Wild Friends in My Backyard this Autumn

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A few years back, we purchased an motion sensor camera to put in the woodlands behind our house – strictly for fun.  It is amazing to see what we capture from time to time. Turkeys, raccoons, our cats, and more.  Two recent visitors have been this fox below, and a buck.

I know fox live out in the woods beyond our backyard, and I recognize their barking sounds.  They sound like a dog with a scratchy voice.  I’m sure my chickens are not liking their visits – I can imagine the foxes scan the coop’s pen from time to time when we don’t know it.  One year, a momma and her baby fox hung out in our yard quite a bit.  I was sitting on my porch, quietly sipping coffee, and the momma fox came right up suddenly, not knowing I was there – and she had the nerve to yelp at me a little because she was startled when she saw me.  I yelped back, cause I was startled too, and quickly ran back into the house.

Fox, Broad Brook, CT

Fox, Broad Brook, CT

And this buck in the photo below, also captured by the camera this week, slowly walked up to the camera to investigate it – they are smarter than we think.

This shot is particularly cute with his inquisitive eyes. He is seeing the blinking red light which flickers when a photo is taken.  We got many snaps of him on the camera, but I picked this one to share this morning.

Deer use our backyard as a passage way – the Scantic River runs beyond our property and with the wetlands and many trees, they enjoy the woodland areas.

One year, I had a little deer in the back and I snuck up with a camera to take a photo, using the pool as a shield as I approached her.  I got rather close to the deer – and she didn’t run away.  My father later told me to never do that again, deer can attack.

Deer Spotted in Autumn, Broad Brook, CT

Deer Spotted in Autumn, Broad Brook, CT

People will complain about deer munching on their garden plants – but I guess because there is plenty for them to forage on in the woodlands, they don’t seem to bother my landscape plants much, and I would be annoyed if they attempted to munch on my plants in my container gardens scattered around the yard.  Sometimes, in the winter, they may try to bite a bit on some holly bushes in the front landscape area of my house, but it doesn’t happen often.  Thankfully.

There are many critters around here in my backyard – raccoon, fox, and deer are common visitors.  This spring, a family of raccoon took up residence in the garage attic – How did they get in?  Through the pet door for our cats!  It was not fun eradicating the momma and her 3 babies – and the pet door got shut off for a while until we resolved their regular visits.

I really don’t mind the wild visitors in my yard – they can bring a sense of calm when you quietly witness them walking around and enjoying their surroundings – so long as they leave my six hens alone – they are welcome!  It is all part of enjoying nature, and as this autumn approaches and we witness the change of the leaves, feel the cooler breezes, and the quieter evenings no longer filled with the sounds of crickets and frogs, I guess we will welcome them along with the change of seasons.

Cathy Testa





Plants Never Give Up – Why Should We?


After a crazy busy schedule, I thought I have one last big item to get through on my work list for the end of this summer season, and then I can take a deep breath and may be a little break before the fall and winter activities kick in, such as the Oct 4th Hypertufa Making Class and the Dec 6th Evergreen Kissing Balls & Holiday Creations class.

But oh no…, a hacker entered my midst, and then a laptop problem occurred – all leading to a big delay – It made me put on the breaks, and literally – take a BREAK.

But the good news is, I found a great tech, got things rolling again – and, as of today, it is back to business and back to blogging.

The interruption to my schedule certainly caused some nuisance problems and a rescheduling of an important class to November, for the Advance Master Gardener program, but the MG coordinator understood.  You see, she’s been there with computer issues too recently, not just on her home computer but on her work computer at the same time.

And, I think in general, gardeners or people dealing with plants as a career, well, they seem to know how to handle interruptions or mishaps when things happen with plants – maybe it gives us some patience skill building – like when we have a failure of a plant due to an insect attack, a virus or unexpected damaging weather – Our reaction can be similar – as in, first you go running, screaming, and venting – then you take a deep breath and work through it using the tools and experience you possess.

I will say this – I am super glad plants don’t rely on technology like computers do. OMG, I really don’t know how the techie heads keep up with all they need to know to manage all the problems one can encounter on the web, etc.


Fly on Milk Thistle Bloom

Fly on Milk Thistle Bloom

Milk Thistle Brings On Unusual Surprises

I thought about how I didn’t expect to collect seeds from one plant I put into a container garden this summer, but about a week ago, a Milk Thistle plant started to burst open its gone by flower heads and release fluffy white appendages attached to their blackened seeds within.  I carefully cut off the top of the flower head, and pulled the seeds from the center to store them for the winter to use next spring.

This Milk Thistle, called Silybum marianum, is new to me – and the only reason I grabbed one plant one day was I liked the speckled striking pattern of creamy white on its bright green leaves.  Knowing nothing about it (other than it resembling Canada Thistle, which is considered invasive in CT), I got it as a spontaneous purchase.

Creamy White Marbled Foliage on Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum

Creamy White Marbled Foliage on Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum

How it Grew and Changed Over the Season

As the plant grew, I discovered it has nasty thorns on its leaves, and if you happen to be near it or working around it – it can poke you easily.

It grew fast and wide, and took up a lot of space in the pot.  But the label said it would get 4 feet tall – and no way was it that tall when it first was growing in the pot.

Finally one day, around mid-summer, a stalk with a flower bud appeared to form and started to pop up from the base of the wide foliage, and within days, the stalk shot up fast to at least 2-3 feet tall.

