As if it isn’t enough to make a trip to the Raincatcher’s garden to enjoy the beauty of the garden, make friends, work with other volunteers, get certification hours, shop at a great plant sale (May 19th from 10 am – 3 pm!!!), learn about plants and good gardening practices, etc., now there is one more reason to make the trip to the garden.
We have a new feathered friend who has taken up residence in an owl box built just for him or her. The owl box is high up in a tree in the courtyard facing the parking lot and the view that this lucky owl gets to see is the beautiful edible garden. The best part is, when the owl hears voices, he/she tends to stick its head out and seems interested in the conversation!
Thanks to Colleen Murray(Dallas County Master Gardener) for organizing the owl box at the garden and to Stan Herndon(Community Volunteer) for the photo.
Jackie James, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993
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
Sunflower girl, as she is affectionately called, stands proudly in our garden as a reminder to pause for a moment of rest and relaxation. The quite, gentle sounds of her music take me back to a time in my life, when I too, enjoyed playing simple melodies on my flute.
She was a gift many years ago from my husband who somehow knew that her presence in the garden would make me smile. We named her “Sunflower Girl” as a tribute to my love of mammoth sunflowers. But the flute she gently caresses in her hands speaks sweetly to me of bygone days.
Seasonal changes in this small area of our garden seem to grace her with an elegance that she wears well. Fall is especially joyful as the snapdragons surrounding her are bursting with a beautiful display of calming colors. I can’t think of a flower that would be more appropriate for my sweet sunflower girl to be serenading.
Snapdragons will always have a place in my garden, but it wasn’t until recently that I learned the answer to a perplexing question. Why are they called snapdragons, anyway? Thanks to “the spruce” for this rather comical but accurate answer. ‘The common name derives from the shape of the individual flower heads, which resemble the snout of a dragon, and which even open and close in a snapping motion, as often happens when pollinators open the jaw to reach the pollen’.
Snapdragons should be planted in springtime or fall in a full sun location with well-draining soil. After planting, clip the top stem and any long side shoots to encourage more flowers. When blooms begin to fade during summer’s heat, clip the plant by one-third to one-half and expect more blooms when temperatures begin to cool in fall. Keep evenly moist but let the soil dry out about an inch deep before watering.
The showy blooms of snapdragons are delightful to use in floral arrangements but, for me, that would leave a lonely sunflower girl with no one to serenade. The lyrical melodies she plays for them is a refreshing sound in my garden. Just listen, isn’t that the chirpy opening to Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 2 in D major filling the air?
Note: Local garden centers currently have a wonderful variety of snapdragons in stock.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
Snapdragons are long lasting and rabbit resistant. Read more about them here.
“The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.”
Almost thirty years ago, my husband and I took our first trip to France. Our destination was Paris but along the way we scheduled a romantic anniversary visit to the lovely town of Reims. It is considered an essential stop on France’s champagne trail with big-name bubbly houses headquartered there among wide boulevards and well-preserved medieval churches.
Our three-night stay was at an elegant boutique hotel known as Domaine Les Crayeres. Nestled discreetly in a seven-hectare park full of lush vegetation, it remains one of my most treasured travel memories. During our stay, it was suggested that we visit a little-known sensory garden in a charming village just outside of town. We were told that not many tourists take time to visit the garden but because of our desire to experience the lesser-known places, we were excited to make the trip. The cost to enter the garden was minimal but the joy we shared that afternoon was priceless. Our enchanting visit was to a place called, “The Garden of the Five Senses”.
It was a beautiful day in August with temperatures hovering comfortably in the seventy-degree range. Unlike summer weather in Texas, we had chosen a perfect time to spend the day outdoors. An incredible bottle of French champagne led to countless toasts and smiles as we leisurely enjoyed a beautiful afternoon in the garden.
Each of the five individual gardens were created using a loosely defined circular formation. Plants were carefully selected for the role they would play in stirring up the senses: sight, smell, taste, sound and touch. Unhurried and totally caught up in the moment, our hearts and souls were rejuvenated. A quaint, little “off the beaten path”, and privately owned garden, had given us the gift of a lifetime memory.
Reflecting on that wonderful day in France, this spring our volunteers introduced a Texas style version of a sensory garden to the edible landscape. Our sensory garden is on a much, much smaller scale than the one in France, but we’ve packed in a pleasing variety of edible plants. Summer into early fall we will be featuring some of the following:
1. Choose an ideal location. Find a quiet place in your yard or somewhere that naturally draws you into a “time-out” or relaxing place in the garden.
2. Measure the space and create a map of the area. Detailed information is beneficial when the time comes for selecting plants.
3. Decide what plants and features will best achieve the atmosphere that is desired. Accessories like gazing balls, mirrors and sculpture can add to the visual effect.
4. Provide a bench, swing, or some place to sit and relax. A unique idea would be to install a chamomile lawn. The recommended variety of chamomile for this particular purpose is Roman Chamomile (C. nobile ‘Treneague’).
5. Create a safe place using plants that are non-toxic, non-allergenic and with no pesticide application.
6. Choose plants that will keep the senses aroused each season of the year.
7. When selecting plants pay close attention to growing conditions whether sun or shade, poor or good drainage, clay or other types of soil.
8. Decide which plants are best for stimulating each of the five senses. Start with 3 plants for each one, then expand as space and growing characteristics allow.
9. Feature elements that appeal to the five senses:
Color – may be seasonal, grouped in clusters or spaced for maximum contrast.
Texture – use plants that add a variety of tactile stimulation.
Water and Wind Chimes – items like bird baths, fountains and small ponds provide a refreshing sensory experience for sight, sound and touch while attracting birds, butterflies and other pollinators to the garden. Enhance the sense of sound with wind chimes and/or whirligigs.
10. Be inspired throughout the process. Creating a sensory garden will elevate your environment into one that gives interest and stimulation to people of all ages.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
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)
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:
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.
*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
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
“The best cottage gardens look like they planted themselves”.
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
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
Thank you, Starla Willis, for the video and Beverly Allen and Sharon L. Wright for teaching us about salad gardening. It is my understanding that your lettuce varieties were planted the first week of March and may last through June.
If you are like me, and hate to see your salad garden coming to an end, make summer plans!
I hear Beverly is trying a heat resistant romaine lettuce from Johnny’s seeds called Monte Carlo. Along with using a location with part shade, she plans to harvest often and early to beat the effects of our summer heat. She also said with this cool spring, there might be time to get one more round of quick growing radish seeds such as Cherry Belle or French Breakfast planted and harvested before summer. Her favorite sandwich consists of thinly sliced radishes from the garden and arugula. Sounds good, Beverly!
More summer salad ideas-Swiss Chard and Malabar Spinach. Buy transplants from your local garden center and put them in your garden when your spring lettuce begins to bolt or turn bitter.
Ann Lamb, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2005
Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018
Here’s more information from Johnny’s Seeds about heat resistant varieties. We can’t vouch for them yet, but plan to try some in our gardens. Dallas Garden Buzz readers, what do you grow for your salad bowl when the heat comes on? We would love to know.