What Will the New Year Bring?

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I don’t know!

As I sit here on December 30, 2022, I really don’t know what the new year will bring. Every time I think things will return to normal, it doesn’t.

Hopefully the new year will bring “new” things! We shall see.

No Tomatoes in 2023

Bad news first – I don’t think I will be growing my tomatoes this spring. Boo! I know!! But a potential trip will be timed exactly when I would be tending to the sprouted seeds, and I just can’t leave them be when I’m away. Taking care of new baby plants is time consuming, a daily activity of checking and monitoring them, and since I work solo, I don’t think I can grow them in 2023. When growing from seeds, there is so much involved in the “daily nursery aspect.” I open doors, close greenhouse doors, inspect the plants to make sure they are healthy, I move plants, put some under grow lights, move some, I monitor them – sometimes twice a day to maintain just the right moisture, and then there is the potting up phases! That definitely will be an activity missed in 2023, but maybe I can use that time to do some repair work in the greenhouse since it won’t be filled with seedlings. On the plus side, I will be having some type of seed packet sale – so stay tuned if you like heirlooms.

New Offerings?

Sometimes I ponder what new activity could I add to my small business offerings. I know the “organic” things which come to mind spontaneously cannot be forced! It is like it has to happen naturally. Like when you are standing in the shower, and some idea just magically pops into my head. That is usually how it happens. Hopefully a new idea will surface. There have been many in the past, like when I got totally consumed in growing sprouts in the home, remember that?!

Continue Summer Watering Services

I know I want to continue my new “Watering Services” in the heat of summer when people travel. I took care of a few gardens for homeowners and also watered a community garden plots last summer. It felt good to care for plants while someone was traveling and knowing they could relax knowing their plants would be fine and especially because mid-summer is a big harvest month. You need to water at that time, and this service is on my list to continue in the summer of 2023. If interested, look me up next summer, and I will be sure to send out reminders as well.

Container Gardening, of course, will Continue!!

Container gardening is always number one and I will continue to install patio pots, planters, dish gardens, and more at specific sites as best as I can. I’m getting older so lifting is getting harder. At least with container gardening I do not have to dig in the ground but lifting bags of potting soil mix or lifting pots and nursery pots is a thing. I need to work on building up strength so I can continue my passion with container gardening. And knowing to take your time when lifting, using hand trucks and thinking it through helps a great deal so you don’t strain anything.

Camper Style

We bit the bullet and got a small camper last year and absolutely loved it – but only got to use it once or twice, so next year, we hope we can adventure with that more during our off time. Got a recommendation for locations you love in the US for camping? Let us know. I never imagined I’d be a camper girl, but the relaxation of it and not worrying about flight problems, well, that sold me and my hubby. So, for the fun list – this will continue between work.

Seasonal and Holiday Decor

I can’t imagine going thru the fall or winter season without continuing some of my creations, such as the Succulent Pumpkins and my Holiday Wreaths. They were so fun to make this past year, and I thank you again for all your orders. It was a fast-paced Holiday and so much fun to create and handmake all the wreaths, garland, etc. I love the wreaths I made for myself too.

But More??

What more could I do with my business? Got a suggestion? Let me know. I know people still, once in a great while will ask if I still do workshops, and I don’t. I just don’t know if I could do those again, but who knows, right? We really don’t know what the future will bring. However, my stamina for the work involved in workshops faded. It was almost like throwing a baby shower or mini wedding event at times, as I did a great deal to set it up and make it happen, not to mention managing all the plants before after and during. Anyhow, it was good when they were happening, but as I get older, I find it more challenging to organize and run the workshops.

Hopefully the new year will be good to us, and we will discover new happenings which make us happy. I know working with plants keeps me happy and cheerful.

Have a great New Year’s Eve and Stay Healthy,

Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardenCT.com
Located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT

First Fluffy Snow

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Yesterday was our first fluffy snow fall, which I have to admit, made me happy. I can picture the soft white snow on the items I made for many holiday orders this year at people’s homes, such as Kissing Balls hanging outdoors, Patio Pots filled with holiday greenery, Garlands, Wreaths, and more. The snow is also a great way to add some moisture to the greens on the wreaths and such.

The past two weeks were extremely busy. As a one woman owned business, with a very helpful special Elf Helper, my hubby, we did it – installed and created holiday scenes for everyone. Today, I hope to make a nice big Boxwood Wreath. I show all my photos on my Instagram page under Container Crazy CT handle.

I want to take this morning to say THANK YOU to all the people who hired me to work on their holiday scenes and patio pots, and also to all who ordered a Wreath, Kissing Ball, or Garland this year. It puts me (and hopefully them) into the holiday spirit. I finally got to do some of my own outdoor decorating yesterday a little bit before the snow started to fall. But it is a real treat and a special thing for me to create Holiday Items for people – THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR SUPPORT – and pick-ups.

I also have to admit, I do stay inside a lot when people pick up their orders cause I’m so busy and can’t talk too long, plus I really really didn’t want to catch any colds or COVID during my work of holiday crunch time. But I find the “Pick-ups” are extremely useful and helpful to people when they are also doing their own rush holiday errands and they may pop by to get their handmade wreath with fresh greenery and other items quickly (Grab and Go!).

Next on the list is making some unique holiday pick-up gifts which are great for last minute shoppers, me included! I haven’t shopped at all yet for Christmas gifts on my own to-do lists. I never have the time in early December.

Hope you are enjoying this snow fall – it sure looks pretty from my office window – I can say that!

Sincerely,

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer located in Broad Brook, CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

www.WorkshopsCT.com

www.ContainerGardensCT.com

http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (Blog – You are Here).

My Mangave Shoots Up A Bloom

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I like finding cool and unique plants for my clients’ balcony gardens every season, so when I spotted two rather large Mangave plants at a local garden center, I had to grab them despite the price. I was excited to plant them in two large upright planters and I asked my husband to take a photo of me standing right behind the planters.

Cathy Testa with Mangave in front planter

The mask wearing was on purpose, to show a timeline history of my plantings, and this had to be when masks for COVID were still required. Anyhow, I wore a pink mask and I loved how the photo came out. We were still required to wear masks at this time so I think it was 2020, or 2019.

Mangave is a Cross between Manfreda and Agave

I’m a big fan of Agaves, so when I spotted an article about the new Mangaves, which I read about prior to finding the only two available at a local garden center, it elevated my excitement of getting them and planting them as a unique and dramatic specimen at this location. I love the outlines of the plant, the speckling on the leaves (spines), and the fact it was not something commonly found at that time.

Here is some background information about it.

As stated in the article linked above:

Taking the best from both genera, Mangave have the accelerated growth rate, spotting and softer spines from manfreda, mixed with the durability and large architectural forms of agave. Mangave hybrids bring the potential of hundreds of new colors and habits not previously seen among agave in a product that’s more grower-friendly, with a quicker finish time and less prickly spines.

As the principal breeder of Mangave, Hans is the perfect source for the story behind the succulent, his experiences with the crop and how he sees it contributing to the world of horticulture.

https://www.growertalks.com/Newsletters/View/Newsletter/?article=3103

Spines are not weapons, like with regular Agaves

It is true, the spines are less prickly than typical Agaves. In fact, spines on Agaves are so sharp, they could be used as a weapon! And the spotting patterns on these new Mangaves are very interesting on the spines, and it has a wonderful architectural form, and yes, they grow fast! My two specimens were already rather large so I knew they must have been growing somewhere at a growers for a while before making it to a local garden center in my area to be offered for sale. In fact, when I spotted them at the garden center, they were sitting on the floor in their large nursery pots under a bench, as if almost hidden from sight, near other succulents and cacti. I lifted them into my shopping cart at warp speed, let me tell ya. I knew I had to have them.

They served as wonderful candidates all summer long at the clients’ site, and I think the only downfall to these plants is the spines are extremely flexible and soft, thus with one bump, the tips break off. I don’t like that aspect because it feels like a break to the overall form and architecture of the plant, so they are somewhat difficult to move, especially when you are moving plants up to a high-rise, but the effort was worth it. When moving them, use caution to not break any of the spine tips when possible, as I did the more I experienced observing, growing, and using this plant. It turned out to be more useful than I had expected.

September 21

In September of 2021, I noticed a bloom coming up on one of the Mangaves, which I had returned home earlier from the client site. Sometimes plants are taken back, and in this case, one of the Mangaves at the client’s balcony had started experiencing growing issues, so I took it home, inspected the roots, and sure enough, there was some type of pillbug in the soil. Because I cherished this plant, I removed all the soil and repotted it in new fresh potting mix that is well draining and more on the coarse side. Agaves typically don’t like wet soil, and I suspected the soil was probably wet prior to even planting it. I watched it for a while outdoors to see if it would improve, which it did, then in the autumn season, before frost time here in Connecticut, I moved it into my greenhouse. It was around that time, in September, that it suddenly started to shoot up a bloom stalk.

A Bloom Stalk Surfaces in 2021

When the bloom started, I was super excited about this and posted a photo to my Instagram feed (seen above). As some plant people may or may not know, Agave plants do not commonly flower. Some will bloom after several years, while others may take as long as ten years or even a hundred years to produce a bloom; this is why Agave plants are referred to as century plants. And the flowers will grow on the tip of a very tall stem, solo rising up from the middle of the plant, and the stem/stalk will grow super tall, reaching for the skies, or in my case, reaching for the ceiling of my lean-to style greenhouse. Knowing this, I was pretty excited to see how long it would take the flower stem (referred to as a candelabrum or wand for Agaves) to grow and how high it would reach in my greenhouse before it would produce flower buds. The stem (or wand if you wish to think of it that way), has no leaves on it and to me, it resembled an asparagus stalk.

Photo Taken As It Kept Rising

September 27

Within 7 days, you can see from the next photo how much the stalk rose from the center of the Mangave. It was growing up, and every day, I’d walk in to take a look, and I started to have to move it around because as it got taller, it was reaching the lean-to style of the greenhouse’s roof. I wondered if it would soon hit the ceiling.

Mangave flower candelabrum or wand

It got to the point, the stalk was so tall, I couldn’t get the whole thing in a photo. Here is a photo (above) where I moved it in-front of an old silver locker I picked up at a vintage shop, and it was about as tall as that cabinet by this point. As you can see, it definitely looks similar to an asparagus stem.

Very Top of the Stalk

Then the next phase was starting to reveal. Side shoots on the top started to form with flower buds. I knew I was in for a big surprise soon. And fortunately, the very tip of the stalk was not touching the roof of the greenhouse. It appeared I had just enough space to keep it inside for the rest of the winter.

Flowers Opening

The flowers started to feel like a fireworks show to me. That is just how my mind works when it comes to nature’s surprises. The flower clusters started to form to the sides of the main cluster on the top and as they opened, pollen was visible and I thought it was a shame as it would not be pollinated inside my greenhouse during the winter months, but just the same, it was a fun experience to witness all the buds opening over time.

By December, 3 months after I first noticed the stalk rising from the center of the plant, it had buds and the stalk was about 10 feet tall. In reviewing some of the posts I was sharing, around December 11th, it was 6 feet tall. Later in December, it grew to ten feet. By the following spring, I decided to chop off about 1/3 of the stalk and it was time to get it out of my way so outside it went. I put it on my deck, and to my surprise later in the summer, more side plants formed at the top of the plant’s flower stalk (where I had cut it off). It also produced many pups on the sides at the base of the plant, which I decided to use to top off my succulent pumpkin centerpieces; it made a nice spikey looking thriller on the top of the pumpkins.

Mangave used on the Succulent Pumpkin Centerpieces

This plant ended up surprising me in many ways and kept on giving. It did not die off as some plants do after flowering for Agaves, and retuned to my greenhouse yet again this fall. Not only that, I repotted some of the pups earlier, and they grew rather quickly into larger plants (as noted by the breeder above, Hans, they grow quickly).

Agave and Mangave plants make wonderful specimen plants, are beautiful in larger pots, and they handle full sun and don’t require lots of fertilizer, and they may be kept inside the home over the winter, if not too large, or if they haven’t grown a major flower stalk of 10 feet tall, and they over winter well in a low-temp greenhouse too from my experience. It is pretty cool when you start off admiring something and witness many returns and uses which were unexpected, like how I used them on my succulent pumpkin centerpiece creations this season.

I like collecting various Agaves and now Mangaves and will continue to do so. I find they are easy care plants and you can obtain various sizes and styles if you keep your eyes open for special finds!