Plant Rises Tall as soon as Flowers Grow

Plant Rises Tall as soon as Flowers Grow

It was like one minute, it was short and wide, and then two days later, this very tall flower rose above it – amazing fast growth in height. That was surprise #2 about this plant. So, it does reach four feet tall after all.

I was happy to see the beautiful purple-violet flowers open up and found them to be very pretty – when I posted a couple photos of it on Instagram, I got comments right away.

Blooms of Silybum marianum

Blooms of Silybum marianum

One person asked if it was Silybum marianum, and said they wanted that plant for medicinal purposes.  Even a nurseryman asked if I had “seeds to share.”

Flower Head Cracking Open

Flower Head Cracking Open

My plan was not to actually harvest the seeds, but I began to do so this month once I saw them pop open, and realized it could be a popular plant for some folks.

Seeds escaping to survive

Seeds escaping to survive

It is stated on the plant tag, “Legend has it that the variegation arose from the milk of the Virgin, which fell on this plant, hence the botanical name.  The flower heads are often eaten as artichokes and the seed is used to medicinally cleanse the liver.

Collecting Seeds of Milk Thistle

Collecting Seeds of Milk Thistle

Plants never give up – they continue to set flowers to set seed, despite weather changes, attacks by insects or viruses, and it was just a thought which popped into my head this morning – as I dealt with technical problems with my laptop the past week and got “back to business” today with a functioning computer fixed finally.  A plant never gives up – despite its challenges, then neither should I. Cause believe me, the delays were testing my perseverance at the end of the season, when I wanted to breath a sigh of relief.

Cacti Pots Like These Will be Moved Inside Soon

Cacti Pots Like These Will be Moved Inside Soon

Time to Start Moving in the Cacti

Now that fall is coming upon us, it is time to consider getting some seasonal color in the landscape with mums and other fall blooming plants, and maybe adding some fun autumn decor in the mix.  But, I really don’t want to let go of the plants on my deck yet!

However, the nights are getting quite cool so it is time to considering moving in the cacti or succulents, as the tender fleshy growth may rot at the base if the soil in your container stays damp in this cool weather.

My recommendation is to reduce watering greatly for your plants outdoors in container gardens, and move any pots with succulents or cacti, which you may have purchased at the May Container Garden Party Class, to a sunny location on your deck or patio this week if they are not already in full sun.  Let the sun warm and dry out the soil somewhat before you transition any of these types of plants into your home as houseplants, which should be done soon, in the next week or so.

Once indoors, reduce the watering of your cacti plants over the winter months, and be sure you put them near a sunny window, not in a very shady spot in your home, if possible.  For more information, attendees should refer to the handout from the May Big Container Garden Class about the “Must Not Do’s with Succulents and Cacti.”

Tree Like

Angel Trumpet from Prior Years – Move inside before frost if you want to keep as a houseplant

Time to Reduce the Watering of Others

You should also reduce the watering of your Canna, Elephant Ears, or Banana plants in your container gardens.  If you were watering them daily, reduce it to every 4 days or so.  The cool nights will slow down the plant growth as we transition into the fall season, and if you allow the soil to dry out somewhat, it will be easier to either move your pots into your home if you plan to do so, or remove the rhizomes and tubers below the soil after the first frost hits them in October.  The canna, elephant ears, and banana plants are still booming beautifully right now, and I plan to enjoy them up to the time I have to disassemble my pots.  BUT, if you want to take those plants inside, you want to do so before our first frost in October.  Once hit by frost, they blacken and turn to mush.

Watch the weather for the frost warnings in the coming weeks closer to October. And in regards to the Angel Trumpets, which someone asked about recently, if you wish to move them inside the home, do so before any frost too.  Or you can cut this plant back hard and move the pot to the basement.

More details on this will be posted soon – check back in often!

Cathy Testa

Plant Details:

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
Annual Herb, Sun Exposure
Height: 4 feet, Space in the Garden: 24″
Uses:  Ornamental (my reason for getting it), Medicinal (learned from friends), and Culinary
Gilbertie’s Herbs was the grower I got it from this year.
Use a big pot if you plan to grow one in a container (22″ in diameter recommended as min.)


Hot Day, Sweating, Tired – But Still Smiling

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Cathy Testa on a Hot Summer Day; Photo by DebutCinematic

Cathy Testa on a Hot Summer Day; Photo by DebutCinematic

This photo of me was taken on one of the hottest summer mornings this year.

Karen of Debut Cinematic Life Style Photography arrived very early, but even so, it was already hot and humid as the sun was rising that day.

We had no choice but to pick this day because my schedule was packed and Karen’s was too – plus, she was about to move to another state the very next day!

When I showed the photos to Steve, my husband, he asked, “Why do you look so tired in this photo?”

I guess this is true, and I had to laugh when he made that comment.  And although I do look a little tired, I still love this photo – the reason for looking tired was the combination of the heat and the fact my schedule keeps moving in the hort world.  It’s all good, but sometimes keeping up leads to some wear and tear on the face and body.

My planting season was filled with activity – from holding garden talks in early May through the end of this season, and continuing into February of 2015.

It was also the year when the first “Big Container Garden Party Class” was held at Cathy T’s location in Broad Brook, CT.

And, I also invited special guest speakers to hold classes, such as Rhonda Niles of Gardening Inspirations, and Jim for the upcoming class by Jim of Ancient Gardens Hypertufa on October 4th.  Reminders for this class have been emailed to attendees – don’t forget you need to get a small plastic pot for this class, but there’s still plenty of time for that.

