Seeds and Such

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It is mid-February, we are expecting temperatures in the 50’s tomorrow and Friday, and I heard of potential snowfall on Sunday.

Yes, that is Connecticut (or New England) weather for ya! There will be days where it feels like spring is coming, and days where we are reminded winter is still here.

I just saw my first live and crawling woolly bear caterpillar yesterday on the driveway – a sign, I hope that we are all getting ready to receive spring while we wait out winter.

While we contemplate the approaching spring, now in February is a good time to “get organized and started” with planning out what you want to grow from seed (if you plan to do seeds this year).

Last year, I was behind with my tomato seedlings, yet, I still had a very nice harvest of cherry tomatoes, but I remember thinking that I needed to plan ahead for year 2018.

Believe or not, we are at the “13 weeks mark” before our last (spring) frost date – if you use the May 10th date as an estimate (which I am) of when we can expect our last spring frost here in Broad Brook, CT.

Some charts of our average frost dates in the northeast may indicate an earlier “last frost” date – towards the end of April, but I like to play it safe and go with a May date, and work back from there. It is also based on my own records and playing around with seeds which I grow in my hobby greenhouse from time to time.

Various micro-climates, your own gardening experience, where you eventually put your seedlings (for me many are put in container gardens outdoors and indoors), and how much you wish to risk it – all play into what, when, and how you start your own seeds and seedlings.


Trial and error is one way to experiment with seeds. After all, if you place a seed in soil – there is a great chance it will sprout for you. It can be fun to experiment that way, but we don’t want to waste our time or seeds for that matter either.

Sometimes I will put a seed in a starter pot just to see what happens – like I did recently with seeds from a slice of jackfruit, which I tasted for the first time in my life last week. I, did, however, look up the seed online, and didn’t see any special preparation requirements for this type of seed (such as scarification), so I plopped the big seeds in pots with soil mix, watered it and will watch and see (an experiment).

By the way, the fruit of jackfruit was very yummy. I found a big slice of it at Whole Foods and when I told the woman at the register that I was getting it just to see how it tastes, she replied with, “Well, then – it is on the house. I’m not charging you for it.”

Experimenting and playing with seeds is fun but they must be cared for or you will result with unhealthy, stretching, or badly rooted plants.

The more I started to think about seeds and reviewed my various reference books on growing from seeds, the more information piled into my head. So you have to start somewhere, and I think one of the best places to do so is …


I think probably the best place to start is figuring out what you like to eat. Decide what you want to grow and where. For me, I love herbs like basil, mint, thyme, parsley. I enjoy fresh lettuces, kale, spinach, etc. I love cherry tomatoes and all kinds of peppers. Oops-there goes that long list again. Maybe narrow it down if you are a beginner.


In my case, I plant vegetables in containers around the house and in the house. Some are started with seeds and others are seedlings I grew in advance. Thus, the timing. Looking at the “days to germination, days to maturity, days to harvest, days to transplant, etc.” on the seed packets come to play as well. That is probably step two in my book, get familiar with the seed packet.

Last year, I obtained seeds from a company I really like called Hudson Valley Seed Co. and sold them at a pop up shop last year, and I gave some as gifts to my attendees at my last workshop of the 2017 season at Holiday time.


I hope you (if you are an attendee reading this) kept the packet in a safe place since December. And, if you did – NOW IS THE TIME to get familiar with the instructions and timings noted on the seed packet and look at your calendar if you want to sow the seeds in time for the gardening season. And note my next Facebook Live on your calendar too – see below on that.


February is the time to look up your last frost date, mark it on the calendar, and starting counting back the number of weeks for the seed packet you have on hand.

Also, note — if you start seeds too early (getting anxious–as we all do this time of year), beware, this can lead to problems if you keep the plant (seedling) in a starter pot too long – it may get root bound, stretch for light, etc.

And remember, the more stressed a plant gets, the more likely they can get a problem. Consider the plant type before you begin, as some like cooler temps and others require warmer temps and soil. A good example is tomatoes. I always wait til Memorial Day to plant them outdoors. You don’t want to start them this early in the season.

