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My Affection for ‘Kent Beauty’ is Growing

August 2, 2022

One of the showiest ornamental oreganos, Kent Beauty, a hybrid between Origanum rotundifolium and Origanum scabra, has charmed me with its attractive foliage and flowers. Mine was planted in a 12” terra cotta pot over two years ago but, come fall, I’m transplanting it to a new sunny location in my raised bed. Its intriguing beauty during the heat of summer and into fall will be refreshing.

Gathered from the garden; purple pentas, cinnamon basil, society garlic and Kent Beauty oregano.

Kent Beauty is an impressive oregano, having received the prestigious Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society. (The AGM is a mark of quality awarded, since 1922, to garden plants by the United Kingdom, Royal Horticultural Society.) A cup symbol on a plant’s label shows it has earned the AGM – the UK’s seal of approval that the plant performs reliably in the garden. It is only awarded to plants that are:

  1. Excellent for use in appropriate conditions
  2. Available
  3.  Of good constitution
  4. Essentially stable in form and color

Optimum growing conditions include full sun, dry to medium soil with excellent drainage. It performs well during extreme heat and drought but is intolerant of high humidity. Allow room for it to grow approximately 6 to 9 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide. Bees are attracted to the tiny purple, tubular blooms. An easy-to-care for plant that is disease free and has few pests.

Kent Oregano growing in a pot

Kent Beauty is an herbaceous perennial that forms a low trailing mound of silver-veined blue-green aromatic leaves. In early summer it starts producing whorls of pendulous, drooping heads of hop-like flowers in dreamy shades of shrimp pink, cream and pale green. This visual feast for the eyes continues into the cooler autumn months.

Take advantage of its versatility and use in alpine and rock formations, as a border plant, in containers, hanging baskets and for cascading over walls. Snip stems of the draping flowers for a dramatic addition to fresh floral arrangements.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Raincatcher’s Hot Weather Coping Strategies

July 28, 2022

It doesn’t take long for plants to become stressed by this summer’s intense heat and lack of rain. It’s probably safe to say the same for most gardeners. 

Here are the strategies we are using to keep the vegetables in the north garden healthy in the heat:

  • Research to find out which plant varieties are best suited for the region 
  • Water twice a day with two short cycles of 30 minutes using drip irrigation 
  • Mulch heavily
  • Use shade cloth to protect fall tomato and pepper transplants and plants showing signs of heat stress.

When we realized the fall tomatoes were getting scorched we improvised with cardboard so that we could get ourselves out of the sun that day. Later we used tee posts with binder clips to secure the shade cloth. We removed the shade cloth for about four hours in the morning and replaced it in the afternoon for just a few days before taking it off completely. 

We remove plants that no longer look healthy or have slowed down their production.  This was true of about half of the cucumbers. They can be restarted by seed outdoors in August. 

We are also trying a method called ratooning to improve our late summer and fall production of peppers and okra.  Leaving some leaf axils for photosynthesis, we are cutting low performing plants back to eight to ten inches from the ground. The articles below will provide more information about the practice.  According to the one from Clemson, ratooned plants will have the benefit of a strong root system and not take as long to produce fruit as a new transplant. 

As for our heat stressed vegetable gardeners, a mixture of iced tea and lemonade has become the drink of choice on our Monday workdays.  A slice of watermelon or a delicious watermelon salsa helps too. 

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018, encouraged by Ann Lamb

Pictures by Don Heaberlin, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2021

Watermelon & Peaches Salsa

GETTING MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK BY RATOONING SPRING VEGETABLES

OKRA! KING OF THE SUMMER GARDEN

A Nod to Nepitella

July 19, 2022

Our adventure in growing nepitella was challenging. Seeds were difficult to locate and few in number. Spring of 2021, the first flat of twelve seeds was started. Instructions were followed carefully but the seeds just seemed to slumber through the next three weeks. Finally, the tiny seedlings started popping up through the seed starting mix and we were hopeful our efforts would be rewarded.

And then they just stopped growing, bent those little heads over to the side and gave it up. We couldn’t have been more disappointed that they didn’t survive because our motivation for growing nepitella, a somewhat unfamiliar herb, was all about a recipe. Fortunately, we are close friends with a master gardener who happens to be a seed starting guru. His name is Jim and he agreed to take on the task of getting us to the finish line. 

Weeks passed with no news of germination. Sadly, we were losing hope of ever getting to try that special dish featuring nepitella. And then one day, Jim surprised us with a visit to the garden. He shared the good news that ten seeds had germinated but he wanted to keep them under his watchful eye for a few more weeks. We happily agreed and, once again, held on to hope that he would be successful. As you might have guessed, about a month later Jim arrived at the garden with a flat of strong, upright nepitella seedlings that were finally large enough for their new home in the edible landscape. Cheers of joy were heard throughout the garden. 