In addition, we kicked off the first year of the Garden Walk and Talk Events at hosts’ homes – Thank you again, Louise for your Urban Veggie Garden tour, and Rhonda for your Pondering Ponds, and Lisa for the Sunny Hill Side Garden.  More tours are already on the schedule for 2015.

Finally, the big cap off of the summer was the designing and installing of container gardens for a very special outdoor wedding event.  A total of fifteen pots were assembled, delivered, positioned, and featured for the day. Phew – I get tired just thinking about how much running around I did – but I smiled throughout it all – yes, every minute – because it is my passion.

In the background of the above photo, you see some of the container gardens created and maintained for the wedding event.  The plants were in the beginning stages of growth and had a way to go when this photo was taken.  To see more of the container gardens created, check back in here again on this blog.

A Hypertufa Round Pot with Hens and Chicks

A Hypertufa Round Pot with Hens and Chicks

In the meantime, next on the agenda is the Hypertufa Making Class on Saturday, October 4th from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.  The class is already full but we have a waiting list, if interested.  Jim of Ancient Hypertufa Gardens is an expert at making these earthy pots.  I’m thrilled he will be our next guest speaker as part of the Container Crazy Cathy T Class Series.

Blue was the Theme this Season

Blue was the Theme this Season

I’m not exactly sure how this happens – but every year, a theme seems to naturally evolve – and this year, it was all about blues.  Here you see another photo Karen of Debut Cinematic took for me.  The blue cloth is from Rockland, Maine – a wrap I purchased and adore.  I added it to the table to dress up the scene before her photo shoot.

The blue hand-blown wine glasses are from a place in Vermont.  They are so beautiful, I treated myself to a pair – and added them to the table too.

Also displayed is the miniature garden, which I created during Gardening Inspirations’ class on Miniature Dreamscapes by Rhonda Niles, held here in the early summer. And lastly, I recycled a baby chicken feeder to hold some Hens and Chickens plants.  Why? Just because it was fun.

The color blue also appeared on my list by way of the wedding client.  The bride specifically requested cobalt blue in her container gardens, preferably in the flowers, along with whites and lime greens.  How was this achieved, well – more will be posted on that later.

Time to hit the road to my new TRX exercise class – which was also a new item on my 2014 agenda – and this core building class has helped me get stronger, making the constant lifting and bending to work on containers and pots for my projects a bit easier.

Oh also – coming up, an Advance Master Gardening class.  To see more, check out the Cathy T Classes menu above, click to locate drop-down menus with all the details.

Cathy Testa

Container Gardens for Special Events – It Just Makes Sense


After a very busy season, which is not over yet, I finally reached a moment where I thought I could have a little pause in my day – but then, some unexpected unfriendly hackers showed up in one of my accounts — and you know, it is a reminder you need to change your passwords as often as you change your underwear.

However, after resolutions to the interruptions of my morning – I wanted to share just one quick photo of beautiful (if I must say so myself) container gardens created and delivered this past weekend to an outdoor celebration of marriage.

Creating the containers for this special client was a really amazing adventure and honor for me, and sharing more photos on this blog is on my agenda as soon as possible.

As for now, here is a quick photo of some of them.  If you have a need for dressing up an outdoor event, don’t hesitate to contact me at containercathy@gmail.com or via a phone call or text at 860-977-9473.  Container gardens last longer and make an impact in an outdoor setting as an important decor element.  ContainerCrazyCT has rental and option to buy choices, so just ask if you wish to learn more.  

Wedding Container Gardens 2014

Wedding Container Gardens 2014 – Delivered for a client with colors and art as requested!  


Also at this time, I would like to remind attendees of the “Hypertufa Making Class” scheduled on October 4th, 2014, Saturday @ 11 am, to please send in your payment to confirm your seat.  More information will be posted as we get closer. If you have questions, please email Cathy Testa at the email noted above.

Thank you – 

Cathy Testa


Butterflies and Hummingbird Moth at Sunny Hill Side Garden Tour


On the 16th of August, my sister, Lisa Brown, offered her home up as one of the gardens to see as part of Cathy T’s Walk and Talk garden tours – and what has been my biggest surprise about organizing these talks, is that I learned so much from my own sister about her garden experiences, which you think would come up in general conversation because, after all – we are sisters!

But life gets in the way sometimes, you may go to your sibling’s house and are there for some event usually, a holiday, a family gathering, whatever, and you may look at the garden while visiting – but to really “talk it” in detail can be missed because we are socializing otherwise.

During her walk and talk day, we all learned so much about her sunny hill side garden – one nice aspect is – many of her plants are gifts from friends.  One plant she pointed out was from a dear departed friend, and she says every time she walks by the plant – she is reminded of their friendship.

She also has tons of butterflies, birds, and a hawk moth was flying about visiting her butterfly bush.  I took several photos to share from this tour, which will be posted soon, but here is one shot of the hawk moth (also referred to as a hummingbird moth by folks, or sphinx moth), and ironically, I just had two friends tell me they saw one at their house for the first time recently.

One friend told me she gets a hawk moth every year at her house, and it will land on her hand!!  I never heard of this before – so cool.  She told me the moth is very friendly  — go figure, right? I will try that next time – put out my hand.  The moth did not seem to be bothered by me as I snapped photos at Lisa’s garden, and perhaps it is not camera shy.

Sphinx Moth on Butterfly Bush Blooms

Sphinx Moth on Butterfly Bush Blooms

For this morning, this is a quick post today to say THANK YOU so much to our host, Lisa of East Granby, CT — and to the attendees for participating at the last Walk and Talk tour for “this season.”  We enjoyed sharing our experiences with gardening, looking at the amazing view of the mountains from Lisa’s garden too, and capping off the tour season.

