants and flowers. This very historic French liqueur has been made by the Carthusian Monks since 1737.

#6 Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculate ‘Party Girl’)

Every cottage garden needs some type of phlox. This summer we chose one of the four “Garden Girl” varieties, ‘Party Girl’. Displaying bright white flowers with star-shaped pink centers, we’re hoping she will bring the party to the garden. Hardy in zones 3-8, ‘Party Girl’ flowers mid to late summer with an excellent rebloom. Two of our plants receive morning sun, afternoon shade while the other receive just the opposite. We’ll continue to monitor the progress of this long-blooming perennial and adjust the location, if needed. Phlox are pollinator-friendly plants known for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. The perennial phlox is the only type that is edible. Their flavor is sometimes described as slight spicy but, also, quite sweet. Use them crystallized on cakes and desserts or floating in summer drinks.

#7 Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Do you think of hedgehogs or sea urchins when admiring a coneflower? The genus name of Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos meaning, you guessed it, hedgehog or sea urchin. A gentle touch of the spiny center cone found on most flowers in the genus explains the connection. Echinacea is an herbaceous perennial native to moist prairies, meadows and open woods of the central to southeastern United States.

Before growing echinacea, decide where you want them to grow permanently. Because they establish deep taproots, moving to a different location is not recommended. The plant can reach heights of five feet. Their showy daisy-like purple coneflowers bloom throughout summer making them an excellent, long-blooming flower for massing in the garden. Leaves and flower petals are edible. Harvest echinacea leaves for tea by cutting a few from each plant as needed. Use them fresh or dry the leaves and store them in a cool, dry place. 

#8 Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

A summer garden without hibiscus is like a rainbow absent of color. Tropical-looking showy flowers in tones of yellow, coral, orange, pink, red and countless other color combinations make this member of the mallow family a true seasonal superstar. Even the well-known paint company, Sherwin-Williams, features SW 6851 Hibiscus in a stunning shade of deep pink for both interior and exterior use. 

 As a special culinary treat, combine hibiscus flowers with fresh summer blackberries to make Hibiscus Chutney or try the adult version of Hibiscus Popsicles made with champagne and hibiscus simple syrup. Petals can also be torn and tossed into your favorite salad. You’ll enjoy their mild flavor with just a slight tanginess.

Hibiscus plants are lovely grown in containers or in ground. For the best growth and flower production give them a full sun location. It is important to keep the soil moist, but they must have good drainage. Hibiscus flowers open daily and last for only one day, after which they die. Simply remove all wilted or unsightly flowers and keep grooming daily.

For a fascinating and very comprehensive look into the world of hibiscus plants go to:

www.hiddenvalleyhibiscus.com

#9 Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)

My husband and I have lived in Dallas for almost fifty years, and I can’t think of a summer when we didn’t have impatiens growing in the shady areas of our garden. Their bright and cheerful flowers add a touch of pizzaz anywhere you choose to plant them.  At Raincatcher’s this year we purchased four hanging pots of purple impatiens to feature as bedding plants in the Cottage Garden. They have almost tripled in size since their April addition to the garden and have maintained their large mounding shape. 

We were already aware of their growing characteristics which require moist well-draining soil and partial to deep shade. The bed where they are located is irrigated but during extreme heat, we give them supplemental watering. 

Impatiens are considered to be one of the most popular bedding plants in the Northern Hemisphere. As a big bonus for the edible landscape, they also have tasty edible petals. The sweet petals can be used to flavor desserts, salads and drinks. Thankfully, there is plenty of time left to enjoy beautiful and edible impatiens in your yard and on your plate.

FYI…next year we plan to use impatiens in other areas of the edible landscape. And, in those sunnier spots, SunPatiens will be making a showy appearance.

#10 Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’ (Oxalis deppei)

Do you need a bit of “good luck” in your garden? You may find ‘Iron Cross’ exceptionally rewarding. It is a bulbous perennial forming a lush mound of heart-shaped green leaflets. Each leaf has a dark purple blotch at its base which is reminiscent of a cross. During the day the leaves open out to receive sunlight but at night they retract and fold up like umbrellas. From early summer until frost, the rich green foliage is topped with sprays of trumpet-shaped bright pink flowers. Plant Iron Cross in a sunny to partly shady area of the garden where the soil drains well and has a light, loamy or sandy texture. 

