Where can I find some Heirloom seeds in Connecticut?

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Comstock, Ferre & Co.

Comstock, Ferre & Co.

If you are looking for a good mix of seeds from the common to the unusual, heirloom plants, gardening supplies, farming antiques, and participating in a bit of history, then Comstock, Ferre & Co. in Wethersfield, Connecticut is the place for you!

Last Sunday, they held an Heirloom Festival in celebration of 202 years of Comstock service to CT.  They had nationally acclaimed horticultural speakers, musical entertainment, vendors, plants, and handcrafted products – and of course, lots and lots of seeds.

In fact, the seed stock is probably one of the coolest things about this place.  Tall wooden shelves line the interior building showcasing rows with a wonderful assortment of seeds in beautiful seed packets.  Even if you are not into growing from seed, looking at all the colorful labels is fun.  And most of the seeds are heirlooms.

Comstock is big on heirlooms, and they offer documentation and books to explain all and why they find them beneficial.  As one of their handouts states, “Heirloom varieties are often the product of many generations of careful selection by farmers and gardeners who knew what they wanted from their plants.  If a variety has been carefully nurtured and its seed kept by generations of a family or in a small geographic area, it stands to reason that it must perform well in the conditions under which it has been preserved.”

My definition of heirloom is summed up by my Dad’s tomatoes.  I swear they are the best, and he saves the seeds every year to regrow the product he carefully selected.  It pretty much has been unchanged, and unmodified by genetics, which is another big topic of discussion and awareness at Comstock, the whole GMO concerns.  I won’t go into that whole world which is really getting mega attention these days, but lets just say if you want to be educated on Heirloom benefits versus GMO’s – Comstock is one place that will do so for you.

Choral sings at Comstock

Choral sings at Comstock

During this festival day at Comstock, my sister, Louise, was sporting a GMO free shirt as she conducted her chorale group of students from the Silas Deane Middle School.

Louise just loves Comstock and their offerings, and I keep telling her she reminds me of a Master Gardener.  She is tending to her garden of veggies daily and continues to expand her collection of plants and knowledge.  I’m starting to ask her questions now on veggies – she is so passionate about it.

Comstock is located in a historial section of Wethersfield, CT at 263 Main Street.  When you arrive, you will find street only parking, and a couple of nearby quaint shops, and even ice cream just a few short steps down the side walk.

The building is very old and you get the feeling you are entering a bit of history as you walk around checking out the antiques upstairs and downstairs.

The greenhouse is stocked with starter plants – lots of tomatoes, and other veggies.  And you can pick up some handmade birdhouses or other gardening decor, weeding tools, and trellis.  They have an interesting mix of items for sale.

Steve, my husband, purchased a birdhouse, and when we got home to read the documentation provided about its creator, it turned out he is from our home town of Broad Brook, CT.  Small world.  He made them from salvaged barn board from Windsorville, CT tobacco barns and roof slates.

Stock of Seeds

Stock of Seeds

After we listened to the young group of singers with wonderful voices, we shopped around the rest of the vendors at the festival, and I picked up one packet of seeds – Castor Beans.  Yup castor beans. I love big foliage plants and this one is on my list to try.  It has reddish bronze leaves (Gibsonii variety), and stunning scarlet seed heads.  It looks tropical and gets very tall, but only one word of caution, all parts including the seeds are poisonous.  However, it was a must-have for me.

Reference Materials

Reference Materials

We couldn’t stay long that morning due to other obligations, but it is a place I will revisit – especially useful early in the season to pick up your seeds for the garden.  Comstock, Ferre & Co. has been selling heirloom seeds for over 200 years.  Let’s help them to add another 100 to their record.

Lots of various old scales at the store.

Lots of various old scales at the store.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy Cathy T
containercathy@gmail.com
860-977-9473

Comstock, Ferre & Co. Greenhouse

Comstock, Ferre & Co. Greenhouse

A Nursery in the Country has a Big Draw

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Decor ideas at Meadow View Farms in Southwick, MA

Decor ideas at Meadow View Farms in Southwick, MA

As I mentioned earlier this year, I am making a commitment to visit nurseries this season.  I kind of miss walking a nursery and enjoying it just for me.  As a person in the bz, many times shopping is about the customer, which is also fun – but it was some ‘me’ time.

So today’s post is about Meadow View Farms in Southwick, Massachusettes.  My sister enjoys going to this place and took me there last year, and I remembered liking their herbs and veggies section so my goal was to pick up some of those.