We have a 2015 schedule already started by volunteers to see more gardens at homeowner’s properties, which is exciting. The goal is to offer a tour once a month in season from spring til August.  Check in often to note the dates on your 2015 calendars or see the link above for the page on Walk and Talk Events.

For now, I have to run and get busy on a presentation, but I will be back shortly with more photos of the Sunny Hill Side Garden Tour.  There is much more to share with you as a review of our walk and even a very helpful handy list created by Lisa on the “do’s and don’t for a sunny hill side garden” based on her experience growing her garden full of flowering plants enjoyed by insects over several years – all done without the use of any insecticides or pesticides.  The list will be posted here soon.

Enjoy the superb warm and sunny weather predicted this week – it will be beautiful out!!

Cathy T

P.S. To the attendees of the October Hypertufa Class, just a reminder your check is due by September 6th to confirm your registration.  For questions, email containercathy@gmail.com or text 860-977-9473.

Sunny Hill Side Gardening – Our Next Walk n Talk Hour – This Saturday!

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Hi Everyone,

Our next Walk and Talk Garden Event is scheduled for this Saturday, August 16th, at 10:00 am to 11:00 am in East Granby, Connecticut.  It will showcase a sunny hill side garden area facing an amazing view of the mountains beyond, and includes a discussion on what has thrived on a difficult hill facing the afternoon sun and wind during both the summer and winter months.

Walk and Talk Gardens_0000

There are many plants which this homeowner has grown in these harsh conditions, and her style is very informal and meadow like.  She also has an amazing curly willow on her property you must see.  She collects the branches in the winter for decorations.

Hillside ContainerCrazyCT_0001

Other interesting activities she deals with are bears!  They roam through her gardens from time to time, and her dog was a watcher of these, but sadly her beloved pet passed two years ago.

A View Tax

The most amazing thing of all is the view from her gardens and home – it is breathtaking, in fact, she has to pay a “view tax” which she debated with the town in the past.  Seems unfair to be taxed on a view – doesn’t it? LOL.

Let’s learn about how she deals with all this during our Walk and Talk on Saturday, August 16th at 10 am.

Walk and Talk ContainerCrazyCT_0004

After the Tour – Visit Some Local Nurseries

After our one hour Walk and Talk, there are two nurseries close by you may opt to visit.  One is Bosco’s Garden Center in Simsbury, located only a couple miles from our Walk and Talk address.  Bosco’s is open from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturdays. It is a small nursery with a little area to the side of its main building and a back area but it has great plants.  Their adjoining shop has some adorable garden decor and other various plant products.

If you still want to adventure on after Bosco’s, another choice is O’Brien Nursery in Granby, CT which is located about 3-4 miles from Bosco’s.  This nursery features “Open Garden Days” and lucky for us – this weekend is one of them.  They are offering a ‘Hosta Dividing Demo’ at noon, so if you time this right – you can go see the demo after our Walk and Talk, or just visit their nursery packed with various hosta plants, and other interesting plants.

Walk and Talk Home Gardens_0004


To receive directions to the Walk and Talk location, respond in the “comments” section on this blog post (see RED Box on top right), or email containercathy@gmail.com, or sign up via the Facebook posted event.  Feel free to text if you prefer to 860-977-9473.  Only signed-up attendees receive the home address of the event.  Oh, another way to sign up is to complete the Contact Form below.

The directions to both nearby nurseries will be handed out at our Walk and Talk and we will give you some recommendations of local restaurants as well.  Documentation on heat tolerant and drought tolerant plants will be furnished to attendees.

All Walk and Talks are free to attend.  See ground rules here.

ePub on Designing Hills

To see an article written back in 2010 on Designing Hills, check out Cathy T’s website here.  But, let me just say, the hostess of our Walk and Talk Event doesn’t always follow “design” rules, but follows her gut and individual style.  She has several plants to talk about which have tolerated her tough conditions and she will let us know what she has done to help with the dry and windy situations.

Gardens at this time of year may be stressed from summer heat – but her situation is even more intense due to the hill side and how it faces the landscape – so if you have similar challenges and wish to compare notes – this is a Walk and Talk you don’t want to miss – and it is last one scheduled for the 2014 season.

2015 Walk and Talk Dates

We have several 2015 Walk and Talk Events already scheduled. To receive notifications of them, be sure to “follow” this blog. Also, don’t be shy – if you would like to share your gardening experience in a very informal yet informative way – be sure to let us know – we love meeting new gardeners and walk away every time with something new to try as we learn practiced techniques from homeowners.

Lucky for us – the weather is again predicted to be very nice on Saturday – so don’t miss out – you never know what kind of “goodies” you will walk away with at this event!

Thank you – Cathy Testa

Visit Cathy T’s Pinboards on Pinterest

To see many examples of Hill Side Gardens, visit http://www.pinterest.com/cathytesta/slopes-n-hill-n-terraces.  Click the Pinterest icon on the right side bar of this blog to get there quick.

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Pondering Ponds ‘Walk and Talk’ Reveals Many Unexpected Surprises


Hi Everyone,

First, thank you to our hostess and guests!

First, a great BIG thank you to our host, Rhonda Rafferty, for sharing her personal experience of starting her pond garden with one level, and then growing it by adding two more levels, as explained during our most recent “Walk and Talk” garden event, held last weekend.