Cathy Testa
Broad Brook, CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Date of Post: 10/26/2022

Overwintering Elephant’s Ear Plants

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Overwintering Alocasia (al-oh-KAY-see-uh) plants, dug up from a large cement planter in my yard yesterday 10/11/22.

Since this plant is not hardy in my Connecticut planting zone (6b), they must either be dug up and stored (tubers) in a cool, dry place. Alternative options, if the plants are small enough, is overwintering them as houseplants in small pots where you have a sunny room. Or just moving the pots with the plant in tact into an unheated basement and letting them go dormant, but check to add moisture to the pot’s soil from time to time, and check for any insects on the foliage if moved in the pot. In this case, I dug up the plants, removed the foliage, and air dried the tubers yesterday outdoors.

The Planter – Cement

Because yesterday was sunny and warm, I wanted to get to the elephant’s ears in this planter. I was already tired from being on my feet all day, so I rushed getting these out. Luckily for me, the soil is super soft in this big cement planter due to worms and just great healthy soil. Rather than cut all the foliage off first, like I typically do, I dug around the tuber areas in the soil to break free some roots and just pulled them out one by one from the plant stems.

10/12/22 Before Removing the Elephant’s Ears plants

The soil and exposure

The soil in this planter stays relatively moist and receives the east morning sun, so it primarily gets partial sun or dappled sun, it doesn’t get too hot in this area. I do not fertilize – literally – I do not in this cement planter. Over the years, I’ve added recycled soil (from other pots), maybe some compost, but not often, and it is possible some wood ash from the woodstove in our basement, that is used only occasionally, was tossed in there by my husband, but I asked him not to do that after a while (wood ash changes the pH of soils). It is apparent when I dig in the soil, it has worm castings and the soil is very soft and easy to dig into. This is why I was able to pull out the tubers with the plant on the top rather easily after I broke the roots around the base with a trowel. I didn’t even use a shovel.

I do, however, water this planter by using a garden hose from above and showering it every time I was out there watering my other patio pots above on my deck. We had a very dry season this summer here in Connecticut so I’m sure the tropical plants in this cement planter enjoyed the moisture I gave them. These tropical like plants like moist soils, part shade or some full sun. After getting them out, I laid them on the ground and got my machete, which I finally found where I had stored it!

Chop off the foliage, then lay in the sun

It was super easy to chop off the foliage and stems with my machete. One whack and it was done! Then I put them in a laundry basket to sit in the sun for the rest of the afternoon, later, I moved the laundry basket to my basement. It will sit there drying a while before I move them to bins or paper bags for the winter. Some references will say to wait until the foliage dies back or wait till the foliage is hit by frost to dig and store the tubers, however, I like to work on nice days and yesterday was it – sunny and warm. I store mine in the basement, in a corner by the door, which is an unheated basement but it does not go below freezing in winters. We have a woodstove at the other end of the basement, but it is only used on stormy winter days when we feel like it. We do not use the woodstove to heat the house, only to warm it up sometimes. This means those tubers in the corner stay cold, but they never freeze there. It must be cold, but not freezing, and not too warm either. If warm, they may get soggy or start growing.

Side Shoot on Right

Notice my logo on the left side of this photo above; do you see the brown original tuber? The plant this season grew from the side of this tuber (a side shoot) which is attached on the right. Sometimes there are smaller side shoots which you may pull apart to create separate plants and replant those side shoots. Also the green parts above the brownish tuber is this year’s plant and I cut it about 4-5″ above the brown tuber in most cases when I remove them. I usually leave the green plant (like a stump or root base) on there but I am not absolutely sure that is required, because when I received the tubers, there was just the brown dry tuber to plant.

After Photo

It probably took me only a half-hour to get those elephant’s ears (in this case, Alocasia macrorrhiza, known as giant elephant’s ear or giant taro) out of the cement planter. I was lucky I think it was easy. I know rain is coming tonight and some parts of Connecticut got hit by a quick light frost already, but no hard frost here yet in East Windsor, CT. When it is a true frost, all the foliage will blacken and flops over. Next is to get to those tall Canna lily plants on the ends of this planter dug out and store the rhizomes or the whole root base.

Note: A. macrorrhiza is hardy in zones 8-10 from what I’ve read, but here in Connecticut (zone 6b for me), they are not hardy (will not survive in the ground over the winter months). Also, when I dug these out – there was no rot on any of the tubers, which is good news. Sometimes, if I wait too long to dig these out, there may be rot spots on the tubers because of cold, wet soils later in October. This is another reason why I like digging them out now. I don’t want any soft rotten spots on the tubers, rot only leads to storage problems as the rot may continue on the tuber, which is what you don’t want.

Sit to dry out a bit more before storing

Because these plants get huge and are gorgeous, I had to take the time to save them. I will let those tubers sit in a bin, spaced out for air, probably for another five days before I store them. I have always typically stored them in peat in bins with air holes in the lids, but last year, as noted on prior posts, they rotted a little. I am going to try storing them in paper bags in cardboard boxes this year with air holes. Plastic bins can trap moisture and for some reason, it just seemed they were too wet last year (maybe I was rushing too much last year, and stored them too wet). I have found when my rhizomes for Canna Lily were too dry stored, they didn’t make it. I have always balanced a bit of moisture from the peat and air, but I believe the Alocasias prefer more on the dry side. Everyone has different techniques for storing from what I’ve seen and read over the years.

Prior was making pumpkins

Prior to doing all of this quickly yesterday afternoon, I made a few more orders of my centerpiece succulent topped pumpkins. They were so fun to make and took me a few hours – and my feet give me a hard time, now that I’m getting a little older, standing for hours can be rough. I even put foam on the floor – below my feet, but I felt it later. I tend to make these centerpiece arrangements standing up, and anyhow, these are what I made for some requests. It was a perfect day to do them – sunny in the greenhouse. It’s that time of year when I’m making pumpkin centerpieces and still putting away plants and supplies.

Succulent Topped Pumpkin Centerpieces by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

If interested in a custom pumpkin, now is the time to order since it is pumpkin season. They last for months!

Thank you for visiting!

Cathy Testa
Connecticut Zone 6b
Container Gardener and Plant Enthusiast
Custom Creations for Seasonal Decor
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (you are here now!)
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

Stay tuned for more information on holiday creations for later in November!

Date of this post: 10/13/2022

Overwintering Alocasia 2022

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This is part one – showing my process of disassembling my largest elephant’s ear plants from containers or planters. I purchased the tubers in 2019 for this Alocasia, which I refer to as an “upright elephant’s ear” because the leaves point upwards towards the sky. It is often referred to as a Giant Elephant’s Ear, Giant Taro, or Upright Jumbo). Official name is A. macrorrhiza. They grow from 71 to 96 inches (6-8 feet tall) from summer to frost and prefer partial shade. The leaves are very dark green, glossy, and impressive! It prefers partial shade but will do well in more sun with appropriate moisture. In my zone, it must be stored, but warmer zones, I suspect you may keep them outdoors or protected somehow.

2022
Cathy Testa holding two of the leaves

As you see here, I’m peaking behind two of the leaves. The leaves are at least 3 feet long with the stem an additional 3 feet as well. They tower above me in my planters and put on quite the big tropical show in summer. Now, on to how I disassemble them in preparation for our Connecticut winter months:

Definitely Wear Gloves

TOOLS

Gloves: Definitely wear garden gloves. These plants release a sap that will make your hands itchy – believe me, I regret when I don’t wear them. Even digging around the soil, I found my hands will itch later.

Hori hori knife: I really like this tool, heavy duty, serrated edge, perfect for cutting the roots in the soil around the base of the plant to release it. I find this to be one of my most useful overwintering tools.

Bin: A clean bin to put all the tubers and root bases in to let dry outside if it is pleasant weather, or inside if it is rainy.

A Large Kitchen Knife or Machete: I couldn’t find my machete, so a long, clean, sharp knife is a great back up.

Clean Up Tools: A leaf blower works to blow away dirt that will fall everywhere.

Ruler: Yes, measure those babies!

Large Knife

Cut away all the foliage by using the knife to slice each stalk off individually at the base of the plant. The main thing is to cut away from the plant so the angle of the slices are able to drain away excess moisture. At least that is how I do it. I’m also very careful to not nick surfaces with my knife tip – always avoid any damage while I work.

Slicing off each leaf at the base of the stalk (petiole) – stem – whatever you wish to call it!

As you slice off each petiole at the base, be sure to do a clean cut, avoid tears or anything which would allow entrance of mold or insects later on. A clean cut is recommended. If you mess it up, cut it again below where you just cut it.

Measure the leaves cause it is impressive!

I always measure so a ruler is handy, or measuring tape, and then take photos. Because sharing is caring – LOL. Everyone loves to see how massive these leaves get. It is fun to Instagram the photos!

Here are two of the biggest leaves above. It is too bad I am not set up to make leaf castings of these babies, they would make impressive art for the garden!

Close up of Slice

As you can see, the slice is downwards and away from the center of the plant. I slice each stalk individually and pile the leaves to the side.

All leaves removed

After removing each stalk, I use my Hori hori knife to cut around the base of the “stump” in the soil. As I push the knife around in the soil, I hear the crack of the roots being cut. Then I will push on the stump back and forth to help loosen it. Once I feel it is ready to be “delivered” from the soil, I start to pull it out – It always makes me feel like I’m a doctor delivering a baby – hahahaha. I have quite the imagination at times!

Cutting a circle around the base of the plant to cut the roots below
Out with more top sliced off

I will put it in the clean bin and trim the roots with clean sharp pruners or cutters, and slice the top off a bit if it still too big to fit into the bin. Leaning it upside down, or on the side to help drain excess moisture is helpful as well. Some folks may recommend not trimming the roots but I always have. New roots grow when it is replanted. My theory was less “fleshy” material the better. Fleshy material has the tendency to rot sometimes over the winter months.

After I got the massive big base out and laying out to dry, I worked on the planter next to it which had more off sets from the same type of Alocasia. I then let this dry in the house for about 6 days. Oh, I also removed as much soil as possible from the tuber areas. I used my gloved hands and kind of just rubbed or pushed off the soil. You may use a garden hose with water blast but that will only make the tuber wetter, so I didn’t do that. In the past, I have used a soft painters type brush to get soil off.

TIMING

In Connecticut (my planting zone is 6b) you may do this process either before or after we get a fall frost which could happen anytime now, but sometimes I like to start this while things are dry and temperatures are not too difficult to work in, so I started on these two planters last Thursday (9/29/22). It was a cool, breezy, day with little sunshine but that would be better than the rainy cold days expected the days following. The date if this post is 10/4/22 and no frost yet, but there are some talks it could happen this weekend, I hope not, cause I have lots more to do!

I placed the bin in the house for a few days and then moved it to a table in my basement. The next phase is storing them. For years, I stored all my tubers, rhizomes, corms in peat in bins with air holes drilled on the tops. But this past spring, I had rot on portions of my tubers. This year, I plan to store them dry in paper bags for some at least. I will most likely test the paper bag process and see the results. I will post photos of this soon. I also saved some mesh netting bags (like those used for Avocado’s in grocery stores) to put some tubers in.

Oh, when I took these apart last week from the gray planters, they had NO ROT anywhere on the tuber areas (brown area at the base) which is good news. No rot means they won’t have rot as they dry for a few more days. When I store the tubers, I will share it here as well.

The tubers need to be sored in a cool, dry place. I use my basement which does not drop below freezing but is unheated so it stays cool. It is recommended that you do not store them in plastic bags which would only trap moisture. If stored in a paper bag, make sure it has holes for vents. Again, for years, I stored them in peat moss in bins, but had rot issues this year in spring, and I didn’t want to loose these tubers of this super big Alocasias, now that I’ve regrown these plants each year. These particular tubers were from 2019 so it has been replanted 4 times now. A definite pay back from the investiment!

PLANT IN SPRING

Next year, after all danger of spring frosts, I will replant these Upright Elephant’s Ear tubers to grow again. Many tropical loving plants may be handled this way, such as Canna Lilies. For years, I stored my big red banana plant, Ensete, the same way as shown above. In fact, here is the link to the Ensete post if you are searching for it on my blog site: https://containercrazyct.com/2013/10/31/storing-my-big-red-banana-plant/. Unfortunately, I lost my big red banana plant this year in 2022. It was the first time it rotted too much.

NEXT OVERWINTERING PROJECT

Ack, I have to dig all of these up soon – anyone want to come help me?!

Canna Lily on ends with Upright Alocasias in the centers

Cathy Testa
Connecticut
A Container Garden Designer
Also make custom orders, grow tomatoes in spring time, make succulent pumpkins now in fall season, wreaths during the holidays! Thank you for visiting and your support.

DIASSEMBLY ALOCASIA QUICK STEPS:

Get your tools ready (knife, gloves, bin, hori hori knife, cleanup tools, etc.).
Cut away each leaf stalk at base cleanly.
Cut around base of plant in the soil area to break free roots with hori hori knife.
Pull out stump (base with the tuber) out of the planter, and let dry for several days to a week.
Store in an unheated, dry, cool area that does not go below freezing in winters.

Goldie Tomato is Staying on My Growing List

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This is the second year I grew Goldie Tomato plants from seed and I plan to keep it on the list. Those who purchased the starter plants of these this year have all reported they are one of the best tasting golden heirlooms they’ve had and I couldn’t agree more.

Beautiful Heirlooms

These heirlooms have the most perfect golden yellow color with no blemishes on the skin and grew from baseball to oddly shaped almost grapefruit sizes (or perhaps a bit smaller than grapefruit sizes).

Size of the Goldies

I like using the terms of other fruits and veggies to explain the sizes of my tomatoes. They do not get as big at the Oxheart tomatoes which I have grown in years past however (which were up to 3 lbs and a soft pink color when ripe and up to grapefruit or larger than grapefruit sizes).

In my container plants at home, my Goldie tomato fruit grew to about baseball sizes but friends showed me pics of theirs’s which were much larger – and shaped like the typical heirloom odd shapes where the tops may be bumping or ridged, and odd looking.

Goldie Heirloom Tomatoes in 2022

In the photo above, with 3 Goldie tomatoes in a bowl at my house, this shows the size but they do grow bigger. The are sweet golden, melt in your mouth flavor and texture. These are the type we easily sliced, put a tiny bit of salt on, and ate with a fork right to our mouths from a plate! Not even on a sandwich! So yummy.

Picked Early to Ripen in House 2022

In this photo above, you see what I try to explain about the bumpy ridged look of some of the tomato fruit of the Goldie (typical of many heirlooms). I picked this set early because I was going away for the weekend so I didn’t want the chipmunks to get them. They ripened very easily on the kitchen counter and I took a few with me on vacation too to eat while away.

Skins are Perfect

Perfect Firm Skins

One of the things about this tomato which impressed and impresses me is the fact the skins are perfect. They are fleshy inside but the skins remain smooth and firm. BTW, this is an indeterminate variety so they need staking, support, twine, whatever but the fruit hangs on tightly. The plants grow very tall, up to 6 feet, and I use twine to train them from my containers up to house light fixtures on my deck. They are considered a beefsteak fruit size, and will get soft to the touch somewhat if you allow them to ripen to a more orange color. However, if just placed on a counter, they seem to just retain a firm skin and never really bruised, etc.

Starting Seeds

I was a little worried when I saw a tad bit of brown on the bottom of the tomatoes in this photo above, but they did not get blossom end rot – thank God! The seeds are started indoors in my greenhouse about 6-8 weeks before our last frost date in CT and I then harden off the plants for my pick-ups by mid-May. If you think you will be interested next season, be sure to note my email and let me know to record your name. See below for more contact information.

Goldie ripening on the plants 2022

Every season, I try to add new varieties to my tomato growing list. I cut back on the number of plants I grew this year, only because the cost of all supplies and such have gone up, so I thought, try to restrain myself. That is not always easy to do when starting seeds.

Pretty Color

These tomatoes are very pretty in color – and I like mixing colors when making an appetizer with tomatoes so this one definitely added to the artists’ palette of beautiful sunny colors. For example, slicing and laying them down on a pretty plate with purple toned Cherokee Purple tomatoes was just lovely and made your mouth drool just seeing the colors and textures.

My husband joked with a friend about how I coddle my tomato plants when growing from seed. What he means is I’m constantly inspecting them, checking at least twice daily for watering needs, and looking them over. Scouting for any problems is one of the most effective management techniques of anyone growing tomatoes from seed. It allows you to catch any potential problems before they get worse. It may seem easy but there is lots of time that goes into caring for the seedlings from seeding them to watching them grow. I make sure to give air circulation, water as needed, inspect, and admire – and I guess my husband calls that “coddling.” Whatever, it means, I can assure you that man LOVES my tomatoes and he usually asks now if he may eat one because sometimes he eats them all before I get a chance, so now we have “tasting sessions.” After tasting the Goldie tomatoes again this year, we both agree this one is a keeper to grow next season.

Cathy Testa
Located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT
containercathy at gmail.com
Plant Blogger, Very Small Tomato Grower, Container Garden Designer and Installer, Holiday Creations with Plants, Plant Enthusiast, and basically a “One Woman Owned Small Business.”

UP NEXT IN OCTOBER!

Next on the list will be making Succulent Topped Pumpkins in early October by order. Here’s a reminder of what those look like.

For more information on my tomatoes or other items, see www.WorkshopsCT.com too.

Helping an Upright Elephant Ear Plant Stay Upright

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When I saw that my biggest of my upright elephant ear plants was leaning to the side, I was very concerned because of a strong windy rainstorm predicted to arrive in Connecticut last Friday (8/26/22).

I decided to water the soil deeply in the planter even though we were expecting lots of rain with this storm because I felt the wet soil would stabilize the planter better and help to prevent it from toppling over. Then I kept my fingers crossed.

The day after the rainstorm, I looked it over and it was fine. It did not topple over but it was still leaning quite a bit and I had to think of a plan to stabilize it and help it grow upright. This was the first time I ever had to do this with an Upright Alocasia elephant ear plant, but luckily an old belt came to mind and I had some rebar available. This is what I did.

Helping an Upright Elephant Ear Plant Stay Upright

I’m not sure why I decided to plant the largest of my tubers in the smaller planter anyhow. I think maybe I was considering that it will grow very tall in smaller planter, and the taller planter would look nice with the huge elephant ear leaves sitting on top of their long stalks next to the lower planter to the side of it. Next year, I will make a note to plant it in the larger of the two planters I typically use each season for these Upright elephant ear plants. The rebar and belt seems to be working as a splint of sorts. As you can see from this above photo, the base of the plant is super thick and becoming heavy. I also remember, I probably didn’t plant the tuber deep enough. I was concerned about some rot experienced when I took them out of storage this spring.

Taking Out the Tubers From Winter Storage

Every year, in spring, I take out my elephant ear bulbs/tubers from the basement where I overwinter them in plastic bins (with drilled air holes in the bin covers) in peat. But this year, some tubers were damp and even parts were starting to rot. This has never happened before in the 10 plus years I’ve stored the tubers, bulbs, rhizomes, etc. of various tropical plants (Canna Lily, Elephant Ears, Red Banana plants, etc.) over the winter months here in CT. The basement stays above freezing but it does not have any heat so it stays cold enough usually to keep all the tubers in a dormant state.

Why did they go soft this time? I don’t get it – is it climate change, did the basement stay warmer than usual, it is because I stacked the plastic bins on top of each other (in the past, there was a shelf there and I stacked the bins on shelves), or was it the peat I used, which was a different brand? Maybe it was COVID. I decided COVID must have changed the whole pace of life? Did someone steal my green thumb?

Anyhow, I found the tubers of some of my upright elephant ears (the largest of the elephant ear type plants I replant every season) which were plastic bins inside plastic mesh bags (similar to what you may see in a grocery store) and laid “on top” of the peat (rather than in or buried in peat), did better. Maybe these types of elephant ear tubers are better stored dry? But some of those even had rots spots but not enough to not use them. I decided to cut off some rot spots and go for it.

Timing of Over Wintering Tubers

In thinking about it this morning, I remembered now, I decided to dig up and store the tubers from the plants on my deck a little earlier than normal, around mid to late September, in order to get a head-start on my various plant related tasks and work. Maybe I stored them too early? It is often recommended to wait till the plants get touched by frost and then take them down to store. This usually means the tubers will sense the cold temps and cooler soil, and go into a dormant state. Thus, this year, I will wait till October to pull the plants from the planters, chop the foliage off the top, and store the tubers. And I also will keep them more on the dry side for this particular type of elephant ear plant, as I wish not to risk loosing them again.

2022 Photo

Precious and exotic large lush plants

If you were to ask me when I started to fall in love with big plants, I am not sure I can remember when – it was years ago. In fact, when I went on my honeymoon over 31 years ago, I was fascinated by the big lush foliage of the tropical like areas of the Hawaiian island(s). We even ventured off a long, dirt road once and found a tremendously large elephant ear plant and people accused me of photoshopping the image. I stood next to it and was in awe, not afraid of snakes or whatever might be lurking below my feet!

2020 Photo

Reusable Year after Year

Another wonderful feature of using tropical plants (not hardy to CT and must be stored in winter), is the fact they are used year after year. With having good luck with my storage technique for so many years, it baffled me as to why I had some back luck with storing them this year (i.e., the rot spots). Anyhow, the photo above was when I planted the same bulbs/tubers in 2020. I think I had purchased the tubers of these in 2019 or 2018. They are also super easy to care for once they start growing in the planters outdoors, with relatively no problems, and with this year’s tropical heat all summer, they loved it. They tend to get the most full and larger by this time of year and into the fall season. Another bonus to growing them is they last all the way till end of October. BTW, they do get flowers and I successfully grew one plant from seed I collected last year. I made a baby from the seed of this plant for the first time ever. I’ll write about that some other time.

Taking Care of Them In-Season

I pretty much do nothing more than consistently water the elephant ear plants in their patio pots and containers, as they do appreciate good moisture. I also will cut off any bad leaves (because I don’t care for ratty looking leaves), and I might do a water soluble fertilizer application once or twice a season, but often times, it is not needed. I put slow-release fertilizer into the potting soil mix in the spring upon planting as well. In most planters, I use fresh potting mix for planters, but in really big planters, I usually remove the top of the soil portion and add fresh soil. I also fill the base of the planters with foam sometimes to reduce soil usage if it is a super large planter. This also helps reduce the weight of the planter if you wish to move it around. And most importantly, I admired the plants often which I think they notice.

Where to Place Them Outdoors

One side bar, be aware if you plant these big leaves next to any pointy tipped plants, such as agaves or cacti, as I did once, realize that as the leaves of the elephant ear plants move around in the winds, they may bang against the agave leaf tips, causing holes and damage to the elephant ear plant’s leaves. But other than that, you want them placed where they are showy, do not lean like mine did this season, and anywhere there is dappled sun or part-shade. They can also take full sun but more watering is required. Some days, during the heat waves this 2022 season, I opened a shade umbrella next to the planters to offer some relief of the late day sun, however, even that became an issue because the leaves got so large and tall, the umbrella was hitting the leaves as I opened the umbrella. A larger planter is best because of the shear size of the plants. My planters are hip height and the plants are towering over my head now at probably 6 feet tall with 3 feet wide leaves. It is magnificent.

Years prior – Stunning Photo taken by a Pro Photographer

Storing Technique for Winter

As I’ve written about several times on this blog, I typically store my bulbs, tubers, rhizomes for various tropical plants in low-level bins with peat slightly covering them, but I will adjust my process for these Upright Elephant Ear plants. The bulbs get larger over time and the bigger the bulb, the bigger the plant. Often, you will find side shoots forming, as I showed in a prior post when I separated them before. Here’s a photo from last year when I took the plants apart. Unfortunately, I lost some of these due to the rot situation I noted above. I document the whole process every year, so you may use the search bar on the right side of this site to locate past writings of how I store them.

I look forward to using these plants every season. I wish I could plant them on the high-rise balconies I service but they would bounce around too much in the wind up there, and require lots of water, especially during hot drought seasons, so they are not feasible there. If I could I would totally surround my yard with these big leaved showy exotic looking plants, I would. They make me think of escaping to another place, another world, and don’t we all enjoy that from time to time? Plus my cat loves to sit under the shade cast by the big, sometimes huge, showy leaves of these upright elephant ear plants. Cute thing – my 5 year old nephew told me he could see the leaves growing on them when they were moving in the winds, which I thought was so adorable. Maybe he will become a plant lover like me!

Well, that’s all for now. I hope you find this post amusing. When I take these plants down for the winter, later in October, I will be sure to show my process as I always do. And hopefully I won’t have any scares next spring like I did this spring. I actually lost the largest of my red banana plants this season. It was too rotted to plant and I had to bow my head and think, “Whelp, you gave me many years of happiness. Guess this year was just one of those gardening learning experiences, yet again!”

Thank you for visiting,

Cathy Testa
Container Gardening Fanatic
http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
Located in Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT

Tiny Tim Tomato – Not so Tiny!

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Tiny Tim Tomato are a perfect sized plant for smaller containers, window baskets, hanging baskets, and patio pots. The plant has a dwarfing habit and I planted mine in patio pots which are 11″ deep and 14″ diameter on the top. The plant stays smaller and so do the fruits, but this year, many of the Tiny Tim fruits reached almost the size of my Fox Cherry tomatoes. Tiny Tims are about the size of a regular marble or maybe one of those bigger marbles you played with as a kid. Remember those?

Pot Size: 11″ Deep and 14″ diameter on top of the pot (Drain holes in base)

I ended up putting the 3 patio pots I planted with Tiny Tim’s on high top chairs. We find the chairs someone uncomfortable for ourselves, but they were the perfect fit for our Tiny Tim pots! They branched out and I would drape the stems and branches over the back of the chairs and onto the adjacent table. The squirrels and chipmunks never jumped up there either which was really nice. I was sure they would try but they did not fortunately. The fruit stays on the hanging clusters well and didn’t drop off.

Clusters like grapes!

I was super impressed with the abundant clusters of fruit which formed on the plants this season. It’s been a hot dry season, but I watered the pots daily with a good soaking. The sweet-to-tart fruits are ready earlier in the season than my other tomatoes, and grew to the 1″ fruit size or bigger size this year, due to the weather pleasing these plants. It probably helped that they were set on high back chairs to allow for perfect drainage and air circulation below the plants and pots. No major issues were encountered. They were the perfect dining guests all summer and still are now.

Tiny Tim Tomato Plants

In this above photo, the patio umbrella is closed but I typically kept it open. During rain storms, I made sure it was open so the plants were somewhat protected. Another bonus of having these 3 pots situated on the high-back chairs is it was easy to reach the plant to harvest the tiny tomatoes and water daily. It is a great plant when you don’t have much room outdoors, or have room to spare on a table. The seed packet indicates it does better in pots than in gardens of the ground.

Fruit Ripened Beautifully

The fruiting clusters ripened beautifully and are still ripening many fruits right now as I type this on 8/26/2022. The flavor to me is more on the tart side than sweet. I find Fox Cherry tomato fruit to be much sweeter for example, but we still enjoyed these. They are the perfect appetizer size on small crackers with cheese, or mixed with other yummy summer goodness. One day, I tossed them with fresh avocado, shredded mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves, pasta, and crushed black pepper.

I also planted Tiny Tim tomato plants, which I started from seed as well, into long rectangular planters at a high rise balcony site (think typical large window box sizes). My client’s told me the fruit has thrived all season. The planter is a self-watering type but the plants are high above on a high rise with exposure to lots of the elements and with a dry year at that – and the plants did well. I’m happy I chose them this season to try. I have photos of the balcony plants, but I have to find them in my iphone, which is overloaded with photos at the moment!

Various Sizes

In this photo above, you can really see the sizes. I have grown these before and the fruit was much smaller, but again, our tropical heat probably helped them to grow larger. I used a typical potting mix with added slow release fertilizer. I don’t recall ever applying liquid fertilizer later – they have been doing just fine all along. These would be the perfect candidate for small children to grow in pots – they are adorable plants.

Sitting Upon the Patio Table

Tiny Tim Tomato are sown 3-9 weeks before your last frost and transplanted after frost, and these may just last until mid-September. We will see. Another side bar: They probably will hold up well to the stormy afternoon weather being predicted for today. They are compact and probably, hopefully, won’t topple over. I’ll be sure to harvest all the ripened bright red fruit today before the storms arrive.

Have a good weekend,

Cathy Testa
Blogger Today!
http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com

Holding the Tiny Tims – They aren’t so tiny this year!

Green Zebra Tomato – Toss them with Cilantro for an Amazing Treat

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Green Zebra: Tangy flavor; green color to green and yellow striped colors as they ripen, medium sized round fruit (about the size of a tennis ball), and a good long yielder. Indeterminate so it grew to about 7 feet tall and keeps branching out further. My plant on my deck still has fruit hanging on it as of this date, August 25, 2022.

Planted with: Professional potting mix by SunGro with “Espoma Tomato-Tone with Calcium added” to soil upon planting (Tomato-tone is a dry fertilizer powder mixed into the soil; comes in a bag) and I also fertilized the plant later in the summer, maybe once or twice with Espoma tomato food (liquid feed) with a 1-3-1 NPK ratio (comes in a bottle and mixed with water) as needed.

Cherry tomato on the left. The GREEN ZEBRA ON RIGHT IN FABRIC GROW BAG at the start of the planting.

Planted in: A black fabric grow bag (I believe it is the 15 or 20 gallon size) and placed on the east end of my deck facing south, bag located against the house. The plant has reached the gutters and expanded so much, it looks like a Christmas tree from the inside of my house by the end of August. I kind of get a chuckle when looking at it right now.

The Green Zebra plant is way over to the right of the chair in this photo by the door which is barely visible!

Taking Notes: When I planted my tomato plants here, I made notes of the potting soil used and fertilizer upon planting as noted above. In my other planters, I added compost to the base of the pot and mixed it in somewhat, but I did not add compost to the Green Zebra fabric grow bag components. The Green Zebra fruit never got the dreaded blossom end rot, and another bonus – it did not get munched on by squirrels or chipmunks, which I’m guessing maybe because they are green and not red, thus less visible to them as a sneaky snack. Lastly, as noted, it is still holding some fruit while my other tomatoes like the Cherokee Purple and Goldies are done fruiting now.

Fruit is ready to eat at this stage of coloring

When to pick it: For the folks who bought the Green Zebra plants from me in spring time, a couple texted me to ask when they should pick them? I responded with, “The packet says when soft to the touch,” but what I found is the flavor was better when I saw the yellow stripe coloring within the green color of the fruit.

Clusters of the Green Zebra tomatoes on the plant 2022

Pruning: The packet also indicates to prune it to have no more than 3 main branches for a healthy harvest, but I pruned it just to reduce the size a bit and started to attach twine to light fixtures and other things on the deck and would take branches and train them along the twine. It looks rather messy and silly, but that is how I roll. I like it – it adds a jungle affect to my deck and this is fine with me. I was happy the plant experienced no major issues, no blossom end rot on the fruit, no bites from critters, and no blemishes or blight on the leaves.

Color before it starts to get some yellow tones

Size of Fruit: I did expect in my mind to have bigger fruit but most of them didn’t grow larger than a tennis ball. Maybe one or two about the size of a baseball. All smoothed skins, soft to the touch when nearing ready to pick, no blemishes, and rather interesting patterns made it a fun one to try. I like putting tomato slices on pretty plates and adding slices of mozzarella or other red tomatoes. This makes a colorful appetizer! Oh, and many of the fruit produced in clusters too on the Green Zebra plant. They start off looking a bit like cherry tomato clusters but grow much larger than cherry tomato fruit.

Comparing to other tomatoes (At first, I was picking the Green Zebras too early).

Its Unique Flavor: Now, for the true test! The flavor. My husband will eat any tomatoes of any kind. He loves tomatoes. And he slices, gobbles, and grabs as many as he can and approved of the taste of the Green Zebra. (He also asked me one day why they weren’t turning red yet so I reminded him these are green new ones I was trying out this year for the first time.).

As for myself, I did think it was “tangy” and I just wasn’t sure how to use them other than adding them in for a beautiful color affect with cheeses and or with red tomatoes, but then one day, I decided to toss them with chopped up fresh cilantro and a couple small cherry red tomatoes, and OMG! That is when I decided these are a keeper on my list. The flavor with the cilantro was very delicious. And by this point, the tomatoes were the juiciest too. Some people don’t like the flavor of cilantro but I absolutely love cilantro and this was the best taste to me with these tangy juicy tomatoes. Perfect as a salsa too or to put on taco’s on taco night!

Green Zebra Tomatoes with Chopped Fresh Cilantro and a few small red cherry tomatoes.

I probably won’t take down this plant for another few weeks but I’m starting to feel like I need to say good-bye to the other indeterminate plants with no more blooms or fruit. My cherry tomatoes are still producing and turning red right now and I’ll write about those later. Hope you are still enjoying your Green Zebras too if you got some from me!

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Blogging today
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http://www.WorkshopsCT.com

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Also on Instagram and Facebook under Container Crazy CT

Located in East Windsor, CT

Looking for a Purple Flowering Plant that Climbs Quickly? This is it.

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Picking up a couple vining Hyacinth Bean ‘Ruby Moon’ plants in 4″ small pots from a nursery was a nice little find this season for me.

I was first intrigued by the trifoliate leaves with purple veins. I like when foliage offers touches of colors to serve as color echoes in container gardens. I also had never grown these before and thought they would make a nice candidate as something different to try this season in my container gardens.

Hyacinth Bean ‘Ruby Moon’ or Lablab (Dolichos) is a vining annual in my Connecticut planting zone (CT Zone 6b) and the plant tag indicates it would produce striking vines with ornamental seed pods, flowers, and foliage. It should be planted in full sun and provided with support for the quickly climbing vines.

If you are looking for an vining climbing plant with purple bloom colors, this is a wonderful candidate. It grows up to 10-20 feet and mine easily climbed a trellis inside a big planter at 7-8 feet tall, making the trellis invisible by now (mid July). The vines continue to reach up, looking to grow higher. Additionally, I read this plant continues to showcase its attributes into the early fall season, so it is a long (and tall!) performer.

Birds were perching on the trellis pole quite often until it became invisible due to the growth of the Hyacinth Bean plant covering the trellis, and I loved seeing them against the pink-purple flowers. Its turned out to be one of my favorite combinations this season. The stalks of the flowers are purple as well.

I included a Pink Pentas annual in the lower base of the same planter, a elephant ear bulb, two Canna lily plants to the side (one yellow with red specks blooms, and another variety with red blooms), and tucked in a Original Pink Mandevilla (bushy with limited vining), and also a little blue ornamental grass behind it. The pot is rather large with a big soil volume and it is my favorite combination this season. I water it every day, although, I read the Hyacinth bean plant is rather drought tolerant.

Yellow Bloom Spike coming up on the Canna Lily

Every day, as I leave my driveway, I look at it. It is also visible from my couch in the living room. In addition to seeing the birds visit it (when the trellis was visible), I sometimes witness little butterflies flutter by it – and hummingbirds zoom past this big planter to my hummingbird feeders. The hummingbirds probably will visit the Canna Lily blooms soon, they are opening right now.

Flowers arrive first followed by these beautiful dark purple beans. My sister-in-law, Vicky, would adore this plant because purple is her favorite color. I read that the beans may be harvested after they turn brown to save the seeds to sow, which I will do for sure for growing from seed next spring. Oh, and the tag indicates this makes a nice cut flower as well for its unique-ness!

Hyacinth Bean ‘Ruby Moon’ – Purple Flowers

Upon researching this plant, it seems it is edible (the beans, that is) but with a specific cooking process required, thus, it is really for its ornamental value rather than edible benefits. I won’t go into the edible information here because I specifically bought it to try something different for a flowering climber type plant, and because it is a rapid climber.

I did not encounter any insect issues on this plant, which was either luck or a bonus. A plant I had next to it, a purple blooming Datura, in another pot got many holes in the leaves by an insect however, and I just cut it down yesterday because I could not take the look of all that leaf damage anymore on the Datura sitting next to my gorgeous bean plant with no issues.

Vines are Reaching high!

If you are looking for a rapid climber, easy care, and purple color tones, this is a good one to use. I’m so glad I spotted it in a nursery, which was out of town, when I was trying to locate something different. Think purple colors around it or contrasting colors to make it pop (like the green leaves of the Canna Lily). I think you will enjoy it too, and also, remember, this grew from a very small plant into a giant – so it was not a big expense to buy this plant!

Have a great weekend,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Container Garden Designer
Plant Enthusiast
Blogger
containercathy at gmail.com
860-977-9473
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Thank you for visiting.