RSS Feed

Tag Archives: vegetable gardening

Enchanted

It was the sweet, anise like fragrance of Mexican Mint Marigold that drew me into the garden on the morning of October 18th. Brushing up against the plants, I yielded to the temptation and immediately tasted one of the delicate yellow blossoms surrounded by slender green leaves. My garden journey was just beginning.

Landscapes bursting with brilliant color, leaves gently tumbling down from trees and pumpkins spilling out from the porch and into the yard welcome fall in all its glory. I find myself truly enchanted, wanting the experience to linger beyond this moment in time.

Spending one blissful day after another outdoors renews my spirit and encourages me to immerse myself fully in the shimmering days of October and November. I’m immediately drawn to the garden where beauty abounds throughout. Join me on a creative journey of discovery among the flowers and foliage of the season.

Bringing the natural world indoors reminds me, once again, that Autumn’s gifts never fail to bring happiness to my home. From soft whispers of golds and ochre to vibrant shades of burgundy and orange, fall arrangements lend themselves to a more simplistic style. Gathering your treasures is almost as joyful as placing them in a cherished vase. Let nature speak to you in a soft, sweet seasonal whisper. Savor every precious sight, smell and color of this magical season.

My first experience with frostweed was in 2008 as an intern in the Dallas County Master Gardener Association. It was a “give away” during one of our classes. For the past twelve years it has continued to grow in my garden.

Frostweed growing in the garden

Grow It, Use It – Frostweed is a lovely perennial plant native to Texas and many other states. It is a member of the Sunflower Family. Frostweed grows from 3’-6’ and is covered with white disc-like blooms from late August until November. It is an exceptional nectar source for butterflies like Monarchs and Great Purple Hairstreaks. It grows well in dappled shade.

During the month of October Red Rubin Basil delivers a vibrant splash of deep purple in the garden. Paired with purple-veined kale leaves in a mustard colored French olive pot, the only elements needed to complete the picture are two glasses of robust Pinot Noir and freshly cut Black Mission Figs. Cheers!

Grow It, Use It-Plant Red Rubin Basil in April and watch the colors intensify as the months pass. A location with morning to mid-day sun followed by dappled shade in the afternoon will reward you with that spectacular fall foliage. Bees and butterflies will visit the spiky blossoms until the first frost ends its growing season.

A simple bouquet of Mexican Mint Marigold surrounded by the bold, deep red and purplish savoy leaves of Red Giant Mustard pair perfectly in an unassuming pedestal vase.

Grow It, Use It – Mexican Mint Marigold can be planted in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. It tolerates many different soil types but must have good drainage. Plant it in a location that receives early morning to mid-day sun. The distinctive anise flavored leaves can be harvested throughout its growing season from spring through frost. The real show-stopper attraction begins around late September when bright yellow, marigold-like flowers attract migrating butterflies and other pollinators. Mexican Mint Marigold is a perennial that usually freezes to the ground in winter but reappears in spring.

Red Giant Mustard gets two bonus points; it has good cold tolerance and is more insect resistant than other varieties. Start outdoors in late September and continue growing until late spring. Plant in partial shade. Enjoy its beauty as a dramatic landscape plant but harvest the spicy mustard flavored leaves for eating.

When the glossy dark-green leaves of Japanese Aralia began to lose their color, consider using them in unexpected and unusual ways. As the browning tips gently began to curl and turn upwards, create a sense of drama by giving each uniquely faded leaf its place within the arrangement.

Aralia and Dried Hydrangeas

Aralia growing under an arbor

Grow It, Use It – Japanese aralia is grown around the world as a cultivated plant. Enjoy adding a tropical feel to your landscape by using it as an understory plant beneath trees or large shrubs. Plant it in rich, moist soil that drains well. Aralias prefer part sun to shade and will typically grow to around 8 feet. Try to avoid afternoon sun which may scorch the leaves. Flower stalks with creamy flowers followed by black berries appear in late fall or winter.

Freshly squeezed rosy grapefruit juice is your invitation to come for a perfectly planned fall brunch in the garden. Cascading branches of ‘Rose Creek’ abelia create a relaxing and peaceful environment where you are embraced by nature. Dreamy blush colored blossoms found in this simply elegant tabletop setting create a calming effect.

