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Edible Landscape Garden Tour

Tracy and Aaron

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracy and Aaron McLaughlin

 

Linda Alexander and Beverly Allen

Garden Tour Guides

Paloma Eggplant…Creamy Texture and Slightly Sweet

Paloma Eggplant

Searching through the 2020 spring seed catalogs earlier this year, we found something that caught our eye. Entering into the new year, our garden “theme” had already been announced. The edible landscape would be adorned with the color “white”. From white pansies and alyssum to white carrots and white velvet okra, seeds were ordered and the fun began.

But, still needing that extra touch of white magic, we went back to the catalogs and started flipping through the pages. Almost immediately, we found the answer. A bell-shaped, velvety white eggplant named ‘paloma’ was the perfect solution. As soon as the seeds arrived, they were placed into our seed starting mix of perlite, vermiculite and sphagnum peat moss. After a few months in the greenhouse they were transplanted into several different locations in the edible landscape.

The summer heat seemed to slow down their growth initially but nearing the middle of August, things improved. We continued to keep them evenly moist in their sunny garden beds and waited for the first fruits to appear. And finally, over the past few weeks, we have been blessed with the most adorable little white eggplants you’ve ever seen.

Harvested Paloma Eggplant

Not surprisingly, the best part was yet to come. Anxious to experience the taste profile of our little gems, we tossed around a few recipe ideas for volunteers to try.

The one we chose to share with our readers is a favorite from a ‘Grow and Graze’ event last summer. We hope you enjoy revisiting Raincatcher’s Garden Summer Ratatouille with us.  Paloma’s smaller size makes it perfect to use with other vegetables in the ratatouille.

Linda Alexander

 

Candlestick Tree

Candlestick Tree

I should have realized that gardening was going to be an important part of my adult life as I stood in front of a candlestick tree as a child at the State Fair of Texas.  I stood staring at this beautiful, tropical-looking plant with a corn dog in one hand, cotton candy in another and a lizard on a string “leash” pinned to my shirt.  (As far as the lizard is concerned, I feel compelled to quote Maya Angelou:  “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”!!!).

Years went by and I didn’t give that fabulous plant a thought until I volunteered as a docent for one of the first Master Gardener fall garden tours.  I spent several hours at Kay Passmore’s garden that day and found myself staring at the candlestick tree again.  She had many in her yard and commented that they reseed freely.

For the past couple of years, we have been planting candlestick trees in the courtyard at Raincatcher’s Garden at Midway Hills Christian Church.  At this very moment, there is a big candlestick tree in the courtyard that just starting blooming.  Every time I work in the courtyard, I find myself standing and staring at this awesome plant, but without the corn dog (vegetarian now) and cotton candy (yikes!).  And, thank goodness, the only lizards in the vicinity are the ones running freely in our garden rather than pinned to my shirt (what were we thinking?)!!!

Our lopsided well loved Candlestick Tree in the Raincatcher’s courtyard

The candlestick tree (Cassia alata) is native to Central and South America.  It is an annual in Dallas and grows easily from seed.  It is best to soak the seeds in water overnight and then plant them directly in the ground in full sun after the danger of frost has passed.  It can grow from 6 to 15 feet in a season and it blooms late summer to fall.  It is a drought tolerant plant and it attracts pollinators to the garden.  Another fun fact about this plant is that the leaves fold up at night.

Next time you’re at the garden, take the time to check out this plant.  Or make a special trip to the courtyard just to see it – it will be worth your effort!

If you have never grown this plant, I strongly suggest you try one next spring.  Hopefully, we’ll have some seeds to share by then!

Jackie James, Master Gardner class of 1993

Pictures by Starla Willis

 

Desert Willow

When you visit the Pollinator Garden at Raincatcher’s, please take a moment to walk in the garden and see how beautiful and large the desert willow has grown. Tom Wilten would be proud! He gave us this tree just last year, and it’s happily blooming away. I wonder how many trees owe their lives to Tom’s passion for propagating and teaching us how to do it, too? What a wonderful legacy.

