Giving Thanks for another Great Gardening Year

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Container Garden Install

Container Garden Install

Another gardening year has passed quickly.  It was filled with lots of plant-loving activity, including garden talks for garden clubs and farmers markets, ‘walk and talk’ home tours of friends’ special gardens, and several classes hosted by guest instructors and Container Crazy Cathy T related to combining nature with art.  And along the way, I had many moments of thankfulness.

Now arrives the week of Thanksgiving.  A day approaches when we share time with our families to count our blessings – and enjoy home cooked meals. We may say a few words during these events to express our gratitude or a hug may suffice as you welcome your treasured family members and friends to your home and table.

As this fourth Thursday of the month approaches, I reflect upon many opportunities for which I am grateful.  Some may seem minor in the scheme of life, but each is something which helped me along my way and thus, here it goes, my “Give Thanks” List:

My, My – What a Beautiful Summer

We were blessed with an amazing summer where almost every weekend provided sun and comfortable temperatures.  I know this because I pay attention to the weather forecasts, especially for weekends where garden events are scheduled.  And, on every single summer weekend, the weather cooperated for my special events – how lucky am I!  Even on the only day when I had my family over for a summer picnic and pool time, well – that day was the warmest of all – it was perfect timing.

There were so many summer weekends when I looked to the skies and said, “Thank God it is beautiful out this weekend!” So, thankfulness prevails for cooperative weather. Hopefully, one more blessing will happen for good weather at my annual holiday evergreens class on December 6th to cap off the year. Please, no big snowstorms.

Supportive Gardening Friends and Family

As I look at the history of growing my small business, many times, it is friends and family members suggesting ideas to help improve processes and my classes.  And, it IS mostly friends and family members attending my gardening events. However, each new season brings new faces too – and thus, new gardening friends.  One of the best parts of working with plants is communication is almost universal in the gardening world – you don’t need to speak the same language or have the same gardening style to appreciate the beauty of nature and how to bring more of it to your surroundings. Thus, I am very grateful and thankful for all supportive people, new and old, and how they help me along the way. Each and every client is appreciated as well – and many are treasured friends and family members. Thank you for hiring me this gardening season and attending my events.

Healthy Me and Healthy Parents

This year, Thanksgiving Day falls one day before my big 50th birthday. Sure, I have more aches and pains than I did in my 30’s, but I am really thankful there have been no big health problems.  Truly a blessing – and good health becomes more important as we get older – the importance of health – not only for ourselves, but for our family members is of the utmost priority in life. And, for those who have struggled with tough health issues this year, I pray they are always getting better and feeling healthy once again. I’m thankful for when those prayers are answered.

As for my parents – gosh, they are elderly, yet both very healthy and still with us – Every single moment I spend with them, I thank God for sharing these two beautiful people with me.  And to be spending the upcoming Thanksgiving Day with them warms my heart and soul. They, along with my extended family, are a blessing for which I am grateful – and glad I can continue to have them in our lives to share special moments.

Small House with a Big Yard

The home I share with my husband (he is another blessing in of itself) may be somewhat on the small size, but it is cozy with plenty of outdoor space to enjoy. I’m so thankful for the day we were told of this home being for sale, and that we snagged it up over 20 years ago. I’m thankful for a solid roof over our heads, and a large outdoor space we enjoy with our animals, plants, and trees.  Years ago, when we stood on our former small 4 by 4 deck to toast the purchase of our new home, we knew it was what we wanted, because it had a big yard – but we had no idea how it would grow into so much pleasure as our personal daily destination – right in our backyard. When we sit to admire our space around us filled with plants and nature – we always think about how thankful we are for our own little place on earth, and how we love to share it with our friends and family.

Chicken Coop Pen at Cathy T's

Chicken Coop Pen at Cathy T’s

Thankful for Likes

One day, my niece told me how happy she was when someone liked her drawing on an artwork related social site, and, I thought to myself, “Do we give too much stock to the “likes, shares, and positive comments” of social media?” But in the end, yes – sometimes it is important.  As we share things we are proud of, often helping to inspire others, we are thankful when someone hits like or share.  For the followers, sharers, likers in my social world – thank you so much for taking the time to notice and for appreciating my efforts.

The Sun’s Rays upon My Face

Lately, I’ve been taking time to sit in the sunniest place available at my home to face the sun during the mid-afternoons before the sun sets. Especially during winter, this is a much needed therapy activity for me because the winter blues has potential to creep upon us as the days are darker and temperatures are colder.

Each time I feel the sun’s rays upon my face, I give thanks for the sun and all it offers to our world. It is such a powerful force – giving life to us, our plants, and our surroundings. Without the sun, we would have nothing, so thus I say, thank you Sun.  You are my Goddess, and I worship you.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone,

Cathy Testa
www.cathytesta.com
www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
(860) 977-9473 (cell)
containercathy@gmail.com

Cathy T at her home in East Windsor, CT

Cathy T at her home in East Windsor, CT

Goofing Around with My Camera (Predators, Coop Renovation, Blooms)

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I’ve been so busy preparing for this weekend’s class on Container Gardening with succulents, alpines, and cacti that I woke up at 2:00 am unable to sleep.  The excitement is getting to me, as it always does.  So, after tossing around in bed for another couple hours, I gave up and got up. I decided a distraction may be in order, so to continue my trend, I’m posting some general photos I took around my home, and here or there, related to gardening – and chickens – yes, have those now and we are enjoying our six hens.

Orchid Cactus

On a clear day last weekend, I took this plant outside to take some photos of its amazing bloom.  And geesh, is this not stunning?  I love the hot pink color against the clear blue sky.  Why haven’t I had one of these plants before?  I plan to research and blog about in detail later.  Do you have one or grow these?  If yes, I would love to hear from you.  The bottom photo is of two closed up blooms that finished their show.

Orchid Cactus Bloom

Orchid Cactus Bloom

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Can you guess what this plant is?  As noted, they are tobacco plant seedlings.  Last summer, I asked a nearby grower of these if I could have one plant.  His response, well, no, I can’t give any away.  I wanted to remind him of the day his big cows came into my yard and rubbed against my Arborvitae trees many years back, and how I didn’t complain – Why? Because I grew up on a farm and have an appreciation of how cows can get free, running loose from time to time.  But his cows did major damage, so I tore the trees out without much of a word about it and moo’ed on.

Well, last winter, I happen to mention this story to a friend, and this spring, she text me to say she got me some seedlings of tobacco plants from a farmer friend of her’s, and she even dropped them off for me in this pot.  I thought, what an amazing gesture on her part.  Why, you wonder, would I want one of these?  Well, they grow fast, have large showy leaves, and I just want to experiment with it for the features.  Will let you know how it goes, it is time to prick these out and get them into individual pots.

Tobacco Plants

Tobacco Plants

Japanese Tree Peony

I finally got my first Japanese Tree Peony (Paeonis suff. ‘High Noon’) and I couldn’t be more thrilled with its show.  The yellow blooms are luxurious.  This one has an exceptional yellow flower and they are the double type which I prefer on Peony plants.

As the afternoon sun hits it, I just ooze over it.  It will grow to 48″ tall and is for Zones 4-8.  It was a little pricey, but worth it.  For those of you who do not know, these have a wood based stem and look more like a shrub when mature.

Japanese Tree Peony

Japanese Tree Peony

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Iris with Honeysuckle

I planted a tall bearded Iris with honeysuckle and chocolate mint plants, one of each type in two large container gardens for a business client.  Imagine the scents in this arrangement?  The honeysuckle is Lonicera x heckrottii ‘Gold Flame’, a perennial with a vine and shrub like habit.  It is super fragrant with deep magenta blooms appearing in late spring through early fall.  It takes sun to part shade and I think the color looks spectacular with the blue blooms of the Iris ‘Abiqua Falls’. Ironically, I stopped at a local garden center this past weekend, and one of the owners told me someone had asked her recently what was in these planters – thinking her store planted them.  (Note to self: I have to get my sign in these containers!) I don’t like the look of a sign poking out of the containers, one of the reasons I haven’t done so yet.  Oh, the Iris is an award winner, prized for its large, sky blue blossoms.  The only problem with using Irises is they toppled over a bit, but luckily the trellis helped to anchor them back up.  In the bottom right photo is a Kwanzan cherry tree’s blooms which I took a photo of while on the road the same week as stopping in to check on these two container gardens.

Iris with Honeysuckle

Iris with Honeysuckle

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Fold Up Cart

Taking a break from the flowers – I also wanted to show a handy cart I ordered, which folds up super easily.  It can hold a lot of items and rolls really well too.  For years, when I would go to a Container Garden Party to do my classes or for talks at garden clubs, I lugged heavy items into the building practically by hand.  This wagon so helped me this past Monday when I did a talk at the Vernon Garden Club on incorporating edibles into container gardens.  It folds in a snap and goes right into the back bed of my truck.  Love it!

Fold Up Cart

Fold Up Cart

Bee on Polygonatum

I was trying to get a photo of this bee – but it came out a bit blurry.  This is a perennial I get CRS on every spring. I mix up the name sometimes with Polemonium which is similar but not quite.  However, I love my Polygonatums on the north side of my house in a shade area.  Their long and graceful arching stems are eloquent.  I divided up some and moved them to appear in batches in the bed and this year they look really great.  This makes a great woodland plant too and the dangling flowers are serving the bees coming by.  The foliage on this variegated one is very pretty, painted white on the edges.  This perennial prefers good moisture too.

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Stone Edging for the Coop

For years, I wanted to edge the area around my chicken coop – and my friendly landscape installer connection, Chris of Outdoor Creations of Ellington, obliged my request to have it done in time for this weekend.  I am thrilled with how it came out.  I like the natural look of this type of stone, and now I can have fun fixing up my plantings and adding perennials and container gardens to this area.  Talk about spoiled chickens!  Not only is their surrounding enhanced, they were fed grubs and worms by Chris as he was working on the building of the edge and mulching the beds.  He said they were fun to watch, and I’m sure they enjoyed his company while he was here.  Sparkles, the recently named chicken, agrees.  She’s the boss of my six Rhode Island Red hens, seen in the photo below.

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Kiwi Vine Feeds My Chics

Two kiwi vines, plants several years ago, a male and female plant on each side as required for pollination, are above my pen area of the coop.  One day, Sparkles was jumping up to grab some leaves.  We caught her on our motion censor camera which we move around the house to capture photos of wild life – and predators, as you will see following this photo.  Look at Sparkle’s feet – she jumped right off the ground.  My first priority was to determine if this vine could be poisonous to the chickens, and thankfully, it is not.  They get a feeding of them every day now when I go visit, tearing some leaves off to toss down for them.  And, I think this will be the year we finally get kiwi fruit from these vines. I saw tiny buds on one plant, the female plant.  It takes about five years for them to bloom and produce fruit – so we will see.  The vines require a great deal of pruning to keep in check, it can overtake anything, and grows fast.  We removed branches off a tree above the pen area last year because the vines were twining up to it, so it has to be watched.  Feeding some leaves to the chickens will help, I think.

Kiwi Vine Above Coop Pen

Kiwi Vine Above Coop Pen

Wild Predators Don’t Take Long

As I have mentioned, we attempted chicken raising here twice before, and gave up for a couple years.  The former chickens were allowed to free range, and got snatched by foxs, hawks – you name it.  But our new ones will not go beyond their protected coop and outdoor pen.  Since we have a motion censor camera, we set it up nearby to see what would lurk to investigate our new chickens.

The first week, we spotted a raccoon and coyote in the photos, and one early morning, I saw a fox running around the coop with something in its mouth.  Thankfully, it wasn’t one of my chicken.  We are sure to close their coop door every evening, and we are keeping a steady watch to make sure their pen is safe.  So far so good.  Kind of creepy to see the coyote checking it out.

Predators, first racoon, then Coyote

Predators, first raccoon, then Coyote

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That’s all for goofing around with my camera.  Now, its time to get back to work.

Written by Cathy Testa
http://www.cathytesta.com
ContainerCrazyCT.com
860-977-9473

 

Goofing Around With My Camera (New Chickens, Perennials Rising, and More)

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On this windy day, I decided to post some general pictures taken as I goofed around with my camera outdoors this weekend.  I got more accomplished than I had planned on which is good news.

We got our new Rhode Island Red chickens moved into our chicken coop finally, I cleaned up some perennials, and even raked up some leaves and moved out some container gardens and pots.

This was all accomplished after I held my first garden talk of the season on ornamental edibles in Broad Brook at the Pride Fitness building.  A small group from South Windsor attended, and they were very enthusiastic. They are thinking of forming a new garden club at their church so we had lots to share about edibles and gardening on Saturday morning during my presentation.

So back to “Goofing Around with My Camera.”  Here are some photos taken as I worked and played outside during the first weekend of May 2014.

Perennials Rising

Perennials Rising

Perennials Rising

These are photos taken of perennials finally rising up from the soil and showing some initial growth. On the left is Nepeta (catmint), which is such an easy full sun perennial to grow.  The cats love rubbing against it from time to time.  It is super easy to clean up in the spring and can be pruned up or sheared anytime actually if it gets overgrown. Using sharp hand-pruners, I removed the old stems around the edges of this plant.

On the top right of this photo grouping is the leaves of an Iris with purple leaves, and then next a lamb’s ear (Stachys) perennial. Lamb’s ear always starts off slow, showing only a few leaves, but by early summer, it is much fuller and gently spreads near itself. I basically did not need to do anything to clean the remnants of last year’s lamb’s ear; it was looking fine right now and starting to grow.  On the Iris, it did not bloom, and I suspect it is because the soil is too moist there or not enough sun, or it was planted too deep, it will be moved later.

Below the photo of the lamb’s ear perennial was one where I experienced a CRS moment.  I could visualize the flowers in my head, as I looked down on the foliage coming out of the ground, but after months of dormancy for me and the plants, sometimes we have mental blocks.

When I took the photo, I was struggling to remember the name – but here it is Cornflower (Centaurea), also known as Bachelor Button to some gardeners. It grows showy violet-blue flowers in early summer (June-July), and I adore this perennial. Like its neighboring Nepeta and Lamb’s ear, it enjoys full sun conditions and can be kept on the dry side.  Butterflies and hummingbirds like the blooms too.

And on the bottom right of the photos above is a Honeysuckle vine with leaves coming out now.  I put a small garden bench near this area and kept smelling something sweet in the air when I took a break to sit.  I thought, could it be the Honeysuckle?  There are no blooms yet, but I leaned in to take a whiff and I think it was coming from the tips where the buds are beginning to form – amazing!

More Shade Loving Perennials

Ligularia, Peony, Bleeding Heart

Ligularia, Peony, Bleeding Heart

Around the corner, on the north facing side of my house are a couple Ligularia plants (top left photo).  The leaves are just beginning to come out and expand.  This plant is very showy in regards to foliage, which are round, large, and other cultivars have leaves with bronzy-green to plum colors and purple colors.  The blooms rise above in summer (around August) on tall spikes, usually showing off yellow flowers on dark stems.  It is a great shade plant, likes moisture, and is easy care.  Using my hand-pruners I cut away any old stems from last year – easypeasy cleanup.

The Peony is on the bottom left of the above photo.  They are starting to come up now, so I put my big round wire frames around them. I spray painted the wire frames first with green cause they looked a bit rusty.  I should have taken a photo of them – made by my father, they are round and fit around them well, and as soon as the foliage grows, you can’t see the wire frame which supports the blooms typically heavy and sometimes bending down from rainfall.

And of course, a bleeding heart (Dicentra spectablis) is on its way up with little flowers already appearing. Every time I witness this plant I think of the day my husband weed-whacked one down many years ago.  Let’s just say that I got him to stop when I explained accidentally cutting down a plant of mine is like if I went up and accidentally scratched his motorcycle paint.  He got it.

But he explained his fault, indicating it looked like a weed – and you know what, sometimes it can at first but once those flowers drip down heart-style, you can mistake it is a flowering perennial perfect for early spring and into May.  No cleanup was needed but later it will be cut down because it will go dormant earlier than many perennials and turn yellow.

Polygonaturm, Ferns, Thalictrum

Polygonatum, Ferns, Thalictrum

Further down the bed, under a Japanese Maple tree, are my Polygonatums (Solomon’s Seal).  I love the way the stems come out of the ground like graceful little – well, I don’t know what – they just look interesting before they grow more.  The leaves rise along the stems while little white flowers will dangle off the length of the stems, plus the stems will arch at the tops.  It makes a great woodland-like plant for part shade.  It prefers good moisture and rich soil too.  When you buy these at the nursery, sometimes the single plant doesn’t look too impressive at first – but over time, these keep rising up more plants (as seen here) and when you have a nice stand of them, they are pretty impressive.  On the top right is just a picture of some native ferns unfurling. Any nature lover gets why this is striking to look at – and I just grabbed a quick photo of that.

On the bottom right is a plant in my big cement planter around back of the house – can you guess what this is? You might think Columbine (Aquilegia) at first because its leaves are similar, but this plant is called Thalictrum aquilegifolium (Columbine Meadow Rue).  The specific epithet (2nd part of the Latin name) means columbine leaf.

Anyhow, I love this perennial because it shoots out stems that reach 2-3 feet tall!  Right now the leaves are coming out of the soil and they are tinged from the cool temperatures with some burgundy tones.  But in early summer, this plant will show off fluffy flowers in pink colors on very tall thin wiry stalks above the foliage below.  It is another woodland like plant and I love the height of it.

Hellebore Galore

Heleborus perennial

Helleborus perennial

Because I was near the chicken coop this weekend moving in the new chicks and fixing some damaged parts of the pen, etc – I took time to notice my beautiful and full flourishing Heleborus perennials.  I will have to dig through my notes to remember the cultivar name of this one, but it was flushed with blooms – all dark purple toned. Unfortunately, the blooms nod downwards, but if you gently tip one up you can see how the insides look – stunning.

I can’t say enough about Helleborus perennials.  The leaves are tough and long-lasting, semi-evergreen, and easy to snip off any left overs on the plant from last season with hand-pruners.  These plants take partial shade (and can take full sun) in a well-drained soil, but they seem to do better in shade in my yard.  They are known as Lenten Rose and if you don’t have any, I recommend you get them – the deer don’t eat them by the way which is a bonus. (Oh and I will have some for sale at my upcoming Big Container Garden Party on May 24, 2014.)

Helleborus perennial

Helleborus perennial

Here is another one I have near the coop.  Fascinating how the veins appear in the leaf petals.  Both of these stands of my Helleborus plantings are doing very well in their locations.  I had chickens in this pen before and the soil is very fertile.  In fact, when I was digging in the bed near these, worms were everywhere – a nice healthy sign of a living soil.  As I found them, I scouped the worms up to give to my new chickens.  They were ecstatic.  They really like the treatment they are getting at their new dwellings, the little Testa ranch.

New Rhode Island Reds Arrive

Newly Arrived RI Reds!

Newly Arrived RI Reds!

Here they are, we got six Rhode Island Reds.  We added a perch and four of them hopped up there right away, and I also put a box on the floor because they were hiding behind the feeder, so I realized they were a little “chicken” so I got them spots to hide by putting a box in there.

Chicken Coop Accessories

Chicken Coop Accessories

You are going to think my chickens are spoiled because I bought these perfect fit nest box pads to put in their future laying boxes. The boxes are a find of antique shipping crates and we are going to add side walls to the boxes so they have their preferred privacy when they lay eggs, expected by September.  I also got a big bail of pine shaving to put in the bottom of the coop, and have a galvanized antique chicken feeder given to us by a friend.  I put the feeder and water container on a pallet, raised off the ground, so they won’t poop in it as much as if it were level to the floor.

Soda Bottle Converter Kit

Soda Bottle Converter Kit

Soda Bottle Converter

Another nifty thing I ordered was a soda bottle converter kit which easily attaches to a bottle to drip water out for the chickens, but they have to be trained to use it.  How?  I’m not sure, but I set it up in the outdoor pen area.  They are still a bit chicken to walk outside into the pen, but they started poking their heads out to look around.  Both the nesting pads and bottle converter were purchased from My Pet Chicken online.  I also bought a galvanized hanging poultry feeder and waterer, but they were much smaller than I expected.  However will be handy and were hung outside in the pen for later use.

Incubator

Incubator

Incubator of Sorts

My brother, Jimmy, kept the baby chickens in his home-built incubator until they were large enough to move into our chicken coop.  I appreciated this very much because I did not have to setup a heat/warming place for them, and they are fine now to go without heat.  But I had to show his set-up here.  He got two shipping crates, attached them together with a door, and they had a nice warm and cozy home before coming to our house. Oh, I spotted his cat hiding behind the coop – she was probably waiting for a moment to get them, no luck my dear.  LOL.  But I guess raising chickens is in our blood.  My father had them when we were growing up and my sister also has chickens now in an urban setting no less.  She has pretty ones, with feathers on their feet and they are smaller – of course, CRS Again!  I can’t remember what they are called, the breed.  Hmmm, will come back to me.

Daffodils

Daffodils

I couldn’t help but admire my daffodils around the coop.  I prefer the type of daffs with multiple flower petals.  Again, CRS, can’t remember the exact names of these types but they are just beautiful.  The healthy organic soil there is really making them bloom a lot this year.  And they don’t get eaten by varmints, unlike tulips.  I will have to remember to add more in the fall to this area.

Spring Plants_0027Another one of my favorite daffodils is this one – name, I’ll let you know when I remember!  But I bought the bulbs at a Connecticut Horticultural Society meeting several years ago and despite the location being clay, this one puts on a show every spring.  The soil is well-drained there however because this location is on a slope, not near my chicken coop.  The blooms smell lovely too!  I let the foliage of my daffodils stay on as long as possible after the flowesr fade so it can build up energy via photosynthesis.

Poking Out Slowly

Poking Out Slowly

First Attempts to Go Outside

The chickens poked out just a little but didn’t stay out – they are still testing the area and are hesitant, and it was windy so they may have been a little chilled.  However, it will be no time before they scratch and dig in the soil there for insects.  In fact, what was so funny was the minute I set them in the coop, they pecked at tiny insects on the walls – amazing – they were literally cleaning house.

My cat, Hunter, followed me to the coop this morning.  I didn’t seem him there, but he let out one of his big MEOWS.  “Get back,” I said – these ladies are your new friends!  I still haven’t named the chickens yet – right now, I refer to them as No 1, No 2, No 3, etc.

There are six of them, so I count them when I open the door to make sure they are all there.  Even though we checked every part of the coop walls, etc., there is this fear of a predator trying to get in to snatch them.  In fact, we plan to setup our outdoor motion sensor camera to see which predator shows up first to investiage.  I am sure they can hear and smell the chickens in the coops already.

Weeping Larch (left photo)

Weeping Larch (left photo)

Weeping Larch Coming Out too

On the left of the photo grouping above is a close up of a Weeping Larch (Larix decidua ‘Pendula’) located by my house entrance. Everyone who sees this tree usually points and comments on it.  It is especially pretty just when the needles start to come out of the branches.  It has a twisted curvy trunk and will grow rather large.  It may outgrow its space but I like it there for now.  I will show more on this plant later.

And on the right of this photo grouping above are more various perennials coming out of the soil now.  I managed to get to most of them to clean up any tattered growth from the previous year, so now they are ready for a mulch refresh.

More of the Helleborus

More of the Helleborus

Here is some funky garden type art I put around my pen.  My next step is to edge all the beds with low stone walls, planned this season.  It will look much better then.

Funky Art

Funky Art

More flower photos…

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Spring Plants_0020

That’s it for now for my informal photo goofing around.  Enjoy your week everyone, and enjoy the rising of your perennials too.  It is time to come out and enjoy spring.

Written by Cathy Testa
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
http://www.cathytesta.com
ContainerCrazyCT@gmail.com