Kayaking, Plants, & Nature at Crystal Lake in Ellington, CT

3 Comments
Clear Waters at Crystal Lake

Clear Waters at Crystal Lake

I’ve traveled past Crystal Lake, located in the towns of Ellington and Stafford, CT, many times on my way to Stafford Springs and Ashford, and I have admired the lake from the hills off of Sandy Beach Road at a housing development where I’ve done some landscape designs as well. But my recent passion for this lake has grown since I’ve glided over its smooth waters on tranquil mornings during of my off-time on my new kayak.

Crystal Lake is perfect for beginners, such as myself, because it is not too big, nor too small (FYI, a website indicates the lake area is 183 acres).  I’ve tour the lake within an hour or so. However, paddling back to return to the public access boat launch is not always easy because I usually don’t want to leave.

I describe kayaking like, “getting a massage.”  The calm mornings, the sounds of wildlife, and the feeling of being relaxed as nature surrounds you, is part of the kayaking experience for me.  It has become an addictive hobby, and it turns out to be a great way to see plant life up close and personal.  Occasionally, a fish may splash in the water, or birds will fly overhead to land on plant life nearby. You may even have a pack of geese following your kayak, which happened to me one morning.

Most of the waters in Crystal Lake are crystal and clear, but there are some areas of the lake tucked in near a dam, and in cove nooks where water spots are low, filled with plant life.  Plant growth and mucky swamp like waters exists in these side areas, and it is not a suitable swimming area, but a kayak can find its way carefully to adventure close by, should you not mind a bit of muck smell and bugs.  The lure of lily pad blooms drew me into the area.  I wanted to get some up-close shots of blooms.

View from my kayak in the center of the lake

View from my kayak in the center of the lake

The pond like area was a quieter section of the lake because it is surrounded by trees and part of inner nooks, and the birds were chirping and perching on plant life everywhere.  As I carefully paddled nearby, it did cross my mind to be careful to not collect any plant parts or plant drippings on my paddles and to use caution, not only for myself (because this is a place you do not want to tip over your kayak), but because there was a lot of foliage and silt moving around me, and I wondered if this could be disturbing the plant live too much.  It occurred to me maybe I was breaking a rule.

Bugs spotted

Bugs spotted

On my way through some of the water plants, I discovered some rather bizarre looking insects.  They didn’t seem to notice me at all as I took a few close up shots.  They sat perfectly still on top of a lily pad.  As I took the photo, I was thinking when I return home, researching these plants and the lake online was my priority to educate myself more.  I left a message with the Crystal Lake Association to obtain more information, because certainly as a plant person, I didn’t want to contribute to the spread of an invasive species.

Sun captured in the bloom

Sun captured in the bloom

There were two types of blooms happening, one was a white water-lily and the other, yellow pond lilies.  In researching websites, I believe they are Nymphaea odorata (American white water-lily) and Nuphar variegata (Common yellow pond lily). Without my kayak, getting close up shots would be near impossible.

Bloom happening on a common yellow pond lily

Bloom happening on a common yellow pond lily

When I left that day, I read the poster by the public boat launch warning boaters to not bring invasive species plant parts along with them on their boats or equipment.  My mission is to find out more about how the area is protected.  Because the lake is so beautiful everywhere else, this has to be a priority, and my guilt has not yet subsided for venturing into the lily pad area to take photos.

Sign warns everyone use caution

Sign warns everyone use caution

When you go to the lake, you can find the public access road off Rt 30. Finding the street sign can be a challenge one way as a big tree is hiding part of the sign for West Shore Road.  The road dips a bit and leads you to the public boat launch.  A small parking area is available across the street for a few vehicles.  In the mornings, it has been available but during busy peak season time, it may be impossible to find a spot. There is also a beach, called Sandy Beach (see below for information).

Road to public boat launch at Crystal Lake

Road to public boat launch at Crystal Lake

BOATING AND PLANT INFORMATION:

Crystal Lake Association can be found on Facebook here.

Information on how to handle your boats to prevent spread of invasive species can be found here.

Safe boating practices for the lake can be found here.

An Aquatic Plant Survey map for Crystal Lake can be found here.

PARKING AND FACILITIES (OUTHOUSES):

There are two outhouses in the parking area across from the public boat launch.

IMG_7457

SANDY BEACH information from the “Town of Ellington Website” below:

Sandy Beach is located on Crystal Lake on Route 140 in the northern end of town. Our beach offers swimming and sunbathing opportunities on hot summer days. The normal operating schedule for the beach is weekdays from 12 noon to 6:30 pm and on the weekends from 11:00 am to 6:30 pm. Ellington residents may purchase seasonal passesfrom the Recreation Department at a cost of $40.00 per family (Ellington Resident), $25.00 per single (Ellington Resident), $10.00 per senior citizen (Ellington Resident) or enter the beach on a daily basis.

Daily Fees: Ellington adult residents are $ 2.00, children 6 years and older are $ 1.00. Out of town guests are charged $ 5.00 per adult and $ 3.00 per child 6 years and older. All children 5 years and younger are free.

Downtown Stafford Springs, CT

Downtown Stafford Springs, CT

EATING PLACES NEARBY:

If you decide you would like to venture on some more after boating in the morning, Stafford Springs center has done a bit of revamping, and you can find some nice artsy shops and a wonderful coffee shop serving lunch in town, called Middle Ground Cafe. It is about 5 miles from the lake, continuing on Rt 140, until you hit the center of Stafford, which you will recognize with the brick buildings.  Look for the cafe on your right, at 42 Main Street, Stafford Springs, CT, (860) 851-8900, http://www.middlegroundcafe.com.  They offer great teas, coffees, and a mix of light lunch entrees and sandwiches.  Stop into “The Chocolate Moose” at 72 Main after for dessert, and be sure to visit the quaint art shops.  I bought some tiles at “Stained Glass Creations & Beyond” by “Art by Stefanie” across the street.  Old newspaper prints related to agriculture with plant images stamped on them caught my attention.  There were also some nice pottery items by other artists, hand-made soaps, jewelry, and paintings on the wall.

Downtown art shop, Stafford Springs, CT

Downtown art shop, Stafford Springs, CT

P.S. I will be adding information to this post once I get my call back from the lake association on my questions about the invasives to share with you, and for me to learn more!

Update:  I heard from Mark Mickiewicz, President of the Crystal Lake Association.  He said “the invasive plants grow from the bottom and rise to the surface, and they are trying to prevent power boats from going into those areas because it can cut the plants, detach, float, and repopulate into other cleaned out areas.  They are asking to be “careful” and not to pull, cut, detach or damage the plants.”  (Basically it is not strictly prohibited to enter for kayakers, but requested to stay out of the invasive cove areas if possible to prevent any spread, but some people do venture there to fish, etc.)  For questions, call 860-875-1001.

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

My Guest Post on CT Bloggers

Leave a comment
Featured CT Blogger

Featured CT Blogger

Visit the CT Bloggers website to see my Guest Post on a fail safe design technique for container gardening and patio pots.  I use it every time and talk about this in my classes, and you will find it very useful too if you aren’t aware of the “thriller-spiller-filler” method.  See also my Container Gardens page here for recently posted container garden creations and photos by me.

And don’t forget to look around at the CT Bloggers page and other links there.  There are a great deal of resources on all things CT.  I enjoy reading blogs over websites these days when I’m researching a particular town or city – the experiences are by people from CT passionate about sharing good things to see, do, and enjoy.

Happy Monday – Get ready for the heat wave!  Water those plants.  Cathy T

Forest Floor and Waterfalls at Enders State Park

3 Comments
Entrance

Entrance

Visiting a walking trail in the woods always brings a bit of exercise and exploration of nature’s treats, yet this time when hiking Enders State Forest in Granby, CT last Sunday, there was heartfelt sadness for I recalled the recent reporting of a teen girl falling from the cliffs.  It reminded me how dangerous it can be when walking this place.

I slipped at the top of a cliff there last summer, but caught my balance.  My husband said I practically gave him a heart attack.  It is not a place you want to walk without being extremely careful, and perhaps with some professional experience as a hiker.  I am usually the biggest wimp when it comes to any challenges along hiking trails, so it was a surprise to me too when I slipped, yet that memory plus the news of a loss of life at this park, made us all the more cautious as we took every step down to the slopes to view the waterfalls in several locations.

Enders State Park

Enders State Park

The recent rainfall in Connecticut has created not only roaring waterfalls at Enders, but a lush and full forest floor thriving with healthy ferns, mosses, and lichen clinging to the boulders and trees.  It feels like an air conditioned room as you travel the paths through the tall trees.  The mist from the waterfalls gently nourishes the plant life tucked in everywhere, between rocks, on decomposing bark, and from the ground. Soft cushy moss softens your steps in some locations and the sound of the rushing water is like a meditative force.  In the summer, when the water is low and calm, it is a secret swimming hole too.  And with a blanket and picnic lunch, this place offers tranquility with places to rest on the earth after taking your walk through the woods.

Alive with moss

Alive with moss

Only a few other people were there the morning we went, one apparently a professional photographer with lots of gear and a  helper to assist.  Another was an elderly couple walking the trail, one with a cane.  I wished I had taken a walking stick along myself.  I wondered if they knew about the young lady falling recently, but I didn’t mention it.  I wanted to say, be careful, it can be slick out here – I had a scare myself last year.  I don’t know if I can ever go back “on the cliff” parts again, and certainly this could not be attempted with the rushing waters going over a steep precipice on this day following several heavy rainfalls.

CT's State Flower

CT’s State Flower

It surprised me after we finished our hike, and drove to New Hartford to see the Saville Dam and Barkhamsted Reservoir, a favorite of Steve’s, and had lunch at Chatterley’s in town there, how many locals have never heard of Enders Forest.  Is it a kept secret?  It IS a gem – a miniature Niagara at the moment.  Funny how something literally around the corner, maybe 6 miles or so down the road, is an unknown to locals in New Hartford.

Enders State Forest in Granby, CT offers many treasures.  It is truly an outdoor living room.  To me, the forest’s natural plants, tucked among roots expanding and clinging onto the slopes and surfaces, are a favorite treat.  It is seeing nature in its true form, being served by its surroundings of a natural environment, pretty much untouched. And the native Mt. Laurel, CT’s State Flower, was in bud and bloom which was an additional bonus to going in June.  I’m sure we will return in the heat of summer to cool off as well.  And perhaps during the winter to see the ice on the waterfalls.

Great place for lunch or dinner

Great place for lunch or dinner

Some tips should you decide to venture there:

BRING: Bring a walking stick, good hiking shoes are a must, lunch and a blanket.  It would be nice if benches were in the park, but there are large bounders and places to sit as you watch the falls and enjoy the surroundings.  Bring a suit if the water is low for the pooling areas.  Don’t forget the camera.

MOTORCYCLE: If you are a motorcycle lover, this is a great route for the bikers.  Nice curvy roads, and some are recently paved, so smooth riding for you to enjoy.  Normally we would have taken the Harley, but there was a chance of rain (like I said, I’m a wimp).

GO TO LUNCH:  If you didn’t pack a lunch, go to Chatterley’s Cafe, take a left out of the entrance and head down the road to New Hartford, CT.  It is located at Two Bridge Street, 860-379-2428.  Great martinis and really excellent menu of appetizers, salads, fish, veal, chicken, and meat entrees.  Food is very good.  It was an old hotel apparently, you can see photos in the entrance, some famous people have visited this place – worth a stop.  Right next to this cafe are some small and quaint gift type shops.

SEE THE DAM: Before you go to lunch, of course, stop to view the Saville Dam and Barkhamsted reservoir.  There is a huge wall to view the water from, and across from the building with the big wooden doors, is a round cement map surrounded by a fence, check it out – interesting.  You have to cross the street to see it.  There is a parking area next to the dam that is usually open during the day hours.

USE CAUTION: And please, be super careful; when walking Enders.  The moss on the ground can be slick, and the soft earth is deceiving if near the edge of a slope.  But overall, it is definitely a nice place to visit for nature’s offerings.  A true gift by the land donators – the children of John Ostrom Enders and Harriet Whitmore Enders, donated in 1970.

Cathy Testa

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

Local Farm Fresh Farmers Markets

2 Comments

IMG_7652

We are very fortunate these days to have plenty of farmers markets to enjoy, and I finally made my first visit to this year’s offerings at the Ellington Farmers Market last Saturday morning with Steve, my husband.  I sold plants there last year, and really loved the people, site, and excitement of sharing something locally crafted with everyone, but alas, this year I have another goal (greenhouse) – but that doesn’t stop me from going to the market as a shopper this season.  And I hope to return as a vendor in 2014.

Steve whines a little about going to the market because he has other Saturday chores on his mind, but the funny thing is he always ends up buying more than I do.  He loves the pickles, hot sauces, veggies, mushrooms, and nuts.  I tend to go for the fresh cheese, garden decor items, and breads.

Scantic Valley Farms at the market

Scantic Valley Farms at the market

This weekend, their feature was fresh strawberries, so I was on a mission to get some of those too.  We also planned to buy some fresh fish to cook up for dinner for his mother and sister that evening after we attended a memorial event for a friend.  But what I didn’t expect to get was popcorn.

Freshly popped Kettle Corn offered at the market

Freshly popped Kettle Corn offered at the market

As we walked passed the booth offering hand popped kettle corn, we were quick to say no thanks to the vendor because we feared the carb count.  He was quick to point out there was probably more sugar from the strawberries we were popping into our mouths than a handful of the kettle corn.  He said the carbs were 16g (5%) and due to the way they pop it, they keep the sugar and salt low.  So with a quick taste, I agreed – it wasn’t too sugary or sweet tasting, so I bought a bag.  However, fresh veggies and fruits were on our minds, so we opted to also get not one but 4 quarts of fresh strawberries from two places.

Strong Family Farm

Strong Family Farm

Strong Family Farm, established in 1878, was at the market offering various items, and fresh strawberries.  They will be holding a fundraiser today, Monday, June 17th, at the Wood-n-Tap in Vernon, CT between 5 pm and 9 pm as part of their efforts as a non-profit and education center.  We also got strawberries from Scantic Valley Farm, the market’s feature of the weekend.  Scantic Valley Farm is a family owned farm located at 327 Ninth District Road in Somers, CT, where you can pick-your-own, but I tend to buy versus pick, so having these available at the market was a real treat.  We stocked up for the weekend.

By Faith, Love and Ladybugs

By Faith, Love and Ladybugs

Also spotted at the market were garden decor handcrafted by “Faith, Love and Ladybugs” – all upcycled, instead of recycled.  These plant tags and tea cup items were adorable.  To see more, visit this creators pages on Facebook and Etsy.com.  Part of going to the market is participating in helping those with dreams achieve them.  This young lady’s creations were all well made and perfect for the gardens.  I regret not getting some of those cute gnomes plant markers now, but I can return to get them next time.

Faith, Love and Ladybugs upcycled for home and garden

Faith, Love and Ladybugs upcycled for home and garden

When we got home, we were excited to have fresh cheeses, eggs, french bread, fish, and mushrooms, a big healthy bunch of romaine lettuce, two kinds of cherry tomatoes, and more to share later that evening.  And on Sunday, we used the fresh strawberries in pancakes, and the night before I popped a few into champagne.  Yumm again.  All the while, you feel like you are eating healthy – because you are!

Pancakes next day with fresh strawberries and eggs from the market

Pancakes next day with fresh strawberries and eggs from the market

As I said earlier, we are lucky to have these wonderful farmers markets in our surrounding towns.  In fact, in two weeks, East Windsor will be featuring their farmers market open house on June 30th, Sunday, where I will be there along with my brother’s band, called the BACKTRAX Band.  Come by for a visit, on Rt 140 in-front of Joe’s Fine Wine and Spirits and the Golden Gavel Auction buildings – summer will be over before you know – now is your chance to get and support our Local Farm Fresh Food.  Drag your family along like I did – you won’t regret it.

Steve gets fresh romaine from the market

Steve gets fresh romaine from the market

The Ellington Farmers Market is held in the perfect location, in the center of town at Arbor Park.  It set up in a circle so you can make your rounds literally starting at one end of the circle and going all the way around back to your starting point.  The market master, Dianne Trueb, is quite impressive.  She and her farmers market organization have even created a downloadable app for the market where you can get automatic updates of  their scheduled offerings, and can join their loyalty programs.

Various cheese makers offerings, go see Margaret!

Various cheese makers offerings, go see Margaret!

By the way, I highly recommend the Feta Pesto made fresh with basil, pasteurized sheep’s milk feta, extra virgin olive oil, and pine nuts, garlic – oh yumm – spread it on the french bread.  Also, the Chevre cheese with balsamic and oil is yummy.  Margaret and her daughter host a booth showcasing freshly made cheeses by three different cheese makers, Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm, The Butterfield Farm Company, and Hastings Farm.  How nice it is to have these amazing cheeses specially delivered to the market for our access and enjoyment.

The Fish Market sides

The Fish Market sides

And “Norm’s Best” marinated mushrooms are outstanding, don’t miss those.  They got gobbled up quickly Saturday evening when we were home enjoying all the goodness of fresh.  And “The Fish Market” has a wonderful selection, we got fresh fish and cooked them up on the grill with the fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs.  It was just perfect.

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

For a mystical and eclectic plant mix, visit Logee’s in Danielson, CT

6 Comments
Logee's Growers, Danielson, CT

Logee’s Growers, Danielson, CT

When you enter Logee’s greenhouses in Danielson, CT you may want to make sure you do not suffer from claustrophobia because there is a jungle like atmosphere in this grower’s world unlike the traditional environment of a nursery.

As you enter the first greenhouse down some rickety old steps, you have to decide, do I go left or right?  And depending on what you see down the narrow corridor between plants, you may opt to take a detour.

The aisles are so lush with plantings on all sides and vines are dripping from the greenhouse ceilings above, only one person can pass through at a time.  You sometimes have to take the “high road” as one employee called it by stepping up to a side connecting pathway to allow other plant enthusiasts to pass by.

In my case, a group of very gabby women were coming towards my direction up the pathway, so I took the high road and stepped up to wait for them to go by in single file. They noticed I was admiring a papaya plant, and one lady (apparently the leader of this group) commented the plant has healing powers, where you can take the plants’ leaves and wrap them around your legs to sooth wounds, or something like that.  She had a bit of an accent so I wasn’t sure what exactly she said, but it was obvious her group was super charged about the abundant offerings of fruiting and fragrant tropical plants at this unique plant destination.  And I was too, I couldn’t wait to adventure more.

Logee's Greenhouse

Logee’s Greenhouse

I put the papaya plant back down, and contemplated returning to look at it again later, knowing I would have to browse the entire greenhouse and adjacent house before I would decided on the plants to take home.  And it would be a tough decision.  Logee’s has a large selection of many interesting plants.  And you have to look carefully – as in “up, down, and all around” to make sure you don’t miss something intriguing, plus walking in there can be a little tricky.  Let’s just say, it is not for the dainty feet, for there are some water spots and ruts along the way, all representing the 121 years of service this location has offered for the plant hobbyists falling into the ‘untamed’ category.

Dripping from the Ceilings

Dripping from the Ceilings

The greenhouses are permanent homes to many large, mature plants growing in and around the shelves of smaller, starter plants for sale.  The mature plants growing there reminds me of plants you see in conservatories, and they give you a sense of what is to come should you buy and grow a plant available at Logee’s. For example, a Golden Trumpet with rich, dark green leaves covered one area of the ceiling and was in full bloom.  There were also Clematis, Bougainvillea, Pink Power Puff, and Chinese Lantern plants suspended all around – plus many more.

Allamanda cathartica in bloom

Allamanda cathartica in bloom

You can feel, smell, see, and sense the history of this long-standing establishment, and the mix of plants – at least to me – represent the mix of the plant passions behind their offerings by a family with apparently as much diversity as their selections at Logee’s. As a large poster will tell you in the check out area, the founder’s son had a passion for begonias, his daughter for herbs and scented geraniums and her son’s passion for fragrant tropicals and fruiting container plants expanded Logee’s world into the full jungle it is today.

Bowiea volubilis

Bowiea volubilis

A comical sight to me was a big Climbing Onion situated right next to an old telephone. The plants here intermingle with the walls, equipment, and surroundings so much, it almost has an eerie feeling to it – as if the place has horticultural ghosts from the past wandering in the spaces and structure’s crevasses. If you are fortunate enough (or unfortunate depending how you look at it) to be alone in the greenhouse, you may get spooked by one of them tapping on your shoulder, but as you turn around, it will be disguised as a vine brushing up against you.  Funny how they can reach out that way.

“There is something mystical about Logee’s. The mix of plants is as eclectic as the diversity of personalities I’m sure grew this place into a destination worth visiting.”

Photo by Cathy Testa

Photo by Cathy Testa

Not only has Logee’s experienced diversity from a chain of generations, it survived a hurricane, blizzard, and energy crisis.  When I read the place was once heated with 50 cord of wood, I said, “wow” out loud.  But somehow, I imagined how enjoyable that may be for a plant lover, perhaps for the short term.  The buildings and plants housed within Logee’s have survived it all.  They have a lemon tree there, a showcase of the facility, at the ripe age of 113.  It’s been there almost as long as the business of 121 years.  I took a picture of the massive tree and its big green lemons, but decided to not post it here – I didn’t want to give away all the treasures – for you should make the trek out there sometime if you haven’t done so already.  This place has lasted a long time – one has to wonder – how many more years will we get to enjoy it?  I’m sure the plants in there will last longer than some of us.

Logee’s is located at 141 North Street, Danielson, CT.  Their website is www.logees.com where you can easily view their plant availability and more information, but going out to the grower’s location is something worth doing.  An adjacent rural town is Pomfret which has some local artisans and quaint shops to visit along the way.  Stop for some good food at “Pizza 101” at 16A Mashamoquet Road, Pomfret Center before or after your trip.  They have great sandwiches, grinders, salads, and yes, pizza there. Make a day trip of it because it is a long drive from at least my location – and perhaps your’s but the country roads are enjoyable if you have the time.

My first papaya plant, 'Red Lady'

My first papaya plant, ‘Red Lady’

And yes, I did buy that papaya plant I first saw when I arrived at Logee’s.  The funny part about this ending is the very nice young lady at the register offered a couple Logee’s magazines to me.  I grabbed three.  As I sat down eating my lunch after this trip, the 2013 issue shows a Babaco Papaya (Vasconceliea x heilbornii) as their featured plant on their latest catalog cover.  It is described as a superb, fruiting container plant that tolerates cool weather much better than the standard papaya.  As the owners Byron Martin and Laurelynn Martin further write on the inside cover, “You can grow this delicious fruit even if you’re a northern gardener.”  So I got a papaya, and they featured a papaya – not exactly the same cultivar, but its ironic, isn’t it?  I ended up with a papaya – to add to my fruiting collection this year. The one that lady told me had healing powers.

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

Can u guess what this is?

Can u guess what this is?

Can you guess what this plant is at Logee’s?  A Pomegranate!  (Oh and I bought a Megaskepasma erythrochlamys,…I got to go research that mouth full.  The photo of the bloom attracted me to it.)