Diane, a frequent visitor to Raincatchers Garden, saw a little bit of debris on a leaf. To her surprise it began to move purposefully. She learned that the debris was called a junk bug. It covers itself with the bodies of insects it has preyed upon. This creates a convincing camouflage that fools birds and the ants that tend aphids. Aphids are a frequent snack.
The junk bug is a larva that becomes a green lacewing, a beautiful insect with delicately veined gossamer wings.Per Diane, “I almost missed it till it started moving, and this is my very first one to ever see, or even hear of.”
Thanks, Diane, for your close observation. It’s great to know we have an insect ally to help us keep the aphids in check.
P.S. The eggs on a stalk shown in the picture above are also part of the lifecycle of this beneficial insect.
Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018
PIctures by Diane, a friend of The Raincatcher’s Garden
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.
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
Our annual plant sale started many years ago during the time when our garden was on Joe Field Road (too many years ago to remember the exact date of the first sale!). Raincatchers Garden at Midway Hills Christian Church is our home now and we have continued our annual plant sale at our new location. We have always enjoyed having an in person sale on our beautiful courtyard but last year due to the pandemic we put on our thinking caps and came up with a socially distanced, online, drive thru sale. Thanks to all of our loyal customers, it was a great success!
This year, we are happy to announce that our sale will be on the courtyard again. All volunteers are fully vaccinated, masks will be required and hand sanitizer will be available. We plan to limit the amount of shoppers on the courtyard if needed so there might be a short wait directly outside the courtyard before you can start your shopping spree!!!
Now for the fun part – we have tons of decorative planters of all sizes planted with succulents, house plants and a variety of herb pots including pizza pots (a combination of a bell pepper plant with oregano and thyme). We will have a good variety of perennials, annuals, herbs, veggies, and ground cover starting in 4 inch pots or larger. We have apricot trees from Oklahoma and both red yucca and soft leaf yucca plants plus many more plants to numerous to list here. There will also be yard art and when you check out, you can select a packet of free seeds from our garden. However, a photo is worth a thousand words so please check out our slide show below to see a sample of what you will have to look forward to at our sale.
Hope to see you on the courtyard on Thursday, May 13th. More details will follow closer to the date of the sale!
Jackie James Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993
Sarah Sanders Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2006
Please thank Beverly Allen for this preview of some of the plants that will be for sale:
This article is about my friend Paco. We met on a pickleball court 5 or 6 years ago and have been good friends ever since. The first time I stepped into his backyard, I discovered we had something other than pickleball in common – gardening! Paco is from Puerto Rico and he has turned his backyard into a tropical paradise. Last year at a summer pool party, I noticed a pepper plant with small, wrinkly looking red and green peppers. He explained that he collected the seeds from peppers he got in Puerto Rico because it is an important ingredient for sofrito. I left the party with a baggie full of seeds.
The Aji Dulce peppers (Capsicum Chinese) are small, sweet peppers. They have the shape and size of a habanera pepper but without the heat. They start out light to dark green and eventually turn red and orange if left on the plant to mature. Aji Dulce is used to season dishes in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba. My research found that in Puerto Rico, it is most commonly used in sofrito (which translates to stir fry or sauté in English). It is a perennial in the tropics but is an annual here.
With the seeds Paco gave me last year, we have been able to start a number of these pepper plants for the Raincatcher’s Garden annual plant sale which will be held at the garden on Thursday, May 13th. I am looking forward to growing a couple of these plants myself this summer and will be looking up sofrito recipes once I get a good crop going!
This plant goes by several names. In Puerto Rico it is know as aji dulce, ajicito or ajies. In the Dominican Rebuplic it is called aji gustoso and in Cuba it is aji cachucha. To me, this plant will always and simply be referred to as Paco’s peppers!
Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993
We will be posting more details on this blog about the May 13th plant sale in the near future.
St. Patrick’s Day is quickly approaching and we’re ready to bring out the ‘green’. But with last month’s devastating winter weather event, our garden needs a little “luck of the Irish” to show more of its true color.
Plants that persevered under a blanket of fallen leaves include chervil, cutting celery, French sorrel, bloody sorrel, salad burnet, red stemmed apple mint, spinach, everbearing strawberries, creeping thyme and sweet woodruff. A few others are just now peeking out from the cold ground with their delicate little leaves and branches: anise hyssop, calendula, dwarf trailing winter savory, German chamomile, lemon and bee balm, pineapple sage, sweet fennel and summer savory.
With the help of Gail Cook and Jim Dempsey, our very own ‘seed starting saints’, an impressive list of seedlings are due to make an early spring appearance in the edible landscape. Alyssum, anise, aster, bachelor’s button (cornflower) impatiens, variegated rocket cress and sweet William will start arriving in late March and April.
In early May our gardens will be filled with three different varieties of basil, Jimmy Nardello peppers, jalapeno peppers, tomatillos, marigolds – ‘lemon gem’ and tangerine’, papalo, roselle hibiscus and white velvet okra.
It makes us so happy to see the garden going green again. Let’s celebrate with an old Irish wish…
May your paths bloom with shamrocks, and your heart ring with songs, and the sky smile with bright sunshine all this happy day long.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener class of 2009
Linda Alexander wrote the following article for the magazine, Estate Life Old Preston Hollow and Bluffview (October edition.) It’s a lovely way to introduce friends to our garden. After reading, enjoy a delightful musical and photographic tour of this special place by watching the video at the end of the aritcle. And, remember to visit us anytime.
Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills
Situated just a half block north of the Midway and Royal Lane intersection is a Dallas County Master Gardener project that you are welcome and encouraged to visit. Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills is located on the grounds of Midway Hills Christian Church at 11001 Midway Road. Master gardeners are on site every Tuesday from 9am until noon to manage and care for 12 different garden areas. Here you will find lovely examples of unique and beautiful garden demonstrations:
North Garden areas:
*Pollinator Garden – Birds, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds all seem to find their place here. Swallowtails and fritillaries along with small skippers and honeybees are attracted to the flowers of ‘Miss Huff,’ a huge variety of lantana. Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ is a favorite of our large native bees. Painted Ladies and duskywing butterflies find the lovely lavender flowers of prairie verbena to their liking. And, the Eastern Black Swallowtail larvae make good use of the common fennel plant.
*Color Wheel – If you need help creating a specific look in your landscape, check out the options in our color wheel. Lemon thyme, jalapeno peppers and airplane plant are stars of the green spoke. Blue lovers might give Stokesia aster, black and blue salvia and Gregg’s mist a try. For a bold red look, we’re growing autumn red sage, salvia Greggii and amaryllis. If you’re drawn to mellow yellow try growing columbine, rudbeckia and Stella d’Oro lilies in your garden.
*Grape Arbor – This year our Champanel vines produced enough grapes to make over 40 jars of jelly. Yummm! You might be inspired to start your own grape arbor.
Fruit Orchard – Peach, pear and plum trees were perfectly selected, trimmed and shaped per our Dallas County Extension Agent’s instructions to yield maximum production. We’re especially excited about the new apple tree espalier added to the orchard last year.
*Raised Vegetable Beds – Gardening enthusiasts will find good examples of what grows best in our Zone 8 climate every season of the year. Fall and winter crops include tomatoes, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, greens and winter squashes.
*Composting Area – This is the place where food scraps, leaves and grass clippings are turned into the “black gold” of our garden. Digging into a pile of sweet smelling, finished compost is a gardening joy. Applying it to the soil assures us that we are creating a nurturing environment for growing healthy plants.
Central Garden areas:
*Rain Garden – This area directly in front of the church demonstrates the benefit of capturing rainwater overflow and directing it to a low-lying bed filled with plants that thrive in both wet and dry conditions. Look for crinum, purpleheart, purple coneflower, Turk’s cap, dwarf palmetto and American beautyberry.
*Courtyard – Most visible to church members and tenants is an area of sun and shade between church buildings. Ample shade provides the perfect growing conditions for a variety of Japanese maples and redbud trees, bear’s breeches, beautyberries, cast iron plant, hellebores and sedums. Sunny spots welcome a variety of spring- and summer-blooming bulbs, a dramatic candlestick plant, rosemary and hoja santa among many others.
*The Edible Landscape – Located directly behind the church is an old, abandoned children’s playground where we introduced the concept of combining food with landscaping. Throughout the garden we demonstrate creative ways to integrate edibles into traditional beds and borders. It’s a daunting task to follow the criteria that every plant added to this garden must have at least one part that is edible. With over 75% shade and small pockets of sun to work with, our greatest challenge is finding innovative ways to create an edible landscape each season of the year. We are constantly searching for the lesser-known edible annuals, perennials and evergreens to use in creating a pleasing design aesthetic. Sweet woodruff, variegated society garlic and dwarf trailing sweet myrtle are some new examples of adding style and beauty to our edible landscape.
Raincatcher’s garden is a unique place to visit. We often meet guests who come just to experience the tranquility of a quiet and relaxing environment. Others come to have their senses stirred by the vast array of blooming flowers or herb-lined pathways filling the air with their fragrance. Many come for the educational programs and helpful information which can be applied to the home garden. Children delight in finding caterpillars chomping away on the fennel or monarch butterflies darting from one bloom to the next.
Starting in late winter and spring of 2021 we hope to resume our educational agenda of lectures, seminars, tasting lunches and tours of the garden. Follow us on dallasgardenbuzz.com for a listing of upcoming events and registration information as well as gardening tips and recipes.
When creating and sampling recipes for our 2016 cookbook, A Year On The Plate, these two autumn recipes received rave reviews. There’s still time to plant Swiss chard, turnips and kale for a delicious garden-to-table meal.
Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills is a research, education and demonstration garden and project of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Dallas County Master Gardeners located on the campus of Midway Hills Christian Church.
“Dear Mrs. Jones, Thank you for the best field trip ever! It was awesome! Thank you for helping us make seed balls. We had so much fun!!!!!”
First graders from Lakewood Elementary had a five exclamation point (!!!!!) assessment of their field trip to the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills.
One hundred and fifty pairs of sneakers never stopped from the moment they hopped out of four school buses on November 3rd . Every 15 minutes, timers took the students to another station: seed balls, real live clucking chickens, wiggly red wigglers, “name that vegetable,” herbs and compost. Elizabeth Wilkinson, Cynthia Jones, and Annette Beadles organized the field trip.
“Dear Raincatcher’s Friends, I love you! I love you! I love pumpkins!”
Annette compared the circumference of pumpkins—and first grade volunteers. Cynthia showed students how to roll, mash, divot, and taco-fold clay, soil and wildflowers to make seed balls for their school.
Dear Garden Friends, Thank you for a great time! I love my journal!
Jan Larson assembled 150 journals and sharpened pencils, one for each child. They carried their journals all day, making notes at each station.
The field trip was even the topic of discussion at a Lakewood hair salon. Jan was telling her stylist about the field trip, and a young woman in the next seat joined the conversation. “Are you talking about the field trip to the Raincatcher’s Garden?” At Jan’s nod, the mom said she was a chaperone on the field trip and remarked that it was “amazing.”
With some tears, the Lakewood visitors returned to their classrooms, long-used “temporary” buildings outside an old East Dallas school in need of major repairs. The forty master gardener volunteers, including DCMG board members, might have kept these thoughts from Rachel Carson in mind:
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”