Plants Around the Coop

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It’s Friday again!

And here I am, posting pictures from 2016 in the order of being downloaded to one massive folder.

Here’s the next 6 or so…

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This photo is from the back side of my chicken coop. I attempted to have chickens here at my home 3 times, but it doesn’t work out due to predators in the woodland area around my yard.

The first time we got chickens, we attempted to let them free range in our yard after they were here for a while.

One night, after getting back from dinner, one of our chickens was roosting on the railing of the steps by our home’s entrance door. We were surprised to see it huddled by the corner of the house on that railing.

This was odd, and I suddenly remembered that we forgot to close up the chicken coop before going out to eat!

Steve carried the chicken back to the coop in our backyard, but unfortunately, he was greeted by a trail of feathers from the chickens which were not so lucky – or as smart as this one. A predator had gotten them all.

Every time I attempt to do another round of chickens, they get attacked or stalked. The chickens would go to neighbor’s homes to free range and this would frustrate me. I thought, “Why on earth won’t they stay in my yard? It is huge, there is a luxury pen for them, and what more could they ask for?!”

A farmer once told me it is because they feel threatened, and this made sense. We finally gave up on trying to have chickens here. Too many foxes and coyotes.

The chicken pen and adjoining enclosed coop have been empty, and I’m trying to think of what creative way to use the pen part – which is covered by two beautiful kiwi vines which produce a bit of fruit each season now (they require about 5 years to produce, and require a male and female plant.)

As far as the enclosed part of the chicken coop goes – it has become a storage shed.

The photos above are of that ‘now shed’ on the back side. I put an old pallet box I found there and filled it with left-over soil from containers or projects.

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Last year, I plopped one of my elephant’s ears into the wooden box pot and somewhat forgot about it. When I take a leisurely walk through my backyard, I stop to take a look and snap some iPhone photos.

Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii’

This elephant’s ear is Colocasia esculenta ‘Blue Hawaii’ from the Royal Hawaiian (r) Series. And it is one of my favorites of the elephant ear world – although I have many.

A zone 9-11 plant, not hardy to our CT planting zones but easily overwintered, is from “John Cho and the University of Hawaii’s breeding program.”

‘Blue Hawaii’ is named as such probably for the obvious reason that its veins on the leaves look purple-blue, and it is striking, to say the least.

I just love it. The two photos above of it were taken mid-autumn. Before or right after frost, I lift the tubers from the soil to store them for the winter because they are not hardy to our planting areas, but easily regrown in early spring inside the home and then transitioned to the outdoors when the summer temperatures are warm enough (same timing as tomato plants).

As you may know, I offer a demo day to show how I store plants such as these every Autumn. This year I’ve added a new date to provide a demonstration a bit earlier because people want to repeat the process at their own home, so this will give them time before frost arrives.

There will be three sessions on Sept 27, 2017 (early session), Sept 30th (early session), and again on October 14th, which is near when we will probably have our first fall frost.

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In front of the enclosed portion of the now-empty coop, well empty of chickens but filled with supplies and remnant smells of chicken poop, is a lovely Hellebore perennial.

I can’t recall which ‘cultivar’ this one is named from, but it is growing so well in this spot – which makes me especially happy – because I ordered a tray of these one year per a client’s request but never heard back from them when the plants came in.

No matter, I ended up selling them at a market and had one left over for here.

Hellebore

Hellebores are plants which I consider excellent performers in the foliage category for gardens, container gardens and patio pots.

They are reliable, long-lasting, have beautiful semi-evergreen beautiful coarse, solid, almost rubbery like foliage – the leaves are tough and thick – and deer won’t eat them.

In containers, they make long-lasting fillers and of course, they bloom, but the blooms on most species nod-down. When taking photos of the blooms, I need two hands so I can turn the flowers to face up to show their beauty. They are stunning – almost rose like.

Hellebores (Helleborus), a.k.a. Lenten Rose, are easy to grow in my opinion. I’ve started to slowly collect them over the years. They like part sun to part shade, full shade, and tucked in the right corner in sun with good part shade part of the day, they do fine as well. I have them in moist areas in deep shade, and areas with part sun – they seem versatile to me.

These plants have a certain elegance to them. I recommend them for use in both container gardens and gardens of the ground.

Oh, and by the way, they bloom very early in the season, sometimes even when there is still a bit of left over snow on the ground. There’s nothing like seeing a bloom in February or April when our plant world slowly awakens from a winter’s slumber.