Abelia ‘Rose Creek’ at Raincatcher’s Garden

Grow It, Use It – Monrovia best describes this variety of abelia as having showy clusters of small, fragrant, white flowers that emerge from rosy pink sepals in summer. It is best planted in rich, well-draining soil in a location that receives full sun.

Come visit our blog again Wednesday morning to see the remaining photos plus a spectacular ‘Grand Finale’ arrangement.  We encourage you to stroll through Raincatcher’s anytime this week to experience the full seasonal beauty of our garden.

Linda Alexander

Arbequina Olive Tree in the Edible Landscape at Raincatcher’s

Olive tree surrounded by garlic chives.

It was just over one year ago that a quick trip to a local garden center had surprising results. After visiting with the owner for a few minutes, I was convinced that nothing would be statelier in front of our greenhouse than a five-foot-tall arbequina olive tree. Ruth, the owner, was already growing olive trees at her house just minutes away. She assured me that all twelve trees had been thriving in her garden for over eight years. 

An on-the-spot decision was made, and Ruth helped me select a nicely shaped olive tree that just fit into my vehicle. Back at the garden, one of our strong and capable male volunteers dug the hole and lifted our arbequina olive tree in place. Carefully staked and secured with rubber tubing, our tree was ready for late fall and winter weather in its new sunny location.

We were so pleased to watch as it continued to grow through a mild winter and into spring. But the real thrill for us happened this summer when the tiny little green olives started popping out on some of the lower branches. 

Ripening olives

Now, at the end of September, it is exciting to see the olive harvest multiplying. As we arrive at the garden each Tuesday to tend to our chores, we’ve noticed that the olives are slowly transitioning from green to rose and then a deep, dark purple. By mid-November the olives should have ripened enough to be harvested and ready for the next step. 

After searching through various internet sources, we’ve decided to experiment with two different methods for enjoying our olives. 

#1 – Curing and Brining (Water Method)

#2 – Curing and Brining (Salt Method)

If you’re interested in growing an olive tree in your garden, here are some helpful facts that we learned about the Arbequina variety:

*It is one of the most extensively planted olive cultivars in the world (USDA hardiness zones 7 through 11).

*The name comes from the village of Arbeca (Spain) where it was first introduced to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in the seventeenth century.

*Arbequina olive trees are hardier than other varieties and are resistant to drought and pests. 

*Arbequina olive trees prefer four to eight hours of full to partial sunlight. They are adaptable to different conditions of climate and soil but do best in alkaline soils. 

*Arbequina’s are often described as a small olive that packs big flavor. They have a rich and flavorful fruity, buttery taste with a texture that is meaty and firm. 

Linda Alexander

Click here to read about brining olives.

 

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

 

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

The Raincatcher’s Garden, Has a Purpose Even Now.

Tomorrow we will explore our garden through pictures. Please join us.

Try the Herb, Papalo!

Are you familiar with papalo? We first learned about papalo last summer. This year we found a seed source online, placed the order and started growing it in the edible landscape. Papalo is an ancient Mexican herb whose ancestral home is thought to be South America. Today it grows wild in Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas. And now, as you can see from the photo, right in the heart of Dallas County.

Papalo growing at Raincathcer’s Edible Garden

Papalo’s bluish green leaves have a somewhat complex, distinctive flavor reminiscent of cilantro and arugula. But unlike cilantro, it grows throughout the summer and does not bolt. It is best used fresh as it doesn’t dry well. Once cool weather arrives, the growing season is over.

Papalo seeds

When starting papalo from seeds you must be very careful not to separate the seed stem from the umbrella-like top. Master Gardener, Gail Cook, started the seeds for us in March. She carefully laid them on top of the potting mix in 4” pots. They were then covered lightly with more of the mix. Once the seedlings were about 3-4” tall, around mid-May, we transplanted them into our Ole Garden.

Plants are thriving in well-draining soil in an area that receives mid-morning to late afternoon sun. After that, they are in full shade. Just last week we noticed that the plants are producing those uniquely shaped seed heads that will be harvested for next year’s crop.