Although I think much can be accomplished whether you do things exactly or not – it is a good idea to think it over before you begin. Next is where, if you are new, should you get your seed packets?


Seed Starter Kits I sold at a Pop-up Shop last Season


Another good thing to consider, now we are at the mid-February point, is where would you grow your seeds? Do you have the right type of windows at home with light and warmth, do you have a hobby greenhouse, etc. Do you need to get grow lights, a heating mat, or other supplies? Before you begin, consider all of these things before you buy your seed packets.

Many nurseries and stores are offering seeds now. I even saw a seed rack display at Rite Aid last week. And don’t forget garden shows, which Hartford’s starts up next week on Thursday, February 22nd (CT Flower and Garden Show) – there will be seeds there. Every year, Hudson Valley offers them – check them out. I find their seeds are reliable, well packaged, and great instructions both inside the seed envelope and outside. It is a good time to get supplies from them too – or you can go to your favorite online seed sources.

seed sowing kits

Did you happen to save any seeds from your own plants last year? I did, and will be reviewing those to get started too. There is such a nice reward when you grow plants from seeds you collected the year prior. And it saves you a bit of money.

Another item you may want to pick up when you get your seed packets is a small pocket size calendar for your records to track all, count back the weeks required, etc. The small sized calendars are handy cause you can easily file them and refer to them the following season.

You should start to organize your supplies, think about what you need for materials, such as seed starting mix, potting mix, peat pots, seed trays, watering can, etc. during this month. And since we are having warmer temps this week, why not wash some containers. I like using hanging baskets to direct sow seeds (for lettuces) and smaller window boxes (for herbs).

I will be doing some materials preparation myself this week because I want to start some seeds in hanging baskets and pots to show at my next Facebook Live session, which is scheduled on Wednesday, March 21st.

The March Facebook live will show some of the basic seed starting I’ve done (and I haven’t really done tons with seeds because almost all the time I get plants from growers for my workshops), but I will show what I know, and will focus on seed starting inside the home too.

Many seeds may be grown directly in decorative pots and kept in the home if you have the right spot. Each plant has different needs, but you may be surprised at what you can grow inside in a cool room in your home or on a partially sun lit table in a warmer spot.

As I keep reading and researching more about seeds, I feel like the list grows on what to know, but then I think also, it is a seed, just plant it.

I think the bottom line to my message here today is “plan it.” Because if you don’t, you will either be behind or too early.


Aside from focusing on seeds in February, I’ve been taking the time to attend plant related webinars. Today, I’m signing into one on Perennial Plantings and it will be held with a Trial Manager (meaning they trial plants as growers). They will be going over cultural requirements, water management, and fertility. I’m sure I’ll learn something new.

I’ve also attended a few other webinars, by calling in and watching the presentations, on new products out by Scotts and one webinar was focused on Neptune Harvest (which is an organic fertilizer) and plant food (which I use in my micro-green’s growing (from seed). I plan to share what I learned with my attendees at FB Lives and this year’s workshops.

I received a review of soil mixes of which some are new coming out in 2018 at another webinar this month. I take notes and plan to share the information at my first spring garden talk on April 23rd at the East Hartford Garden Club. We know there are so many soil choices out there so everything learned is something to share with you.

Keeping up with plant knowledge can be tricky as a solo-entrepreneur but I wanted my followers and attendees to know I work on it by attending these webinars now and by researching, reading, and experimenting. It’s an investment for me and you.


If you tuned into my last two Facebook live sessions – thank you. This idea just kind of organically started in my mind – I thought why not share now in the middle of winter some topics each month. It is a great way to keep in touch with you all too.

The first session was on how to remove the succulents from the pumpkins we decorated last October in 2017, and the 2nd was on how to make a Moss Mardi Gras mask, which to me, is so much fun. I hope you felt inspired by it and you can see all the photos on my Instagram feed.


Because I am not offering my May Container Gardening workshops this season – I wanted to give something free to my attendees to soften the blow of this news – cause I know many of you enjoy it so much – which is part of the reason why I started the FB Lives. Hopefully you are enjoying them and find them useful.