When I arrived to the nursery, there were so many cars and people, I couldn’t believe my eyes – on a Wednesday!  It was a challenge finding an available parking space, especially with my big truck.  When I backed it into the spot, a woman applauded saying she was impressed, and I responded, “Yes, I had people and carts moving around me as I was trying to make it in there.”

As soon as I put the truck into park, a familiar face walked up – a friend by the name of Brian.  I met him at a bar – not what you think – he’s the bartender – and he showed me a book of his garden photos. He is an impressive gardener and has a beautiful greenhouse, so we just started talking plants as my husband sipped his cold brew that day we met.  Brian has a great personality and walked up with a big smile on his face.

Spanish bluebell

Spanish bluebell

Brian told me he went to several nurseries in search of a plant he saw in the gardens at Meadow View and later discovered he was calling it by the wrong plant name!  So that was a chuckle – especially because he knows plants.

“So show me which plant,” I said.

We walked over to a display area, and there it was –  beautiful blue flowers on sturdy little stems above strap like leaves.

“I don’t know off the top of my head but it is a bulb type plant,” I told Brian.  It looks familiar.

Brian thought it looked a bit like the perennial, Campanula.  “Yes, it does,” I responded.

Of course, of all the plants in the garden displays, this one was not labeled (nor was it for sale at this nursery – at least not on this shopping day).  But a staff person was quick to identify it for us.  However, before we found her, I grabbed my iPhone and said, I’ll just take a photo and post the question on Facebook: “Who knows the name of this plant?”

Garden displays

Garden displays

It took literally seconds to get the name, and comments from gardening friends growing this plant in their gardens.  By the way, after coming home, and looking it up, it is called Hyacinthoides hispanica (Spanish bluebell). It was formerly called Scilla campanulata (there you go Brian!), or Scilla hispanica.  This plant blooms from April to May, and goes dormant in summer.  And it grows well under trees, which is where it was located and repeated in the Meadow View display garden.

My cart filled

My cart filled

After a quick discussion with Brian on more plants, off he went – and so did I to the veggies section.  I already bought some herbs but I wanted more, and so I looked around, then I spotted a lemon tree.  Ironically, at the last two garden centers I visited, the “male” staff both told me they like lemon trees after we talked about plants like fig trees.  Guys like lemons, I thought.

So spotting one here, I decided I want one too, and to see a variegated form sitting there along side other healthy lemon tree plants, I thought – this is it.  On the cart you go, and the other was for a friend who found my idea of a lemon tree interesting – because lemons with summer cocktails is a good thing. So I texted her the price, and she said yes – get it for me.

The variegated one for me is actually a pink lemon everbearing variety.  These can be placed in the basement to go dormant from what I was told, or even in the garage over the winter.  It appears my theme this year for my container gardens is falling into the herb, fruit, and veggie category because I picked up a pineapple plant and fig tree recently too.  Hope all bear fruit.

Meadow View Farms in Southwick, MA has some nice small display gardens where you can view plants they have for sale.  They also put containers in various places and decor like wagon wheels as trellises for vine plants.  They have a little sitting cafe area, which I didn’t go into to, but I believe they offer water and coffee there.  And they do not have bathrooms, but outhouses which will do for any excited gardener shopping too long requiring a p-break.

They are stocked with great looking perennials, lots of big hanging baskets, annuals, and great veggies and herbs, with shrubs and vine plants too.  I didn’t notice any trees, and the facility is mostly an outdoor place.  There was no “garden decor” for sale, but lots and lots of plants with many enthusiastic shoppers.  A place where you can easily strike up a conversation with a fellow gardener – many would stop to ask about something in my cart, and then comments flourished from there.  My new lemon tree was a hot topic.

A stunning peony in the garden displays

A stunning peony in the garden displays

And it is very important to know – they do not take credit cards.  So go there with cash or a check with license in hand.  One would be very disappointed indeed if they made the travel there only to discover you can’t use a credit card – especially if you didn’t know while you waiting in the checkout line.  It was at least 12-15 people long at times, but moved very quickly because they have a line of registers with very competent and fast moving staff.

But one guy behind me was just a bit too excited.  As I waited in line, I spotted a bougainvillea plant and passion flower in hangers to my left.  I wondered how much they were, so I quickly ran over looking for the price tag.  Would you believe, he banged the back of my cart as the people in-front of me started moving forward to cash out.  Guess I forgive him for being so impatient cause he had some huge hanging baskets on his cart – I think he just couldn’t wait to get them home.

Cash out line - moves quickly

Cash out line – moves quickly

Meadow View may be out in the country, and a bit of a drive for some folks, but this place has a big draw.  My friend, Brian, told me it is “always like this” when I commented on how busy it was for a week day.  I filled my cart with other plants, checked out, and enjoyed the sandwich I was glad I packed in my truck for lunch.  And off I went anxiously to pot up my new lemon tree for my deck.

By the way, for you locals here thinking about going, I went through Suffield, CT and took Rt 168 for about 8 miles, past Lake Congamond.  It is a beautiful country road, so I enjoyed the ride very much – and thought about how I have to go to that lake for kayaking some day soon too.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy Cathy T
http://www.cathytesta.com
(860) 977-9473 cell
containercathy@gmail.com

Trucks constantly deliver restocks from the greenhouses to the retail area

Trucks constantly deliver restocks from the greenhouses to the retail area

Capturing the Beauty of Flowers – Second Class Offering

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On May 29th, Wednesday, I will be offering the “Capturing the Beauty of Flowers” class again to accommodate an after work hours schedule for those requesting to attend an evening session.  Click on CLASSES on this blog, or here to read the details:

Capturing the Beauty of Flowers Class Flyer II

It will be held (rain or sine) at The Garden Barn Nursery & Landscape on 228 West Street in Vernon, CT.

To sign up Today, email Cathy Testa at containercathy@gmail.com, or call (860) 977-9473.

And P.S. We have a frost advisory in effect for tonight’s low temps.  Cover those tender plants if you planted them outside and bring in your hanging baskets this evening.  Protect your plants.  The good news is we have sunny weather predicted otherwise.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy Cathy T
http://www.cathytesta.com
(860) 977-9473 cell
containercathy@gmail.com

Crystal Ball Captures More than the Beauty of Flowers

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Class Attendees

Class Attendees

Photography for me is about capturing data at times.  I take photos at clients’ properties during my onsite evaluations for landscape and garden designs.  Sometimes, I will take at least 100 photos of a site while walking around, looking over their desired planting areas.  It is important to me to get every angle, and to record any problem areas – or potential design features spotted on the property or in the space. I also take photos of plants when visiting wholesale and retail nurseries for my plant research.  You can ask the garden center staff.  They will tell you I always have a camera in hand.

But I also enjoy photography as a “non-serious” hobby – what I mean is, I like to take photos of plants because I love them so much, especially up close to see the botanical aspects, from the stamen (male parts) to stigma (female parts) of the flower’s reproductive aspects. And of course, I like to take photos of butterflies, insects, and birds.  Sometimes, I’ll get a comment from a real photographer, a pro, saying a shot is good, but my photos are never anywhere near those taken by pro’s.  Again – I do it for fun – and like to keep it that way, but I should learn the techniques to improve.

DSCN2819

So when I met my class group for a guest speaker on photography yesterday, they found it a bit comical when I mentioned I had not yet taken out the components (like filters and cleaners) for my new camera out of the packages. I’ve owned the camera for a couple years now.  It is not a super fancy camera, but it is a good one.  I’ve played around with it more than taken the time to learn it.

However, yesterday, I got the chance, and what fun did we have.  We had a small group of attendees because the class, called “Capturing the Beauty of Flowers,”  was held in the morning of a weekday at a local garden center, where there were flowers a plenty.  And by the way, I heard loud and clear from my friends and past class attendees – they want a session held in the evenings so they can attend – so we will do that – on May 29th, Wednesday, 5:30 to 7:30 pm (flyer to be posted soon).  Note the date now.

Catherine Cella of Joyful Reflections Photography was my guest speaker.  It was an honor for me to have her show us her tips on how to maximize taking photos of flowers. There were some techniques I had never considered, demonstrated by Catherine, and we practiced as a group.  She then offered us advise on how to improve the shot.  But one of the best parts of the whole day is she taught us how to use a crystal ball to capture photos.  Any my favorite photo of the day is this one, I took, where the greenhouse roof is reflected in the ball.  Later I thought, is the Crystal Ball revealing my future?  I hope so (you know, I’m a dreamer).

My shot - love the greenhouse in it!

My shot – love the greenhouse in it!

Well, let me restate favorite, actually my favorite photos of the day, were those posted by Catherine Cella after class.  You can see them here on her blog at Joyful Reflections Photography Blog.