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Quiet opposite of the Hellebore’s blooming time is the bloom time of Anemone (windflower), shown above, which blooms late in the season, not early.

Anemone ‘Margarete’

Anemones were in a big pot in my backyard which housed a big red banana plant (Ensete) and some other fillers. I had to wait a long time for the anemones to bloom because this cultivar blooms in September, but it was worth the wait.

This type of plant is what I refer to as a “welcoming” plant in your container gardens. It is the one people will be drawn to for its beauty and feeling of remembrance from when they used or are using the same plant in their gardens. Or maybe it will be a memory of their Grandmother growing them, but I feel they are welcoming and charming.

This one is a Japanese anemone, called Anemone x hybrida ‘Margarete’. Like the hellebore, it is deer resistant. It likes full sun to part shade and is hardy to our CT planting zone. I am expecting them to return in the pot which is rather large and filled with quality soil, and right now, in winter, covered with a board and tarps to protect it.

I selected this one for my container garden workshops because of the color and doubled petals. Oh, and the stems on this one grow very tall – up to 30″ – which made it a perfect candidate next to my big banana plant. If it were a short one, it wouldn’t have amounted to much in regards to structure and scale in the pot with the other companions.

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The last two photos in this Friday’s series of 2016 photos are not from near the chicken coop but by my house.

On the north-west corner, one photo of my red banana plant (2nd photo), that did pretty darn well. This photo was taken at the end of the season. It will be my next monster plant – year two on returning it from its winter sleep this year, or year three. I’m starting to loose track!

The other photo is of an urn I keep on my front steps year-round. Urns are great for that. They may be used all season and kept outdoors because they won’t crack and are tough.

Starting in spring with spring candidates in the urns, and even in winter with greenery for the holidays. I am happy I picked up these two urns a few years ago – each has a drain hole too which is required for plants to do well in container gardens.

Begonia ‘Lady Francis’ and Ruellia

I was super-duper impressed with this Begonia ‘Lady Francis’ in the urn last year. I selected three types of begonias for last year’s container gardening workshops – and boy, I’m glad I picked this one, and the others as well (‘Gryphon’ and ‘Dragon Wing Pink’).

But ‘Lady Francis’ had something other than the typical beautiful (and welcoming) flowers all season long, typical on begonias – it has darker foliage.

Treated as an annual in our CT planting zones, this plant is a hybrid with bronze-dark mahogany leaves and lots of double, pink flowers – but the foliage was full and lush all season long, which impressed me. And it was easy to grow.

From a container gardening perspective, it is a beautiful filler.

Begonias really rock it in container gardens.

This urn is at the front of my house which gets mostly shade and stays cooler, but it did fine. I would roll the urns a bit to the edge of the steps to make sure it received some sunlight when, in late afternoons on the north side of my house, the sunlight hits that spot.

As I mentioned, the foliage is a bonus on this plant because it adds a dark tone to combinations in pots – something very useful when designing your combinations.

I want to mention also, the filler tucked in the corner was a different one which I really liked last year. Called Ruellia (false or wild petunia). It is not hardy, but easily over-wintered, so it may be regrown the following year.

Ruellia or false petunia has leaves that are blade like and produces trumpet-shaped soft purple flowers – at least this variety does. It can take full sun or part shade to shade. This one is compact so it stayed low and tucked in the corner. The flowers bloomed in late spring and mid-summer. I feel it did better than a typical petunia, it lasted a long time and the flowers looked great.

Well, that’s it for this Friday. I have a busy day ahead, and busy weekend.

Have fun during the Super Bowl too if that is your thing!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

For information on the fall demo and our upcoming workshops, please visit www.WORKSHOPSCT.com.

Upcoming Activity:

Feb 8, 2017 – Wednesday – Down to Earth Garden Club Presentation
“Six Design Tips for Container Gardens”

Feb 11, 2017 – Saturday – Floral Arranging Workshop
Broad Brook, CT by Cathy T and JEM’s Horticulture and Floral Design

Mar 18 and 22 – Sat, Wed – Botanical Living Wall Art Workshops
New this year! by Cathy T of Container Crazy CT

Stay tuned for more.

Thank you – Cathy T.

Autumn Brings Closure and Changes

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Good morning everyone,

It has become quite the busy month as I started to dissemble my various container gardens around the property in preparation for the cooler season, and held an impromptu pumpkin succulent session with my Insiders Club workshop members.