However, don’t worry, more workshops will be planned in May of 2019, and some are already scheduled for the fall and holiday workshops of 2018. The latest schedule is on the WORKSHOPS tab in my website, I’m sure I will keep adding to it as we get closer to spring.

Well, guess that is all for today.

a heart iiiii

Valentine’s Box Filled with Succulents – Created by me!

Happy Valentine’s Day – Hope you receive something sweet from whomever you share this day with.

Cathy Testa

Offering Workshops, Plant Gifts, and Container Gardens




The End of June Approaching – Random Pics from this Month

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It is almost the end of June. I caught my first summer cold. And, I saw a post yesterday of a black bear sighting in my friend’s backyard – something not often spotted on this side of the river in East Windsor, CT. While my head is achy from the sinus pressure and a rough dry cough annoying, I’m still looking forward to working outside on my plants and preparing for the farmers market on Sunday in East Windsor, which will hopefully proceed despite the predicted rain over the weekend.

So, this morning, I thought I would share some random pics of things from around the yard from the past month. Soon, we will see the Japanese Beetles visiting, and hopefully the days will warm up just a little bit more. While it is nice to have cool nights to sleep by, I wouldn’t mind a little more heat for my plants to grow more. This past month has been a mix of seedlings, container gardening, working around the yard, preparing for markets, and enjoying the cool nights of this year’s season so far.

Petasites slow to start

Petasites slow to start

The Petasites (Butterbur) plant in this face pot is slow to get moving this year. I like putting it up on this birdbath because the roots will escape the base drainage holes, and this shade-loving plant is aggressive – so I don’t want those roots to make it into the ground. It is wonderful in pots however, which I’ve written about on this blog. At first, I wasn’t sure if it would return. The pot was stored in my basement last winter – but here it comes and I hope it grows more soon! This one is variegated.

Nice Trio

Nice Trio

This blue patio pot contains only 3 plants – a short one, medium one, and tall one – pretty simple yet very pretty. The Agastache is a cultivar called ‘Blue Boa’ and I love the intensity of the blue color; it is the tall one next to Monarda ‘Petite Delight’ which is opening up its blooms now (a hot pink color), however, the Agastache started to flop from rain – bummer, because it would looks spectacular next to that hot pink of the Monarda (Bee Balm). I cut back the Agastache blooms which will produce new smaller blooms in a couple weeks. The low plant in the front is a groundcover perennial with white flowers called, Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-summer). All 3 are perennial and take sun and dry soils. By the way, did you know Agastache blooms are edible, and cute in salads?!

Mint Root Growth

Mint Root Growth

Mint is super easy to propagate. Just leave a few cuttings in a jar of water, and soon the roots will form. Mint is becoming my favorite herb to have around this year. I feed some to my bunny, she loves it. I put snips in my drinking water – which by the way, I feel helps any upset stomach or acid reflux symptoms. It also alleviates tension headaches just by sniffing it. However, it is aggressive in the gardens, so I find best to put in big pots nearby so it may be used for all these various reasons. Oh, let’s not forget – it is a great cocktail garnish and yummy on icecream.

Mint on year two in this big container - very useful on my deck!

Mint on year two in this big container – very useful on my deck!

Lettuce in Windso Boxes

Lettuce in Window Boxes

I got started a little later than normal this year with seeds, but been doing lots of mixed lettuces in pots and window boxes. This shows Spotted Trout Lettuce. The seed was purchased at the flower show in Hartford last winter. The Seed Library has artists draw or paint various pics for their seed packets. Here you see the lettuce is coming along nicely, and it was eaten. Every bite reminds me of my Father’s gardens which he still maintains today. His daughter however prefers the container route for gardening – and lettuce is fun to do in pots! I probably will have some of these available this weekend at the market – I even prepare and grow pots of mixed lettuce for my bunny – she is starting to eat better than me! Yup, I put the pots in her rabbit cage area for her to nibble on as she sees fit.

Funny Bunny eating a mix of greens grown from seed.

Funny Bunny eating a mix of greens grown from seed.