But before we got to the crystal ball photography part of the class, we practiced on flowers.  This is a shrimp plant, Justicia brandegeana.  A tropical plant I just adore, and so did another attendee in our class with a horticulture background. It is a little too early still to put out tropical types requiring heat and warmth – think of them like summer vegetable gardening — wait until Memorial Day to put them outside, but they can be enjoyed inside in the meantime as a gorgeous house plant.  This one was trained as a topiary – a real beauty and find, I must say.  Hummingbirds truly enjoy this flower on this shrub.  The flower is the white part extending out of the pink bracts.  This would be stunning in an urn with the style of this one being trained as a topiary.

DSCN2814

Trained as a Topiary - Shrimp Plant

Trained as a Topiary – Shrimp Plant

We also took close-ups of water droplets on plants, and here is one I took on a bleeding heart.  It actually worked out the day was cloudy and just a tad bit rainy.  Gosh don’t we all love this plant in the springtime when it flushes out in our gardens?  Whether you love the Old Fashioned Bleeding Hearts or newer types with golden foliage, you can’t disagree with nature’s ability to capture our hearts with the rose-pink flowers on fern-like foliage dangling like charms from its stems in May.  This perennial looks amazing alone in a garden or mixed with other shade candidates like Astilbe, Pulmonaria, Hostas, and ferns – just to name a few.  However, I don’t recommend them in container gardens because they go dormant later in the season and kind of fade away.

Droplet on Bleeding Heart Leaves

Droplet on Bleeding Heart Leaves

The other two attendees had way more background on the camera’s technical aspects that moi, and they were practicing the tips reviewed by Catherine Cella.  My suggestion was to take photos of the flowering trees at our class location – The Garden Barn Nursery and Landscape in Vernon, CT.  There were many breathtaking blooms of magnolias, redbuds, dogwoods, and others in bloom now.

Here’s a photo I had to take of a Redbud tree, Cercis reniformis ‘Oklahoma’.  Talk about an intense purple wine color.  The coloring is more intense than the species on this small ornamental tree, great for smaller spaces.  It blooms in the spring, April to May timeframe, and the buds line the stems before the leaves expand.  It looks Asian to me, and has the most welcoming feeling in a garden space.

Redbud Tree Buds

Redbud Tree Buds

And I had to try to get a cool picture of one of my favorite ornamental grasses called Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’.  It can take partial shade and has a bright yellow color with a green stripes on the blades, and it cascades downward, versus growing upright. It is a beautiful plant to use in the front of a border, along pathways or by a terrace situation, or even in a container garden as a spiller to filler type plant.  The plant is a long-season ornamental grass, and won the 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year award. Looks great near Weeping Japanse Maples too – why? because the gold of the grass shows up against the burgundy color of the maple.

Hakon grass 'Aureola'

Hakon grass ‘Aureola’

Early in the day, Catherine joked around with a tiny toy camera hanging from her neck – it even flashes.  But rest assured, her professional camera is quite impressive – and so are her talents –  which you will see and learn from when you sign up for the next session on May 29th, Wednesday, 5:30 to 7:30 pm.  Bring your camera and your dreams – so you too can Capture the Beauty of Flowers and the images you desire in your crystal ball of the future.  The next class is only 2.5 weeks away.

Catherine holding a toy camera - as a joke of course, with attendee Jo-Anne.

Catherine holding a toy camera – as a joke of course, with attendee Jo-Anne.

Looking forward to seeing you there,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy Cathy T
http://www.cathytesta.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Capturing the Beauty of Flowers

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Look at this stunning photo taken by a local Professional Photographer, Catherine Cella of Joyful Reflections Photography.  Catherine is my next special guest speaker on May 9, 2013 – Thursday.  To read more about this opportunity, click on the CLASSES above and take a look at the “Class Flyer” with all the details.  You don’t want to miss this chance if you love photography, plants, and the beauty of flowers.  You will learn special techniques on how to use natural light, the importance of camera settings, and more. Plus I will share information about the plants as we learn from Catherine.  We will be meeting at a local garden center at 9:00 am for this class.  Sign-up today to join us.  Looking forward to seeing you there.

Magnolia Tree Blooms by Catherine Cella of Joyful Reflections Photography

Magnolia Tree Blooms by Catherine Cella of Joyful Reflections Photography

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy Cathy T
http://www.cathytesta.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com