Rhonda’s pond gardens are situated in her backyard, and they are visible from her deck patio area adjacent to her house.  At the base of her pond gardens is a beautiful sitting area flanked with a pergola.

Cathy T and Rhonda's reaction to a funny intro story!

Cathy T and Rhonda’s reaction to a funny intro story!

The sounds of the water trickling from decor spitting fishes and fountains in the ponds are enough to draw you from inside her home to the great outdoors in her backyard.

We had 15 attendees which made this tour a great success. Many of the attendees were from local areas, some folks from a new South Windsor church gardening group, and several attendees from Cathy T’s Classes.

Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0012

Started with a kit, and built two more sections

Rhonda explained how she started her adventure with pond gardening by using a pond kit to build level one, or the very first tier of the current 3-tiered pond garden area in her yard. As soon as it was ready, her husband bought ten goldfish and put them in it, and of the ten, seven goldfish survived. All of the other goldfish in her ponds today, hundreds of them, are the offspring of the initial seven goldfish.

When Rhonda had shared pictures prior to the tour of her pond gardens, I had assumed the fish were Koi fish. They are rather large and very active in all three levels of her pond gardens, rising to the surface quickly and swimming around rapidly as you approach the water’s edge.

Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0007

Rhonda explained the first level of the pond garden is rather shallow but the middle level is approximately 5 feet deep and 20 feet long.  Each pond section is structured a little differently, and they are not connected but adjacent to each other in a three-tiered pattern.

Attendees Listening to Talk by Rhonda

Attendees Listening to Talk by Rhonda

Spring and Winter Cleanup Routines

For maintenance, Rhonda drains the ponds completely in the spring.

The goldfish (which stay dormant in the winter months in the bottom of the ponds) are relocated to a 100 gallon horse troth until she’s done performing spring clean-up activities.

Easter is when Rhonda usually opens the ponds if the weather is warm enough.  She can tell when the lilies start growing that it is time to get moving and working on her ponds.

Water lettuce, Lilies, and Lysimachia near goldfish

Water lettuce, Lilies, and Lysimachia near goldfish

All the muck, which built up and decayed in the bottom of the ponds over the winter, is removed with a special muck vacuum she purchased because her ponds are so large.

Also, Rhonda noted using ‘Microbe-Lift‘ in the water filter to add good bacteria to the water.  This will keep her pond healthy throughout the season.

Pondering Ponds ContainerCrazyCT_0001

At one time, Rhonda used a power washer to clean the liner, but she no longer uses a power washer because she wants to keep the algae growing on the liner, and the power washer was removing it – so she uses a garden hose instead.

The algae helps the natural ecosystem get established after a complete water change, and provides food for the fish because you can’t feed them until the temperature of the water reaches a consistent 55 degrees.

There is a special ‘Spring & Fall’ food for cooler temps of approximately 55 – 75 degrees.

However, once the temperatures reach 75 degrees, Rhonda changes to feeding the fish a summer staple food.  Rhonda also noted she uses special UV filters to control bacteria so that the water stays clear during really hot temperatures in season.

During the fall season, the food is changed again when it gets cooler outside, and she stops feeding at 55 degrees.  She also turns off the filters when she stops feeding for the fall and winter months.

Standing at Level One, Rhonda talks about products used to keep water healthy

Standing at Level One, Rhonda talks about products used to keep water healthy; Photo by C. Testa

In the winter, she leaves all the water in the ponds, but will remove the filters and clean them for storage.  She basically washes them down with water because she avoids getting any chemicals in the filters.  She also cuts back all the hardy water lilies and plants, and sinks them to the bottom of the pond in her deepest tier.  A small low watt pond deicer, which floats on top of the water for the winter, is used.  This will create a small patch of open water in the ice to allow gases to escape in the winter.

Water Plants, Floating Plants, Perennials and Tropicals

Rhonda has a mix of plants in and around her pond gardens, and she noted, many have appeared on their own. Some self-sowed or got there perhaps by bird droppings of digested seeds, and even a few ferns arrived to her garden naturally. It is as if the plants know this is the right spot for them.

Elephant Ear (Colocasia)

Elephant Ear (Colocasia)

In the water of her pond gardens, she has water lettuce, elephant ears (one showing off a bloom on it during our tour) – Colocasia esculenta ‘Illustrious’, canna plants, hardy water lilies, papyrus (herbaceous perennial), and mosaic plants (Ludwigia sedioides, an aquatic perennial grown as an annual).

Some of the plants she overwinters by placing them in a fish tank in her home, and others are stored by division of rhizomes or corms, such as done with the canna and elephant ears, or by saving off-sets.  And some are allowed to sink to the bottom to decay or regrow the following season if hardy (as she noted above in maintenance comments.)

Rhonda mentioned Garden’s Dream in Enfield, CT as one place she purchases plants from because they started carrying water type and aquatic plants.

Other plants and bees

There is no doubt the bees are enjoying the plants, for not only could we hear water trickling, see fish moving, there were also many bees visiting the blooms of her coneflowers and other plants surrounding her pond gardens.

Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0002

Perennials, such as Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), and various ornamental grasses are planted in the ground near the ponds, and one plant many attendees noticed planted in a pot sitting on a rock in the center of the pond was Amaranthus tricolor, an edible annual with bright red and yellow foliage, which grows rather tall and is showy.