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

This year, my big red banana plant, which I’ve owned for about three? years now, has been put into my new black pot in the backyard. Every month, I’m going to take a photo of it to show the progress of its growth. This Ethiopian native is great in containers and may be overwintered in our CT zone by storing the root base. I have found the red coloring is intense in this location which is under a group of very tall pine trees and near my hammocks – so I can literally gaze at it when I take a rest in a hammock – yup, I gaze. It takes full sun to part-sun or part shade, and I find sometimes in harsh sun, the leaf edges may burn or the color will be a little off, so I’m happy with it here as the sun rises and hits it – it is amazing even at a distance.

Espoma Seed Starter

Espoma Seed Starter

Espoma has excellent organic products and I tried out their seed starter this year. It works fine, but I have to say my multi-purpose mix rules. The components in this mix (Espoma) helps the moisture to retain in the seed starter trays, but sometimes a bit too much, while my multi-purpose mix dries out better – at least in my opinion. Anyhow, it has been seed experimentation year for me this season. And it is much fun to see the seeds push from the soil – every time, it feels exciting – nature is just like that. One of these days I plan to write a blog topic about various potting mixes but I also go over this in my workshops and talks at farmers markets based on my experience over the years of container gardening.

Lady Bugs are Beneficial

Lady Bugs are Beneficial

One of the fun things I did this year was release lady bugs onto my plants and in my grower room so they could fest on the bad bugs such as aphids which will suck the life out of leaves. Lady bugs are beneficial insects and can help you out but they don’t stick around for ever – would you? After being in this bag for a few days!?! So when I was reading the packet, I set the bag filled with excited lady bugs on my lap – it was like a mini bug massage. Could I do this if it was filled with spiders – Heck No!

Lady Bugs to the Rescue!

Lady Bugs to the Rescue!

Bulbs in Pots

Bulbs in Pots – Just dig them in and get a surprise later!

Sometimes, I will pop seeds or bulbs of summer blooming plants into my container gardens filled with other mixed plants. Gladioulus are a favorite and easy to dig a little hole to put them into, and they are sending up shoots right now, which I will take a photo of later when they get bigger and bloom. Try seeds like Nasturtiums or sunflowers, easy to include and they offer a little surprise later in your flowering pots or container gardens.


Adorable Small Red Box with 3 plants

Little pots are fun to do – and I could not resist this cute red one with handles and a gardening quote on the front side. It contains a black pearl Pepper, Tiny Tim Tomatoe, and Sage. It is starting to fill out now – just in time for the market which I plan to bring it – along with some other adorable container gardens prepared.

Workshop Attendees Container Garden at her home.

Workshop Attendees Container Garden at her home – Great Job Maryse!

One of the most rewarding aspects of sharing the passion of growing plants in container gardens and patio pot is when a client or workshop attendee sends me a text to show me how their plants are coming along – and hearing how happy they are! Here are two shots taken of two attendees recently doing that. If you are reading this, and have attended too – please feel free to text me your container picture so we can share the container love here! Look how well her plants are growing in her pot – why? Good soil and good care learned at my workshops!

Photo taken of an Attendees pot after the workshop at her home

Photo taken of an Attendees pot after the workshop at her home – Great Job Kelley!

My Container with Bright Yellows and Purple

My Container with Bright Yellows and Purple

And here’s a photo of one at my home with two varieties of Coreopsis (tickseed) – one hardy (‘Jethro Tulll’) and one not (‘Cha cha cha’) and the annual, Persian Shield (purple foliage) with a gnome which keeps coming back to my container gardens every year. I recently moved this pot because one plant got powdery mildew – so it seemed to need some more air circulations which helps this problem, and I sprayed that with some organic spray, but I hate how powdery mildew will damage foliage. Hopefully, this will look better soon as the other two spiller plants come out to grace the sides of the blue pot.

