The Mystery of the Missing Sea Pumpkin

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This spring, I got into seed starting. I don’t sow seeds often really, I generally go for liner or starter plants, but this year it just kind of happened because I had more growing room to do so.

Comstock Ferre in Old Wethersfield, Connecticut is a great place to get various seeds. One afternoon, I decided to go browse their amazing selection. If you haven’t been there yet – they have loads of various seeds in big wooden displays – it kind of feels like a candy store as you look thru each tray or drawer.

Of course, I had to go for the unusual plants. I purchased seeds for a climbing spinach for example which sold out at the market this season because it was interesting. It is called Malabar. I also got various types of lettuce seeds and seeds for unusual plants like giant castor beans.

One particular seed packet which caught my attention were seeds of Italian sea pumpkins from Chioggia (Squash Marina di Chioggia). The seed packet is labeled by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds from Mansfield, Missiouri. The pumpkins are a blue-ish color and shaped like turbans, so I thought – cool, I want to try these.

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

My attempt of growing them in containers failed.The pots were not large enough, the soil dried out too fast, and the animals visiting my deck ate all the flowers! But before the hungry critters munched on them, I enjoyed the plant’s bright vivid yellow flowers very much, and so did the bees. One plant was situated near some blue flowering Plumbago trailing from another patio pot. The blue flowers next to the yellow pumpkin blooms were bright and pretty.

IMG_4570 IMG_4571

Flowers of pumpkins - bright yellow

Flowers of pumpkins and gourds – so vivid and bright yellow – a delight for my eyes!

By mid-summer, the pumpkin plants in my patio pots got powdery mildew on the foliage – so later, after it was getting worse, I decided to cut them all down and give up growing them in my patio pots.

Luckily, I had also given two seedlings plants to my Dad in early June from my success of growing them from seeds. He has an exceptional vegetable garden and I told him about the pumpkins and asked he grow a few in his gardening space. He said he would take only two seedlings because they take up a lot of space in the garden, which most people know – pumpkin and squash vines spread.

This month, he and my Mom took me to their garden on separate occasions to see two of the sea pumpkins which started growing and are hidden below the large leaves on one plant. It took a little while to locate them.

I think they are BEAUTIFUL. One is especially pretty with a center pattern, and the other is a lighter green color.

Sea pumpkins in my father's garden, August 2015

Sea pumpkins in my father’s garden, August 2015

This whole process made me think how I could never master a big vegetable garden like my Dad does (because I’m too lazy and prefer gardening in containers and patio pots), but how I loved growing plants from seed and sharing them with him to grow in his garden. In fact, growing plants to share, sell, or put in containers is truly my passion, well, if you know me, you know this.

Back to my father. He grows amazing vegetables every season, even as he approaches his mid-80’s. He’s an incredible inspiration and probably why I am fascinated by plants and nature. When we were kids, he didn’t explain much to me on the how to’s – he would just hand me a packet of seeds and say, “Put these in the holes in the soil.”

I remember, and I think I wrote about this before, how big his hands were and how tiny mine were, and thinking at that moment, “No wonder Dad is asking me to sow the seeds, his hands are too big to handle them.”

Bert, my Dad, in the garden getting some fresh goodies for me.

Bert, my Dad, in the garden getting some fresh goodies for me.

We never lacked fresh food in summers when we were growing up. And because I live only a few miles from my parent’s home, I have the pleasure of seeing them routinely when they quickly come by my house to drop off some tomatoes, blueberries, zucchini, cucumbers, etc from Dad’s garden. This is truly a blessing. Each and every time I bite into a fresh tomatoe from a garden, it flushes warm feelings of my Dad’s tomatoes and his love of growing them into my soul.

My Mom told me I could have the two sea pumpkins growing when they are ready – which kind of surprised me cause she likes them too. My brother, who lives next door, asked me what type of pumpkin they are as well and if they are good for eating and baking. He’s admiring them also.

The especially pretty one in the garden

The especially pretty one in the garden

This week my Mom called me to say the pumpkin (the especially pretty one) has gone missing. My reply was she must be having trouble spotting it because of all the foliage. When I saw my Dad a day later, I asked him if the pumpkin is really missing, and he replied that he couldn’t find it either.

Geesh, I thought – “Who would take that pumpkin?!” Seriously. An animal couldn’t have dragged it away, it is getting rather large now.

Another shot

Another shot – Sea Pumpkin in my Father’s Garden on August 2015

I texted Jimmy, my brother, that evening. He texted back that he would check for me. He grows some of his vegetable plants in Dad’s garden too, so he is out there daily when harvesting his peppers.

He was able to locate the sea pumpkins and said if they had gone missing, he wouldn’t know who took them. I was relieved he found them, and excited to hear from Jimmy the vines grew another ten feet. As my Dad noted to me earlier in the season, pumpkins take up a lot of space. His plants are growing healthy and strong.

I placed the packet on the leaf

I placed the packet on the leaf

This pumpkin is noted on the seed packet label as one of the most beautiful and unique of all squash and “a perfect variety for market gardeners.” And it is edible, but I think I will be keeping them for display as part of my autumn decorations. The fruit will weight about 10 lbs each when they are ready.

By the way, my father said there are plenty more flowers on the two plants, so there should be plenty more pumpkins coming – so long as they don’t go missing again.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Me in Dad's hay field

Me in Dad’s hay field – He had some help this year with baling the hay – we usually have square bales – but this year they are round, so I had to take a photo…

Watering your Container Gardens and Patio Pots on Very Hot Days

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During my Container Garden Workshops, held in May every season, I go over watering tips. It is a science and an art – and folks get a little concerned about how to water. One of the best tips is to stick your finger into the soil a few inches down or up to your knuckle, and if it is moist AND the plants look fine, you are probably okay. If the soil is dry and it’s a very hot summer day, it is time to water.

However, we are now in the month of August, and the soil in your patio pots may be a little harder/firmer, the plants may have consumed the soil mass somewhat, and this month can be one of the hottest points of the season, thus our watering routine becomes a little trickier.

To make your plants last well into autumn, it is important to remember to water appropriately when we experience “very hot days” that are well into the 90’s – such as the past two days we just experienced.

