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Garden Guests

May 23, 2021

Carolina Wren Hatchlings

The Audubon Society describes it as a “rush and rumble” sound. It was exactly what I was hearing repeatedly over the past month while working in the greenhouse. Close by, yet unnoticed, a little wren kept darting in and out of potted plants on a high shelf just outside the back of the greenhouse. 

Sometime around mid-March, when the chance of freezing temperatures had ended, our scented pelargoniums were moved from inside the greenhouse to a large 5-tiered shelving unit outside. We were getting them acclimated to the cooler temperatures before planting in the edible landscape. Nestled on the top shelf, right next to the back greenhouse wall, five medium-sized peach scented pelargoniums were thriving in their temporary environment. 

As temperatures warmed, a decision was made to get the plants into the ground and ready for their semi-permanent, seasonal home. Reaching carefully for one of the taller plants, it seemed odd to find a scattering of leaves, twigs and stems surrounding the base. As I gently lifted the plant down to eye level, that familiar chirping sound filled the air. 

Thankfully, Starla, had agreed to meet me at the garden to take pictures. With our iPhones in hand, we quietly moved in to get a closer look. Much to our surprise, at least three tiny baby wrens were snuggled down in the make-shift nest waiting for mamma to feed them. Mamma wren had done such a fine job of camouflaging her babies that it was difficult to see how many were in the nest. Respectful of the home she had made for them, Starla quickly snapped a few photos of babies anxiously awaiting, with beaks wide open, for mamma to appear.

Seconds later, Starla had captured the perfect photo and we returned the plant to its location on the shelf. Two of the five peach pelargoniums have now been planted in the edible landscape. The pelargonium holding the wren’s nest will remain undisturbed until the little birds are old enough to leave. Two other pelargoniums are flanking it, giving them a little added protection from rain and high winds. Eventually, all pelargoniums will go to their new home in the edible landscape but, for now, we’re enjoying the sweet sounds of the wren’s cheerful trilling songs.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Picture by Starla Willis, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2011

Jewels of Opar

Jewels of Opar, an edible plant
and cottage garden favorite

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

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

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

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

Growth Habits and Characteristics:

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Annual Plant Sale at The Raincatcher’s Garden

May 4, 2021

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:

Aji Dulce – Paco’s Peppers

April 29, 2021

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!  

Jackie James

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.  

The North Garden Veggies Are Back

April 27, 2021

The vegetable crops in the north garden are thriving again. All of the raised beds are going strong. We had such nice yields from our Bloomsdale and Regimen spinach that we were able to donate 12-gallon bags to a food bank. Yesterday onions were harvested and donated and we picked a bountiful crop of purple potatoes.

Team leader, Lennard Nadalo, did his homework on tasty varieties. We especially enjoyed the Flamboyant French Breakfast radishes, Runaway and Wasabi arugula. 

Hoping to delight our frequent preschool visitors, we constructed a teepee and planted Sunset runner beans to climb the poles.

This week the vegetable team was pleased to see peppers developing well on the varieties we are growing for the jam and jelly team fund raising efforts.  We have started an heirloom variety of cucumber especially for the team to try branching out into bread and butter pickles this year.

Looking ahead to fall, we are considering small varieties of brassicas that have a better chance of success in our climate. 

Volunteers have started vegetables from seed at home.  Gardeners are tending okra and roselle hibiscus in the greenhouse to be ready in time to plant in May.  The converted turf bed has been tilled and looks perfect for planting.  Other volunteers took time and care creating the central brick lined bed that will have heat loving plants such as cucumbers and okra.  The compost team provides the nutrient dense material that makes our plants thrive.  We appreciate the many donated packets of seeds.

The spirit of cooperation among all gardeners at Raincatchers has contributed a great deal to the successful revival of this area.  Thank you!

Beverly Allen, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2018

Raincatcher’s Garden Glorious Spring

April 11, 2021

Come see our garden at 11001 Midway Road. Nestle carefully in front of our bluebonnets for photos!

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis

Rising Sun Redbud Tree Continued….