Usually our frost date hits around mid-October, so there is still time to enjoy many container gardens filled with your tropical plants, perennials, and maybe a still producing vegetable plant, like peppers – but soon enough, all will come to an end when the frost hits the foliage of our tender plants.

However, one of the beauties of container gardening is not all is lost. Many plants may be overwintered by storing their storage organs (rhizomes, corms, bulbs, etc.) or by taking cuttings and rooting them. Or by moving them (perennials) to your gardens. Some plants make good house plants too, such as succulents, begonias, etc. The list goes on.

Another thing that will keep me busy this month is planting my fall bulbs, as soon as I clear out my favorite place for them, from the lush tropical plants enjoying their last moments in the great outdoors. There is much to do still.

Lastly, the annual Holiday Kissing Ball and Wreath Making Workshop is in my beginning planning stages. Orders will take place very soon for the beautiful mix of fresh greens to be provided in my workshop for all the registered attendees.

Additionally, I’m investigating adding ‘horse head’ wreath frames, due by popular demand by my repeat (non-newbie) attendees! This is always an exciting time for me. It will be my 7th Annual Kissing Ball Workshop. It is one of my most favorite things to do as part of my business and it closes off the year absolutely perfectly. Don’t forget to register early. Details are on my WORKSHOPSCT.com website.

 

#containgardening #lemongrass #thaifood

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Lemongrass harvest (above) after dissembling two big pots of them. These can be rooted or cut to put in teas, soups, and I bet even soaps! As you work at splitting the root of this plant, the aroma is oh so good.

The rooted divisions may be potted up into 12″ x 12″ pots and grown to serve as next year’s thriller plant in your container gardens. Or, the edible lower portions saved may be frozen and used for months on end – great for teas to treat coughs and colds too, I read. I showed all the steps on how to take it out of your container gardens and save the pieces via my Facebook feed this week as Facebook Live videos and on Instagram.

#autumn #overwinteringplants #lemongrass #tropicalgardens #containgardening

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#lemongrass #tropicalgardens #containgardening #coolplants #lushgardens

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The removal of this plant (Cymbopogon citrathus; lemongrass) should be done before frost, by the way, unlike the Canna or Elephants Ears (Colocasia) which may be done either before or after frost if you plan to store their storage organs.

#overwinteringplants #autumn #movinginplants #containergardening

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Using my handy-dandy hand truck, I’ve managed to move some rather large pots into my garage to start some the work of taking cuttings of Coleus, digging out the elephants ears, and whatever others I can save for next year’s season. I showed it all on my video feeds, and I have to say, this elephants ear, Colocasia ‘Black Magic’, was just stunning with 3′ long stems and 23-28″ leaves! Say Ah. One client requested the leaves for her leaf casting project, and I am happy to help her out as a repeat workshop attendee. Maybe she will teach us a class on the leaf casting when she perfects her technique.

#overwinteringplants #autumn #movinginplants #colocasiablackmagic on Oct 5 before frost

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This plant’s rich black leaves are luscious. Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ can take sun to part shade, and I had this one more in shade this year, facing north. The total height was about 5′ feet by the end of the season, and the soil was kept moist, which is preferred by elephants ears. Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ is a wonderful tropical plant, and probably will be on my list again for the annual May Container Gardening Workshops.

#takingcuttings #containergardening #movinginplants #autumn #overwinteringplants #colocasia #coleus

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In my Facebook Live videos this week, I also went over cuttings, how to clean your tools, and using rooting hormone to stimulate growth. Cuttings do best when they are in warmer temperatures – so inside the home or if you have a grow room or greenhouse is best this time of year. Always important to use “healthy” stock and take them from the tips of the plants (below nodes, etc.). Of course, the types of plants, species, etc. differ on how to handle propagation, but once you learn how, you may be reusing your mother plants again and again for freebies each season. Beware of plant propagation laws, however, if you are a seller of plants – a license is required!

#overwinteringplants #autumn #containergardening #coleus

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One container garden which is very hard to part with at this moment is this one. OMG. I just love it – it is soooo full. It is the apple of my eye this season. I removed the variegated Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus coleiodes). My friends, this plant is a real keeper in my book. No bugs, no diseases, no problems. It is the one dripping down the front of this pallet planter box salvaged from a company that tossed it out.

Variegated Swedish Ivy can grow to a foot or more with a trailing in habit. It keeps going and stays strong. It has a funky smell but it doesn’t bother me at all. My nephew told me it smells like a cologne. OK, whatever, it is a keeper, and handles cooler temps in my low-temp grow room over the winter. I still have to work on the rest of this container which has an elderberry, coleus, begonia, and more.