Here are 10 tips for those types of hot days at the end of the season:

Join the Early Birds – Get up early to water, if possible. As soon as it is light enough outside to see (providing you are an early riser like the birds) – water your plants before the sun fully rises. On hot days, like we just had which were up to 90 degrees outside, as soon as the sun was above the tree tops, it got hot quickly. So out I went in my PJs to water. There are so many woods around my property, the neighbors did not get frightened, thankfully. If you are able to do the watering routine early, it will keep you cool, plus watering in the morning is usually best for the plants too. It enables the plants to take up what they need before the soil moisture evaporates as the day warms up.

Skip the Heavy Watering Can – Attach a watering wand to your garden hose and drag it to your container garden locations. It is way easier than using a watering can which requires constant refilling and carrying. Also, while you are at it, if you have any extra watering cans or water bottles, place them near your pots and fill them with water at the same time for the next day’s watering to save a step or water on the fly. Another good choice is installing a rain barrel on your deck or patio to capitalize on rain water harvesting to use for watering your plants. I like to recycle the big cat litter jugs as containers to hold water when I need to water container gardens not reachable by the garden hose. They are large and easily washed out before the first use.

Fill watering cans or recycled jugs and set aside to have next day for watering on the fly

Fill watering cans or recycled jugs and set aside to have next day for watering on the fly

Relocate the Plants to Shade – I actually did this on Tuesday; I moved a couple of my big pots to a shadier location because it was that hot out. It helps with water loss from the soil and the shade will cool the leaves of the plants. Use a hand-truck if you have one to do the moving of the pot in order to avoid injury to yourself. It may be a pain to consider moving your pots, but in my case, it was worth it for one or two.

Use Your Eyes – Look for any plants which are potentially distressed, as in weeping, leaning over, or have leaves which are dropping or wilting. They may be experiencing drought or lack of moisture in the soil. Treat those plants like 911 candidates. When we have high heat like this – go water them first because when moisture in the soil has reached a point where it cannot meet a plant’s need, the plant may die. In these situations, the plants cannot easily recover from their water loss. In the trade, this is known as a ‘permanent wilting point’.

Dip in the Pool – Not the plants but YOU if possible. Okay, perhaps this a luxury because you may not have a pool or the time before heading to work, but if you have a lot of patio pots and container gardens, make sure to take a break to cool yourself off too if you start to sweat profusely out there – I know I did even early on Tuesday morning. Make sure you are hydrated first, or take a break by going inside if you get too hot after visiting all your plants.

Capitalize on Patio Umbrellas – Open a few up if you have them near your patio pots to cast some shade above them. Even the most heat and sun loving plants will appreciate this on hot days like we’ve just had. Especially if it is very sunny out too. While most sun loving plants can take it – if we have a super heat wave, the shade of the umbrellas doesn’t hurt for a day or two.

Snip Off Scorched Leaves – If you have some leaves with dry brown brittle areas, or leaf scorch on the edges, use your “clean” sharp pruners and snip them off. No sense in having a plant expend energy on a bad looking leaf with damage. Plus, around this time of year, August, many plants may look a little tattered anyways, so do some cleanup if you can at the same time as watering.

Water Your Feet – If the sun is so hot, the surface of the deck or paved area where you may have placed some of your patio pots and container gardens is too hot to handle barefoot, water your feet as you walk around – it may not help the plants but it will help you stay cool and feels good. Kind of like your own watering treat!

Direct water to soil, not on foliage of plants

Direct water to soil, not on foliage of plants

Water the Soil, not the Leaves – One of the most important tips is to direct your watering wand or watering can to the soil, not the leaves. Sometimes if the hot sun hits a leaf surface with water droplets sitting upon them, it can magnify the situation and cause brown spots on your leaves from burning/magnification. Also, water sitting on leaves on humid days can lead to fungal problems or diseases. Showering the tops of your plants will not get the moisture penetrated into the soil mass where it is most needed.

Gazing Ball Cracked, Watch Out for Hot Days and Cool Water on Glass Decor

Gazing Ball Cracked, Watch Out for Hot Days and Cool Water on Glass Decor

Watch Out for Glass Décor – A gazing ball cracked in one of my container gardens when the cool water hit the hot glass surface on a very hot day while watering recently, and it, unfortunately, cracked. This was a first for me so maybe a bit of caution there for any glass décor on an extremely hot sunny days in your patio pots and container gardens.

A cart filled with tops of summer plants after the summer season is over

A cart filled with tops of summer plants after the summer season is over

By the way, if the soil is shrinking away from the sides of your pots – you may be under watering in general; the soil is too dry, or if you are watering a pot which has held the plants for several years (as done with many house plants), maybe it is time to re-pot it with new fresh potting mix soil for potted plants.

Old Potting Soil Is Hard to Rewet

Potting mixes cannot hold moisture well after several years and are difficult to get moist (rehydrate) again over time. If you see crust on the top of your soil, this is usually a sign it is time for an updated soil environment for the plants. The soil has become like an unusable sponge that just won’t retain water anymore, it is exhausted. Take the time to repot it – you will be impressed with the results.

Yellowing Leaves on the Bottom of the Plant Can Be From Ovewatering

Conversely, if the bottom leaves of your plants are turning yellow, this can be a sign of over watering. Overwatering is not better, there needs to be a balance. And if your plants are in a shady cool location, they may require less watering routines, such as every other day instead of every day for those in hot sunny locations. And of course, the type of pot can make a difference in rate of evaporation (e.g., clay is very porous and dries out faster, black pots heat up faster in the sun, glazed pots can get hot too, etc.)

Watering Draining From the Bottom for Hanging Baskets

Many references will say to water your pots until the water drains from the bottom, but I don’t agree on this necessarily for really BIG pots (approximately 25” or over in diameter with about a 2 ft. depth or deeper.) Big pots hold a lot of soil mass, it won’t drain from the bottom immediately as you are watering, like you would see with a hanging basket.

When watering your hanging baskets, watering until it drains from the bottom is needed because they dry out fast. For really big pots, you want sufficient moisture but drowning them is not the answer.

Allow the Soil to Dry Somewhat Between Watering – Let it Breathe

Also, another important note is you should allow the soil to dry between watering routines. There needs to be a balance because the plant’s roots need both water and oxygen. If the soil is constantly wet all day long, this can lead to problems, even root rot over time. Think wet feet in sneakers, not a good situation. Good soil mix specifically for container gardens and patio pots helps to provided the balance in the root area from the start of the season, which is one of the “Cathy T’s 5 MUST DO’s for Success“.

Bottom line, there is a ‘yin and yang’ to watering plants, but you will get it sooner or later – and more of this is covered every year in my workshops because it is something of utmost importance to my attendees and the plants in their beautiful container gardens.

As the fall approaches when the days start to cool and are shorter, the watering routine is reduced and eventually subsides. You won’t need to water every day as you have been doing in the summer months. Things will calm down and soon it will be the time to take down your container gardens.

Storing Tropical Plants Demo in October

By the way, my demo day on how to take down plants for winter storage is posted under the “Nature with Art Class Programs” on this blog’s menu bar. It will be held Saturday, October 17th, at 10:30 am to 11:30 am in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT. You may sign up via the links above where you will find the “contact form” or by visiting my business Facebook page. Private sessions at your home are available also. The session is listed under the EVENTS. Just click to sign up.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
960-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

P.S. Watch out for spiders – They seem to be hanging around quite a bit lately!

Spider Hanging Around on Faucet

Spider Hanging Around on Faucet

Next Up: Free Pond Tour on August 15 – Hosted by ContainerCrazyCT

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Pond Tour 2015

 

PLEASE NOTE: THIS TOUR IS BEING CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER PREDICTION OF RAIN AND DUE TO LOW SIGN-UPS. WE HOPE TO OFFER IT ANOTHER TIME HOWEVER. THANK YOU FOR UNDERSTANDING! CATHY T

It is hard to believe July is half over – or half full depending on how you look at it – but this is also a good time to remind everyone of the free “Walk and Tour Home Garden Tour” scheduled on Saturday, August 15th at 2-3 pm. We will be visiting a homeowner’s beautiful pond gardens and hearing a bit of how she acquired new bee hives for the first time.

These featured tours are designed to be very informal, and a way to share and learn from everyday homeowners with a particular plant or gardening passion. Our host, Rhonda, will share with us how she created her pond gardens, what plants she uses, and other tips based on her personal experience. Come see her ponds, fish, plants, and enjoy an hour walk and talk at an Enfield, CT location.

If you wish to join us – Please sign up via the Contact Form located under the “Nature with Art Class Programs” menus on this blog. We will send you the address once we receive your info – or you may email: containercathy@gmail.com.

Don’t forget to click on the menu bars above showcasing ContainerCrazyCT’s services and container garden workshops offered seasonally.

Thank you – Cathy T

The End of June Approaching – Random Pics from this Month

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It is almost the end of June. I caught my first summer cold. And, I saw a post yesterday of a black bear sighting in my friend’s backyard – something not often spotted on this side of the river in East Windsor, CT. While my head is achy from the sinus pressure and a rough dry cough annoying, I’m still looking forward to working outside on my plants and preparing for the farmers market on Sunday in East Windsor, which will hopefully proceed despite the predicted rain over the weekend.

So, this morning, I thought I would share some random pics of things from around the yard from the past month. Soon, we will see the Japanese Beetles visiting, and hopefully the days will warm up just a little bit more. While it is nice to have cool nights to sleep by, I wouldn’t mind a little more heat for my plants to grow more. This past month has been a mix of seedlings, container gardening, working around the yard, preparing for markets, and enjoying the cool nights of this year’s season so far.

Petasites slow to start

Petasites slow to start

The Petasites (Butterbur) plant in this face pot is slow to get moving this year. I like putting it up on this birdbath because the roots will escape the base drainage holes, and this shade-loving plant is aggressive – so I don’t want those roots to make it into the ground. It is wonderful in pots however, which I’ve written about on this blog. At first, I wasn’t sure if it would return. The pot was stored in my basement last winter – but here it comes and I hope it grows more soon! This one is variegated.

Nice Trio

Nice Trio

This blue patio pot contains only 3 plants – a short one, medium one, and tall one – pretty simple yet very pretty. The Agastache is a cultivar called ‘Blue Boa’ and I love the intensity of the blue color; it is the tall one next to Monarda ‘Petite Delight’ which is opening up its blooms now (a hot pink color), however, the Agastache started to flop from rain – bummer, because it would looks spectacular next to that hot pink of the Monarda (Bee Balm). I cut back the Agastache blooms which will produce new smaller blooms in a couple weeks. The low plant in the front is a groundcover perennial with white flowers called, Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-summer). All 3 are perennial and take sun and dry soils. By the way, did you know Agastache blooms are edible, and cute in salads?!

Mint Root Growth

Mint Root Growth

Mint is super easy to propagate. Just leave a few cuttings in a jar of water, and soon the roots will form. Mint is becoming my favorite herb to have around this year. I feed some to my bunny, she loves it. I put snips in my drinking water – which by the way, I feel helps any upset stomach or acid reflux symptoms. It also alleviates tension headaches just by sniffing it. However, it is aggressive in the gardens, so I find best to put in big pots nearby so it may be used for all these various reasons. Oh, let’s not forget – it is a great cocktail garnish and yummy on icecream.

Mint on year two in this big container - very useful on my deck!

Mint on year two in this big container – very useful on my deck!

Lettuce in Windso Boxes

Lettuce in Window Boxes

I got started a little later than normal this year with seeds, but been doing lots of mixed lettuces in pots and window boxes. This shows Spotted Trout Lettuce. The seed was purchased at the flower show in Hartford last winter. The Seed Library has artists draw or paint various pics for their seed packets. Here you see the lettuce is coming along nicely, and it was eaten. Every bite reminds me of my Father’s gardens which he still maintains today. His daughter however prefers the container route for gardening – and lettuce is fun to do in pots! I probably will have some of these available this weekend at the market – I even prepare and grow pots of mixed lettuce for my bunny – she is starting to eat better than me! Yup, I put the pots in her rabbit cage area for her to nibble on as she sees fit.

Funny Bunny eating a mix of greens grown from seed.

Funny Bunny eating a mix of greens grown from seed.

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

This year, my big red banana plant, which I’ve owned for about three? years now, has been put into my new black pot in the backyard. Every month, I’m going to take a photo of it to show the progress of its growth. This Ethiopian native is great in containers and may be overwintered in our CT zone by storing the root base. I have found the red coloring is intense in this location which is under a group of very tall pine trees and near my hammocks – so I can literally gaze at it when I take a rest in a hammock – yup, I gaze. It takes full sun to part-sun or part shade, and I find sometimes in harsh sun, the leaf edges may burn or the color will be a little off, so I’m happy with it here as the sun rises and hits it – it is amazing even at a distance.

Espoma Seed Starter

Espoma Seed Starter

Espoma has excellent organic products and I tried out their seed starter this year. It works fine, but I have to say my multi-purpose mix rules. The components in this mix (Espoma) helps the moisture to retain in the seed starter trays, but sometimes a bit too much, while my multi-purpose mix dries out better – at least in my opinion. Anyhow, it has been seed experimentation year for me this season. And it is much fun to see the seeds push from the soil – every time, it feels exciting – nature is just like that. One of these days I plan to write a blog topic about various potting mixes but I also go over this in my workshops and talks at farmers markets based on my experience over the years of container gardening.

Lady Bugs are Beneficial

Lady Bugs are Beneficial

One of the fun things I did this year was release lady bugs onto my plants and in my grower room so they could fest on the bad bugs such as aphids which will suck the life out of leaves. Lady bugs are beneficial insects and can help you out but they don’t stick around for ever – would you? After being in this bag for a few days!?! So when I was reading the packet, I set the bag filled with excited lady bugs on my lap – it was like a mini bug massage. Could I do this if it was filled with spiders – Heck No!

Lady Bugs to the Rescue!

Lady Bugs to the Rescue!

Bulbs in Pots

Bulbs in Pots – Just dig them in and get a surprise later!

Sometimes, I will pop seeds or bulbs of summer blooming plants into my container gardens filled with other mixed plants. Gladioulus are a favorite and easy to dig a little hole to put them into, and they are sending up shoots right now, which I will take a photo of later when they get bigger and bloom. Try seeds like Nasturtiums or sunflowers, easy to include and they offer a little surprise later in your flowering pots or container gardens.

Adorable

Adorable Small Red Box with 3 plants

Little pots are fun to do – and I could not resist this cute red one with handles and a gardening quote on the front side. It contains a black pearl Pepper, Tiny Tim Tomatoe, and Sage. It is starting to fill out now – just in time for the market which I plan to bring it – along with some other adorable container gardens prepared.

Workshop Attendees Container Garden at her home.

Workshop Attendees Container Garden at her home – Great Job Maryse!

One of the most rewarding aspects of sharing the passion of growing plants in container gardens and patio pot is when a client or workshop attendee sends me a text to show me how their plants are coming along – and hearing how happy they are! Here are two shots taken of two attendees recently doing that. If you are reading this, and have attended too – please feel free to text me your container picture so we can share the container love here! Look how well her plants are growing in her pot – why? Good soil and good care learned at my workshops!

Photo taken of an Attendees pot after the workshop at her home

Photo taken of an Attendees pot after the workshop at her home – Great Job Kelley!

My Container with Bright Yellows and Purple

My Container with Bright Yellows and Purple

And here’s a photo of one at my home with two varieties of Coreopsis (tickseed) – one hardy (‘Jethro Tulll’) and one not (‘Cha cha cha’) and the annual, Persian Shield (purple foliage) with a gnome which keeps coming back to my container gardens every year. I recently moved this pot because one plant got powdery mildew – so it seemed to need some more air circulations which helps this problem, and I sprayed that with some organic spray, but I hate how powdery mildew will damage foliage. Hopefully, this will look better soon as the other two spiller plants come out to grace the sides of the blue pot.

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

And this is new this year – I’m growing pumpkins and gourds in pots. Last year, I grew a watermelon plant in a pot, put it on my deck, and the vine sprawled around my deck furniture. The bonus was the watermelons were perfect, no blemishes, as it sat on the deck to grow, and it was easy for me to reach down to turn it – and no bugs! The pumpkins and gourds I selected are fun ones (the gourd will have gourds the size of oranges, and the pumpkin is a blue type), which I will share at the market this weekend. It’s a tad bit late, but they may be just fine since our season is late too this year – meaning its been cooler than preferred for many warm loving plants – and some will be fine if planted no later than July 1st or just keep growing in this pot – which is the game plan, as usual!

Container Garden Install at a Hairdressers Shop

Container Garden Install at a Hairdresser’s Shop

Top View

Top View

Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame'

Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

These photos above are of a container garden at a client’s business. She does an excellent job of watering it, and it contains a Canna, Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’, a variegated Liriope, Agastache ‘Blue Boa’, and Flowering maple. Just recently I trimmed up the Agastache for her, and also cut off one of the blooms of the Digiplexis, which is a new plant on the scene resembling foxglove, however, this one blooms repeatedly by sending out new shoots all summer. One thing everyone who got one of these from my workshop in May have commented on is the bottom flowers on the tallest stem of the Digiplexis plant start to fall off so I tell them to just snip it off – you will be sure to get more new shoots from this plant once it sets in and gets going.

Hydrangea 'Quick Fire'

Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’

The baby crib in front of my Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’ shrub is a recent donation to me from my sister. She said she got it at a tag sale; she likes antiques, and had a huge fern sitting in it at her home. I will find a use for it, but I decided to put it by my beautiful Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’ shrub which I purchased at The Garden Barn in Vernon a few years ago, just to show the size of my shrub! This shrub is a panicle hydrangea (cone shaped flowers) and its blooms starts white and transitions to soft pink to darker pink blooms by the end of the season. This Hydrangea can take sun – which I can attest to since it faces full sun most of the day, and it sits in clay soil! This season I was late at trimming it back, so I just cut the dry tips off quickly later, but it still looks amazing. I recommend this one if you can find it.

Wild Turkeys Under the Trees

Wild Turkeys Under the Trees

Under a Tree Resting

Under a Dawn Redwood Tree Resting

Although a little blurry, because I was standing on my deck to take these photos, here are my wild turkeys resting in the yard. I just love when they sit down and feel like they can hang in the shade, but if they see me coming, they pop up quickly to walk away, even though I tell them every time, they are safe here with me. On the bottom photo, they were resting under the shade of my Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) tree. I planted this tree on my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and it is doing well ever since which I believe is because it is planted in an area that remains moist and this tree likes moist, deep, well-drained, slightly acid soils. The area slopes here so it is well-drained as well. My sister bought one too on the very same day with me, and planted it in her yard, and it is not doing as well unfortunately – she has dry soil so it is a great example of putting the plant in the right place. The interesting thing about this tree is it looks like an evergreen pine like tree but it is deciduous (looses its needles) in the fall so it is naked in the winter, however, due to its beautiful reddish brown bark which becomes darker with age, it is pretty in the winter months as well. It grows tall too – up to 70′ or more in some cases. I love seeing birds fly up to it and rest on its branches as they travel from their birdhouses and feeders in our yard.

Container Garden at Home

Container Garden at Home

This container garden has a nice perennial called, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago, Leadwort) which is sprawling over the edge on the right side in this photo. A “sprawler” is a term I came up with this year to explain how some plants don’t spill over (spillers), instead they sprawl and gracefully reach out at the edge of the pot. This perennial will bloom blue flowers by late summer; the buds are forming now, and I’m excited because it is a “returner” in this big pot from last season. As I discussed in my workshops this year, Perennials with Power return. This plant likes partial shade or full sun. Here it is in part shade, it gets the eastern morning sun which suits the elephant ear in the center as well. As I mentioned above, I sometimes insert seeds into container gardens and note Nasturtium which you can see here on the left trailing out of the pot too. This container may not have tones of flashy flower colors – but I adore it because it is lush and full – and healthy.

Well, that’s all for now as I nurse my summer cold and write this post – I am hoping I’m fully recovered by Sunday for the East Windsor Farmers Market on Rt 140 at the Trolley Museum where I will be giving a talk at noon – and if it is raining hard, maybe I’ll be in the mini gazebo area – Look for me if you are able to pop in on Sunday, June 28th. The market opens at 11 am, and will have live musical entertainment.

Have a nice Friday everyone – Enjoy your weekend!!

Cathy Testa
http://www.containercrazyct.com
860-977-9473

 

 

There’s some cool historic stuff at the Farmers Market in East Windsor, CT

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The East Windsor Farmers’ Market is fairly new but its being held in a place which is not. Located at the Connecticut Trolley Museum, the market tents circle around the front lawn area of the museum grounds. The CT Trolley Museum is a showcase of historical exhibits showing how electric trolleys evolved and visitors enjoy a display of various trolleys in their main building.

Father’s Day is Opening Day

This weekend, Fathers get a free ride on the trolleys in honor of Father’s Day on June 21st. The old trolleys travel down a wooded street starting from the main parking lot area of the grounds for a few miles distance, and many of the trolleys are open-aired which makes for a fun breezy ride while you hear about the trolley museum’s history.

BackTrax Band at the Market

BackTrax Band at the Market

Opening Day Features BackTrax Band

On the opening market day which is this Sunday, June 21st, the BackTrax Band will be playing. Most of the band members are from the East Windsor area and they started playing together in late 1990’s.  They practice in a local family owned barn on a farm in town and move into the bars or venues like the markets to play for anyone interested in enjoying classic rock, country, and oldies.  So while you shop the market and browse the trolley museums features, you will hear some great music.

Great Seats to Eat, Listen, Relax

Great Seats to Eat, Listen, Relax

There are plenty of picnic tables at the market as well, so why not pack a lunch – or better yet – get lunch right there. This year’s market will feature many new foods – homemade pies, veggie samplings, and even some great hot dogs or Thai food. It is a nice place to enjoy some quality time with family and support your local enthusiasts.

Cathy T last year at the market featured succulent plants

Cathy T last year at the market featured succulent plants

Free Container Gardening Talk on June 28th

Another bonus, on the second weekend of the market, which is June 28th, I will be offering a free container gardening talk at noon. Look for me near the picnic tables.

My talk will cover a quick explanation of perennials and tropical plants, along with edibles, which all work in container gardens and why you should use them – These plants offer many benefits. Plus, we will go over the steps for success with container gardening and other tidbits you may not realize which will help or harm your patio pot and container gardens’ overall appearance and health, along with some design techniques and the right soil mix to use to control the growth of your creations.

A great place to walk your dog is at the market!

A great place to walk your dog is at the market!

Lately, I’ve been getting various bug questions about container gardens – there are reasons why some insects maybe showing up in your patio pots from time to time – and ways you can manage them or prevent them from happening again. I will share insight on this as well.

Usually by this time of year, many people have finished potting up their deck pots but this season’s weather has resulted in a somewhat slow start up – Our nights have been cooler and days not as hot for the start of summer – some container plants are slow to get going, thus, this visit is a great chance to get any last minute plants you may want to assemble in time for the July 4th celebrations. I will have various plants available or you may attend just to hear my talk, which I hope you do.

Address of the Trolley Museum is 58 North Road (Rt. 140).

Address of the Trolley Museum is 58 North Road (Rt. 140).

Whatever the reason for your visit to the market – to hear music, gets some fresh locally grown food, take a trolley ride, or hear some tips on container gardening – we hope you, especially those of you local to our town, will come support the market by attending and purchasing locally grown produce from the East Windsor market vendors.

Note: The market hours are 11 am to 2 pm.

Looking forward to see you there.

Cathy Testa
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

 

The “Don’t Do This” List for when you Plant your Container Gardens and Patio Pots

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During my container garden workshops, I’ve seen some things attendees will do as they start to assemble their container gardens and pots. It is not intentional on their part. They are so excited to get started selecting plants and putting them into their container gardens after my talk that they will move quickly and do some little things I try to catch them on before they continue. It reminds me of things they should not be doing because it can harm the plants or make the container look unbalanced.

So, I decided to create this list – and will share it at my future workshops too. Here are the things you should not do as you put together your container gardens and patio pots.

#1) Do not fill the pot to the rim with soil mix.

Filling the pot with soil mix up to the rim of the container will cause the soil to spill out when watering, or the water might roll off the top somewhat. There should be about a 2-3” space from the top of rim to the top of soil line. If the water is not flowing well into the soil, it will not permeate down to reach the plants’ roots, plus it looks a little odd to have the plants sitting at the very top of the pot. Aesthetically, they are better placed a few inches down. Additionally, the base of the plants are somewhat protected if they are not exposed at the very top – reducing things like toppling over due to wind, etc.

#2) Do not press down hard on the soil after you have inserted the plants into the container.

Out of habit or belief the plants should be pressed firmly into the soil, I’ve seen attendees do this at my workshops. They will push down on the soil, sometimes very hard, after they inserted the plant into the pot. This is not a good idea because you are compressing the soil which may reduce the air pockets required for oxygen in the soil to be used by the plant’s roots. Unless the plant is very top heavy or was root bound (thus a little weighty on the bottom), avoid pressing down hard on the top of the soil after planting. If you need to press, do so lightly and gently. You don’t want to smash the roots or crush the base of the plant by pushing down hard onto the soil.

Dont Do Photos for Blog Post3

#3) Do not grab the plant by the leaves and tug it from the starter pot.

When you take the plant out of its growing pot to put it into your container garden, use one hand to place over the soil at the stem base, and the other hand to turn it over carefully so it slides out of the growing pot. Try to not pull or tug at the plant by its leaves or stems. If the plant has been growing in the pot for a while, it may not slide out easily. Squeeze the growing pot a little to loosen it up or roll it gently on a table. Conversely, if the plant has been recently potted up in its growing pot, the soil may fall away from the root ball as you take it out because the roots have not grown into the new soil yet. Be careful to not damage the plant or its root system as you remove it to put in your container garden. If the plant is extremely root bound, and it is impossible to remove it from the starter pot, cut the pot at the bottom about 1” from the base to remove the closed end of the pot, and then push the plant’s root ball and soil through to remove it. A Hori-Hori garden knife or a razor knife works well for the cut.

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#4) Do not put a plant with circling roots directly into the container garden.

When roots are tightly circling around the root ball, this is referred to as girdling. The plant has been in the growing pot for a while, and the roots have nowhere to go except to encircle the root ball as it hits the sides of the inner pot. Do not put plants with tightly bound girdled roots directly into your container garden without first detangling the roots by hand if possible. If the roots are so tightly bound (really tight like they are hard to pull away or tease apart), you may use a clean sharp knife or pruners to cut them apart by cutting here and there. The roots need to be released, so to speak, to move freely and easily into the new fresh soil of your container garden.

Dont Do Photos for Blog Post

#5) Do not put the plants into bone dry potting mix.

When you container garden, you should lightly moisten the soil mix before you put your plants into your container garden or patio pot. Otherwise, the moisture in the starter pot will be drawn into the dry soil in the container garden thus taking it away from the plant’s roots. If the soil mix is dry, use your watering wand to moisten it – the key is to moisten, though – not to waterlog the soil, or turn it into mush. Just wet it a bit and then take your hands and mix it around lightly so the moisture is distributed. This will help the plants to adjust easily from their growing pot to their new beautiful soil environment.

Dont Do Photos for Blog Post4

#6) Do not put dry plants into the container garden without giving it a drink first.

It is a good habit to water your plants in their growing pots before putting them into your container garden or patio pots – preferably the night before, or the morning of, or at least a ½ to 1 hour before you assemble your container garden if its soil is “bone dry” in the growing pot. Another tip – be sure to water everything in after you finished assembling your container garden – but the key is, again – don’t over water. You want everything to settle into its new environment in a well-balanced slightly moist but not waterlogged state. Do not walk away before doing this final step. And direct the water at the soil line, not on the foliage if possible, with your watering wand or watering can.

#7) Do not put your plants in full harsh sun right away.

If your plants were grown in a greenhouse and not transitioned to the outdoors yet, you need to “harden-off” your plants. This term means to move the plants, or better yet, ‘transition’ the plants into the great outdoor sunlight carefully – otherwise, they may burn. Be sure to harden them off first if grown in a greenhouse by placing them in shade to part shade for a day or two. In many cases, hardening off is not required if the plants you purchased were already outside at the nursery. You will know if your plants were not hardened off first when you see the leaves turn white if you put them directly into sun – as is the case with houseplants or plants you overwintered inside, they must be hardened off first as well when you move them outside.

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And finally, another tip – when I plant my container gardens, I tend to make pockets in the soil mix to insert each plant. In other words, I don’t fill the pot half way with soil (like I’ve seen done), place or position all the plants, and then backfill around the roots. I personally believe the pocket method makes the plants more comfortable and allows the roots to make easy contact with the new soil in the container. But that’s being a little picky perhaps – all I know is this method has worked for me for years.

To see photos of the above “Don’t Do’s”, please visit my Instagram feed or Pinterest boards where I show examples, or better yet, take one of my workshops in the future to learn and see hands-on more tips by ContainerCrazyCT.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 (cell)
containercathy@gmail.com

Container Gardening Class at Strong Family Farm in Vernon, CT

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I grew up on a farm consisting of 100 acres of land along the Scantic River in East Windsor, Connecticut – and we had cows, chickens, a horse, rabbits, beautiful cherry trees, apple trees, blueberries, along with days of fishing in ponds, rivers, and even riding a mini-bike. Yup, I would jump on a mini-bike as a young kid, and go “outback” – which is what we called my parent’s property then and still do to this day.

There’s something magical about growing up on farmland. We explored a lot as kids. One time, I found funky shaped clay formations in a crevice where water ran off on a slope. As a child, I remember collecting them and checking them out carefully. Each was soft with round patterns and curvy shapes, formed by the action of rolling waters and clay soil on a hill side.

Flash ahead to my soil science class in my late-30’s and low and behold, our professor showed us a sample of the same thing. He said they are referred to as “clay dogs” and he found it interesting that I knew what they were immediately upon seeing him hand them out in class. He let me keep one of his samples, saying I was a soil scientist at heart. I don’t know about that, but the clay dog he gave me still sits on a shelf in my home office.

Being around nature is so inspiring – especially on a farm. In the summers, as a young kid, I sat on the side of my Dad’s hay baler to make sure the twine did not break as the square bales of hay passed by me when we rolled along in a large field. The sound of the tractor, the wind passing by, or the hot day’s summer heat would lead to more fun after our day’s work – because after we baled the hay – Dad would treat us to ice creams at Dairy Delight in East Windsor (a great ice cream place which still operates today on Route 5).

Sometimes, our trip for ice cream was in the pickup truck – we would stand in the back bed as we traveled down Scantic Road – something I don’t think would be allowed today. The breeze blew off all the hay dust from our bodies as we headed down to Dairy Delight. This is one of my very vivid memories – it was a fun ride for sure, and man, was that ice cream ever good after a hot day of baling hay, especially because it was shared with Dad.

We also swam in the Scantic River from time to time. My parents didn’t have to worry as we played “outback”, and my Mom literally rang a bell to call us for dinner time. We even had a fort and stayed over night in it sometimes. One time, our cows came scratching their backs against the outer walls of the fort and we sat inside quietly laughing – and being a little scared too, but they eventually left and our fun continued at the fort for that night.

Mom and Dad under a Catalpa Tree at the Farm

Mom and Dad under a Catalpa Tree at the Farm

Picking up a blade of grass from the field to put between your fingers and blow to make sounds was a little toy on a farm as I would take the walk outback down to the river. Or collecting walnuts to eat from our big walnut tree was an experience. When you are surrounded with nature, you begin to witness life and the curiosity sets in – at least it did for me. And of course, we had a barn, a barn where we held plays as kids – setting up a stage once – and acting something out as our parents and neighbors endured our little show. The list goes on.

Cathy T teaching a class

Cathy T teaching a class

That is why being asked a second time to talk about Container Gardening at Strong Family Farm feels special to me. Strong’s farm is located in Vernon and it has been standing for 135 years, once comprising more than 50 acres on West Road and Hartford Turnpike. The farm has served as the home and workplace for more than seven generations of Strongs. Just like our family’s farm is serving generations for us too – Today my nieces and nephews enjoy the nature on the farm like we did as kids. It is fun to witness their excitement as Grandpa sits them down on the tractor seat to pretend drive – something my nephew asks for every time they visit my parent’s farm- and he even refers to my Mother as “Chicken Mom” cause he knows when he visits, he gets to go see the chickens before going on the tractor in the big barn.

Located  on 274 West Street, Vernon, CT 06066

Located on 274 West Street, Vernon, CT 06066

Strong Family Farms hosts various activities throughout the year, such as their “Adopt-A-Chick” program offered each spring. For a small fee, participants foster a spring chicken over the course of 10 weeks. During this time, class members help feed and nurture the young chickens. If you don’t have a farm of your own, this place is a way to share a farm experience.

Annual Programs

They also host movies on the farm and have a community garden. In the fall, they have a Annual Scarecrow Contest and Harvest Festival. Check out their website at http://www.StrongFamilyFarm.org for details and dates – it is a great place for kids’ activities and very family oriented.

Container Gardening Workshop

The farm has large yellow barns and this weekend’s Container Gardening Workshop/Class will be held inside the barn – which is a unique experience also, as you look up at the big beams in the ceilings and sit on bails of hay. Even the sun beaming thru cracks in the barn walls reminds me of farm life as a child. Birds fly by in their meadows and old antique farm equipment hangs on the walls, making us feel the presence of the many past years of farming held in this space.

The farm life is so beneficial to your health and well-being, as we know – when you grow your own – you grow your spirit too. So, if you still have patio pots to pot up – come join us – the fee is only $10 for non-members and $5 for members of the farm and it is a fun activity for kids too. There will be various plants available for purchase and you will learn the steps for success and other growing tips.

Date: Saturday, June 6th, 10 am to noon @ Strong Family Farm, 274 West St, Vernon.

Please remember to bring cash or checks, as credit cards are not accepted. Plants to expect: Some large tropical plants (drama to containers), herbs, annuals, and even some houseplants and perennials. All attendees receive documentation and Cathy T tips. We hope to see you there!

Cathy T in-front of her chicken coop and plants at her home in Broad Brook, CT

Cathy T in-front of her chicken coop and plants at her home in Broad Brook, CT

Herbs are Perfect for Container Gardens and Patio Pots

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Herbs are perfect fits for container gardens and patio pots. They require 3 big things to grow well: lots of sun, great air circulation, and well-drained soil that needs to dry somewhat between watering. Growing herbs in containers helps you meet all their growing needs. In addition, herbs offer many health benefits. These will be talked about on Saturday, May 30th, during the special “Meet Your Herbs” day at the Ellington Farmers Market.

Thyme grows really well in a container

Thyme grows really well in a container

Perennial herbs will return in container gardens and patio pots. After the season is over and the plants go dormant, all you need to do is store the container or pot in an sheltered unheated outdoor location. Some perennial herbs are tougher than others and their pots may remain outdoors all winter – they will come back again in spring.  Cathy Testa will be talking about them during her free talk at this weekend’s market (9:30-10:30 at the square gazebo) on mixing herbs in container plantings.

Wooden Pot is Well Suited for Thymus

Wooden Pot is Well Suited for Thymus

Thyme is a great example of a perennial herb which thrives in container gardens. And there are so many varieties to choose from with various flower colors from white, pink, lavender, etc. Thymus praecox ‘Albus’ has emerald green mats with white flowers in June. Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’ has a dense look to its growth and is deer resistant as with many other thymes. Thymus praecox ‘Ruby Glow’ is ruby-colored and blooms in spring to early summer – it is very vivid!

Scented Thymes

There are thymes with wonderful scents, such as Spicy Orange Thyme (Thymus x ‘Orange Spice’) with the scent of orange and a strong orange flavor. These are used often in teas and for cooking. ‘Archer’s Gold’ Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus ‘Archer’s Gold’) is low growing and has deep golden yellow foliage in the spring and fall with lemon scents. Anytime I run my fingers across these plants, it evokes a sense of well, smelly goodness!

Creeping Thymes

Thymes also creep, sprawl and somewhat hang as they grow fuller in container gardens. In fact, I came up with the term “sprawler” to add to the well-known thriller, filler, spiller for container garden design techniques and discuss what a sprawler is at my container garden workshops. Creeping lemon thyme is variegated mats of lavender flowers and a great aromatic smell – imagine using it as a groundcover or lawn instead of grass! Awe, mowing is moved to a new scented high in this case.

Woolly Thymes

Many thymes offer a textural softness to your container gardens – they are covered with fine hairs with fuzzy foliage that is soft such as Thymus praecox ‘Hall’s Woolly’. The one in the photo on this blog post is fuzzy and soft too. It is Thymus ‘Longwood’ from Longwood Gardens in PA – it is an improved cultivar of woolly thyme. The pale-pink flowers on it are beautiful and attract butterflies. This is its second year in the wooden pot.

How They’ve Been Used – Not Just for Cooking!

Thyme is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and leaves have been used for so many purposes in cooking and for even “embalming the dead” – yup, just read that in the book referenced below, that thyme was used by ancient Egyptians.

And it is easy to grow – especially in Container Gardens and Patio Pots. Depending on variety, there are many thymes which will survive our planting zones because they are perennial and hardy. The time to plant it in the ground is spring or fall, but in containers – pretty much anytime is time for thyme. And, you may harvest it all summer long through the fall. It can be used fresh or dry – or just for the pure enjoyment of its visual attributes.

Thyme also has been used for antiseptic properties – for coughs and the ability for it to kill germs – by using “thymol” found in thyme compounds – another great tip spotted in the book referenced below.

Thyme is just one example of herbs in container gardens – but there’s many more which Cathy T will be sharing on Saturday during the market at 9:30 am. We hope we will see you there.

Container Crazy CT

Reference: “Simple Home Remedies You Can Grow – Power Plants” by Frankie Flowers and Bryce Wylde.

‘Black Pearl’ Pepper – A Little Too Hot to Eat – Great in Containers!

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One year, I ordered a stock of this pepper plant with purplish black and dark green foliage from a local Connecticut grower. It grows black pearl-like small peppers which are shiny and pretty. But what attracted me to it more was the foliage’s dark toned colors.

Black Pearl Pepper in a Pot - Great Contrasting Foliage Color

Black Pearl Pepper in a Pot – Great Contrasting Foliage Color

So, I included one in a mixed container garden with some of my Canna plants that year.

Today, mixing edibles with other types of plants is a common trend, but years ago, not too many people would see a pepper plant with a tropical plant in a pot, so it was fun to see people’s reactions.

Black Pearl Pepper Descipt

This pepper starts out with small purple flowers which you may miss if you don’t notice them, and then transitions to developing black peppers which later mature to an intense bright red color. This was a bonus in my book. Not only was the foliage a nice dark contrasting color, the show of the peppers changing color was fun to witness.

Veins of Coleus 'Gay's Delight' pick up the purple tones of 'Black Pearl' pepper.

Veins of Coleus ‘Gay’s Delight’ pick up the purple tones of ‘Black Pearl’ pepper.

You can easily echo the purple-black foliage by including other plants with similar tones or colors. In this example, you see how Coleus ‘Gay’s Delight’ has veins in the same color. It worked, not only because of the color-echo, but the yellow or chartreuse color of the Coleus is opposite to purple on the color wheel, so it was complementary.

Another way to use this plant is to pot it up with other purples. You can see how well Strobilanthes dyerianus (Persian Shield), shown below on the top right, with its striking silver purple leaves would work with the ‘Black Pearl’ pepper. Even a perennial has the capability to bring it all together with the purples.

Monochromatic

Monochromatic

Tomorrow, I host another Container Garden Workshop and I have some of these plants available for inclusion in the pots which our attendees will be potting up. Along with many perennials and tropical plants which are showy and unique. And this ‘Black Pearl’ pepper fits the bill.

Black Pearl in Pot

By the way, it is also a Proven Winners plant and can take full sun to part sun or part shade. It worked so well with my heat loving Canna plants and never showed any signs of weakness or poor growth – it can take the heat – and because the peppers are very hot to eat, the critters in my yard didn’t dare take a bite.

Benefits of Using Edibles with Ornamental Values

Benefits of Using Edibles with Ornamental Values

My husband, Steve, however did try to eat a pepper from this plant one afternoon. He was quick to spit it out of his mouth – It was too hot to bear. So if you are brave, you may want to try it or use it as an ornamental feature in your patio pots and container gardens.

There are so many benefits to using this plant in container gardens: very long lasting, has a wonderful shape which adds another dimension to your design, it is easy to grow, dark foliage, transitioning colors with the pepper’s change from black to red, and makes a nice filler position in a container garden or patio pot.

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Happy Friday Everyone – and I have a few seats open for Saturday’s class if interested, just e-me, text, or call.
Would love to have you join us.

Cathy Testa
(860) 977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Container Crazy CT

Round Two – Container Garden Workshop in Broad Brook on May 23rd

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During this busy month of gardening preparations, this is a short quick post to first say THANK YOU to the wonderful attendees of Workshop No. 1 on May 16th.

It did not rain, we had tons of fun, it moved so fast, and everyone’s container garden creations with tropical plants, perennials, and annuals are beautiful.

And the second reason for this post is to remind anyone interested in Workshop No.2 on May 23rd.

Hands-On and Fun

Hands-On and Fun

To Register, fill out the Contact Form below
or text at 860-977-9473

Each Attendees Receives Instructional Booklets and Plant Catalogues

Each Attendees Receives Instructional Booklets and Plant Catalogs – Plus a GIFT bag

It’s DIY, Educational, Plant Filled, and about Potting Passion!

Cathy T shows how to work with color echos in your pots.

Cathy T shows how to work with color echos in your pots.

We Make Big Pots – for Big Statements!

Beautiful Creation by Attendee Donna at last week's class - Love the dark tones and textures!

Beautiful Creation by Attendee, Donna, at last week’s class – Love the dark tones and textures!

Cathy T talks about why Big Pots are important for Container Gardening

Cathy T talks about why Big Pots are important for Container Gardening

Attendees Get into the Zone - The Pot Planting Zone

Attendees Get into the Zone – The Pot Planting Zone

Talk about FOCUS! :)

Talk about FOCUS! :)

Awaiting Delivery After Class - So Pretty

Awaiting Delivery After Class – So Pretty

More photos will be posted in the near future – Stay Tuned.  Enjoy your Containers and Patio Pots!

Cathy Testa

Container Crazy CT

For More Information:

CLASS DESCRIPTION