Nepitella (Calamintha nepeta) grows wild in the hills around Nepi, an old Etruscan town in the province of Viterbo, Italy, about an hour north of Rome. It is an aromatic herbaceous perennial that spreads horizontally by means of underground rhizomes. The small, fuzzy leaves look like marjoram and taste like lemony mint with notes of basil and oregano. Nepitella blooms in late spring producing tiny pale purple flowers which are edible and attractive to bees.  (FYI…As of this writing, July 14th, my three pots of nepitella are still blooming. Those delicate little flowers have been tossed into salads, vegetables, desserts and more!)

If a trip to Italy isn’t on your summer agenda, where old Tuscan towns filled with picturesque scenes leave you dreaming of a stroll up crumbling stone steps to the piazza, then let the heavenly scent of nepitella take you there. You’ll find it used in Italian cookery as an aromatic to flavor all sorts of dishes from beef and lamb through tomatoes and summer squash. 

Braised Artichokes with Nepitella

And finally, the recipe that inspired us to start growing nepitella was created by a well-known Italian chef and food writer, Pellegrino Artusi. His 1891 recipe for carciofi in umido con al nepitella (Braised Artichokes with Calamint) is the one that teased our taste buds. It consists quite simply of braising carefully cleaned and quartered artichokes with a bit of tomato paste, fresh garlic and a fistful of nepitella. The happy conclusion to this story is that the flavors of Italy have arrived in our garden and we are thrilled to share them with you. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008


We have eight 4″ pots of nepitella seedlings to give away next Tuesday, July 26th. Look for them on the round table in the Edible Landscape Garden. One per person, please.

IT’S POLLINATOR WEEK

June 21, 2022

It’s a good time to think about the pollinator area at the Raincatcher’s garden.

First this area is just a part of the large garden—the whole garden attracts and supports pollinators.

So why a designated pollinator area?  This area provides an opportunity to encourage visitors to think about the role the garden plays in supporting bees and butterflies. 

As visitors see the interaction of insects and plants, information becomes more relevant and hopefully of more lasting benefit.  The role the garden plays in the support of these amazing creatures comes alive when bees are seen carrying pollen or butterflies hover close to their host plant.  

Raincatchers spreads the word—every garden can and should—make a difference—when thought and care goes into it.

So what is the first thing to think about when making a garden pollinator friendly?  The old rule—First—do no harm!  Chemical pesticides cannot be used—reducing use is not an option; butterflies and bees are insects so to try to attract them and then kill them is simply not  to be considered.  Just because it says organic—doesn’t mean its ok, some organic products can be used carefully—very carefully!

Its complicated—of course it is—but a garden is plants and in the pollinator area the aim is to grow as wide a variety of plants as possible—aiming for as long a bloom time as possible but also the aim is to have a variety in size and form so bees and butterflies large and small and even tiny can find something that appeals to them.

Butterflies are the stars of any pollinator area and to support them their life cycle must be considered.  Flowers are essential for adults but to really help there must also be the host plants or plants where eggs are laid and larvae grow.  For most butterflies the plant is a specific one cannot be changed. Without the correct host plant—no eggs, no larvae, and no new butterflies.

There are many plants at Raincatcher’s but lets  look at a few that would make great choices for a new pollinator friendly garden.

  1.  For a great many years a huge lantana has been a garden feature.  Rightly so everyone seems to love it.  Its literally a magnet for butterflies large and small –maybe it’s the “landing pad” flower form?  Bees love it too so it’s a winner.
  2. Salvias—it doesn’t seem possible to have too many.  The large ‘indigo spires’ and the ‘amistad’  attract bumble bees and other large bees take time to watch them as they climb into the individual flowers—don’t worry—they will tell you with loud buzzing when you take that step closer.  
  3. Two small trees—Bee brush and Texas kidneywood attract honey bees and a variety of small and even tiny native bees—take time to watch and breath in while close the flowers smell lovely.
  4. Coneflowers—they are popular with everyone butterflies and honey bees as well as native bees visit.  Keep them deadheaded and they bloom for a long time which is so valuable.

Now think about some host plants.

  1.  Pipevine is growing under the vitex tree.  Its just really getting a good start now and must grow more.  It’s the host plant for the beautiful pipevine swallowtail.  Its growing well but there isn’t enough those larvae eat an amazing amount and its important to have lots.  This is true of all the host plants grow multiple plants .  It isn’t a good situation to have larvae run out of food before they are grown.
  2. Common fennel this is a host plant for eastern black swallowtails—we have had some larvae on this plant. Dill and parsley are great too but fennel is wonderful for standing up better in summer.
  3.   Prickly ash—this is a large tree it’s a host plant for giant swallowtails.

We have small candlestick trees growing, (Senna alata) a host plant for sulfurs.

We also have baby African milkweeds growing.

These are just a few of the plants growing.  Come and visit the garden to see them.  There will be garden workers on Tuesday mornings but you are welcome to visit any time.

But it can’t stop with a visit.  Every garden counts—and that means yours—think how you can make it more pollinator friendly.

Pollinators are depending on us—just like we are depending on them!

Susan Thornbury, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Starla Willis -Pictures, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2009

Are Tomatoes The Jerkiest/ Most Obnoxious Plant There Is?

June 12, 2022

 I have given up thinking about tomatoes in terms of their life cycle. Instead I look at it this way;  each stage is an ongoing disaster until we shut down the whole operation in July because they will no longer set fruit. 

The life of a tomato is a progression through fungal disease, wilt, blight, and infestations of mites and hornworms.  We anticipate these events and do our best to prevent them but around June you can easily find yourself, as I did, staring at hornworms the size of my index finger.  Owing to their coloring, hornworms are perfectly camouflaged until they have defoliated their habitat, i.e. our tomato plants. (We sentenced the hornworms to community service at our host organization’s preschool so the children could observe their transformation into sphinx moths.)

Don’t forget that while you are dealing with disease and pests, you must also be aware of your tomato’s changing fertilizer and watering needs.  Decrease the nitrogen when they start to bloom. Keep your tomatoes watered consistently and while doing so consult your crystal ball for the next unexpected rain that will cause them to split. 

Are tomatoes the jerkiest plant – making us work much harder than any plant should expect? Or, are they good for us in the sense that taking care of something other than ourselves is good therapy? 


The tomatoes harvested so far this year have redeemed themselves by joining the peppers in family packs donated to North Dallas Shared Ministries.

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

The Old Red Shed is Gone

After many years of service as a storage facility for both the church and garden, the old red shed was in a state of disrepair. Rotted floors, bulging sides, leaking roof and collapsing doors made it unsafe for volunteers to use. Watching as it was torn down gave us a sigh of relief. 

What happened next, with nothing left but an empty space, allowed for a time of reflection. The area bordering the north side of the shed had been transformed into a lovely sensory garden, one of our newest additions to the edible landscape. Expansion to the now vacant area would require the installation of an irrigation system but the church had suggested that they might need the space for future use. The other option was to relocate the sensory garden. Our decision was something unexpected which, ultimately, proved to be a magical solution. 

Just a few yards away and bordering the stone pathway was a garden area we had previously christened as “The Kaleidoscope Bed”. With an eclectic mix of evergreen and perennial flowers and herbs as well as colorful annuals, it seemed as if we were being invited to consider yet another transformational opportunity. In the blink of an eye followed a sweet smile of happiness, the blending of gardens began. The Kaleidoscope Bed would graciously surrender its name while allowing existing plants and ornamental features to remain in place. 

Our plan going forward is to maximize the sensory impact that the garden has on its visitors. Adhering to the 70/30 rule, our primary focus will be the addition of more edibles supported by a small percentage of non-edibles. We’ll be including textural plants such as lamb’s ear for it’s soft, fuzzy feel and an upright, aromatic rosemary for both smell and touch. 

For real summertime garden beauty, we’re going to feature Balsamic Blooms Basil once again. It’s the basil that received a Texas Superstar designation in 2017. We first fell in love with its deep purple blooms and the sweet flavor of its gorgeous foliage in the spring of 2018. When we learned that this was the first basil to have flowers and leaves growing at the same time, our vote was unanimous to move it to the top of our seasonal list. Balsamic Blooms will always have a place of honor in the edible landscape. 

Balsamic Blooms Basil and Begonias

Our newly relocated and appropriately named Sensory Garden offers triple the amount of space than before to feature a wide variety of plants that stimulate the senses. Come by for an inspirational visit and let your soul be nourished by the wonderful world of nature.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Avocado Toast…Dressed Up in Seasonal Colors

It was only a few years ago when just an ordinary piece of toast topped with gently smashed avocado became the rage. You’ll find it now on menus across the country from small cafes to upscale restaurants. Everyone seems to have created their own version by using an alphabetical listing of edibles including everything from artichokes and micro greens to tomatoes and tarragon for appeal. My approach tends to be more simplistic in style. 

An early morning harvest from my edible garden provides a seasonally fresh selection of blossoms, greens, herbs and vegetables. On Saturday mornings from April until November a visit to our local farmer’s market gives me additional options. Here are a few delicious suggestions that my husband and I have recently enjoyed but be creative with your choices because any combination that pleases your palate is a winner. 

Springtime

*Thinly Sliced French Breakfast Radishes, Onion Chives and Nasturtium Blossoms

*Broccoli Florets, Arugula and Mrs. Taylor’s Scented Pelargonium Blossoms

*Thinly Sliced Carrots Topped with Caraway Sprigs

*Swiss Chard Perpetual Spinach and Nepitella Blossoms

Summertime

*Sliced East Texas Peaches and French Tarragon

*Campari Tomatoes Sprinkled with Chopped Balsamic Blooms Basil Leaves

*Sliced East Texas Peaches, Sweet Banana Peppers and Purple Basil

*Armenian Cucumbers with Salad Burnet and Watercress

Avocado toast is something we enjoy for breakfast, brunch, lunch and as a delightful appetizer. For a light summer dinner we often serve it alongside homemade gazpacho or chilled cucumber soup. Our goal is simply to use garden fresh ingredients! The only exception is when I’ve made a visit to purchase fresh eggs from my master gardener friend who raises chickens at her ranch. A delicately fried egg sitting on top makes for a very scrumptious breakfast experience.

**Additional edibles from summer’s bounty will include anise hyssop blossoms, blueberries, shaved yellow crooked neck and zucchini squash, onions, jalapeno and shishito peppers. To complete the flavor kick be sure to consider a sprinkling of these herbs; anise, dill, fennel, lovage, mint, papalo, pipicha, lemon thyme and rosemary or any of your personal favorites. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

When Your Garden Provides the Ingredients…

Try These Three Recipes:

Asparagus, blueberries, garlic, jalapeno peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, Italian parsley, and mint are some of our Zone 8 seasonal garden crops. If you’re growing any of these springtime and summer favorites, consider giving them a starring role for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner. Each recipe calls for a list of ingredients which can be picked, snipped and harvested directly from the garden. The combined flavor profiles will elevate that fresh-from-the-garden taste experience we find so satisfying to our palates.  

Caprese Roasted Asparagus with Grape Tomatoes

Fettuccine with Cashew, Mint and Cilantro Pesto

Blueberry Zucchini Muffins

You may have noticed that the common thread in each of these recipes is olive oil. This past Christmas, family members and close friends received themed gift packages from my husband and me featuring olive oil and olive wood products. From olive wood boards, bowls and spoons to different varieties of olive oil, each one was customized for the recipient. A recipe for my favorite olive oil cake was included with each gift. 

As the spirit of giving continues, throughout 2022 our family and friends are receiving a monthly recipe featuring new and unusual ways of cooking or baking with olive oil. The three recipes listed above were for March, April and May. Summer recipes calling for olive oil will include farm fresh garden vegetables (corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.) and zesty, flavorful herbs. I’m even sharing a cobbler recipe that calls for ¼ cup of lemon olive oil!

 If you are an olive oil fan, check back for monthly recipes featuring this versatile product and its variety of uses. Writing in The Illiad, Homer revered olive oil as having the qualities of “liquid gold”. Let’s discover those possibilities together over the next seven months. 

A Bit of Trivia…It was the ancient Greeks who invented the salad dressing which was comprised of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and honey.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

The North Garden at Raincatcher’s

he North Garden continues to thrive with a crew of three to five gardeners on Mondays and help with hardscaping from the regular workday group on Tuesdays. 

We were especially grateful for the substantial progress made on Intern Day in the new Donation Garden where we will be demonstrating ridge and furrow gardening and donating the produce to area food banks. 

Making progress on the Donation Garden

This week we harvested peppers, okra and pole beans and put together 10 family packs of the vegetables for donation. There were plenty of peppers left for the jam and jelly team to make their popular jalapeño jelly. We also harvested the calyces of Roselle Hibiscus for jam.

Monday’s Harvest

Vegetables packed for donating

The pepper varieties we have growing are North Star, Gypsy, Jimmy Nardello, Tajin, Emerald Fire, Poblano, and Sweet Roaster.  North Star and Gypsy peppers are heavy producers and 0 on the Scoville Scale. North Star is known for production under a wide range of conditions. Both it and the Gypsy variety are very easy to grow. The Jimmy Nardello peppers are not quite as productive but they have an excellent sweet taste and nice crispy texture.

The Tajin and Emerald Fire are very productive jalapeño hybrids with low to moderate degrees of spiciness.  We didn’t see many Poblanos in the Spring and Summer but now that temperatures have dropped, the plants are heavily laden with mild green peppers.  The Sweet Roasters were productive and flavorful but unexpectedly hot.

We also grew Clemson Spineless and Hill Country Red okra. The Clemson Spineless is very productive but must be harvested daily to keep the pods from getting tough and stringy. The Hill Country Red is not as productive but it tastes great and the pods are very tender despite their ridged barrel shape. 

The Northeaster pole beans are surprisingly delicious. Several gardeners and visitors have tasted them in the garden and all were in agreement that they were very enjoyable even uncooked. 

Raincatchers volunteers are always welcome to sample any produce growing in the North Garden. It’s a great way to tell if you would like to grow the same variety in your home garden.

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018 

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

A couple of vases hold yellow flowers

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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

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