Desert Willow given to The Raincatcher’s Garden by Tom Wilten

 

Lisa Centala

Other Dallas Garden Buzz articles with Tom’s advice:

Tomatoes and North Texas

Seed Saving: It’s a Good Thing


More information about Desert Willow trees from Texas AgriLife Extension

and Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center.

 

Pictures From A Master Gardener’s Very Own Yard

Jon Maxwell, MG class of 2015, is one of the leaders of The Raincatcher’s Garden. Below he is sharing pictures of his home landscape.

In August, do you feel like I do? Your yard is a wilting mess and you want to throw in the trowel!

Jon recognizes the  same challenges and reminded me this is a portfolio of his garden taken over many months.

Here’s a late summer tip: Jon says, ” August is a trial because our water is alkaline so I plan ahead to catch rain water in multiple 5 gallon buckets and use it to water planters and hanging baskets.”

As for his stunning summer flower pots; Jon writes “Each year, other than this one due to the virus, I try to make visual statements that draw your eye to the container. Notice the Brazilian Plume with wild pink slender petals.  My two plants are now 4 years old.  I try to carry them over each winter without a greenhouse.”

Thank you, Jon.

Ann Lamb

Other posts by Jon Maxwell:
Eagle Scout Project
Step by Step, How to build decomposed granite flooring and paths 
Protecting Fig Trees and Grapes

Growing Artichokes for Blooms or Dinner?

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

Looking top down at an artichoke blossom

Side view of artichoke blossom

Artichoke Bud

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

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

Pretty artichoke growing at Raincatcher’s in our edible landscape

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

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

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

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

Ann Lamb with input from Beverly Allen

Pictures by Starla Willis

Grape Harvest

I have always heard that grapes are the most labor intensive crop because of pruning.  And that is true.  But it is also rewarding to have producing grapes and to join the ranks of countless farmers who have enjoyed and drunk the fruits of their labor for thousands of years.  Master Gardeners at The Raincatcher’s Garden began their orchard with Champanel and Carlos grapes in 2015.

Champanel Grapes growing at The Raincatcher’s Garden

In mid-July Jon Maxwell and the Master Gardener 2020 interns picked 2 buckets of champanel grapes. Jim Dempsey (and lovely wife, Martha) took on the job of juicing the grapes and jelly-making.

See the beautiful product below.

 

Later this year we hope to sell grape jelly to raise funds for the maintenance of our garden.  Raincatcher’s exists to teach and demonstrate good horticultural practices for North Texas gardeners. We have hosted several grape classes and events and plan to begin classes again when it is safe to do so and in accordance with the city of Dallas guidelines.

Until then, here’s more reading on grapes:

Dallas Garden Buzz gives a short history of grapes, with how-to grow them and use them in making dolmas and 3 more “grape” recipes.  We heard it through the grapevine

Grape variety profile from Texas AgriLife ExtensionChampanel Grapes

Denton County MG’s promote viticultureGrowing Grapes-Viticulture in your Backyard

Dallas Morning News Article advising grapes  provide excellent shade when grown on an arbor and provide the fruit we are all after. Growing Grapes in your Backyard, is not an Indulgent Fantasy

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis

 

 

Amaranth

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth Growing at The Raincatcher’s Garden

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

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

Close Up View of the Beautiful Amaranth Seeds

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

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

Susan Thornbury
Pictures by Starla Willis

Cinnamon Basil in My Driveway

Most of the instructions for growing cinnamon basil in your garden mention things like, dig a generous amount of compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before planting. Other sources suggest that it prefers rich, loamy soil.

Cinnamon Basil thriving in Linda’s gravel drive

That leaves me somewhat perplexed. For the fifth year in a row, a patch of robust, healthy cinnamon basil plants are once again growing in our gravel driveway. And, it continues to multiply with each passing year.