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

And this is new this year – I’m growing pumpkins and gourds in pots. Last year, I grew a watermelon plant in a pot, put it on my deck, and the vine sprawled around my deck furniture. The bonus was the watermelons were perfect, no blemishes, as it sat on the deck to grow, and it was easy for me to reach down to turn it – and no bugs! The pumpkins and gourds I selected are fun ones (the gourd will have gourds the size of oranges, and the pumpkin is a blue type), which I will share at the market this weekend. It’s a tad bit late, but they may be just fine since our season is late too this year – meaning its been cooler than preferred for many warm loving plants – and some will be fine if planted no later than July 1st or just keep growing in this pot – which is the game plan, as usual!

Container Garden Install at a Hairdressers Shop

Container Garden Install at a Hairdresser’s Shop

Top View

Top View

Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame'

Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

These photos above are of a container garden at a client’s business. She does an excellent job of watering it, and it contains a Canna, Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’, a variegated Liriope, Agastache ‘Blue Boa’, and Flowering maple. Just recently I trimmed up the Agastache for her, and also cut off one of the blooms of the Digiplexis, which is a new plant on the scene resembling foxglove, however, this one blooms repeatedly by sending out new shoots all summer. One thing everyone who got one of these from my workshop in May have commented on is the bottom flowers on the tallest stem of the Digiplexis plant start to fall off so I tell them to just snip it off – you will be sure to get more new shoots from this plant once it sets in and gets going.

Hydrangea 'Quick Fire'

Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’

The baby crib in front of my Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’ shrub is a recent donation to me from my sister. She said she got it at a tag sale; she likes antiques, and had a huge fern sitting in it at her home. I will find a use for it, but I decided to put it by my beautiful Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’ shrub which I purchased at The Garden Barn in Vernon a few years ago, just to show the size of my shrub! This shrub is a panicle hydrangea (cone shaped flowers) and its blooms starts white and transitions to soft pink to darker pink blooms by the end of the season. This Hydrangea can take sun – which I can attest to since it faces full sun most of the day, and it sits in clay soil! This season I was late at trimming it back, so I just cut the dry tips off quickly later, but it still looks amazing. I recommend this one if you can find it.

Wild Turkeys Under the Trees

Wild Turkeys Under the Trees

Under a Tree Resting

Under a Dawn Redwood Tree Resting

Although a little blurry, because I was standing on my deck to take these photos, here are my wild turkeys resting in the yard. I just love when they sit down and feel like they can hang in the shade, but if they see me coming, they pop up quickly to walk away, even though I tell them every time, they are safe here with me. On the bottom photo, they were resting under the shade of my Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) tree. I planted this tree on my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and it is doing well ever since which I believe is because it is planted in an area that remains moist and this tree likes moist, deep, well-drained, slightly acid soils. The area slopes here so it is well-drained as well. My sister bought one too on the very same day with me, and planted it in her yard, and it is not doing as well unfortunately – she has dry soil so it is a great example of putting the plant in the right place. The interesting thing about this tree is it looks like an evergreen pine like tree but it is deciduous (looses its needles) in the fall so it is naked in the winter, however, due to its beautiful reddish brown bark which becomes darker with age, it is pretty in the winter months as well. It grows tall too – up to 70′ or more in some cases. I love seeing birds fly up to it and rest on its branches as they travel from their birdhouses and feeders in our yard.

Container Garden at Home

Container Garden at Home

This container garden has a nice perennial called, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago, Leadwort) which is sprawling over the edge on the right side in this photo. A “sprawler” is a term I came up with this year to explain how some plants don’t spill over (spillers), instead they sprawl and gracefully reach out at the edge of the pot. This perennial will bloom blue flowers by late summer; the buds are forming now, and I’m excited because it is a “returner” in this big pot from last season. As I discussed in my workshops this year, Perennials with Power return. This plant likes partial shade or full sun. Here it is in part shade, it gets the eastern morning sun which suits the elephant ear in the center as well. As I mentioned above, I sometimes insert seeds into container gardens and note Nasturtium which you can see here on the left trailing out of the pot too. This container may not have tones of flashy flower colors – but I adore it because it is lush and full – and healthy.

Well, that’s all for now as I nurse my summer cold and write this post – I am hoping I’m fully recovered by Sunday for the East Windsor Farmers Market on Rt 140 at the Trolley Museum where I will be giving a talk at noon – and if it is raining hard, maybe I’ll be in the mini gazebo area – Look for me if you are able to pop in on Sunday, June 28th. The market opens at 11 am, and will have live musical entertainment.

Have a nice Friday everyone – Enjoy your weekend!!

Cathy Testa



Herbs are Perfect for Container Gardens and Patio Pots

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Herbs are perfect fits for container gardens and patio pots. They require 3 big things to grow well: lots of sun, great air circulation, and well-drained soil that needs to dry somewhat between watering. Growing herbs in containers helps you meet all their growing needs. In addition, herbs offer many health benefits. These will be talked about on Saturday, May 30th, during the special “Meet Your Herbs” day at the Ellington Farmers Market.

Thyme grows really well in a container

Thyme grows really well in a container

Perennial herbs will return in container gardens and patio pots. After the season is over and the plants go dormant, all you need to do is store the container or pot in an sheltered unheated outdoor location. Some perennial herbs are tougher than others and their pots may remain outdoors all winter – they will come back again in spring.  Cathy Testa will be talking about them during her free talk at this weekend’s market (9:30-10:30 at the square gazebo) on mixing herbs in container plantings.

Wooden Pot is Well Suited for Thymus

Wooden Pot is Well Suited for Thymus

Thyme is a great example of a perennial herb which thrives in container gardens. And there are so many varieties to choose from with various flower colors from white, pink, lavender, etc. Thymus praecox ‘Albus’ has emerald green mats with white flowers in June. Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’ has a dense look to its growth and is deer resistant as with many other thymes. Thymus praecox ‘Ruby Glow’ is ruby-colored and blooms in spring to early summer – it is very vivid!

Scented Thymes

There are thymes with wonderful scents, such as Spicy Orange Thyme (Thymus x ‘Orange Spice’) with the scent of orange and a strong orange flavor. These are used often in teas and for cooking. ‘Archer’s Gold’ Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus ‘Archer’s Gold’) is low growing and has deep golden yellow foliage in the spring and fall with lemon scents. Anytime I run my fingers across these plants, it evokes a sense of well, smelly goodness!

Creeping Thymes

Thymes also creep, sprawl and somewhat hang as they grow fuller in container gardens. In fact, I came up with the term “sprawler” to add to the well-known thriller, filler, spiller for container garden design techniques and discuss what a sprawler is at my container garden workshops. Creeping lemon thyme is variegated mats of lavender flowers and a great aromatic smell – imagine using it as a groundcover or lawn instead of grass! Awe, mowing is moved to a new scented high in this case.

Woolly Thymes

Many thymes offer a textural softness to your container gardens – they are covered with fine hairs with fuzzy foliage that is soft such as Thymus praecox ‘Hall’s Woolly’. The one in the photo on this blog post is fuzzy and soft too. It is Thymus ‘Longwood’ from Longwood Gardens in PA – it is an improved cultivar of woolly thyme. The pale-pink flowers on it are beautiful and attract butterflies. This is its second year in the wooden pot.

How They’ve Been Used – Not Just for Cooking!

Thyme is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and leaves have been used for so many purposes in cooking and for even “embalming the dead” – yup, just read that in the book referenced below, that thyme was used by ancient Egyptians.

And it is easy to grow – especially in Container Gardens and Patio Pots. Depending on variety, there are many thymes which will survive our planting zones because they are perennial and hardy. The time to plant it in the ground is spring or fall, but in containers – pretty much anytime is time for thyme. And, you may harvest it all summer long through the fall. It can be used fresh or dry – or just for the pure enjoyment of its visual attributes.

Thyme also has been used for antiseptic properties – for coughs and the ability for it to kill germs – by using “thymol” found in thyme compounds – another great tip spotted in the book referenced below.

Thyme is just one example of herbs in container gardens – but there’s many more which Cathy T will be sharing on Saturday during the market at 9:30 am. We hope we will see you there.

Container Crazy CT

Reference: “Simple Home Remedies You Can Grow – Power Plants” by Frankie Flowers and Bryce Wylde.