Plant with red and yellow foliage in pot seen in background -Amaranthus tricolor

Plant with red and yellow foliage in pot seen in background -Amaranthus tricolor

When everyone asked me what it was, I drew a blank on the plant name, but Rhonda said she got her first plant of this variety from me a couple years ago and loved it – fortunately, she remembered the name of it.  Rhonda said she’ll never forget seeing this annual at my home in a container garden because she uses Amaranth flour as one of her gluten-free ingredients in her recipes at home.

Papyrus tops


Other plants in the pond gardens, as noted above, were the elephant ears (can sit in water), papyrus (not technically a water plant but also can sit in boggy like water or on water’s edges in pots), and the aquatic water lettuce, hardy water lily, and more.  One we all found fascinating, and is relatively new in Rhonda’s pond gardens, is the mosaic plant (Ludwigia sedioides).  It is an herbaceous perennial (winter hardy to Zone 10) which floats and rests somewhat flat on the surface of the water and has a pretty mosaic like pattern to it.

Mosiac Plants - Photo by C. Testa

Mosiac Plants – Photo by C. Testa

Root Mass Demonstrated 

Another surprise is when Rhonda reached into the water to pull up a huge mass of hardy water lily plants bound together by one root system, explaining how quickly plants grow in her water gardens.

Root Mass of Hardy Water Lilies

Root Mass of Hardy Water Lilies

She also noted another plant found by her husband in the wild, upon with, I gave a little caution to the attendees to be very careful with water plants or any plants you may find out in the wild if you do not know what it is.  There are invasive species in the wild or in natural ponds, which you should never relocate to your pond or home gardens by mistake, especially if it can run off to another water system nearby your home.  So just a note – know what you are planting, and if you decided to get rid of a rampant plant growing your gardens because it became out of control, and don’t know what it is, toss it in the garbage and not in the woods where it could potentially spread.  This is something I learned more about as a kayak-er, where you must be careful to not accidentally bring home an invasive aquatic plant after visiting a lake with your kayak or boat, as discussed in a previous blog here.

Floating Containers – Another Big Surprise of the day 

I’ve written about all types of containers to use in and around the gardens, but have never considered the type Rhonda had in her pond garden.  There was one container floating around in the pond garden, moving here and there gently in the water, and without hesitation, Rhonda lifted her floating container out of the water to show our attendees.  It is made of a black Styrofoam base with individual open sections where pots may be inserted easily.

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Garden Art is wonderfully displayed around her pond garden — this little pig in the corner, spitting fish here and there, and other surprises as you look and observe.

Pig by Pond; Photo by C. Testa

It is an adventure to spot them.  We all could imagine the days or evenings when she and her family has sat there to enjoy all the hard work put into the pond gardens at her home.

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Sources for Pond Supplies

AZPonds.com is an online source Rhonda uses to order supplies. She gets her liner, filters, pumps, and water treatments from them. Shipping is pretty fast.  Orders arrive within 5 business days.

Rhonda started her first pond garden 12 years ago, and continues to learn and expand it.

We all could appreciate the amount of effort but how her efforts also equals the relaxing moments by the pond gardens enjoying nature, goldfish, and sounds.

Pond Gardening is Not for Weenies

Water or pond gardening is not for weenies – it takes some effort to get it cleaned and prepared every season, but the payoff is grand. And if you were wondering, one of the reasons we were laughing in the above photo is because I shared a story of how Rhonda and I met during our corporate days – when we decided to take a motorcycle riding course together, and how we would ride into work side by side on our Harley Davidson motorcycles.  Rhonda still rides today, I, however, gave it up so you can see – she’s no weenie!  Makes sense to me that she manages to maintain such a diversity of plant life, fish, and more in her pond gardens.

Hostess Rhonda; Photo by C. Testa

Hostess Rhonda; Photo by C. Testa

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Also, as for pH of the water, Rhonda noted she doesn’t monitor it – she lets nature take its course.  That sounded good to us – and fits the overall rule of the ‘Walk and Talk’ Garden events – it doesn’t have to be perfect for us to enjoy hearing and seeing what any homeowner has created in their backyards.

Pesto and Passion Flowers

The last big surprise of the hour was the handing out of freshly made pesto by one of our attendees — Thank you Linda C.

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What a treat, and additionally, we all saw, on the way out for the day, Rhonda’s beautiful blooms on her passion flower (Passiflora) vine located at the front of her home. She said it returns every year via self-sowing (or perhaps she has one that is noted to be survive winters, Passiflora incarnata.)  It certainly looks like it!

Passion Flower; Photo by C. Testa

Passion Flower; Photo by C. Testa

She has seen fruit growing after the flowers pass, but wasn’t aware it is passion fruit until we discussed this fascinating flower further.

See here to also learn about this plant’s religious significance, which I looked up via my iPad and pointed out to everyone – each part of the flower has a special meaning – and is believed to represent symbols of Christ’s passion and cross.

Next Walk and Talk 

Our next ‘Walk and Talk’ event is scheduled on August 16th in East Granby, CT at 10:00 am.  This one will feature a sunny hillside garden where the homeowner will share her experiences on what thrived and what didn’t when it comes to the plants she has tried in a very informal, loose and spreading garden on a full sun hill which receives lots of heat in the midst of summer, and wind.  As per our rules, the garden is not perfect but a great place to learn directly from a home gardener with a particular passion.

For more information on planting aquatic plants, check out this post by thegardengeeks.com.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa

P.S. If interested in showcasing your home garden on our Walk and Talk tours, please feel free to contact Cathy Testa, author of this blog, and coordinator of these events.