On October 6, 2020, we posted an article on this blog about our new Rising Sun Redbud Tree.  We planted it with such great expectations of year round color including spring flowers and a combination of three different colors of leaves throughout the summer.  Then came February 2021!  For the past several weeks, we have been wondering whether this newly planted tree would survive the “storm of the century.”   A couple of days ago we got our answer.  At close inspection, we saw flower buds starting to form.  Within a few days, it exploded with beautiful light purple flowers closely followed by some light green leaves. 

I have been encouraged watching plants coming back to life over the past few weeks.  Many plants looked dead but now are starting to show signs of life.  I’m sure we will lose plants at Raincatcher’s garden as well as our own gardens, but so far I am feeling hopeful that these plants have a great will to continue to live!!!

Jackie James – Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 1993

Photos by Jackie and Starla Willis

Going for the Green

March 15, 2021

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


Crocus Sativus…Worth Its Weight in Gold

As autumn leaves began to fall throughout the edible landscape, we noticed little touches of purple peeking through the bee balm in our greenhouse beds. Much to our surprise, crocus bulbs that had been planted over two and a half years ago, were starting to bloom. As we gently lifted back drooping branches of bee balm more crocus plants appeared. It seemed that the crocus was whispering to us for help, “please don’t cover me up”.

Crocus crying out!

With many other garden chores on the agenda that day, we took a quick departure and started the process of carefully digging up over 15 clumps of crocus plants. Everyone agreed that a new location was essential for the health and survival of our precious plants. We choose three spots in between the raised beds under the swing set frame. Our crocuses now have their own permanent, mostly sunny, location with no competition from other plants.

Crocus replanted

If you are interested in growing crocus in your garden, here is some helpful information to get you started:

*Crocus sativus is an autumn blooming crocus which produces the highly prized and expensive spice, saffron. The spice is actually the red stigmas of the crocus flower.

*Each saffron crocus bulb will only produce one flower. Each flower will only produce three yellow styles, each of which ends with a crimson-red stigma. It takes about 50 to 60 saffron flowers to yield about 1 tablespoon of saffron spice.

*Saffron crocuses need well-draining soil and lots of sun.

*Saffron crocus multiply rapidly so in a few years’ time you should have enough for your garden.

*Saffron crocus are hardy down to -15F. Fertilization may be applied annually but isn’t required.

*Saffron crocus only blossoms during a short period in the fall. Once a flower blooms, it must be harvested that same day, as it begins to wilt almost immediately.

If you’re wondering why saffron is so expensive, consider this; since each flower contains only three delicate stigmas, it takes upwards of 50,000 flowers to yield one pound of dried saffron.

Conclusion: At Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills, we’re hopeful about a venture into the saffron market someday!

Linda Alexander

Meet Diane – A Frequent Visitor to the Raincatcher’s Garden

Our new friend, Diane

I met Diane at the Raincatcher’s Garden a couple of months ago when she was in the edible garden and courtyard taking photos.  I stopped to say hello and she raved about our garden.  She lives in the neighborhood and had noticed the garden from the street. Eventually she stopped by to check it out – and the rest is history. 

She told me she sends a selection of the photos each week to people to “brighten their day.”  Diane sent some of her photos to me and I was so impressed that I thought it would be nice to share some on Dallas Garden Buzz. 

We have made two slides shows from Diane’s photos for you to enjoy.

Diane sends weekly emails (subject line Happy Merry Monday) to about 20 friends, family members and former co-workers.  Many of the recipients live in Dallas but the photos reach people in Tennessee, Arizona and Ohio as well.

 She also shares her efforts with about 25 people from her church who are home bound. Several of these people don’t use a computer so Diane gets copies made and mails the photos to them!!!  It is a pleasure to think of all of the people who are enjoying our garden through her images.

DCMG volunteers have worked hard (within the activity limitations of the pandemic) to ensure the garden remains beautiful and well kept. Many of us have found working at the garden to be a much needed retreat from everything that is happening in the world.

 As gardeners we take great satisfaction in the knowledge that visitors to the garden and recipients of Diane’s photos are enjoying the positive benefits and beauty of nature. 


Jackie James

Dallas County Master Gardener 1993

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