#carex #overwinteringplants #containergardening

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In my first Facebook Live video, I showed Carex grasses and how I’ve had it in these pots along my driveway for at least 3 years. Sometimes plants which may be aggressive in the ground are excellent candidates for containers, thus this was one to show how I take care of it and store it over the winter.

And alas, it was succulent pumpkin time prior to all of this. My goal was to have a huge workshop on October 8th, but not enough attendees signed up. So, I spontaneously offered a special workshop to my Insiders Club workshop members, and the results were fantastic.

There are a couple ways to approach making these which I detailed in our workshop session. We will be testing the longevity of these and report back next year when I hope to repeat this workshop with an even larger group. In addition, during this workshop, I went over how to propagate succulents and keep them healthy in season and over the winter.

#sempervivum #agave #pumpkindecorating #succulents #autumn

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#pumpkindecor #succulents #autumndecor #containercrazyct #workshops

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#containergardens #autumn #succulents #pumpkindecorating #agave #sempervivum

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#workshops #containercrazyct #autumndecor #succulents #pumpkindecor

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#workshops #containercrazyct #autumndecor #succulents #pumpkindecor

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Above made by an attendee. Love the little glass acorns and the pods she brought along as embellishments.

#pumpkindecor #succulents #autumndecor #containercrazyct #workshops

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#workshops #containercrazyct #autumndecor #succulents #pumpkindecor

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#workshops #containercrazyct #autumndecor #succulents #pumpkindecor

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This one above is the winner for the evening. Absolutely gorgeous, great colors, well designed. Good job, Diane!

#crafting #diy #autumn #succulents #pumkins

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Here’s a photo I took of one I made as a prototype before the workshop.

#pumkins #succulents #autumn #diy #crafting

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Yes, it is so adorable. I can’t part with it!

Well, I still have much, much more work, and thankfully I am not dealing with a hurricane. The poor folks in Florida are facing this battle and along the way I thought of them often this week as I worked on my containers. I remembered when we experienced our crazy winter storm in October years ago, and well, probably not nearly as devastating – but it did impact us a great deal with loss of electricity and other damage, and I had to rush to put away my plants at that time as the snow began falling. I saw posts of Florida friends not only boarding up their homes, but they were rushing to take care of their gardens too in preparation for the hurricane. And some had to evacuate! We are all praying they did not face as much devastation as predicted.

Lots of #overwintering #overwintering #overwinteringplants #tropicalplants #canna #colocasia #ensete

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If you wish a hands-on experience of the overwintering steps, feel free to join me on October 15th for the workshop where I will show more.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 (texts welcome)
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com

#autumncleanup #overwinteringplants #containergardening #colocasiablackmagic #colocasia #colocasiaesculenta

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Cool app transforms photos from your iPhone to this!

Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ has alluring powers…

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Can a plant possess alluring powers, so insatiable, the yearning for more overwhelms your ability to resist?

“I want some more,” says Claudia, the fictional character in the movie, “Interview with the Vampire.”  She is completely seduced from her first taste of blood offered by the devious vampire, Lestat.  And although his immortal companion, Louis, witnesses the transition with regret, he does nothing to stop Claudia’s unthinkable awakening.

Maui Magic Front Ear

Yes, a plant can also possess similar powers that lure you into its plan of seduction. And…, “Of course, you want some more.” After you have experienced its offerings, your senses awaken, the desire to achieve the same feeling or response is sought out, and you ultimately thirst for more of the same, as much as a vampire thirsts for blood.

This is how I felt about Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ last season as I witnessed this plant grow long stems and big leaves as rapidly as Claudia’s hair grew right before she opened her eyes.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’

This tropical plant, commonly referred to as an elephant ear or elephant’s ears, drew me into its clutches deceptively, then captured my desire to always want more as it grew into an impressive size while maintaining its beautiful attributes from the beginning of spring to early autumn.  If I didn’t decide to order it last minute, I may have missed out on its powers to grow quickly, create a climactic effect in a container garden, and arouse with its dark-sided hues.  It started with admiring its abundant ornamental leaves, followed by adoring its long stems.  Each held their ears up like a trophy on their tips, making it stand out in the container garden.

August photo; back of 'Maui Magic' leaf

August photo; back of ‘Maui Magic’ leaf

Dressed in a cloak

The heart-shaped leaves of ‘Maui Magic’ snuck-up out of the soil like a vampire appearing from the dark alleys of the streets.  Before I knew it, the leaves grew to two feet long and about half as wide in the center.  The leaves wavy-edged margins are soft and subtle, and provide an elusive cloaking effect as it gently moves by the wind.  The leaf stems, or more appropriately stated, the petioles, grew to three feet tall, lending to an upright exotic thriller bobbing above the container garden’s companion plants.  The mid-ribs were very visible on the backside of the leaves.  By the time August arrived, this plant, started from a small plant in mid-May, was substantial enough to draw me into a complete trance, and kept me there. I couldn’t keep my eyes or hands off it.

Rain drops on the leaves

Rain drops on the leaves

An unnatural pale complexion 

The plant’s foliage coloring starts off as a dark plum-purple, and then fades into an olive green with purple tones.  Having less color is not a sign of ill health as with a vampire, but a transition to maturity.  This did not create a lack of appreciation; the color was still stunning. The leaf stems carried a deep purple tone all the way down to the base of the plant throughout the season.  The look was visually stimulating, but you also wanted to touch the stems.  It sounds weird, but there is a soft texture to the plant, making it smooth to the touch.  I found this irresistible, charming, and as I said, “alluring.”  Taking it down for the fall was as difficult as chopping the head off a vampire in rest, but it had to be done and with good timing.

Yard Stick with Ears

Not harmed by the sun

Unlike vampires, the exposure to sun does not harm this cultivar, so long as you keep it well-watered.  Water to this plant is like blood to vampires; it thrives as it receives more.  But for my container garden, I decided to place it in a shady location, on the north side of my house, where it received more shade than sun.  However, this did not deter it from growing large and showy.  The plant can take either exposure. The leaf stems extended as if reaching towards the edges of the steps in search for the afternoon sun, adding more drama to its presence.  This shady exposure also helped to keep the soil moist, appreciated by many types of elephant ears.  Birds perched on it occassionally, and it never failed to produce new leaves.  When the wind caused some movement, it startled me from time to time because it was as tall as a person and could be seen from inside the house.

The lure of wanting more

The lure of wanting more

Its mysterious origin

As many ponder the true origin of vampires, you may ponder the growth habit of this plant. Whatever you choose to call the base of this plant, a corm, cormel, bulb, tuber, rhizome, or root, the leaf stems arise from the base of a root-like structure.  Even its circumference amazed me, as it reached a good size and produced potential divisions or cormels from the mother plant.  This plant is treated like a tropical in Connecticut; it is not hardy to our zone and requires storage in a cool, dark place, like the coffin of a vampire.  So get out your tools of destruction, chop of its heads, clean of the base, and create its resting place for a return next season when you certainly will “vant some more.”  If handled appropriately and according to specific procedures, this plant will have immortal life in your container gardens.

Tubers at base of stems

Tubers at base of stems

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

Pronounced:  Koal-oh-KAY-see-uh  ess-kyou-LENT-uh; sounds like some weird vampire language.

Zones:  9-11, tropical and subtropical tuberous perennial.  Used as a tropical plant and stored for winter in CT Zones.  Can be used as an aquatic plant in containers.

Size:  3-4′ tall, rounded form up to 6′ size all together under warm growing conditions. Big, tall, showy, and overpowering.

Exposure:  Full Sun, part sun, part shade – flexible.  Easy to grow, and grows quickly.

Introduction: 2008 by John Cho and the University of Hawaii breeding program.  Propagation is prohibited.

Color combinations:  Try this plant with contrasting vibrant colors since the plant’s tones are on the darkside.  Use different leaf textures, from fine to medium against this coarse and bold statement in your container or garden.  (Shown in this post are a Coleus, Astilbe, and Rodgersia for a shade combination.)  For a sun combination, try Canna with bright, golden yellow, or chartreuse leaf colors, add a blooming annual, like Zinnia or Verbena, for some pops of color.  Select a bright colored spiller, like Lysimachia nummelaria ‘Aurea’ (Creeping Jenny) or Ipomoea batatas (Sweet Potato Vine) annuals.

Container/pot size:  Be sure to use a very large container or pot for this elephant ear due to its size, and to provide adequate soil volume, helping to retain moisture, and nutrients.  And don’t overlook – this plant can make a wonderful statement in the garden too.

After Care:  To learn how to overwinter tropicals, sign up for Cathy T’s fall class, which is hands-on, and held on a dark, gloomy evening with a full moon – just kidding.