The edible leaves and stalk give salads and soups a pleasant, tangy taste. Dark pink oxalis flowers are a nice garnish for desserts and summer salads.

#11 Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender has been called the ‘fragrance of Provence’, and today, in France, it is still referred to as “blue gold.” If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit Provence when lavender is bloom, it’s easy to appreciate the mesmerizing affect its beauty and fragrance have on you. My husband and I first made the trip over 20 years ago returning to Texas with the dizzying effects of lavender fever lingering in our heads. That’s when my love affair with lavender began.

It has grown wild throughout the Mediterranean for millennia. And now it’s found growing all over the state of Texas, especially down in the Hill country area. The story of how it came to the Texas dates back to the year 1999. Robb Kendrick, a photographer for National Geographic magazine was assigned to do an article about the perfume industry in France. While there, he was struck by the similarity of a lavender-growing area in southern France to his own land near Blanco, Texas. After a careful study of the soil and climate, he decided to start growing it on his property. Texans embraced the idea wholeheartedly and a booming new business was started. For a real Provence-type experience, be sure to put the Blanco Lavender Festival on your calendar. It’s held annually in June and features “all things” lavender. 

Growing Tips:

*Lavender does best in a sunny location with well-drained soil. The ideal pH for lavender is between 7.5 and 8.5. A slight slope helps promote drainage.

*Best time for planting seedlings is March and mid-October, before the first frost. A fall planting will give the plants a better chance of getting established.

*Consider growing lavender in raised beds to help keep roots out of water during heavy rains. 

*There are at least 47 varieties of lavender with an infinite number of cultivars. Do some research to determine the variety best suited for your location. We chose Provence Lavender.

*Lavender is a perennial, which should give you 8 to 12 years of beautiful growth if properly cared for. 

#12 Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia)

If you are unfamiliar with Signet Marigolds, take a stroll around The Edible Landscape Cottage Garden where they are in full bloom. These showy, single-flowered marigolds feature small, but abundant, richly colored blossoms covering the finely divided lacy foliage. We expect the compact and busy plants to reward us with their tiny blooms summer into fall. 

This year, the varieties we chose are ‘Lemon Gem’ and ‘Tangerine’. Master Gardener, Gail Cook, started the seeds for us in early spring. The four-to-six-inch seedlings were transplanted in May. Over the past few months, we’ve enjoyed the elegance of their petite, single, lemon and tangerine blossoms with a citrus-forward, subtly peppery flavor. Harvest the flowers just before using by separating petals from the flower base as it contains a bitter, unpleasant flavor.

#13 Roses (Rosa Meidrilfora’ (Coral Drift®))

Every color of rose has a different meaning. In the language of flowers, coral is desire or passion.  We are excited to have four Coral Drift rose bushes growing in our Cottage Garden Bed, one in each wedge. Drift® roses are intended to function as groundcover or carpet type roses. As all gardeners know, roses are sweet and highly aromatic. While color doesn’t affect the flavor of roses, scent does. The stronger the scent of the rose, the stronger the taste. And, if it smells good chances are it will taste good. Roses generally bloom in early summer but Coral Drift blooms continuously from spring until frost. It produces abundant clusters of small, vibrant coral flowers about 1.5 inches across filled with up to 25 petals. They open up in a softly cupped shape to reveal the stamens. The glossy deep green foliage is noted for its strong disease-resistance. Sometime around mid-September our desire is to use those beautiful coral rose petals to make Pistachio Rose Shortbread and Fig and Rose Cream Trifle.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Summertime

July 23, 2021

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”

—Charles Bowden

When you think of summer, think of The Raincatcher’s Garden!

Cool off in the shade of Japanese Maples in our courtyard.

Drink in the beauty of this Crinum. We think it is a variety called ‘Super Ellen‘ described as a monster super hero crinum!

“Chill out” by thinking of our rain garden’s purpose. Hint, it nature’s best response to summertime downpours.

Quench your thirst for the unexpected with iron cross oxalis.

Like a hummingbird be refreshed by Turk’s Cap.

Dallas County Master Gardeners welcome visitors. If you would like to come to our garden at 11001 Midway Road while we are working, come Tuesday mornings. For a planned visit, leave a note in our comment section.

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis


Sign up for our Taste the Heat Pepper event. The educational class and lunch will be at our garden on Wednesday, July 28th. Deadline to sign up is Sunday.

https://www.signupgenius.com/go/805084eafad22a4fc1-pepper

The Edible Landscape Kaleidoscope Garden

Kaleidoscope Garden Glass Ball to be Placed in the New Garden Area

July 16, 2021

The history of a much-loved children’s toy takes us back to Great Britain in July of 1817. British patent no. 4136 “for a new Optical Instrument called “The Kaleidoscope” for exhibiting and creating beautiful “Forms and Patterns of great use in all the ornamental Arts” had just been granted to its inventor Sir David Brewster. 

The name is derived from the Greek words kalos (“beautiful”) eidos (“form”) and skipein (“to view”). Interestingly, kaleidoscope roughly translates to beautiful form watcher. From the Brewster Society we discovered this lovely explanation of its purpose. “Kaleidoscopes are portals of remembrance that open onto the familiar, yet unexpected. Allowing the eye to marvel, the mind to explore and the heart to leap, the mirrored tubes of magic have developed into a significant new art form.”

When searching for a more illustrious and descriptive name for our underused Forest Garden bed Beverly Allen, Master Gardener Class of 2018, thoughtfully tossed out the idea of a Kaleidoscope Garden. After spending over an hour discussing the possibility of embracing not only the concept but the practical approach to its design and functionality, we agreed that it would be an exciting project. Here is Beverly’s description of how she views our new garden bed through the lens of the natural world.

“The idea of light diffused through the overhanging oak branches brought to mind a kaleidoscope. We realized this was a good opportunity to use color and pattern to engage the mind and senses. It is challenging to find a variety of edible plants that will look and perform well in a setting that transitions from morning sun on the east end to bright afternoon sun on the west end with deep shade in the middle.

 Planning a themed garden is captivating. Stay tuned as we consider the possibilities of such plants as tulips, peonies, lilac, elderberry and a surprise herb we are hoping to feature.”

-Beverly Allen

And so, our newly named Kaleidoscope Garden has been introduced. It will remain as is during the heat of July and August. Moving into September and cooler fall temperatures, watch for an explosion of color and patterns to appear within its borders. We hope you will experience its childlike wonder.

Corning Ware and Cornflower’s

July 11, 2021 

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If you are a baby boomer like me, this is probably a familiar dish. Chances are you might have received similar pieces as wedding gifts during the late 60’s – 70’s. I certainly did. And for the early part of our marriage, corning ware was used often in my kitchen. But I never gave much thought to the blue floral design embossed on the side until we started growing bachelor’s buttons at Raincatcher’s in the edible landscape cottage garden.

A quick google search led me to a fascinating story dating back to the time of Napoleon. As Queen Louise of Prussia was being pursued by Napoleon’s army, she sought protection for her children by concealing them in a field of cornflowers. In order to distract them and keep them quiet, she made wreaths from the flowers. In 1871, the year of Germany’s unification, Wilhelm, son of Queen Louise, honored his mother when he made the cornflower the symbol of unity. Later, the cornflower became the National flower of Germany. 

The name “bachelor’s button” refers to a time when single men with an interest in a specific woman wore them on the lapel of their jacket. If the flower faded too quickly, it was a sign that a woman’s interest in him was not mutual.  Additionally, English maidens wore the cornflower as a sign they were eligible for marriage. If the girl concealed the cornflower under her apron, she had her choice of bachelors.

