My name is Cathy Testa and I live in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, Connecticut and have been blogging on this site for over 10 years. It started with my passion of growing everything in patio pots and container gardens. It is my style of gardening, a passion, and it feeds my soul.
After finishing my two-year degree at UCONN, I opened up a small business after gaining some experience at local nurseries and a landscape install business with the goal to install container gardens. It lead to many things. I created landscape designs for homeowners for a while (without installs). That was the days before GPS devices were invented, and I remember getting lost many times trying to find homes to review my landscape designs with them.
But creating landscape designs, while involved the love and study of plants, really wasn’t my passion. I loved doing container gardens. Landscape designs took a lot of time and I, being a very thorough person, probably overdid it at times. I believe my clients were very pleased and appreciated my work, but it was not my true calling.
I wanted to work on installing container gardens for store front businesses and homes and that was my focus. It led to a suggestion to hold patio pot parties at people’s homes. It was a cousin who suggested the idea and offered to host my first “Cathy T Container Garden Party” at her house 10 years ago.
Let’s just say, it was a complete success because people attending the workshops learned tips and techniques from me from the plants’ perspective, about soils and how they work in a pot, about the importance of drainage and fertilizing. Additionally, due to my love of plants, I would go over all the plants in great deal at the workshop and I have new themes every year to keep with the times and make it a continued expanding education about plants for my attendees. How plants grew, what they needed, and especially their design features are all covered to this day at my various workshops.
For a few years, I offered many “at home” container garden parties. Lugging a truck load of plants which lead to a “trailer load” of plants. One fond memory was putting all the plants I brought on to a trampoline in the host’s backyard. It was fun to see all the plants lined up in a circle for attendees to hand-pick in their designs. But eventually, I started to host these workshops at my location and at special venues, farmers markets, farms, etc.
After a while, my attendees skills and talents grew along with the plants. Many whom I visit from time to time have the most beautiful, full and thriving container gardens now at their homes. They went from being so afraid of plants to growing them in style and with confidence. This makes me very happy to say the least.
Soon enough, I started to offer more workshops, and I invited guest speakers from time to time to teach their talents. It is fun, takes a lot of effort on my part, and there have been so many growing experiences from the process, just too many for me to count.
Holding workshops “with plants” is not as easy as some people may think. It requires getting the “right, healthy plants” and it is a process, from ordering, learning growers styles and what they have to offer, and more. What I’m trying to say, on the surface it may look easy, but it requires a lot of organization and knowledge and appropriate plant care – much gained over time – to do it right.
Sometimes, I will see workshops offered in a “commercialized” style now, and I’ll be honest, it disappoints me. To take a concept and make it “cookie cutter” and conducted by people who don’t know about plants – I think is a bummer, but who I am to judge, our world changes constantly. I believe in plant education along the way and taking good care of the plants offered at my workshops. Quality is important to me.
This website (blog) initially started out with my passion to write. I never became an expert writer and I didn’t edit as much as I should have, but looking back at some of my blog posts, I think, darn, that was good! I even go to my own blog sometimes to look up a question I have that I know I researched years ago. Isn’t that funny?
I maintain this blog still. I can’t seem to give it up. I need to improve my writing skills. I guess I rush more now than I did years ago. But I’m proud to say, many people still follow this blog and refer to it. When I check the stats, some days it is high and I think, well, they enjoyed some of this information and find it useful. Good. I will keep it going maybe over 10 years.
I also hold workshops for seasonal topics and all of them have a component of learning about plant education, it is not just a “craft day” – it is a learning day. My degree from UConn (Associates of Applied Science), my Master Gardening program completed about 5 years after the degree, and also my constant research – keeps me learning and growing and I share what I know best that I can.
Just today, I was reading about Cation Exchange Capacity to try to explain it to a friend who inquired about sand. I wanted to explain it like a scientist, and I have it in my head and understand it, but I’m not a professor so I do the best I can to help them understand what is going on with sand and why it may not be the best for the plant she was inquiring about.
I love, love, love making unique plant related gifts. Sometimes an idea will just pop in my head. I post them on Instagram (and some I keep secret because they are unique so I only show those to my regular customers), and my plant creations are available for purchase if you are interested by contacting me to arrange an appointment and maybe even a delivery by me if you are local. I also sell unique plant gifts at seasonal holiday markets and summer farmers markets from time to time. I’ve considered going the online route too but I am just not sure about it – why? I don’t want to have the plants damaged in any way after my efforts.
I’ve posted some “time-lapse” videos as well on Facebook and Instagram when I create fun plant gifts or pot up items, what have you. And I have a small greenhouse, although some people will visit and say – wow, this is not what I thought – this is a big space. I love my greenhouse.
My growing space is my absolute heaven. I get into the zone when the warm sun penetrates the greenhouse and warms up my bones in the winter. It is a vitamin D pill at my finger tips. When I’m feeling blue, I sit in that greenhouse on a sunny winter day, and I will feel like I am on a beach in the Caribbean. I read plant books in there, I research, I work, I maintain it. Just last summer of 2018, I stained the roof boards inside during a hot part of summer – it wasn’t easy being on a ladder at the roof of a greenhouse, let me tell you – but I’m happy I got that job done.
It is not just the warmth, sun, and all that – it is the birds chirping outside in the brush, it is the solitude as I propagate succulents, pot up rhizomes to grow tropical plants, the smell of soil mix when I seed a tray, and it is the meditative aspect, which happens quite naturally, in that space of mine. My only regret is not building it much earlier in my life – because I learn so much from trial and error in there too. There are many discoveries when practice the art of growing plants in a greenhouse. Something will bloom or something will happen to the plants as if they are speaking to me. You will think I’m nuts, but I speak to them too. I walk in and say, “Good morning, my lovelies. Are you ready to perform for me today?!” and I play music in there too at times. You get the picture!
In addition, there is some stress working with plants too – that is the tough part. I’m a big weenie about stress. I get nervous – easily. I want good plants – actually, I want them to be PERFECT, but we know that is not possible 100% of the time unless you’re a plant God or a mad scientist, or a growing top notch expert that understands every formula in the world to achieve success. That is the beauty of working with plants – the science and the art. You will make mistakes but if you are learning and doing it right, you will have much success and rewards as well.
However, thru this all blogging and doing my small part time business with plants – all this time – I still haven’t lost my love of container gardening over gardening in the ground. I love putting tomato plants in big pots every summer, I love putting patio pots all over my deck, and I love creating in-home small pots for display for interior decor. I feel container gardening options are absolutely endless. My topics have ranged from showy, large tropical plants towering 12 feet high with 6 ft long leaves, to tiny micro-greens in small pots that fit on your window sill. All of this is a form of container gardening.
I hope you will enjoy this blog from time to time, visit me on WORKSHOPSCT.com, and offer feedback. What do you enjoy most about plants at this stage in your life? Why did you visit? What more would you like to know about me? What makes you crazy about plants? What do you want to learn more about? Tell me – I will listen!
I’m in my early 50’s now – some things have changed. It is harder to lift and roll big pots across my yard, or sometimes I get more tired physically when it is hot outside, but one thing is for sure – container gardening makes me keep going, and so will this blog — for now.
Thank you for dropping in today!