If you’re looking for a vibrant herb substitute for cilantro, check out our Ole Garden by the red shed in the edible landscape. You’ll find a large patch of papalo growing in an area immediately south of the sidewalk. Feel free to snip some for a taste!

A few ideas for using papalo include the following:

Chopped up in guacamole, leaves as a topping for a pimento cheese topping and shredded over fresh tomatoes. Enjoy!

Guacamole with Papalo

Ingredients:

1 or more (to taste) jalapeno or serrano chili peppers, finely minced (optional)

2-3 tablespoons finely diced yellow or red onion

1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh papalo

Coarse salt to taste

 3-4 avocados

½ cup finely diced fresh tomatoes

Topping: ¼ cup finely diced fresh tomatoes, 1 tablespoon finely diced onion, 1 teaspoon finely shredded papalo leaves 

Garnish: whole papalo leaves

Directions:

Crush the onions, chilis, salt, lime juice and papalo in a mortar and pestle or a molcajete until they are just paste-like. Add the avocado flesh and mash it roughly into the paste until well mixed. Stir in the tomatoes and place the guacamole in a serving dish or molcajete. 

Mix the tomatoes, onions and shredded papalo that were reserved for the topping. Pile on top of the guacamole. Garnish with whole papalo leaves and serve.

Linda Alexander

Photos by Linda and Starla Willis

 

Garden Water…Herbal Infusions and Flavors

Infused Herbal Water

No matter the season, there’s always work to be done in the garden. Seasonal challenges many times involve weather related temperature extremes serving as the determining factor. In north central Texas, we typically get socked in with sweltering temperatures mid June to early September. This week is no exception. The forecast is for temperatures over 100°. Our weather forecasters have advised caution for any type of outdoor activity. Staying hydrated is of supreme importance as we are reminded to drink lots of water. 

While doing those garden chores, how about some fresh ideas using herbal infusions to flavor your water? Easy to make and so refreshing, follow these simple steps for a cool thirst quencher:

Select the fruits, vegetables and herbs of your choosing

Give everything a gentle wash

Fill a pitcher with tap or filtered water

Add your preferred combination

Refrigerate and allow the fruit and herbs enough time to infuse the water

Fruit and herbs should be removed after 10 hours, or less, but continue to enjoy the water

Create a different flavor combination each day

At Raincatcher’s, taking a water break is a tasty and satisfying experience. We enjoy our time to “pause” and visit with each other. Sipping on herbal infused water gives us that refreshing lift needed to continue caring for our beloved gardens.

Thirst no more!  Here are the herbal infused waters from left to right in the picture above:

Cucumber, Salad Burnet and Borage Blossoms (Starla’s favorite)
Watermelon, Watermelon Flavored Mint
Orange Slices, Blueberries, Lemon Verbena (Linda’s Favorite)
Lemon and Lime Slices, Pineapple Sage
Strawberries, Balsamic Blooms Basil (Ann’s Favorite)
Apricots, French Tarragon

Other flavorful combinations to try:

Parsley and Lemon
Peaches and French tarragon
Cucumber and lemon thyme
Grapefruit and rosemary
Lavender and lemons
Oranges and sage
Strawberries, blueberries and mint

Look for seasonal inspiration in your garden and be creative with your combinations.

Linda Alexander

Photo by Starla Willis

Note: When using borage flower heads for culinary purposes, pick off by grasping the black stamen tips and gently separating the flower from its green back. Sprinkle over salads, or use to flavor water and other beverages.

Our Rain Garden

Here’s a few pictures of our rain garden doing it’s job which by the way is to catch the overflow water from our two gigantic rain cisterns and allow it to sink into the ground rather than out to the street.

The water is typically absorbed in less that 24 hours.

We have selected plants that can survive in standing water or low water situations. The result is a beautiful garden that catches water that would otherwise land in our city storm water drain. The rain garden also serves as a bird and butterfly haven.

Take a look at these beautiful flowers and then let us shower you with plant suggestions. The list will be at the bottom of the page.

Super Ellen Crinum Lily

Texas Star Hibiscus


Rain garden plant list 2020

Crinum lilies, including ‘Super Ellen’ Crinum sp.

Various Daylilies Hemerocallis hybrids

Society Garlic Tulbaghia violacea

White Rain Lily Zephyranhes candida

Pink Rain Lily Zephyranthes grandiflora

Red Spider Lily Lycoris radiata

Texas Spider Lily Hymenocallis liriosme

Louisiana Iris cultivars Iris sp.

Purple Heart Tradescantia pallida pupurae

Concord Grape Spiderwort Tradescantia pallida ‘Concord Grape’

Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea

Summer Phlox Phlox paniculata ‘John Fanick’

Summer Phlox Phlox paniculate ‘Victoria’

Brazos Penstemon Penstemon tenuis

Shenandoah Switch Grass Panicum virgatum

Texas Star Hibiscus, Red and White Hibiscus coccineus

Purple Beautyberry Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Purple Pride’

Turk’s Cap Malvaviscus drummondii

Dwarf (Swamp) Palmetto Sabal minor


Let it rain!

Ann Lamb

Photos by Starla Willis and Susan Swinson

 

A New Discovery

Last week at our local farmer’s market I was taken by surprise. Crowds arrived early creating lines at most stands. After a first pass at a few of my usual stops, something caught my eye. A local grower from Irving was offering freshly pulled carrots straight from her garden. While that may not seem unusual, it was the carrot tops that made me swoon. Lush and lovely, their feathery formation in vibrant shades of green jogged my memory.

A few weeks earlier, my husband and I had dinner at one of our favorite Dallas restaurants. Janice Provost, chef/owner of Parigi’s, is a good friend who loves to “talk garden” with me and enjoys sourcing locally grown, fresh produce. That night she was featuring an appetizer we decided to try.

Appropriately named, our ‘Garden Board Special’ with Carrot Top Pesto was stunning. A colorful combination of bread “planks” slathered with whipped feta and cream cheese then topped with perky little red and yellow cherry tomatoes tumbling across the next layer had us drooling. The finishing touch was a light sprinkling of micro greens drizzled with carrot top pesto. For me, the meal was complete, and a new pesto experience stayed in my head.

Garden Board Special

It must have been somewhat providential that those carrots spoke to me at the market, but it was also the surprising discovery of locally grown edible purslane that motivated me to recreate our appetizer experience. And, thankfully, I had stumbled upon the necessary ingredients to complete the task.

Here is my slightly adapted version of the pesto. If you find it intriguing, start thinking now about your fall carrot crop and a flavorful new way to use them from top to bottom. And, check back in early January for a preview of our ‘Grow and Graze’ lineup of 2021 classes.

 

 

Carrot Top Pesto

Ingredients:

1 cup carrot tops (lightly packed)

½ cup flat-leaf parsley or fresh spinach

¼ cup walnuts

1 garlic clove

½ cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon lemon juice 

Zest of 1 lemon

¼ teaspoon sea salt 

2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Lightly toast the walnuts over medium heat until they start to become fragrant. Stir constantly, toasting just until slightly golden brown. 

In a food processor, pulse all the ingredients, including the toasted walnuts, until everything is well-combined and forms a coarse paste. For a thinner pesto, add a few more tablespoons of olive oil, one at a time, until reaching a desired consistency. 

Serve over roasted vegetables, soups, baked chicken, or fresh tomatoes. 

*Substitute pecans or pine nuts, if desired.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Highly prized, beautiful umbel-shaped blossoms of the carrot tops

This summer, in the edible landscape, we took the advice of Dallas County Interim Extension Agent, Jeff Raska, and let our carrots grow for two seasons. By early summer we were treated to a carrot blossom extravaganza. Beautiful umbel-shaped blossoms soon became lovely spherical, lacy white flowers ready for both the bees and our garden guests to enjoy.  We’re now using those delicate Queen Anne’s Lace looking flowers as a topper for salads, soups and appetizer trays. Our garden adventure was a delightful surprise!

Linda Alexander

Carrot Top Photo by Starla Willis

%d bloggers like this: