Container Gardens with Evergreens – Spice Up Your Space for the Holidays

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I’ve worked on cold and windy days to install festive holiday container gardens with evergreens and decor this time of the year – but I have to say, yesterday was probably the coldest day ever experienced outdoors while doing so.

Checking the weather beforehand wasn’t on my list – I knew it was going to rain today, so I thought, I need to get this done first thing on Monday.

The truck was loaded up with evergreens and decor supplies by sun up. Sometimes, having an early start is nice because all is quiet before shops open up for the day.

So off I went.  Within the first 45 minutes tho – my hands were frozen.  It was much colder than I expected. It was like 22 degrees out!

But because I enjoy the process of installing container gardens for the holidays, ignoring the tips of my finger tips getting cold in my not-warm-enough gloves was somewhat easy – at first.

As the owner of a business showed up to unlock his store, he said, “You picked a terrible day to do this. It’s freezing out.”

So, I responded with, “It is suppose to rain tomorrow, and it is time for the seasonal change up, so here I am!”

He agreed, indicating this is his favorite container of the seasonal change outs, and how he is looking forward to the holidays.

After completing his two big barrels at his store front, I went for a coffee and returned to the house for warmer socks, gloves, a neck warmer, and warmer ski like hat – it was THAT cold out.

Back out I went and finished two other jobs, taking a lunch break in between to – yes, warm up again.

Luckily – these are local clients – for which I am very thankful for their business.

Check them out – The Sweet Spot Bakery in Broad Brook, CT offers freshly baked cupcakes, cakes, and more – and they are yummy. In fact, I had them make a kissing ball cake for my latest class – it was much fun as everyone didn’t realize it was a cake at first.

KB Cake by The Sweet Spot Baker (Photo by HomePlaceBlogger)

KB Cake by The Sweet Spot Bakery of Broad Brook, CT (Photo by HomePlaceBlogger)

Then there’s the huge and popular package store, Joe’s Fine Wine & Spirits, on Rt 140 in East Windsor, CT.  When I looked around at the supply of wine and beer, during my warm up breaks in the store yesterday, I thought – “Gosh, what Leslie and his staff has done for this place is amazing.”  They offer a huge selection of wine and beer — and they hold holiday festivities during the year, like wine tastings, and several important fundraising benefits to help raise funds for community efforts.

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

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

After finishing the decor at Joe’s Fine Wine & Spirits, it was off to a local hairdresser’s shop, next to the new TRX exercise studio, which is another small local business to support. The salon is called Carol Jean’s Hair Salon at 144 North Road, East Windsor, CT. Michelle is a great person and offers local salon services.

Container Garden Dressed Up by Cathy T at Carol Jean's Hair Salon

Container Garden Dressed Up by Cathy T at Carol Jean’s Hair Salon

All of these business owners tell me the festive container gardens outside their businesses adds a welcoming environment – and their customers really enjoy seeing them each season, and talking about them with the business owners.

Container Gardens outside of storefronts and businesses lets everyone know – customers are important to their small businesses, and they want to share the holiday happiness too!

If you are interested in an install job for container gardens, call me this week while supplies last.  This is the best time of year to dress up your outdoor store front environment, whether it be a container garden stuffed with greens and decor or a holiday kissing ball or wreath hung on your front door. Tis’ the Season!!

His and Her's Elves Grace the Steps of THE SWEET SPOT Bakery in Broad Brook, CT.

His and Her’s Elves Grace the Steps of THE SWEET SPOT Bakery in Broad Brook, CT.

And, by the way, I’m super glad I went out yesterday, despite the freezing cold, instead of today. I hear the ice is slick out there today – black ice, my husband warned. He already e-mailed me from his office to say be careful stepping out on to the driveway today. It is slick.

I think I’ll wait for the sun to come out and warm up everything – this time!

Cathy Testa

http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

How Do You Decorate for the Holidays?

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We just got through Halloween, and now, Thanksgiving Day is quickly approaching. After that it will be Christmas – as we all know!

Some of us do not like to be rushed into the holidays – and many don’t care for seeing the decorations a little too early at the retail stores either.

But because my work involves planning events and classes to learn how to dress up the home for the holidays with evergreen decor and more, my decorating starts rather early, and so does information about upcoming holiday crafting classes.

Former Posts on Holiday Decorating:

To see some of ContainerCrazy CT’s blog posts on holiday decorating, just go to the red search bar on the right side of this blog and type in Holidays.

You will see results of ideas for decorating pumpkins to using mesh ribbon to create holiday decor in and outside the home, and of course posts about the annual class held by Cathy Testa of ContainerCrazyCT on making evergreen creations in December. Look for photos there, or by going to the top of the blog page for Cathy T’s Classes menu.

Search Bar - Red on Right

Search Bar – Red on Right

The “5th Annual Kissing Ball and Holiday Creations” Class on December 6th, 2014

Large Full Size Kissing Ball created by an Attendee!

Large Full Size Kissing Ball created by an Attendee!

For those who have not attended this class before – Well, let’s just say it is a “Do not miss type of event” if you enjoy creating with FRESH greens — and a large variety of them – There will be 14 different types of evergreens to work with when you make your holiday decor item of choice.

Things you can make at this class:  

A large or regular size Kissing Ball to adorn your front steps, a Wreath to hang on your door, a beautiful long and wide Candle Centerpiece for your holiday table, or even a Mailbox Swag to drape over your mailbox with beautiful, colorful and fresh evergreens.

Getting Ready:

As I prepare for this event, I start going thru my holiday decor to dress up the house.  It includes tossing out old holiday decorations too – or donating them to Good Will, thus me tossing out an old tree! But the goal is to make the environment as festive as possible and to provide more space for our growing group of KB Makers in Cathy T’s classroom located in Broad Brook, CT.

Cathy T tosses old decorations out the window to prepare for new festive decorations!

Cathy T tosses old decorations out the window to prepare for new festive decorations!  Image courtesy of Bitstrips.

Getting Started Early:

In a way, offering this class makes me get started a little bit early for the holidays – it puts me in the spirit.  Just the act of taking out decorations made me want to open a bottle of wine!  And because it is offered early in the month of December, it will get you into the spirit too – your decor will be enjoyed all month long before the hussel and bussel of the holidays.

Four Week Countdown:

The class is about 4 weeks away, on Saturday, Dec 6th.  So, if you haven’t pre-registered, now is the time.  Join a great group of KB Makers, a festive environment, light snacks provided by attendees, and some festive beverages.  All while learning how to make your creation of choice with evergreens.

To Sign Up:

Visit www.ContainerCrazyCT.com and fill out the contact form or reply here at containercathy@gmail.com.

To confirm your seat after pre-registration, a check must be mailed for the item you wish to make at class by next week, so don’t delay.  Once registered, you receive full details.

Onto Thanksgiving:

In the meantime, I will be also focusing on preparing for Thanksgiving (only one week before this class), and a Container Gardening Design class I’m teaching at the Tolland/Vernon location for the Master Gardener’s Program.  The Nov 19th evening class is open to anyone.  To learn more and register, visit http://mastergardener.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/703/2014/08/AMG-F14final.pdf.

Note the MG Container Gardening Design class indicates a Sept date in the above PDF link, but it is on Nov 19th, Wednesday.

Thank you – Cathy Testa

KB Class Attendees working on their Kissing Balls with Evergreens

KB Class Attendees working on their Kissing Balls with Evergreens

Wild Friends in My Backyard this Autumn

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A few years back, we purchased a motion sensor camera to put in the woodlands behind our house – strictly for fun.  It is amazing to see what we capture from time to time living and roaming in the wild. Turkeys, raccoons, our cats, and more.  Two recent visitors have been this fox below, and a buck.

I know foxes live out in the woods beyond our backyard, and I recognize their barking sounds.  They sound like a dog with a scratchy voice.  I’m sure my chickens are not liking their visits – I can imagine the foxes scan the coop’s pen from time to time when we don’t know it.

One year, a momma fox and her two babies hung out in our yard quite a bit.  I was sitting on my porch, quietly sipping coffee, and the momma fox came right up near me suddenly, not knowing I was there – and she had the nerve to yelp at me a little because she was startled when she saw me.  I yelped back, because I was startled too, and quickly ran back into the house.

Fox, Broad Brook, CT

Fox, Broad Brook, CT

And this buck, in the photo below, was also captured by the camera this week as he slowly walked up to the camera to investigate it – they are smarter than we think.

This shot is particularly cute with his inquisitive eyes. He is seeing the blinking red light which flickers when a photo is taken. We got many snapshots of him on the camera, but I picked this one to share this morning.

Deer use our backyard as a passage way – the Scantic River runs beyond our property and with the wetlands and many trees, they enjoy the woodland areas.

One year, a little deer in the backyard showed up, so I snuck up with a camera to take a photo, using the pool as a shield as I approached her.  I got rather close to the deer – but she didn’t run away.  My father later told me to never do that again, deer can attack, he stated.

Deer Spotted in Autumn, Broad Brook, CT

Deer Spotted in Autumn, Broad Brook, CT

People will complain about deer munching on their garden plants – but I guess because there is plenty for them to forage on in the woodlands, they don’t seem to bother my landscape plants much, but I certainly would be annoyed if they attempted to munch on my plants in my container gardens scattered around the yard.  Sometimes, in the winter, they may try to bite a bit on some holly bushes in the front landscape area of my house, but it doesn’t happen often.  Thankfully.

There are many critters around here in my backyard – raccoon, fox, and deer are common visitors.  This spring, a family of raccoons took up residence in the garage attic – How did they get in?  Through the pet door for our cats!  It was not fun eradicating the momma raccoon and her 3 babies. Afterwards, the pet door got shut off for a while until we resolved their regular visits.

I really don’t mind the wild visitors in my yard – they bring a sense of calm when you quietly witness them walking around and enjoying their surroundings – so long as they leave my six hens alone – they are welcome!  It is all part of enjoying nature, and as this autumn approaches and we witness the change of the leaves, feel the cooler breezes, and listen to the quieter evenings no longer filled with the sounds of crickets and frogs, I guess we will welcome our wild friends along with the change of seasons.

Cathy Testa

Pondering Ponds – Next Walk and Talk – Saturday, July 19th in Enfield

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Heads-up Everyone,

The next gathering for Cathy T’s informal “Walk and Talk” hour is scheduled for this Saturday, July 19th, at 10:00 am in Enfield, CT.  Our host’s home showcases a very large pond garden in the backyard and here are some sneak peaks of it.  I don’t want to show you the whole thing or give it away, but let me just add, it is huge, so if you want to see and hear about it – Sign Up now to join us on Saturday.

Sneak Peak of Pondering Ponds

Sneak Peak of Pondering Ponds

This event is informal, free to attend, with no high expectations on the hostess’s part – we don’t mind weeds or imperfection.  The general idea is an hour at homes to ‘walk and talk’ gardens, plants, containers, veggies, ponds – whatever is your passion or just general hobby. But there is one simple groundrule ->> IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT, it can even be Pathetic! We can learn tips and experiences from each other just in conversations as we walk and talk plants in your yard.

Pondering Ponds ContainerCrazyCT_0001

Don’t be shy – sign up below if you want to receive the address to meet our fun group and walk this pond garden in Enfield, CT.  See the Contact Form below to express your interest to attend, or join via the Facebook Event noted next.

Share the Event

Please share this EVENT with your friends. If interested in attending, join the Facebook Event on Cathy T’s Landscape Designs page or fill out the contact form below. No fee to attend, no pressure, no saying my garden is not good enough if you are interested in having an hour at your home too.

Pondering Ponds ContainerCrazyCT_0003

Containers for Smaller Pond Gardens

In my opinion, pond gardens are a form of container gardening, but on a much larger scale.  Sometimes I create smaller pond gardens in containers – as shown below, however, this one was getting mucky and too many mosquito larvae.  And I realized later, the floating plants were for sun – they were doing horrible because this small water garden is in a shade area. Anyhow, I think our host of “Pondering Ponds” on Saturday morning will have some advice for me on that when we see her on Saturday.

My Pots ContainerCrazyCT_0009

To attend, please complete the Contact Form below.  The address will be sent to you.  Anyone can sign up and join us.

Ground Rules

For a reminder of the ground rules in attending, see this post on this blog. Whether you are new to pond gardening or have one of your own, join us – we love to meet new faces and exchange information during Cathy T’s Walk and Talk Garden Tours.

Note:  Event is held rain or shine, unless there is a major storm, plan to attend with an umbrella if lightly raining.

Thank you,

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

Upcoming Miniature Gardens Workshop – Details Posted for June 28th

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Hello Everyone,

The next fun class on the Cathy T Class Series list is a Miniature Gardens Workshop by Rhonda Niles of Gardening Inspirations.  It will be held on Saturday, June 28th, 2014, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.

Miniature Garden by Rhonda Niles of Gardening Inspirations

Miniature Garden by Rhonda Niles of Gardening Inspirations

Nothing is cuter than a mini-garden creation on your patio table top outdoors during the summer season.  Just think – Your’s could be ready in time for the 4th of July weekend – because we are holding this session a whole two months earlier than last year’s workshop which was held in late summer – so attending and making your creation can be enjoyed even earlier this go around!

About Rhonda Niles, Our Featured Guest Instructor:

Rhonda is a horticulturist, accredited nursery professional, and advanced master gardener.  She has worked in various nurseries and garden centers, growing and selling plants.  She also has grown organic herbs and vegetables in her greenhouses for farmers’ markets.  For the last several years she has focused on miniature gardens in both New England and Florida.  She creates unique and artistic “dreamscape” gardens and miniature accessories for local craft shows, and especially enjoys teaching workshops for others.  She owns a business called, “Gardening Inspirations.”

About this Workshop

In this hands-on workshop, you will learn the secrets of designing, planting, and maintaining a miniature garden.  And you’ll have fun making your own endearing miniature garden for yourself or as a gift for a friend.  The best part is picking out your own plants and miniature accessories, the style of which are smaller, adorable versions of what you can realistically find in larger landscapes.  Plants used are low-maintenance and low light, including ferns and succulents.  You may wish to make a beach, serenity, woodland, or garden/farm scene, fairy garden, or your own creative vision.  New this year are healing stones and candles, which you can incorporate into your gardens. Photos of workshop can be found at www.facebook.com/GardeningInspirations.

Prior Attendees

Here’s a photo of a prior class.  We held the class on the deck, but due to a construction project, the class will be held on the driveway with tables and chairs provided.

An Attendees Works on her Miniature Garden

Attendees Works on their Miniature Gardens at Last Year’s Session

Classroom Location:

Cathy T’s Classroom is located at 72 Harrington Road, Broad Brook, CT 06016.

The class is held outdoors on a driveway in classroom format with tables/chairs provided.  If sunny, wear a gardening hat, use sunscreen, and note: some patio umbrellas will be setup for shade.  If raining, it will held in large garage on same day (no rain date).

Class Fee and Included Materials

Cost is $49 per person for the class, which includes three plants, instruction and all basic miniature garden supplies for your container such as soil, drainage rock, mulch, weed block, glue, as well as a materials credit for optional plants and miniature accessoriesRepeat attendees receive an automatic $5 off of the Class Fee.

Additional miniature materials may be purchased if desired, depending upon how elaborate you’d like your personal miniature garden to be.  There are plenty of materials to choose from with a wide selection of plants perfect for your mini creation.

New Feature:  This year’s workshop includes a new feature of “Healing Stones.”  Learn how these stones work at the class.

Plants by Gardening Inspirations for the Workshop

Plants by Gardening Inspirations for the Workshop

You Pick Your Theme

From fun farm animals to pool side umbrellas in mini style, you will have many creative options as you selecting a particular theme in this hands-on workshop.  Rhonda does an excellent job of providing lots of materials and explaining design layouts to achieve a great look.  She will cover the steps to care for and maintain your miniature gardens creation.

Creates by Gardening Inspirations and Attendees

Creations by Gardening Inspirations and Former Attendees

Bring Your Own Container or Purchase One at Class:

Participants are encouraged to bring their own container (a 10-12″ wide bowl, oval or rectangular pot, 4-6″ deep) to match their décor and tastes, although appropriate containers are also available for purchase.

Surprise Prizes!

As for all of Cathy T’s Upcoming Classes, when you sign up as a blog follower, you are eligible for Surprise Prizes given out at the class. Sign up today to join the other 590 Blog Flowers of ContainerCrazyCT.com.  See the menu bar on the right.

Miniature Gardens Workshop by R Niles_0003

For more information, see Cathy T Classes on this blogs menu bar above.  A class flyer has been posted with all the details.  Register today before the seats are sold out – See the Contact Form below to sign-up.

Looking forward to seeing you.  For any questions, contact Rhonda Niles or Cathy Testa.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
http://www.cathytesta.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

 

 

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Ready for Spring!

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#1 Go to the Flower and Garden Show this week in Hartford, CT

Go to the flower and garden show in Hartford, CT being held this week starting Thursday, Feb. 20th. Just walking into the building will get your senses thinking about spring and less about snow as you see, hear, smell, and experience the plants and plant offerings by the many exhibitors.  I plan to go – probably on Friday.  Got the day off?  Want to join me, just email me at containercathy@gmail.com.  There is parking adjacent to the convention center.  After parking, find your way through the parking garage to the main entrance and take the escalators up to the show floor. Don’t forget to visit the seminar speakers on the floor above the show floor too.  Food and wine is available at the show each year, and check in with your local nurseries before you go for tickets – they often offer discounted tickets by a couple bucks.  If you can’t make it during a week day, no worries – it runs through the weekend, and the weather is looking warmer by Friday.

#2 Visit Cathy T’s new Pinboards on Succulents and Tropicals

Why?  Because in May, Cathy T is offering a fun class on how to make container gardens with succulents, and will be having a Tropical Talk too.  To get inspired about this first annual BIG CONTAINER GARDEN PARTY to be held on Broad Brook, CT, visit her new pinboards right now, note the date on your calendar, and register today.  These pinboards will get you at least thinking about upcoming fun of creating beautiful containers for your outdoor spaces in the spring and summer. The possibilities are endless in the style and ways you can mix up plants for the season.

To learn more details about this class, see the pages listed under Cathy T’s Classes or under Container Gardens on the menu of this blog.  Share the information too with any local friends interested.

#3 Scout Containers for the Upcoming Season

Now could be a very good time indeed to think about containers or patio pots for not, only Cathy T’s BIG CONTAINER GARDEN PARTY (class) in May, but in general for your container gardening coming up in a matter of a month of so!  We may have snow right now, but it will begin to melt as soon as temps warm up – so why not rummage your own stock of goodies, or start looking for unique containers at the flower show this weekend?? – and of course, the tag sales that kick off in the spring. It is when you least expect it that you find a vintage item, a repurposed pot, or something sitting in your garage or basement right now that can be a container in spring and summer – old fancy shoes or pumps – heck, before tossing them, think – could this be a great container for succulents at Cathy T’s class?  I think yes!

#4 Think about Attending Other Garden Related Conferences

Did you know there is a great ELA conference next week in downtown Springfield, MA for plant enthusiasts and ground huggers?  Well, I say ground huggers in a very loving way – the focus at this conference is usually on natural horticultural practices and sustainability.  Is there any other kind?!!   The speakers at this conference are highly educated and the attendees inspiring for many are hort people in the business, but this doesn’t mean an avid gardener expanding their knowledge base and horizons can not attend too. If interested, visit their website for all the details. There is parking near the conference location, and places in downtown to eat if you want to adventure beyond the cafe onsite at this conference.  Do something different, and give this conference a try, or don’t forget other flower shows going on, such as the Rhode Island show (held same time as Hartford’s) or Boston show in March or UCONN’s Garden Conference in Storrs, CT.  You will be amazed how inspiring it can feel to attend a conference you haven’t tried before – you may not know what’s out there – but if you go – it surely makes you more ready for spring!  And many are in locations where you can adventure into the city and enjoy other places of interest if you make a weekend out of it, or stay overnight.

#5 Start some Seeds indoors, or Force some Pretty Bulbs:

Herb Seeds (Photo by Cathy Testa)

Herb Seeds (Photo by Cathy Testa)

It may feel too early to start seeds, but heck if you pot up a few herb seeds in your home or grow an Amaryllis bulb, like I did recently inside the home – you start to feel inspired for the growing days of spring ahead when you see the bulb’s flowers open, or see the seeds popping up in the soil.  So go to your local supply shop, get some seed starting potting mix and a couple packets of seeds, put them in some pots, place by a sunny window sill, and watch it grow.

Photo by Cathy Testa, Panical Hydrangea Covered in Snow

Photo by Cathy Testa, Hydrangea Covered in Snow

Or if that doesn’t suit your fancy, get bundled up, walk your property and take some photos of plants in the snow covered with icicles, fluffy snow, and enjoy the shadows against the snow cast by branches.  This cheers me up and hopefully will do so for you.  By the way, if any of your shrubs are toppling over due to the weight of sticky snow, it is a good idea to gently shake the excess snow off the branches so they don’t break or bend too harshly.

Happy Monday Everyone,

Cathy Testa

The Date has been Posted – Container Garden Party in May 2014

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https://cathytesta.wordpress.com/container-gardens/the-big-container-garden-party/

Just a heads-up – the date has been posted for this class to be held in Broad Brook, CT.

Want to join us?  Click the link above, and register for this May 2014 class.

To see examples of Container Gardens by Cathy Testa, visit this link too:

https://cathytesta.wordpress.com/container-gardens/

In the meantime, stay warm and play in that snow!

Cathy Testa

A Frosty Start to October 26th in Broad Brook, CT

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And my plants felt it!

First Frost_0012

On the evening of October 25th, we received a drop in temperature around midnight, and it was only in the low 30’s around 6:00 am the next morning.  In fact, when checking Timeanddate.com, it reported the lowest temperature at 32 °F on October 26 at 5:53 AM.  That’s chilly. And my plants outdoors felt it.

Birdbath frozen with fall leaves

Birdbath frozen with fall leaves

So when I went outside around 8:00 am yesterday morning, it did not take long for me to realize I would need to go back into the house to get a felt hat, warm gloves, and heavy wool top to do my work of the day, which was taking down my big red banana plant in my large cement planter along with various elephant ears and Canna plants.

Elephant Ears and Other Tropicals Curled up

Elephant Ears and Other Tropicals Curled up

All of my tropical plants remaining outdoors were drooping downwards and heaped over from the effects of getting hit by their first frost of our autumn season.  And other plants had white and feathery frost patterns on their leaves.

Annual Thunbergia, a Blackberry plant, and Castor Bean

Annual Thunbergia, a Blackberry plant, and Castor Bean

Some leaves looked as if dew had frozen in time.  Tiny balls of clear ice could be seen on the undersides of the curled up leaves of elephant ears.  This was the pretty side to the frost on some plants, perhaps the only pretty side.  While other looked just horrible – particularly my tropical plants which can not survive below freezing temperatures.

Mojito elephant ear curled up with crystals

Mojito elephant ear curled up with crystals

They were all curled up, wilted over, and turned mushy overnight.  Liquid within their plant cells froze into ice crystals and ruptured.  This damages and kills the top part of the plant, but the underground storage organs, such as rhizomes and corms, can be stored over the winter.  Unfortunately for tropical plants, they do not have a way to protect themselves to survive frost.  However, their underground storage systems go into a semi-dormant state immediately, and can be moved to a cool but above freezing location over the winter inside the home.

Seed pods of Castor Bean frozen hard

Seed pods of Castor Bean frozen hard

Gazing ball with Mandevilla blooms and foliage

Gazing ball with Mandevilla blooms and foliage

Thus, it was definitely time for me to get the rest of my tropical plants stored for the winter season by digging up the underground storage organs or root balls and putting them away carefully. I could not put this process off any longer.  It would take most of the day and I managed to get it all done.

Canna by house not as bad as others

Canna by house not as bad as others

Ipomoea, elephant ears

Ipomoea, elephant ears

Written by Cathy Testa

P.S.  Stay tuned.  I will be sharing ‘how to’ overwinter tropical plants, but in the meantime, visit my HOW TO VIDEOS page to see some tips and tricks.

Holding an leaf and cut off top of my red banana plant.

Holding a leaf and cut off top of my red banana plant.

Kayaking, Plants, & Nature at Crystal Lake in Ellington, CT

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Clear Waters at Crystal Lake

Clear Waters at Crystal Lake

I’ve traveled past Crystal Lake, located in the towns of Ellington and Stafford, CT, many times on my way to Stafford Springs and Ashford, and I have admired the lake from the hills off of Sandy Beach Road at a housing development where I’ve done some landscape designs as well. But my recent passion for this lake has grown since I’ve glided over its smooth waters on tranquil mornings during of my off-time on my new kayak.

Crystal Lake is perfect for beginners, such as myself, because it is not too big, nor too small (FYI, a website indicates the lake area is 183 acres).  I’ve tour the lake within an hour or so. However, paddling back to return to the public access boat launch is not always easy because I usually don’t want to leave.

I describe kayaking like, “getting a massage.”  The calm mornings, the sounds of wildlife, and the feeling of being relaxed as nature surrounds you, is part of the kayaking experience for me.  It has become an addictive hobby, and it turns out to be a great way to see plant life up close and personal.  Occasionally, a fish may splash in the water, or birds will fly overhead to land on plant life nearby. You may even have a pack of geese following your kayak, which happened to me one morning.

Most of the waters in Crystal Lake are crystal and clear, but there are some areas of the lake tucked in near a dam, and in cove nooks where water spots are low, filled with plant life.  Plant growth and mucky swamp like waters exists in these side areas, and it is not a suitable swimming area, but a kayak can find its way carefully to adventure close by, should you not mind a bit of muck smell and bugs.  The lure of lily pad blooms drew me into the area.  I wanted to get some up-close shots of blooms.

View from my kayak in the center of the lake

View from my kayak in the center of the lake

The pond like area was a quieter section of the lake because it is surrounded by trees and part of inner nooks, and the birds were chirping and perching on plant life everywhere.  As I carefully paddled nearby, it did cross my mind to be careful to not collect any plant parts or plant drippings on my paddles and to use caution, not only for myself (because this is a place you do not want to tip over your kayak), but because there was a lot of foliage and silt moving around me, and I wondered if this could be disturbing the plant live too much.  It occurred to me maybe I was breaking a rule.

Bugs spotted

Bugs spotted

On my way through some of the water plants, I discovered some rather bizarre looking insects.  They didn’t seem to notice me at all as I took a few close up shots.  They sat perfectly still on top of a lily pad.  As I took the photo, I was thinking when I return home, researching these plants and the lake online was my priority to educate myself more.  I left a message with the Crystal Lake Association to obtain more information, because certainly as a plant person, I didn’t want to contribute to the spread of an invasive species.

Sun captured in the bloom

Sun captured in the bloom

There were two types of blooms happening, one was a white water-lily and the other, yellow pond lilies.  In researching websites, I believe they are Nymphaea odorata (American white water-lily) and Nuphar variegata (Common yellow pond lily). Without my kayak, getting close up shots would be near impossible.

Bloom happening on a common yellow pond lily

Bloom happening on a common yellow pond lily

When I left that day, I read the poster by the public boat launch warning boaters to not bring invasive species plant parts along with them on their boats or equipment.  My mission is to find out more about how the area is protected.  Because the lake is so beautiful everywhere else, this has to be a priority, and my guilt has not yet subsided for venturing into the lily pad area to take photos.

Sign warns everyone use caution

Sign warns everyone use caution

When you go to the lake, you can find the public access road off Rt 30. Finding the street sign can be a challenge one way as a big tree is hiding part of the sign for West Shore Road.  The road dips a bit and leads you to the public boat launch.  A small parking area is available across the street for a few vehicles.  In the mornings, it has been available but during busy peak season time, it may be impossible to find a spot. There is also a beach, called Sandy Beach (see below for information).

Road to public boat launch at Crystal Lake

Road to public boat launch at Crystal Lake

BOATING AND PLANT INFORMATION:

Crystal Lake Association can be found on Facebook here.

Information on how to handle your boats to prevent spread of invasive species can be found here.

Safe boating practices for the lake can be found here.

An Aquatic Plant Survey map for Crystal Lake can be found here.

PARKING AND FACILITIES (OUTHOUSES):

There are two outhouses in the parking area across from the public boat launch.

IMG_7457

SANDY BEACH information from the “Town of Ellington Website” below:

Sandy Beach is located on Crystal Lake on Route 140 in the northern end of town. Our beach offers swimming and sunbathing opportunities on hot summer days. The normal operating schedule for the beach is weekdays from 12 noon to 6:30 pm and on the weekends from 11:00 am to 6:30 pm. Ellington residents may purchase seasonal passesfrom the Recreation Department at a cost of $40.00 per family (Ellington Resident), $25.00 per single (Ellington Resident), $10.00 per senior citizen (Ellington Resident) or enter the beach on a daily basis.

Daily Fees: Ellington adult residents are $ 2.00, children 6 years and older are $ 1.00. Out of town guests are charged $ 5.00 per adult and $ 3.00 per child 6 years and older. All children 5 years and younger are free.

Downtown Stafford Springs, CT

Downtown Stafford Springs, CT

EATING PLACES NEARBY:

If you decide you would like to venture on some more after boating in the morning, Stafford Springs center has done a bit of revamping, and you can find some nice artsy shops and a wonderful coffee shop serving lunch in town, called Middle Ground Cafe. It is about 5 miles from the lake, continuing on Rt 140, until you hit the center of Stafford, which you will recognize with the brick buildings.  Look for the cafe on your right, at 42 Main Street, Stafford Springs, CT, (860) 851-8900, http://www.middlegroundcafe.com.  They offer great teas, coffees, and a mix of light lunch entrees and sandwiches.  Stop into “The Chocolate Moose” at 72 Main after for dessert, and be sure to visit the quaint art shops.  I bought some tiles at “Stained Glass Creations & Beyond” by “Art by Stefanie” across the street.  Old newspaper prints related to agriculture with plant images stamped on them caught my attention.  There were also some nice pottery items by other artists, hand-made soaps, jewelry, and paintings on the wall.

Downtown art shop, Stafford Springs, CT

Downtown art shop, Stafford Springs, CT

P.S. I will be adding information to this post once I get my call back from the lake association on my questions about the invasives to share with you, and for me to learn more!

Update:  I heard from Mark Mickiewicz, President of the Crystal Lake Association.  He said “the invasive plants grow from the bottom and rise to the surface, and they are trying to prevent power boats from going into those areas because it can cut the plants, detach, float, and repopulate into other cleaned out areas.  They are asking to be “careful” and not to pull, cut, detach or damage the plants.”  (Basically it is not strictly prohibited to enter for kayakers, but requested to stay out of the invasive cove areas if possible to prevent any spread, but some people do venture there to fish, etc.)  For questions, call 860-875-1001.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy Cathy T
http://www.cathytesta.com
(860) 977-9473

Forest Floor and Waterfalls at Enders State Park

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Entrance

Entrance

Visiting a walking trail in the woods always brings a bit of exercise and exploration of nature’s treats, yet this time when hiking Enders State Forest in Granby, CT last Sunday, there was heartfelt sadness for I recalled the recent reporting of a teen girl falling from the cliffs.  It reminded me how dangerous it can be when walking this place.

I slipped at the top of a cliff there last summer, but caught my balance.  My husband said I practically gave him a heart attack.  It is not a place you want to walk without being extremely careful, and perhaps with some professional experience as a hiker.  I am usually the biggest wimp when it comes to any challenges along hiking trails, so it was a surprise to me too when I slipped, yet that memory plus the news of a loss of life at this park, made us all the more cautious as we took every step down to the slopes to view the waterfalls in several locations.

Enders State Park

Enders State Park

The recent rainfall in Connecticut has created not only roaring waterfalls at Enders, but a lush and full forest floor thriving with healthy ferns, mosses, and lichen clinging to the boulders and trees.  It feels like an air conditioned room as you travel the paths through the tall trees.  The mist from the waterfalls gently nourishes the plant life tucked in everywhere, between rocks, on decomposing bark, and from the ground. Soft cushy moss softens your steps in some locations and the sound of the rushing water is like a meditative force.  In the summer, when the water is low and calm, it is a secret swimming hole too.  And with a blanket and picnic lunch, this place offers tranquility with places to rest on the earth after taking your walk through the woods.

Alive with moss

Alive with moss

Only a few other people were there the morning we went, one apparently a professional photographer with lots of gear and a  helper to assist.  Another was an elderly couple walking the trail, one with a cane.  I wished I had taken a walking stick along myself.  I wondered if they knew about the young lady falling recently, but I didn’t mention it.  I wanted to say, be careful, it can be slick out here – I had a scare myself last year.  I don’t know if I can ever go back “on the cliff” parts again, and certainly this could not be attempted with the rushing waters going over a steep precipice on this day following several heavy rainfalls.

CT's State Flower

CT’s State Flower

It surprised me after we finished our hike, and drove to New Hartford to see the Saville Dam and Barkhamsted Reservoir, a favorite of Steve’s, and had lunch at Chatterley’s in town there, how many locals have never heard of Enders Forest.  Is it a kept secret?  It IS a gem – a miniature Niagara at the moment.  Funny how something literally around the corner, maybe 6 miles or so down the road, is an unknown to locals in New Hartford.

Enders State Forest in Granby, CT offers many treasures.  It is truly an outdoor living room.  To me, the forest’s natural plants, tucked among roots expanding and clinging onto the slopes and surfaces, are a favorite treat.  It is seeing nature in its true form, being served by its surroundings of a natural environment, pretty much untouched. And the native Mt. Laurel, CT’s State Flower, was in bud and bloom which was an additional bonus to going in June.  I’m sure we will return in the heat of summer to cool off as well.  And perhaps during the winter to see the ice on the waterfalls.

Great place for lunch or dinner

Great place for lunch or dinner

Some tips should you decide to venture there:

BRING: Bring a walking stick, good hiking shoes are a must, lunch and a blanket.  It would be nice if benches were in the park, but there are large bounders and places to sit as you watch the falls and enjoy the surroundings.  Bring a suit if the water is low for the pooling areas.  Don’t forget the camera.

MOTORCYCLE: If you are a motorcycle lover, this is a great route for the bikers.  Nice curvy roads, and some are recently paved, so smooth riding for you to enjoy.  Normally we would have taken the Harley, but there was a chance of rain (like I said, I’m a wimp).

GO TO LUNCH:  If you didn’t pack a lunch, go to Chatterley’s Cafe, take a left out of the entrance and head down the road to New Hartford, CT.  It is located at Two Bridge Street, 860-379-2428.  Great martinis and really excellent menu of appetizers, salads, fish, veal, chicken, and meat entrees.  Food is very good.  It was an old hotel apparently, you can see photos in the entrance, some famous people have visited this place – worth a stop.  Right next to this cafe are some small and quaint gift type shops.

SEE THE DAM: Before you go to lunch, of course, stop to view the Saville Dam and Barkhamsted reservoir.  There is a huge wall to view the water from, and across from the building with the big wooden doors, is a round cement map surrounded by a fence, check it out – interesting.  You have to cross the street to see it.  There is a parking area next to the dam that is usually open during the day hours.

USE CAUTION: And please, be super careful; when walking Enders.  The moss on the ground can be slick, and the soft earth is deceiving if near the edge of a slope.  But overall, it is definitely a nice place to visit for nature’s offerings.  A true gift by the land donators – the children of John Ostrom Enders and Harriet Whitmore Enders, donated in 1970.

Cathy Testa

Container Crazy Cathy T
http://www.cathytesta.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com