So, why then, did Joseph Baum, an artist at the Charles Brunelle Advertising Agency in Hartford, Connecticut, choose to feature the cornflower as Corning Ware’s trademark design in 1958? That part of the story seems to have been lost but an endearing answer might be found in the flower’s symbolism. Today, the cornflower symbolizes remembrance, anticipation, fertility, wealth, prosperity, love and the future. Could it be that he was suggesting we should use our lovely corning ware dishes for favorite family recipes that would transcend time? If so, I’m thrilled to still have one of those memorable vintage dishes in my kitchen. And, that adorable blue cornflower emblem on the dish has a new and special meaning for me.

Tips for Growing Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus)

*To get the most blooms and sturdier stems, plant in a location that receives full sun. (At Raincatcher’s, our cornflowers get a little afternoon shade.)

*If soil is predominantly clay or is sandy, mix in some organic material. We add compost yearly.

*Place plants at least 7 inches apart. Mature growth height is around 15-30 inches. 

*Deadhead plants regularly to prolong their flowering periods. For taller species, staking may be necessary. We’ve had ongoing issues with them falling over so all plants are now supported with bamboo stakes.

*Mulch around plants with bark to keep soil moist and to prevent the root system from getting too much sun. 

*Regular watering will keep the plants healthier.

*Cornflowers make excellent cut flowers and attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating and beneficial insects.

*Cornflower seeds are easy to harvest. When the seeds are ripe, the seedpods open up. Once this happens, extract the seeds for next year.

*Enjoy the vibrant blue flowers in salads, raw or cooked. Their sweet to spicy flavor will remind you of cloves. 

A bit of trivia: 

Bachelor Buttons were the favorite flower of President John Kennedy. His son John John wore one at his wedding to honor his father.

And, it has been reported that the most valuable blue sapphires are called Cornflower blue, having a medium-dark violet-blue tone.

Cornflowers Growing in the Edible Landscape Cottage Garden

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

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

Lemon Balm and Rainy Days

May 27, 2021

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

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

Lemon Balm on the left, Variegated Lemon Balm right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Jewels of Opar

Jewels of Opar, an edible plant
and cottage garden favorite

Are you imagining a rare and brilliant necklace worn by a beautiful Persian woman of antiquity? If so, it may surprise you to learn that Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) is a plant which is native to the New World. My first experience with it was a few years ago when ‘A Year on the Plate’ was being created for the Dallas County Master Gardener Association.

Ann Lamb, my dear friend and one of the photographers for the cookbook, brought a small floral arrangement to the photo shoot for Lemon Verbena Scones. Earlier that morning, she had gone to her yard and gathered up a lovely collection of flowers and herbs. Placed perfectly in an ordinary “ball jar”, its simplicity was stunning. But it was the delicate addition of a branched display filled with tiny jewel-colored balls that caught my eye.

My curiosity led to a discussion of the plant which she quickly identified as Jewels of Opar. And so, the story continues with the gift from her garden and a recently discovered piece of information. True gardeners are always learning about the plant world. And, that information is easily shared through emails and texts or as we are working together in the garden.

Thanks to Susan Swinson, one of the volunteers at Raincatcher’s, we have just learned that Jewels of Opar is also an edible plant. Hooray! Remembering what Ann had told me back in 2016, to “choose your location carefully because once planted, your will always have it your garden”, our “Jewels” is growing in a small, manageable garden bed.  

Growth Habits and Characteristics:

*A self-seeding perennial that prefers full sun but can tolerate a small amount of shade during the day. Grows to about 24” tall.

*Does best in well drained soils and is tolerant of poor soils and heat. 

*Stunning lime green leaves with sprays of tiny pink flowers followed by ruby-orange seedpods. 

*Elliptical to rounded oval leaves are succulent and make an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches. 

*Seeds are tiny but nutritious and have recently been compared favorably with flaxseed.If you would like to add this beaded beauty to your garden, stop by Raincatcher’s on Tuesday, May 25th from 9:00am – 1:00pm. We have about two dozen small Jewels of Opar plants ready to be “gifted” on a first come, first served basis. 

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.

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