Plants Around the Coop


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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

For information on the fall demo and our upcoming workshops, please visit

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.

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 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.



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…

Spring Plants_0018 Spring Plants_0019

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