Flashback Friday – Tree Frog in a Birdhouse

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Can you believe this photo is real?!!!  

Frog Home

Frog Home, Photo taken by Cathy Testa in Bloomfield, CT, 2009

This photo of a tree frog sitting comfortably in a birdhouse hanging in a tree was taken by me when I worked at a private garden nursery in Bloomfield, CT during the summers while I was taking courses at UCONN’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2009.

One day, the homeowner, who was also my boss at that time, a landscape designer, came up to me to say, “Come see a tree frog in our birdhouse.”

Well, I could hardly believe my eyes.

Just look at how the frog’s hands are crossed. Talk about enjoying his new residence. I wonder what the bird thought when he peaked inside.

I saw a lot of things at their nursery when I worked there. Their greenhouse and plants were setup behind their home, and one day, I saw a bear.

Well, to be accurate – the bear saw me. I didn’t have a chance to see him because when someone yelled out to say there was a bear approaching me, as I was working at a potting bench in the very back of the nursery, I ran so fast to my car, I didn’t take the time to turn around to see it.

The funny thing was usually I had a radio on to keep me company, but that day, it wasn’t on and only a slight breeze in the air was making sounds as the trees around the property were rustling in the wind.

In fact, I was really deep into the zone, potting up plants and arranging some container gardens for a client. That bear could have walked up to bite me in the rear, and I would have not seen it coming.

Another interesting creature, which visited their property regularly, was a very long black rat snake. The first time I saw it moving by some pots on the ground, it startled me – but it didn’t scare me like the bear did because snakes tend to move on quickly.

However, after that sighting – every time I saw a glimpse of a black hose on the ground for watering pots, I would hesitate to make sure it wasn’t that black rat snake again.

Coneflower Butterfly

Coneflower Butterfly – Photo take in 2009 by Cathy Testa in Bloomfield, CT

Dragon flies would dance around in the sky and butterflies would rest upon flowers. One day, I found a dead dragon fly and took a photo of it as I gently placed it on this leaf.

Dead Dragon Fly

Dead Dragon Fly, Deceased on a leaf – Bloomfield, CT – 2009 – Photo by Cathy Testa

Bee in Canna

Bee in Canna, Bloomfield, CT – 2009 – Photo by Cathy Testa

Even though I worked the grounds alone most days, because the landscape crew would leave after gathering up their plants and garden tools in the early mornings, I was never lacking company.

Another frog lived in the greenhouse in a pot filled with water plants under the benches. I remember reading once that frogs are territorial. He was there every day peering up at me as I walked by on my daily routines.

So, for this week’s Flashback Friday, I had to share the memories of working at a private garden nursery, and take a look back at that frog in the birdhouse.

Happy Friday Everyone,

Cathy Testa

Butterflies and Hummingbird Moth at Sunny Hill Side Garden Tour


On the 16th of August, my sister, Lisa Brown, offered her home up as one of the gardens to see as part of Cathy T’s Walk and Talk garden tours – and what has been my biggest surprise about organizing these talks, is that I learned so much from my own sister about her garden experiences, which you think would come up in general conversation because, after all – we are sisters!

But life gets in the way sometimes, you may go to your sibling’s house and are there for some event usually, a holiday, a family gathering, whatever, and you may look at the garden while visiting – but to really “talk it” in detail can be missed because we are socializing otherwise.

During her walk and talk day, we all learned so much about her sunny hill side garden – one nice aspect is – many of her plants are gifts from friends.  One plant she pointed out was from a dear departed friend, and she says every time she walks by the plant – she is reminded of their friendship.

She also has tons of butterflies, birds, and a hawk moth was flying about visiting her butterfly bush.  I took several photos to share from this tour, which will be posted soon, but here is one shot of the hawk moth (also referred to as a hummingbird moth by folks, or sphinx moth), and ironically, I just had two friends tell me they saw one at their house for the first time recently.

One friend told me she gets a hawk moth every year at her house, and it will land on her hand!!  I never heard of this before – so cool.  She told me the moth is very friendly  — go figure, right? I will try that next time – put out my hand.  The moth did not seem to be bothered by me as I snapped photos at Lisa’s garden, and perhaps it is not camera shy.

Sphinx Moth on Butterfly Bush Blooms

Sphinx Moth on Butterfly Bush Blooms

For this morning, this is a quick post today to say THANK YOU so much to our host, Lisa of East Granby, CT — and to the attendees for participating at the last Walk and Talk tour for “this season.”  We enjoyed sharing our experiences with gardening, looking at the amazing view of the mountains from Lisa’s garden too, and capping off the tour season.

We have a 2015 schedule already started by volunteers to see more gardens at homeowner’s properties, which is exciting. The goal is to offer a tour once a month in season from spring til August.  Check in often to note the dates on your 2015 calendars or see the link above for the page on Walk and Talk Events.

For now, I have to run and get busy on a presentation, but I will be back shortly with more photos of the Sunny Hill Side Garden Tour.  There is much more to share with you as a review of our walk and even a very helpful handy list created by Lisa on the “do’s and don’t for a sunny hill side garden” based on her experience growing her garden full of flowering plants enjoyed by insects over several years – all done without the use of any insecticides or pesticides.  The list will be posted here soon.

Enjoy the superb warm and sunny weather predicted this week – it will be beautiful out!!

Cathy T

P.S. To the attendees of the October Hypertufa Class, just a reminder your check is due by September 6th to confirm your registration.  For questions, email containercathy@gmail.com or text 860-977-9473.

Butterfly Conservatory Breaks the Winter Blues


If you suffer from a seasonal disorder in the winter, where you need to get out to break from the winter blues, may I suggest a visit to the “Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens” located on 281 Greenfield Road in South Deerfield, MA?  It will be a place of warmth, sunshine, and lots of color.  I visited yesterday with my sister and niece, and here are the photos I took along the way.

Favorite shot

Favorite shot

I think this one is my favorite photos of the day.  If I am reading the butterfly id chart correctly, which I purchased for $1.00 at the entrance ticket booth, this is a Brown Clipper, Parthenos sylvia.  I don’t know much about butterflies other than they are beautiful in the garden – serving as nature’s living art – so hopefully I have the right names written with the photos I took yesterday.

Tithorea tarricina

Tithorea tarricina

Again, not sure but this one looks like Tithorea.  Love the long antennae and legs.

Japanese Lantern

Japanese Lantern

There are many tropical plants at the conservatory and this one was probably my favorite of the lot.  A Hibiscus schizopetalus, Japanese Lantern bloom with a long stamen dripping down in such an elegant fashion.  Just love the look of this bloom and the next butterfly photo is a perfect color comparison.

Hey Mr. Postman

Hey Mr. Postman

One of the things I noticed was many of the butterflies did have some wing tears, which made me a little sad.  This one is Postman, Heliconius melpomene.  He matches the Hibiscus photo above in coloring.

Pitcher Plant

Pitcher Plant

My niece asked me what this plant was, and of course, it is a type of pitcher plant.  I didn’t see many plant labels at the conservatory, and it would be nice for them to offer a plant identification key like they offer for the butterflies.  These types of plants are found in tropical rain forests, and many know they get their nutrition by capturing insects in their pitcher.  I saw a television show recently that also indicated a new discovery of some larger species luring small rodent-like animals, and they go for the nectar while on top of the pitcher, and guess what drops out the animal’s back end into the pitcher?  Yup, their poop – another source of energy to the plant.

Shrimp Plant

Shrimp Plant

This is a plant I’ve grown in my container gardens.  Pachystachys lutea.  There were many of these at the conservatory for the butterflies to enjoy.  You can see why it is called a golden shrimp plant as the common name.  The flowers are not the yellow parts you see here; these are the bracts.  The white flowers extend from these, and in my container garden, the hummingbirds loved them.



There were a few Justicia plants, the common name for this one is shrimp plant too.  It is a broadleaf evergreen shrub, and I adore the style of the flowers.  Very exotic, and this one had a deep hot pink color, but the one I used in a container garden was a softer pink – both are spectacular, and loved by hummingbirds and butterflies.

Justicia carnea

Justicia carnea

This photo was taken of my container garden in early September about two years ago. The large pot is combined with a Coleus, Ajuga, Delosperma, Alternanthera, and Sambucus.  The container on the table has a Sedum in it with a Creeping Jenny trailing below.  Justicia carnea (shrimp plant) in the large pot bloomed during the summer and into fall, and paired up perfectly with the Sedum blooming around the same time.

Ow Butterflies

Ow Butterflies

Here’s two owl butterflies, Caligo eurilochus, were having a little mating fun.  And it is obvious why they call them “owl” butterflies, used to deter predators.  This is the type that landed on my shoulder for quite some time later, see video below.

Name this plant

Name this plant

Okay, I know I’ve seen this plant before – but I can’t remember the name?  Help me out tropical bloggers – what is this called?  It is so beautiful and the plants at the conservatory trailed all the way up to the ceiling.  I would have loved to capture a butterfly on it but no luck.

Morpho peleides

Morpho peleides

I did have luck capturing this Blue Morpho, Morpho peleides.  Got to thank iPhones for the quick clicks.  I had to reach up a bit to get the shot, but was so glad he was in a rest state and didn’t fly away.

Purple Passion

Purple Passion

There were mostly tropical plants at the conservatory, which I enjoyed because they are one of my passions – yet, later when I got home, I thought it was sad they didn’t have natives for the butterflies to enjoy – and to showcase.  We have many in CT and MA that would suit the feeders.  Also, I noticed outside, they had a border along the front of the building enclosed in posts, and it was all old evergreen shrubs, the soil didn’t look too healthy, and I thought, later – when I got home, how wonderful it would be to fill that bed with some native plants.  Too bad I don’t work there – LOL.

More help please?

More help please?

More help please.  What is this plant?  It looks like a Peregrina bloom?  But not sure, the foliage is soft and fuzzy, but the orange flowers are my main attraction.



Just a shot of the sculpture in the gardens at the conservatory.



There was an arch/trellis at the entrance, and if you look closely, you can see a butterfly flying right in the center.  Unfortunately, it is very difficult to capture the hundreds of butterflies circling your head.  As I stood here, taking some photos, one landed right on my shoulder.  I used the rotating feature on my iPhone to get a video of it.  Here it is…

And one more butterfly shot to share, this one is Cairns Birdwing (male), I think.  Love the florescent coloring.

Cairns Birdwing

Cairns Birdwing

Some tips if you decide to visit this place:

Recommendation:  If you happen to be visiting MA or CT, this is a fun trip with kids, or if you are into photography.  There is food sold at the sight, but I enjoyed the restaurant at Yankee Candle right down the road.  Go early, as if it is school vacation season, it will get busy quickly.

Special Occasion:  If you have an engagement to announce, this could be a great place to go with a photographer for some fun shots, but be prepared to get hot – it is humid and warm in the conservatory.  Wear light clothing.

Location:  281 Greenfield Rd. (Rt 5 & 10) off of 91.  If traveling north, take the exit 24 noted for Yankee Candle.  If traveling south, take Exit 25.  South Deerfield, MA.

Hours:  Per their pamphlet, they are open year round 7 days a week.  Summer: 9 am to 6 pm.  Fall/Winter/Spring: 9 am to 5 pm. Closed on some holidays.

Website:  www.MagicWings.com

Name of place:  Magic Wings

Cost: $14/Adults, $10/Kids

Butterfly Key:  I recommend you pay the $1 for the key, my niece immediately wanted to use it as we strolled along.  She had a big desire to identify all the butterflies.  I wish they had a key for the plants, but I don’t think they did – or perhaps I missed it somehow.

Camera:  Bring your camera of course.

And last but not least, when you enter the exhibit, you first enter a room of insects in tanks.  They reminded me of “Indiana Jones” bugs, large and yucky.  And to finish off this informal quick post, here’s a photo of “Hissing Cockroaches”….Yuck.  But fun still for the kids!

Container Crazy Cathy T

Hissing Cockroaches

Hissing Cockroaches



As I was cleaning out some old files, I came across this article written by me in 2005 for a class project.  After I read it to my husband, he said I should post this.  Here it is, unchanged:


My project is a collection of insects contained in clear glass ornaments hung on a miniature Christmas tree.  Each ornament contains an arthropod collected during the fall months of 2005 from the UCONN campus grounds, around my home in Broad Brook, and from property near the Scantic River in East Windsor.  Natural and synthetic plant materials were added to each ornament to represent the types of plant life found near the insects.  Also hung on the tree are information cards about insects, and some cute little decorations obtained during the Halloween season.

This reason I selected the Christmas tree with ornaments as an art form is two fold.  First, the ornaments serve as a way to showcase the insects’ intricate designs from a container that can be easily viewed.  When we have the opportunity to look at an insect up close through a glass, it is less threatening then when insects are alive and moving quickly, which tends to scare people.  Second, I wanted to use the Christmas tree theme to challenge the way in which insects are traditionally used by various cultures for holidays.  As we know, insects are usually reserved for Halloween decorations or for themes related to death or illness, but insects are not so popular for Christmas decorations.  There are exceptions such as beautiful butterflies and colorful dragonflies as ornaments, but it is very uncommon, and perhaps impossible to imagine a Christmas tree adorned with wasps, bees, stink bugs or centipedes, for most would find this offensive or ugly.  However, I’m sure insects on a tree would capture observers’ attention and they may question why insects adorned this little Christmas tree.

In researching Christmas tree history, I discovered the use of Christmas trees was born from the worship of agriculture.  The early Romans marked summer solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the God of agriculture.  This was due to the fact that solstice meant good farming would be underway since the days would be longer and warmer.  Also, homes were commonly decorated with evergreen boughs.  In fact, long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter.  In many countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.  These beliefs lead to the use of firs, pines, and spruce as symbols.  To me, it seemed like a natural fit to tie these two items together – insects and evergreen trees as a media for my project.

Insects, however, did not adorn the green symbols in ancient history, but they were however, worshiped in their own right for other reasons, such as resurrection as with the cicada beetles placed in the deceased mouths.  The scarab beetle was associated with the generative forces of the rising sun and with the concepts of renewal.  It was regarded in early Egyptian history as a symbol of rebirth and good luck.  Ceramic scarab beetles are attached to the top of my miniature tree for this reason.  Another example is how the Chinese cultures worshiped crickets because they believed they would bring good luck to their homes.  Katydids were used as a symbol of fertility.  It seems fitting to me that insects should bear the right to adorn Christmas trees because the trees symbolizes similar themes – birth, renewal, and good fortune.  By placing them on my tree, I am attempting to connect them and challenge the themes.

While realizing there are many negative effects by harmful insects to human life and food, such as spreading of diseases through parasitic wasps, or the awful swarms of locust that can virtually destroy all valuable food sources for some areas, we also know that without insects many needed activities in our environment would slow or come to a complete halt.  Insects provide many useful services as well.  They serve to decompose organic matter, eat other harmful insects, serve as food for other animals, help solve forensic crimes, and provide pollination of flowers for fruit production.  Not only are they helpful creatures, they have existed much longer than human beings on earth, more than 350 million years on every acre of land, plus they live in almost ever habitable place on earth, thus sharing space with them on this miniature tree, for me, was a way to help us see and understand their roles of insects with trees via a non traditional form.

Many different insects were captured for the insect ornament tree.  A Monarch Butterfly is in one ornament on the top of the tree.  My mother captured the monarch specimen in late August.  She found a flock of Monarchs feeding on clover plants in a large field, and she said she quietly approached and stood still.  She calmly reached down and captured one in her bare hands.  The large Katydid in another ornament was found on the hood of my sister’s car, ironically she was pregnant at the time and has since delivered a baby girl. Perhaps that sign of fertility is not so imagined!  Ladybugs are embedded in an ornament among milkweed seed plumes because I found a ladybug on a milkweed one day.  Also milkweed is eaten by Monarch butterflies, thus a symbol of their food source on this tree.  Spiders are sitting upon a yellow rose petal because I found three garden spiders on flowering plants in the campus floriculture garden.  Wasps are over their paper wasp nest in another ornament.  These wasps were found in a nest under a window’s storm shutters and it was interesting to see the larvae embedded in the individual cells.  Grasshoppers were easy to capture during the warm days earlier in the season, as they were plentiful on campus and in the meadows of my parent’s property.  I found a centipede under a rock and a sow bug under an acorn one day – both fast movers and tried to hide quickly, but captured all the same.  Moths, bees, stink bugs, and other flying insects are displayed.  One moth was found inside a college building near window shades of a similar color as the moth.  My other sister, Rosalie, found a white moth in an office on a windowsill.  If you look closely, you can find some of the captured insects and ants on bark pieces attached to the tree.  And some fake, plastic insects of ladybugs, cockroaches, and houseflies are attached at the base of the tree.

Manipulating the insects as I created the ornaments proved beneficial as I observed so many different traits about the insects.  I discovered that insects are not so scary when they don’t move.  I would look at the intricate jointed appendages of the grasshoppers realizing they can be moved and posed into interesting, and sometimes funny positions.  The exoskeleton of insects is much harder than I first realized, and often times it was difficult to pin the insects.  I observed the spiders abdomen to discover the locations from which it expels its webbing.  When inserting insects into the round glass ornaments, I learned how to move their wings carefully.  It was fun to look at the colors and patterns closely.  I had also collected many soft bodied insects, such as a wooley bear caterpillar, swallow tail butterfly caterpillar, and other small worm like insects, but upon defrosting them, they did not keep their shape and started to rot, so they were not used in this project.

Lastly, family members collected some insects.  It was fun to hear of their stories.  My sister in law collected insects from her pool filter, but discovered that laying them out to dry was not a good idea because they were quickly stolen as food by the birds above.  My sister told me she would never put an insect in the freezer again because she felt guilty for ending its life.  Many people would also approach me when I was outside on campus with a bug net in hand to see what I captured.  When showing my insect ornaments to a friend, she just loved the one with the butterfly but shrieked when she saw the one containing simple wasps.  All of these incidents enabled me to share my experience with insects and enhance my knowledge.

As a result of this project, I learned not to fear insects so much.  I’m amazed by their architecture and ways in which they inhabit their earth, how they react to movements, and how they can manipulate their colors to mimic other insects, or send out chemical pheromones as warnings or to attract mates.  I hope other will enjoy viewing my new insect ornament collection on the tree as much as I did!

By: Cathy F. Testa
Project – PLSC 125
Insects, Food and Culture
Fall 2005 UCONN

Photography by Rene Bechard
Copyright 2011-2013.  All Rights Reserved

P.S.:  I don’t have a photo of the “insect tree” written about back then, for if I did, I would share it with readers.

Visit again soon, Cathy T