If you happen to be intrigued, here a few things to know about this very aromatic and easy-to-grow herb that has much to offer.

Cinnamon Basil is from the mint family, Lamiaceaea. Its slightly serrated, dark green, shiny leaves with reddish-purple veins can resemble certain types of mint. Cinnamon basil plants contain cinnamate, a compound that gives the herb its spicy aroma and cinnamon-like flavor.

If left alone, cinnamon basil will surprise you with its true beauty. From July to late September, lavender spiked blooms are in full display creating a picture-perfect experience not to be missed. But if you feel inclined to grow full, bushier plants, snip the tips as soon as they appear any time during the growing season. Expect your plants to eventually reach about three feet.

Cinnamon basil will thrive in well-drained soil (or gravel) receiving about 6 to 8 hours of bright sunlight per day. Harvest the leaves often and use in two of our favorite recipes, Cinnamon Basil Ice Cream and Cinnamon Basil Swirl Cake. Consider using it as an attractive garnish or to flavor hot drinks or other dishes.

Cinnamon basil in an arrangement of complimentary colors by Linda

In addition to its culinary uses, cinnamon basil makes a stunning addition to floral arrangements. While beautiful as a stand-alone plant, it compliments flowers in the lavender and pink or blue color range. I especially enjoy using it with blue hydrangeas, purple calyx, tulips and roses. Cinnamon basil will please you with its gentle, fragrant scent each time you enter the room.

(Little known fact: Cinnamon basil was taken into space by the Space Shuttle Endeavor during STS-118 and grown in an experiment in low Earth orbit on the International Space Station).

Linda Alexander

The recipe for Cinnamon Basil Cake is below. If you would like to the recipe for Cinnamon Basil Ice Cream, ask for it in the comment section.

Cinnamon Basil Swirl Cake

Cinnamon basil is loved by master gardeners. It reseeds freely and has a delicate purple blossom. You’ll be captivated by its cinnamon-like aroma and taste.

Ingredients for Cake:
2 tablespoons minced cinnamon basil leaves
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon coarse salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
Ingredients for Swirl:
⅓ cup sugar
2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease a 10-inch spring form pan.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together cinnamon basil leaves, flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time until fluffy and well blended. Beat in vanilla.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and baking soda until smooth. With mixer on low speed, beat half the flour mixture into the butter mixture just until blended. Beat in sour cream mixture, then remaining flour, beating just until blended. Spread into prepared pan.
5. Make swirl. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over batter; swirl into batter with the tip of a knife, being careful not to touch the knife to base of the pan.
6. Bake cake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely (or nearly so) on a wire rack before removing pan side and slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8-12 servings

Special Offer:

Linda is digging up cinnamon basil and potting it in 4 inch pots to share. She will leave it for pick-up on the table in the edible landscape of The Raincatcher’s garden. 12 pots will be there, one per person. Come after noon today, Tuesday, July 21 to pick up one for your garden.


We have written quite a bit about basil. Type in basil in our search box and spend the afternoon reading about how to grow it, how to cook with it, and learn about all the many varieties.

A Summer Walk Through The Raincatcher’s Garden

Mimic the moth and enjoy our zinnias.

Sniff John Fanik Garden Phlox and let the scent take you away.

Host butterflies with flowers like these.

Avoid unfriendly plants.

Discover pretty plant combos like the vibrancy of white spider lily with red Turk’s cap in our rain garden.

Hope for more rain after seeing rain lilies blossom.

Applaud the work of our gardeners! Pictured below is Lisa Centala, one of the Raincatcher’s leaders and Jeff Raska, our county horticultural agent.

Watch your step. Some bunny may be at your feet. This one lives in our rain garden.

 

Thank you for wandering through The Raincatcher’s Garden this morning. Come by anytime. We are located on the grounds of Midway Hills Christian Church, 11001 Midway Road, Dallas, Texas.

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis

Rain Garden Pictures by Susan Swinson

 

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