Special note of thanks to Professional Lifestyle Photographer, Karen Ladany of Debut Cinematic, for attending to take various photos of the gardens.  She is currently located in East Windsor, CT.

Elevate to Alleviate Potential Plant Problems in Your Patio Pots

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We are experiencing wet, damp, humid, and even cool air conditions right now in Broad Brook, Connecticut due to the current weather pattern – and your plants are getting a good soaking, which can be very helpful for plants in the ground, but when it comes to plants in container gardens and patio pots, overly wet soils and wet surfaces around plants can lead to problems such as fungi, diseases, and the unsightly yellowing or rotting of leaves.

Hopefully, if you used good porous soil in your pots, and provided plenty of drain holes at the bottom of your pots, the soil is draining freely and your plants are holding up well.  But sometimes, pots sitting on a flat surface may be sitting in collected water at the base of the pot during constant rainy weather, which is keeping things wet in or around your patio pots and plants.

To avoid an overly wet situation, which may lead to plant problems, one easy thing you can do is elevate your patio pots a bit to provide a gap between the base of the pot and the surface it is sitting upon.  And the gap you provide by placing something under the pot doesn’t have to be super thick or wide, all you need is a few inches or less.

Quick Ways to Elevate your Pots

Here are some quick and easy ways you can elevate your pots to alleviate overly wet situations as we get through the dampness of our week until the sun arrives this weekend:

Kitchen Trivets

Trivet under Glazed Pot

Trivet under Glazed Pot

As you can see, the gap is slight here but it allows air under the glazed pot and prevents the wood base used as a plant stand to not stay wet all the time.  Maybe you have a trivet in your kitchen?  So long as it has spaces or gaps to provide places for the air to move, this will help the situation from staying really wet.  It will help the wooden plant stand from rotting as well.

Patio Tables

Patio Table with Opening Screen Pattern

Patio Table with Opening Screen Pattern

Maybe you have a couple side tables on your deck?  If they have a grate-like or open pattern, such as this one, it is a perfect way to elevate a pot to allow circulation under the pot, and to also showcase your container garden at a higher level.  This pot has a watermelon plant in it so the elevation helps the vines to trail down nicely as spillers in the container garden.

Pot Feet

Pot Feet

Pot Feet

Many stores offer little pot feet, which I like – they are handy and easy to store.  And if they have some cute pattern or decoration on them, it can look nice.  Place each one on the floor and then place pot on top – adjust as needed to balance the pot.  A simple and easy elevation allows the water to drain when watering on non-rainy days, instead of that water sticking around under the pot, causing the floor to stay damp. This will help your wooden deck or patio surface to not get water rings too.

Drink Coasters

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This Hypertufa planter is sitting on a glass surface.  The pot is porous, sure enough, but the glass below this square planter forms a seal of sorts and the water stays collected under the Hypertufa planter.  In wet conditions like we are having this week from the weather, I definitely prefer to have that little elevation below this planter – and coasters are perfect for this one.

Drain the Excess

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Drain excess water

Drain excess water

This situation is not too bad in this small ceramic pot, but you can see how excess water collects in the catch tray area.  The soil mass is small in this pot and the soil is staying damp right now.  In one photo, notice the yellowing of the leaves on the chives – a potential indication of overly wet soils affecting the leaves.  So just drain the excess water out.  It is not going to evaporate during our rainy week.  If you have a bigger or medium sized pot with no drain holes, and there is no way for excess water to exit, gently tip your pot on the side and allow water to drain out from the top.  A little tricky to do and totally unnecessary if you followed Cathy T’s Five Must Do’s for Container Gardening – and you know, providing drain holes is a big MUST DO, but if you Didn’t Do, do tip the pot to drain away excess water from waterlogged or very soggy soils if possible.

Flip the Unplanted Pot Over

Flip the Unplanted Pot Over

These days, I’ve been keeping very busy with work – so it is hard to believe, I know, but I have some “unplanted plants!” Yikes!  So here I have a pot that hasn’t been drilled with drain holes yet, and I had the upper pot sitting in it, but guess what, the water was collecting in the blue pot, so I flipped the blue pot over and set the plant on top for the few days it is raining a lot so the plant in the black pot isn’t sitting in water – unless it is a water plant, the roots in the soil will rot at the base from lack of oxygen.

Plant Trays or Kitchen Trays

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Find a Plant Tray

Find a Plant Tray

See all that water on the white table on the photo above of the round Hypertufa with the cute little owl?  That water is just hanging around, not draining anywhere.  So find a tray, maybe you have a plant tray with holes, or even a oven tray would work, to put under it and allow that water to move away. I set the round dish garden (Hypertufa) on top of the plastic plant tray turned upside down just so it isn’t soaking wet during humid weather.  It may seem a little much to go around doing this – but do you want healthy plants all summer?  I know I do.  So I watch these little things during weird weather.  Another option, if you have plants sensitive to damp weather conditions, such as succulents, is temporarily moving the plants under coverage such as a patio umbrella during the rainy week, then moving it back to sun to dry out nicely.

Shelves with Spacing

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Most greenhouse benches have gaps – in order for excess water to drain and move away and out of the pots, and for air movement- so if you have tables with shelves with gaps, grates, or wire patterns – they are prefect for plants, as shown above.

Typical Plant Dolly or Caddy, or Tag Sale Finds

And of course, there are the plant dollies or caddys, many with wheels available at plant related stores, or maybe you may find something like a wagon wheel from a tag sale.  I found a couple wagon wheels at a tag sale last year, and thought I’d use them for some garden related art like item – well they ended up under pots on my driveway.

Think out of the box (or wheel) for items to elevate your pots just a bit.  There is probably something useful around your home.

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Plant Dollys, Trays, and Wheels

Plant Dollys, Trays, and Wheels

Mushrooms in the Pots

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Mushrooms at the Base (ugh) see how the water is collected on the table?

Mushrooms at the Base (ugh) see how the water is collected on the table?

The mushrooms won’t hurt your plants – but I do not like seeing them in my container gardens.  An over abundance of water in certain soils (soils without enough porous material such as Perlite) may lead to this problem, or over-watering soils invites mushrooms at times when the weather conditions are favorable for mushroom spores and growth.

Lately, I am seeing some potting soils I am not happy with on the market getting more mushrooms than I’ve seen in years past so – more research is required on that by me — but I also stumbled upon a good article about mushrooms growing in soils from another blog called, “Balcony Container Gardening”. Here’s the link where the blogger describes in simple terms what the mushrooms are, and how you can deal with them:


One last comment, although some water is held by the forces of gravity and capillary action in your potting soil in pots, the process of elevating your pots alleviates water sitting at the base of your pot and helps everything in general from staying damp and wet. Water is required for some fungus to thrive, so reduce the potential is my modo.

Elevating pots is something I have practiced for years with container gardens, and I believe it truly helps the plants overall health.

When the soil is allowed to drain freely and there is air circulation all around the pot and plants, things just stay healthier.

Wooden Dolly with space between the boards

Wooden Dolly with space between the boards

Cathy Testa


Hypertufa Class Being Offered in October in Broad Brook, CT


Could this season get any better?

Cathy T has just lined up a special guest speaker to teach a Hypertufa making class in October.

See Cathy T’s Class Schedule to learn more.  Click on the drop-down menu selection titled, October (Concrete Art).

The date:  October 4th, 2014 – Saturday

The time:  11:00 am to 1 or 2 pm, depending on how much fun you are having

The teacher:  An expert hypertufa making artist by the name of Jim of Ancient Gardens Hypertufa.  He has exhibited at the Boston Flower Show, Newport Flower Show, and Celebrate West Hartford.  To see his works, visit http://www.formedforyou.com.

In this class – you will be making your own small to medium sized round or square hypertufa. More details will be posted very soon.

Not sure what a hypertufa is?  See Cathy T’s description on her Class Schedule above.

For inspiration, visit Cathy T’s Pinboard:

Sign up early – You don’t want to miss this chance, as our special guest artist rarely agrees to teaching classes, but guess what? – he did for Cathy T.  This is a special treat.

To Sign Up for the October Class:

To sign up – complete the Contact Form from the Cathy T Class Schedule above.

Or join the class via the Facebook Event.

This Weekend’s Pondering Ponds:

And don’t forget – this weekend is another opportunity – to see a homeowner’s pond garden in Enfield, CT.  We have a small group forming, a professional photographer joining us, and it is predicted to be another gorgeous weekend – the stars have aligned.

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The Pondering Pond’s Walk and Talk is this Saturday, July 19th, 2014 at 10-11 am.

For the address to join us, contact Cathy T at containercathy@gmail.com or text 860-977-9473.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa

Pondering Ponds – Next Walk and Talk – Saturday, July 19th in Enfield


Heads-up Everyone,

The next gathering for Cathy T’s informal “Walk and Talk” hour is scheduled for this Saturday, July 19th, at 10:00 am in Enfield, CT.  Our host’s home showcases a very large pond garden in the backyard and here are some sneak peaks of it.  I don’t want to show you the whole thing or give it away, but let me just add, it is huge, so if you want to see and hear about it – Sign Up now to join us on Saturday.

Sneak Peak of Pondering Ponds

Sneak Peak of Pondering Ponds

This event is informal, free to attend, with no high expectations on the hostess’s part – we don’t mind weeds or imperfection.  The general idea is an hour at homes to ‘walk and talk’ gardens, plants, containers, veggies, ponds – whatever is your passion or just general hobby. But there is one simple groundrule ->> IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT, it can even be Pathetic! We can learn tips and experiences from each other just in conversations as we walk and talk plants in your yard.

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Don’t be shy – sign up below if you want to receive the address to meet our fun group and walk this pond garden in Enfield, CT.  See the Contact Form below to express your interest to attend, or join via the Facebook Event noted next.

Share the Event

Please share this EVENT with your friends. If interested in attending, join the Facebook Event on Cathy T’s Landscape Designs page or fill out the contact form below. No fee to attend, no pressure, no saying my garden is not good enough if you are interested in having an hour at your home too.

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Containers for Smaller Pond Gardens

In my opinion, pond gardens are a form of container gardening, but on a much larger scale.  Sometimes I create smaller pond gardens in containers – as shown below, however, this one was getting mucky and too many mosquito larvae.  And I realized later, the floating plants were for sun – they were doing horrible because this small water garden is in a shade area. Anyhow, I think our host of “Pondering Ponds” on Saturday morning will have some advice for me on that when we see her on Saturday.

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To attend, please complete the Contact Form below.  The address will be sent to you.  Anyone can sign up and join us.

Ground Rules

For a reminder of the ground rules in attending, see this post on this blog. Whether you are new to pond gardening or have one of your own, join us – we love to meet new faces and exchange information during Cathy T’s Walk and Talk Garden Tours.

Note:  Event is held rain or shine, unless there is a major storm, plan to attend with an umbrella if lightly raining.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa