Frozen Niagara Falls – 2015

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Think it is chilly and icy in Connecticut? Think again! Check out these amazing winter scene photos of Niagara Falls in NY by “Garden Walk Garden Talk.” This blogger created her blog to “celebrate the natural beauty and creativity found in Niagara Falls, New York. She loves to photograph, paint and draw; design and create; and pass along tips and ideas that may inspire.” And I’m glad I found and follow this blog. Cathy T

CT Flower and Garden Show Photos – In Case You Didn’t Go Last Week

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Hello Fellow Blog Visitors,

In case you didn’t make it to the CT Flower and Garden show last week in Hartford, here are the photos I quickly snapped from my iPhone. The funny thing is I thought I may not take as many photos as usual – but it didn’t take long for me to do so – There were so many wonderful photos to capture of landscape displays, garden art, handcrafted items, and more.

First Landscape Display Seen at the Show

First Landscape Display Seen at the Show


The first landscape display we saw was by “Supreme Landscapes.” I enjoyed the wooden structure, the clever fountain made with an old rusty re-purposed gardening item, and the large boulders edging the beds, which I reached down to touch to see if they were real – and they were. Amazing what they truck in and place at these displays.

'Sango-Kaku' Japanese maple in a display

‘Sango-Kaku’ Japanese maple in a display

Supreme Landscapes began their landscape written description with the words, “…a staircase jumps out inviting you to go up to the rustic hideaway…”

And I couldn’t agree more. The staircase led your eyes up to a little wooden cabin, a place you surely would want to visit if you found it surrounded by flowering plants and gentle sounds of water falling from a nearby fountain. It was a wonderful scene to greet you as you entered the main landscape area at the show.

Landscape Display Aquascapes of CT

Landscape Display Aqua Scapes of CT

Around the bend, we came across “Aqua Scapes of CT” – Talk about a pagoda!

The main features at this display were all about water scenes, waterfalls, ponds, koi fish, and copper water features.

Here we were greeted by Mark Zinni of WFSB Channel 3; he noticed my small suitcase, and asked if I was coming from the airport.

When I explained I brought a suitcase along to pack my garden nick-knacks to be purchased at the show, he interviewed me along with my friend, Linda. It was aired later that evening.

And I loved what my friend, Linda, stated, “We need it, we need it to have a boost-because it is the light at the end of the tunnel…spring is around the corner.

Aquascapes Garden Art - Blue Bottles

Aqua Scapes’ Display – Copper Garden Art among the Tulips and Daffs

Encore Landscaping Display

Encore Landscaping Display

The next display which caught my eye – and was my favorite of the landscape displays – was by “Encore Landscaping.”

As I approached this display, it was the special touches which impressed me most – The window frame with decor, container gardens situated just perfectly to frame areas, a little sitting area with table and chairs, etc.

But as I browsed more of the various features, I could not find the sign to indicate which designer it was. Linda looked it up for me in the garden show book, and it was a pleasure to discover all was designed by a friend, Diane of “Encore Landscaping.” She and I have chatted about design in the past.

Encore Landscaping described their landscape display as a “…sunny and warm day in spring, with the promise of even warmer days soon to come.

Encore Landscaping

Encore Landscaping

Encore Landscaping

Encore Landscaping

Encore Landscaping - Love those mushrooms

Encore Landscaping – Love those mushrooms

And who could not fall in love with the next landscape display by “Creative Contour Landscape Design.”

The greenroof, dining table with running water spilling down the ends, and the water features were spectacular.

Creative Contours

Creative Contour

Creative Contour Landscape Design

Creative Contour Landscape Design

Creative Contour Landscape Design

Creative Contour Landscape Design

If I remember correctly, this was the far right part of their design – but you see so much, as I browse the photos – I have to rethink – but pretty sure it was. Loved the big pots here and there, the sitting area, etc.

When I spoke to the designer, Jennifer Noyes, she quickly asked if I would like to be on her consultation list – and I thought – “Yah-right -would I?! But it is not in my budget this year.”

Who wouldn’t love that scene above tho – I would dine at that table every night during the summer – even if I was eating alone.

Creative Contour described their display as, “...cascading waterfalls into a “Spring” fed reflection pool…

Wood Edges

Wood Edges

Again – it is hard to remember exactly which display this was above, but I like the wood log sections and how they carefully placed them as a border’s edge.

Display at the CT Flower and Garden Show 2015

Display at the CT Flower and Garden Show 2015

I apologize for not noting the name of this display – but wow – they think of everything!


Greenhouse Growers Assoc. Area

Greenhouse Growers Assoc. Area

Hellebore at Greenhouse Growers Assoc.

Hellebore at Greenhouse Growers Assoc.

Mentioned previously in a blog post about the upcoming show, there are plants galore you may purchase at the show. One area showcases several florists and this is where I got a close up photo of an early blooming perennial, Hellebore. This will be the first one to show its blooms and foliage after our abundance of snow melts in the spring – sometimes this perennial pops up while there is some snow left standing on the ground too.

The CT Greenhouse Growers Association is a trade organization representing the interests of this state’s 150-plus greenhouse growers.




Here comes the Mini’s! There were so many booths showcasing and offering miniature garden decor – I visited at least 3 at the show – it is a popular activity in the gardening world, even some landscape displays had miniature scenes arranged within the garden beds.

FlowerShow 2015 ContainerCrazyCT_0021-001

Natureworks is a very popular garden center in CT, and they had many minis along with other garden art.





Natureworks' booth

Natureworks’ booth

Natureworks' booth - Mini Displays

Natureworks’ booth – Mini Displays

Natureworks Miniature Gardens

Natureworks Miniature Gardens

Natureworks Garden Decor on Witch Hazel branch

Natureworks Garden Decor on Witch Hazel branch

FlowerShow 2015 ContainerCrazyCT_0032 FlowerShow 2015 ContainerCrazyCT_0034-001

I wish I could remember who’s booth the following photos of the mini barn and vivid mini arrangements were from – because they had adorable miniature garden embellishments as well.

More Minis at the Show

More Minis at the Show

More Minis at the Show - Cute Barn Display

More Minis at the Show – Cute Barn Display

Love the vivid colors

Love the vivid colors

Great themes of the Minis

Great themes of the Minis

Every year at the show – I am sure to pick up a few bars of handmade soaps – who can resist the wonderful scents?

Thompson Street Farm of South Glastonbury, CT

Thompson Street Farm of South Glastonbury, CT

Thompson Street Farm - Bars displayed

Thompson Street Farm – Bars displayed

Thompson Street Farm had an great display of their soaps – I loved how Brenda Sullivan, the owner, showed huge uncut bars of the soap – and she told me that one time an online shopper thought her soaps were fudge – No wonder, they are scrumptious to look at as well as smell. She is located at 49 Thompson Street in South Glastonbury, CT, and offers more than handcrafted herbal and floral soaps, she has some leafy greens and veggies/herbs per her business card. Her soaps were a definite purchase and added to my suitcase of goodies as I shopped more at the show.


EarthWorm Technologies

EarthWorm Technologies

Steven Devloo, Founder and CEO of Earthworm Technologies, impressed us with his colorful display and talk about his eco-friendly products utilizing earthworms and vermicomposted food scraps to create fertilizer boosts for potted plants. Visit his website to check out his small capsules of pill like shaped fertilizers which are inserted into the soil for indoor and outdoor plants, and for use in vases to feed freshly cut flowers. He’s onto something here! Earthworm Technologies are based in Stamford, CT.


Another organic product I saw was by Sea Green Organics, but I didn’t get a photo of it – However, I did purchase a bottle of their liquid seaweed fertilizer which I will be trying out this summer. As noted on their bottle, “Our Liquid Seaweed fertilizer is radically different than anything that you have tried before. This product was developed over many years at the University of Connecticut by a team trying to solve some of the big problems our planet faces. Specifically, it reduces drought stress, and nitrogen runoff which has become a major water pollution issue.”

Sea Green Organic’s liquid fertilizer may be used as a root drench, foliar feed or as a soil injection. It is mixed in water for application. I’ll let you know about the results this summer.


THE FEDERATED GARDEN CLUBS OF CT, Inc. had several design competitions, in themes such as, “Ship Ahoy, Cruising Around the World, Seven Blue Seas, and Tour the World.”

Beautiful Delphiniums with White Flowers

Beautiful Delphiniums with White Flowers

And, I decided to save the best photo for last – beautiful Delphiniums with white flowers in this gorgeous floral arrangement showcased at the design competition. I fell in love with this one and the other photo shown below of the autumn colors in another display – just wonderful to see these colors this year especially during our very snow filled winter.

Floral Competition - Flower Show - Hartford, CT

Floral Competition – Flower Show – Hartford, CT

Floral Design Competition - CT Flower and Garden Show - 2015

Floral Design Competition – CT Flower and Garden Show – 2015

The CT Flower and Garden Show is held every February at the Connecticut Convention Center in downtown Hartford.

This year was the 34th annual – and themed, “The Spirit of Spring.”


As for my suitcase which I brought along to load up with goodies – by the end of the day, it was filled with gardening pamphlets, a bottle of Sea Green Organic fertilizer, several decorative wrought-iron hooks for hanging baskets by Garden Iron of Covington, KY, several bars of handcrafted soaps by Thompson Street Farm, zinc-plated plant markers from Ironwood Tools, a birdhouse (yup, it fit), along with a small box of decorative greeting cards with bird photos on them, and sachets of lavender. Things were smelling good in there by the time I arrived home in the spirit for spring and less focused on winter.

Cathy Testa

Cathy Testa today 2015

Cathy Testa of ContainerCrazyCT

Cathy Testa, owner of Cathy T’s Landscape Designs and Container Crazy CT, completed the Master Gardener Program in September of 2010.  She holds an Associates of Applied Science degree in Horticulture with a concentration in Floriculture from the University of Connecticut.  During her studies, she managed a private nursery for a design install business in Bloomfield, CT.  Upon graduation, Cathy was employed at the Garden Barn and Nursery in Vernon, CT for two years before starting her own business, which she has been operating for eight years.  She served on the Board of the Connecticut Horticulture Society for two years on a volunteer basis, and continued her studies via programs such as the UCONN Perennial Conference. Her current business services include container gardening design and installations for homes and retail business store fronts, small garden design consultations, blog writing which includes freelance writing for local farmers market blogs, and she offers regular hands-on classes on topics pertaining to combining nature with art from her classroom located in Broad Brook, CT.  Her attention to plant details, growth requirements, and steps for success with container gardening, along with a passion for plants and their ornamental beauty, has contributed to her reputation of being “container crazy” in her area of services.  Cathy has also appeared on the CT Style television program, participated on the CT Food & Farm podcast, and regularly speaks at Garden Clubs.

To see a history of Cathy Testa’s horticultural activity the past few years, click on the ABOUT link.

Thank you for visiting Cathy Testa on ContainerCrazyCT

Cathy T’s Container Gardening Services – What I Do for You


Good morning everyone,

It always surprises me when someone isn’t aware of what I offer as part of my small business called, “Cathy T’s Landscape Designs”, and under the umbrella of, “Container Crazy CT.”

This situation just happened the other day. I was chatting with someone I’ve known for several years, and she asked if I was into banana plants?

This question was a surprise to hear because I’ve blogged about them, sold them, and especially like tropical plants.

Before I could answer, she started to tell me how she was growing some in her home for a garden club event.

As soon as I started to tell her about the big red banana plant I grew in a large planter a couple years back, she paused to listen.

This discussion reminded me of how I once told a garden center owner that many of my friends were not aware their store existed. He kind of listened but I don’t think he believe me – because they are well established.

Funny how that happens.

So, today I’m sharing what I shared at my last garden talk – some quick highlights of what I do. Hopefully you will join me this season for any of the following:

Cathy Testa

Cathy Testa

First – A little bit about my style. I tend to like showy foliage plants, and big tropical plants because they are exciting and grow fast in container gardens. I enjoy storing tropical plants over the winter months so they may be reused each season as well, so as part of my classes and talks, I often share how to do so – store tender plants.

Taking Down a P

Taking Down a big Red Banana Plant – All Steps are On my Blog!!

Storing tender plants (or tropical plants) is something I enjoy. On my blog — this blog, you will find prior posts which show how I do this – The photo above, from a prior blog post, shows me holding a 7 foot long leaf of a red banana plant (Ensete) and the trunk after it was chopped down following an October frost two years ago. It was amazing how this plant grew that particular year in a very large cement planter.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (1)

As you can see, in these two photos above – the red banana plant grew to about 12′ – 14′ feet tall! I was so in love with how lush and tropical it looked, I kept taking photos of it. So, my style is kind of like that above; I like to create outdoor oasis like places in my surroundings, where you escape to a feeling of the tropics. And I tend to enjoy using unusual plants, like cool looking edibles in container gardens. I spoke about edibles quite a bit last season at garden clubs and farmers markets.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (3)Container gardening or arranging plants in patio pots is my favorite thing to do and offer as part of my services offerings. I’m a small business located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT.

Barrels in-front of Joe's Fine Wine & Spirits by Cathy T

Barrels in-front of Joe’s Fine Wine & Spirits by Cathy T

Store front seasonal container arrangements, such as various plants in spring, summer, and fall – and then changing them out for winter displays with fresh evergreens, and even fun off-season decor for the holidays is what I offer to local store front type businesses. This dresses up the store front, welcomes customers, and even encourages friendly communications with your visiting clients. For referrals or more information about the container garden installations, feel free to contact me or complete the Contact Form at the bottom of this blog post. Or click on Testimonials above on this blog’s menu bar.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (4)

I also offer container garden installations at homes. And for special outdoor events, such as weddings, graduations, or any type of special celebrations at your home. The container gardens filled with lush plants are available for purchase or rent. To read about my Container Garden Services, click HERE.

Evolvulus (10)

Consider this alternative of enhancing your outdoor space with container gardens filled with beautiful plants the next time you are throwing a special party or event. After all, container gardens are enjoyed for months to follow in season, and are long-lasting compared to other outdoor decor which is there just for the day – and never to be seen again. Containers make wonderful gifts and decor for events. For more information, contact me or fill out the Contact Form at the bottom of this blog. It is important to plan early and in advance for special events.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (5)

Fun gatherings where attendees learn hands-on is another service offering by my business. It started with offering classes in the winter months, and transitioned to workshops on container gardening and other classes related to combining Nature with Art. Last fall, we had a special guest speaker come in to teach us how to make hypertufa pots, and this spring, we will be making eclectic windchimes. The topics vary but they all focus on combining nature with art. The 2015 class schedule is posted above – via the menu bars – on this blog. Click on CALENDAR to see the upcoming events by month.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (7)

First on the 2015 list is an April class on making eclectic windchimes. And every May, a Container Garden Workshop is offered. This year’s theme is, “Powerful Perennials in Container Gardens.” To see the complete class listings, please click on the menu bars of this blog and look over the drop down menus by month. Sign up is via the contact forms on the blog pages.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (6)

The workshops are held in Broad Brook, CT. They are convenient, educational, and a great way to network with other gardening friends. But most of all, they are fun! Last year, we held two sessions on Miniature Gardens with special guest speaker, Rondi Niles of Gardening Inspirations – it was held twice because everyone enjoyed them. This year, the Container Garden Workshops will be held twice as well. I hope you will join us and share the events with your gardening friends.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (8)

In the warm season months, classes are held outdoors. During the winter, inside a classroom. Every December, I offer a class on working with evergreen plants to create amazing holiday decor, such as evergreen kissing balls, wreaths, and candle centerpieces. It fills up fast and is an event everyone enjoys as well – organizing groups is one of my passions – and is a great way to network and meet new gardening friends, or those who enjoy creating and making items for their home’s outdoor surroundings.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (9)

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (10)

And last year, a new activity was added to the Cathy T’s offerings – Walk and Talk Home Gardens tours – Very informal, fun, and the hosts are homeowners willing to share what they have done in their gardens – with the rule that there “are no rules!” It can be informal, messy, or amazing – it is a way to share and learn from each other. Last year, we toured a pond garden in Enfield, an urban veggie garden in Wethersfield, and a sunny hillside garden in East Granby.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (11)

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (12)The Walk and Talk Home Garden Tours for 2015 are underway. We have two lined up so far for 2015. Again, see the menu bar with drop down menus of all the activity. If you are interested in sharing your home garden, please reach out – it is a great way to exchange gardening tips, meet new gardening friends, and share what you know, how you have created a garden in your special spaces, and it doesn’t matter if your garden is big or small, perfect or imperfect – we want to hear from you! To contact me about a tour, e-mail or fill out the Contact Form at the end of this post.

Evolvulus (8)

So there you have it – in a nutshell: Container Garden installs for homes, businesses, and special events. Lots of nature and plant related classes which are all DIY and include taking home your creation – and educational! And Garden Talks at Garden Clubs, appearances at farmers markets (Ellington and East Windsor again in 2015), Garden Tours at People’s Homes, and more.

My business is based on 8+ years of growing from my inspiration and passion of plants and container gardens, experimentation which lead to knowledge and taking courses over the years, and knowing the right way to care for plants in container gardens and patio pots, circling back to more experience. It starts with having a passion and inspiration! Let’s meet to share the passion together.

Cathy Testa

To learn more about Cathy Testa, see her BIO.

Flashback Friday – My Little Perennial Garden with Echinacea purpurea

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This was my very first little perennial garden in my backyard.

Focal Point

Marigolds fill a golden pot in a carefree perennial garden – Photo taken in Year 2009 by C. Testa

My first perennial garden was framed with a tiny white picket fence, the type you push into the ground.

The small garden space was filled with a mix of tall blooming perennials, such as Echinacea purpurea (coneflower), which you see on the right – a perfect perennial plant for a carefree setting.

Their blooms lasted all summer long in the garden’s full sun location, which is why I had selected this spot for a garden – and because it was visible from almost every direction in my backyard.

As you can see, it had a small golden container.
Perched up on a chair, simple, filled with bright and vivid Marigolds.

My dear departed cat, Ruby, hides near Ajuga reptans and a Jack and The Pulpit plant

My dear departed cat, Ruby, hides near Ajuga reptans and a jack-in-the-pulpit plant

In the photo above, my dear departed cat, Ruby, is seen sitting by Ajuga reptans (bugleweed). She visited this area to play. When she passed, we buried her in this garden.

The jack-in-the-pulpit plant (Arisaema triphyllum) was found in my woodlands near this area, and transplanted here. It grew well for many years in this spot.

The jack-in-the pulpit plant was the first plant introduced to us in an herbaceous ornamentals’ class at UCONN by our professor. I remember he was surprised when many of us were familiar with it. Discovering a stand of this plant growing naturally in my woodlands was a thrill.


Interesting & Healthy Facts about Echinacea

The center of the plant has hard spines shaped like a sea urchin.

The greek word, echino, means “sea urchin.”

When taken as an extract, Echinacea helps with colds or flu, boosts the immune system, and may increase red blood cell production and oxygen intake.

It is one of the most popular plants in the perennial garden because they are so easy to grow and are drought-tolerant.

Echinacea plants work extremely well as “thrillers” in container gardens and patio pots because they are long lasting, very tall growers, and easy!


ContainerCrazyCT 2015 Calendar
Me in 2010 at the CT Flower Show as a CT Hort Society Volunteer.

Me in 2010 at the CT Flower Show as a CT Hort Society Volunteer.

Don’t forget – the CT Flower and Garden Show in Hartford, CT is next week, starting on Thursday, February 19th.


"Valentine's Day, Greeting Card, Illustration" by kraifreedom curtosey of

“Valentine’s Day, Greeting Card, Illustration” by kraifreedom courtesy of

TGIF Everyone and Happy Valentine’s Day,

Cathy Testa

The 3 Worst Jobs I had as a Teen, and the Toughest as an Adult

Cartoon Mushroom Image by MisterGC of

Cartoon Mushroom Image by MisterGC of

WORST JOB #1: The mushroom factory

I worked at the mushroom factory on Newberry Road in East Windsor, Connecticut, when I was a kid.  I think I was like 13 or 14 years old – and the only reason I worked there was because my eager sister, Lisa, wanted to make some money, so I tagged along with her to apply for a summer job there.

I didn’t like the job very much.  We went into dark rooms where large mushroom beds were stacked up like bunk beds from floor to ceiling.  It was pitch black in there because, as most people know, mushrooms grow in the dark.

We were required to wear yellow hardhats with headlamps attached on them, and carried large plastic bins to our designed mushroom beds. The planting beds had rolling ladders attached to them. Climbing to each level, I would reach in to pick the mushrooms, roll to the next spot, and toss mushrooms into the bin.

Not liking the job much wasn’t due to the working conditions. We were picking the mushrooms out of soil amended with manure, but it didn’t smell awful at all.  The soil was healthy composted soil, and only the scent filling the air was the scent of fresh mushrooms. I just found the job to be monotonous.

Unlike my sister, I had no motivation to exceed my daily picking quota. This is all she could think about – pick more, get paid more per load. Each bin fully loaded was weighed by our supervisor. My sister was, and still is, an accounting head. She always picked more than I did.

As for myself, on the other hand, I goofed off a lot at that job.  I remember one day chucking mushrooms at another friend working there, trying to hit her hardhat when she wasn’t looking, and when the supervisors weren’t paying attention.

You would think as a plant person I would dig this job because it was plant related – but to me it was the pits.

Wedding Gown photo by Rosen Georgie of

Wedding Gown photo by Rosen Georgie of

WORST JOB #2:  The box factory

How the heck I ever ended up working in an old brick building located in Warehouse Point, Connecticut, assembling cardboard boxes, mostly for wedding gown storage, is beyond me.  I think it was my older sister again who told me about the job and dragged me along.

There was an assembly room in the back of the warehouse with rickety devices that looked like something your grandpa made from pieces of wood.  You would take the flat boxes, fold the edges, and apply smelly glue, then use the old wooden tools to hold them in place to dry.  I also remember attaching the clear front window panes to the top of the cardboard box for viewing the eventual wedding gown to be placed in there by a happy bride someday.

This job was so lame.  There was no one else in the warehouse building working when we were there.  Just a couple of teens in the back assembling boxes by hand.  The rest of the building was filled with stuff, but now, I can’t remember what it was, machinery or parts, something of that nature.

When I told the supervisor I was leaving for a job in a pizza restaurant, this I remember – she responded with, “I knew you wouldn’t last.”

Pls Take Your Order by Stockimages

Pls Take Your Order by Stockimages

WORST JOB #3: The pizza kitchen

I was moving up in the world.

I applied and got a job working at a local pizza restaurant in East Windsor, Connecticut, which is still in operation today. Sofia’s pizzeria on route 5 in town. But, not as a waitress. I worked in the kitchen preparing grinders and pizzas.

One day, when a customer came to pick up an order of two pizzas, I grabbed the two stacked pizza boxes from the top of the ovens.  Moving my hands a little too quickly, the smaller pizza box on the top of the bigger pizza box slid right off and dropped to the floor, flipping over as it traveled down.

Without a second thought, I picked it up, turned it right side up, placed it on top of the other pizza box, and handed it to the customer.

When the customer walked away carrying their pizzas, the lead gal in the kitchen said to me, “What are you nuts?  That pizza has to be sticking to the cover!”

I was clueless.  The customer was too.

Another day, I got frustrated because the head chef from the back kitchen area picked me one too many times mop the floor at the end of the day.  This totally pissed me off because I felt I was asked to do this chore often.  Plus, mopping was the last chore of the day, so everyone leaves and you are there alone to finish up the final cleaning requirements.

After I was done, I loudly stomped to the storage closet, threw my apron, mop, and other stuff down a stairwell, and made the only person still there, the back kitchen supervisor, know by my actions I was displeased with being asked to mop the floor again.

He came out to speak to me, and waved a spatula in my face, as he said, “You are good worker.  Don’t get mad.”

My response was – “Why am I being asked to do the cleanup all the time?!”

Then I huffed out the front door of the restaurant.

When returning to work the next day, he walked up to me and said, “Today, you are going to work in the back kitchen.”

This was a special honor.  The back kitchen was reserved for the cooks making the sauces and pizza dough.  I learned the techniques used and got to participate in making some recipes.

However, when I returned to the front kitchen later that day, I was relentlessly teased by my coworkers. They were chanting, “Cathy and Joey up in the tree, K-I-S-S—I N G.”

I think these were probably my worst three jobs I had as a young teen.  The first two as a tween actually, and the later when I was about the age to get my driver’s license.

Eventually, I got a real job working in corporate America where I stayed for a long time, until I escaped to switch careers in the plant world in my mid 30’s.

Girl by Africa curtosey of

Girl by Africa curtosey of

The Toughest as an Adult:

This is when I experienced the toughest, not the worst, but the toughest job I had as an adult.  I got my first job working in a large and popular garden center located in Vernon, Connecticut, after completing my first horticulture courses at UCONN.

Immediately on the job, I was hit up with every single type of plant and gardening related question you could imagine by customers shopping at the store.

Questions like, “What is this bug, how do I treat my lawn, what is this disease on my plant, how do I prune this tree, what is the height of this tree, what plants bloom in spring, why can’t this grow right, Is this a weed?”  It was endless.

Oh, and the classic was when they wanted me to identify a plant and they did not bring a sample of it. When I asked them to describe it, they always started with this statement, “Well, the leaves are green.”

The customer questions went on and on every day, and being fresh in my new field – of course, I did not know all the answers, even with a degree.  And because I was a bit older, some customers assumed I was a long-time worker, but I was new in the field of plants.

A couple reference books were placed on a stand by me so I could at least look up a disease or insect problems since this was probably my weakest point.  There are so many kinds!  But seeing the plant problems hands on and learning what types of questions customers had was very rewarding because every day presented a new challenge. Every day was a new experience.

Daily, there would be some kind of body ache too.  My shoulders would ache from reaching for hanging baskets time after time, my feet would hurt from being on them all day, and spring rain would make me cold one day in the outdoor areas, where summer heat would make me hot and tired the next.  Advil became a best friend.

One day, my neck seized up so badly, I had to refuse putting hanging baskets on the lines in the greenhouses, and go see the chiropractor. And, I probably lifted one too many heavy things in a hurry like a small B&B shrub when one of the younger nursery guys were not available due to helping another customer or unloading a delivery of plants.

In this job, I was no longer a teen, but a middle-aged woman.  All the same, determination and motivation kept me there.

Not only was there a plethora of questions, many customers were overly anxious for answers.  Some days, I’m not exaggerating, customers would wait in line to speak to me.  On the busiest of days, like Mother’s Day or other holidays, the store was packed.

You really see what nursery staff is all about on those days, and they work hard during a fast moving season to help the customers. They do it because they love plants.  Why else would they endure the physical and mental demands of this type of job?

I could tell you so many stories, from a girl crying because she did not achieve the dream garden bed she wanted “just like in a gardening magazine.”  And another time, when a priest was shopping for a shrub for his church, asked me for help. He pointed to a particular shrub to ask me what it was – and no lie, he was pointing to a shrub called, Physocarpus opulifolis ‘Diablo.’  The look on his face was priceless when I told him the shrub’s name. He hurriedly walked away.

The owner of the nursery told me one day, in a firm tone, “Stop asking me that.”  I was bugging him about wanting to work in the perennials section, stating, “I think I would be better placed there for my daily responsibilities.”  Perennials were my passion at that time.

He responded with, “We already have a perennial’s manager.” I suspect this is why he assigned me to the trees and shrubs area in the outdoor nursery area.  Maybe he didn’t know yet where I fit in, and to be frank, neither did I.  But I was so willing to learn and try. I wasn’t going to complain. I was thrilled to be working in my first plant related job.

I asked him for the plant order list of all the trees and shrubs at the nursery so I could review and study them.  And, every time I had a customer interested in shrubs or trees, after my review, I would then say, “Let’s go to the perennial’s section and find a great candidate to go with these shrubs.”

After one of my customers checked out, the cashier said to me, “That was a great combination.”  I think she wanted me to help her next.  It was turning out my assignment by my boss was forcing me to see the bigger picture of design combinations and plants.  Maybe intentional.  Maybe not.

Eventually, the owner walked up to me one day, when I was watering a bench of plants to say, “You are going to learn and do landscape design.” As he abruptly walked away, the floor got watered instead of the plants because I was in shock as I stood there holding my watering wand, wondering what just happened. Upstairs I went to learn about how they did designs.

The challenges increased from there.  Juggling several factors such as learning a new design program, laying out designs for customers, visiting their homes for onsite assessments, pricing quotes for install jobs, etc.  I was doing all of this while still providing customer support every day on the nursery floor. Sometimes I felt like I had to be in two places at the same time.

The reason this job was the toughest though was because of the combinations of factors; having to know so much because the questions never ended and enduring the physical demands each day.  Not to mention the working environment was polar opposite of where I came from – a cubicle in corporate America.  Plus, I worked the weekends too.

Yet there was never a boring day.   Never a stale moment.  Never a question not to be answered.  And never ever a time of not learning something new.  I was inspired constantly.

Everyone would say how lucky I was when they learned I was working in a nursery garden center.  And I was lucky.  I was finally working in a field where I have a true passion.

As for those terrible teen jobs – well, you know, when you’re a kid, you’ll work anywhere!

Cathy Testa



Yellow Shrimp Plant with Two Companions Make The Perfect Trio in Two Pots


The Tools - MG Class (1)

Foliage Lasts Throughout the Season

One year, these three plants were used in two pots and the foliage rich result was eye-catching.

One of the benefits of focusing on plants for their foliage features is foliage lasts throughout the growing season.  In many cases, annual plant blooms will wither away towards the end of the summer from heat exhaustion or repeat blooming.

So when you use foliage with a captivating thriller plant, like the yellow shrimp plant, you result with a stunning combination which is easy to assemble and maintain.

Echoing Foliage Colors

Notice how the dark purple plum like color (violet-red color on the color wheel) of the sweet potato vine’s heart shaped leaves are repeated in a band of the same rich purple plum color in the leaves of the Coleus ‘Kong Rose’ plant.

Repeating a color of one plant in another plant is a way to add impact to a design. This holds true in containers, patio pots, and in gardens of the ground.

Complementary Color – Yellow and Purple

The yellow shrimp plant’s yellow parts (technically bracts) represent a color opposite to purple on the color wheel so they seem to pop near each other.  This is especially true when two plants with pure yellow and purple colors are used together in a container garden – but either way – what I loved about this trio is how lush and full they got and stayed all summer long with little to no problems.

The Tools - MG Class (2)

The plants used in these two pots are what I consider reliable performers.

Reliable Performers

The ‘Ace of Spades’ sweet potato vine just kept growing and growing, dangling over the rim of the pot to the ground and even down the railing. It served as a “spiller” in the container gardens.

The Coleus ‘Kong Rose’ has very large leaves; and is an exceptional “filler” in the container gardens. I would have to say the ‘Kong’ cultivars are one of my fav’s as well – because of their lush leaves.

Then, of course, is the shrimp plant, the “thriller“, with its amazing yellow bracts and white blooms. The flower structure is fascinating, so the minute I saw some available at a local garden center, I grabbed two that year.

See the Yellow Shrimp Plant during the Winter

Visit the Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens in South Deerfield, Massachusetts; you will spot this plant there growing in their greenhouses filled with fluttering butterflies. The butterflies love the blooms, and the tropical like feel in this place is perfect for growing this tropical to sub-tropical loving Peruvian shrub.

Yellow Bracts with White Flowers

As I noted in my prior blog post about spotting this plant there, you can see why it is called a golden or yellow shrimp plant.  The flowers are not the yellow parts you see here; these are the bracts.  The white tubular flowers extend from the yellow bracts, and in my container garden, the hummingbirds and butterflies loved them.

Long Lasting Blooms – Feeds the Butterflies

Another bonus of the yellow shrimp plant’s blooms are they are long-lasting in summer, and grow upright and tall – you really notice them, plus they are a bit unusual or nontraditional – and are definitely exotic looking in my book. If you are looking for something out of the norm – this is the plant to try.

Part to Full Shade or Full Sun to Light Shade – Easy to Grow

Yellow shrimp plants enjoy part to full shade and this worked out well because its companion plants in this container gardens do as well. Although I found if situated in part sun – it didn’t do much harm at all.

This plant combination was featured in the GMPRO magazine in 2008, titled “Foliage Fanatic.”
Check it out to read the exact growing requirements.

2008 Stunner

2008 Stunner

Other plants similar to the yellow shrimp plant are Jacobinia carnea (pink shrimp plant, Brazilian plume) and Pachystachys coccinea (cardinal’s guard). They are not hardy to our Connecticut planting zones, so just be sure to wait to put them out in season when things are warmed up appropriately during the summer months – which is far away at the moment, but viewing these photos gives us inspiration until then.

Thank you for visiting my blog – Please Share!
Cathy Testa

Cathy Testa of ContainerCrazyCT blog_0001

Don’t forget to note the May 2015 dates for Cathy T’s Container Garden Workshops:
May 16th and May 23rd, 2015

ContainerCrazyCT 2015 Calendar (2)