Fall is Fantastic


We are having a wonderful spout of good weather in Connecticut this year, 2021, during our fall season. The temps have been just lovely, no more rain (like we had all summer practically), and minus the mosquitos here, the fall weather has been fantastic to continue my various plant projects.

I am still taking down some of my tropical plants at home to store and overwinter, while finishing up some container garden installations for the fall season for clients, and also making beautiful custom made succulent topped pumpkin centerpieces for my orders.

I thought I would show some photos of various projects I’ve been doing, jumping from one project to another this month of October 2021 in Connecticut.

Cathy T holding a banana leaf Oct 2021

Well, here I am, holding a very long banana leaf from my red banana plant (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelli’). It is not hardy to our zone (6b) so I take it down every fall. It has become a ritual. I never had any issues with storing it as described on this blog via other posts (search Overwintering or Ensete), but this past spring, when I took the “stump” out of the storage bin, it was a little more damp than usual. I figured it was due to no air holes in my bins, so I drilled some very small air holes in the bin covers for this season. Or maybe it was the “new peat” I bought that stayed too damp, I’m not sure, but I have done this process again! Cutting down each leaf, chopping off the top of the plant, then storing the base. (See more photos below). People liked this photo when I shared it because it really shows the size of the planter, the plant’s leaves. I’m 5’6″…so, you can see how long these leaves grew this season in 2021. You may notice the plant is in a big black pot, I usually plant it directly into the big cement planter, but got lazy this year, and it did just as fine, the roots went thru the drain holes into the big planter below. I also fill this planter with Castor Bean plants, other Alocasia and Colocasia plants, and other perennials, etc.

Callicarpa Beautyberry Shrub Oct 2021

This is not a tropical plant above, it is a deciduous shrub, called Callicarpa. Just look at the purple berries this year! The foliage is a lime green (normal color). But this year, the berries have been abundant and really a deep purple color. I wondered if our abundant rainfall contributed to the color being so intense this season? I planted 3 of these side by side by my deck at the ground level years ago and I remember taking a measuring tape out to ensure I was giving it the recommended distance for spacing. People notice this shrub right now – it is beautiful. It makes a nice shrub for massing together as the branches arch and fill the area. I had cut it back in early spring and it performed nicely. I’ve never seen birds eat the berries, even though some sources say they do. I’ve never tried to grow it from seed, perhaps I should try to do so. Mr. Micheal A. Dirr’s manual indicates the seeds require 90 days cold stratification.

Cathy T holding a large Succulent Topped Pumpkin 2021

Yup, that’s me – trying to hold onto this very heavy and large succulent topped pumpkin I made for an order. Isn’t it beautiful – and so are the plants behind me! I could barely hold the pumpkin long enough for my husband to take a photo.

Ensete stump
Ensete stump

Referring back to the top photo of me holding the red banana plant leaf, here is the stump I dug out after chopping off the top. I use a machete. This stump was left in my garage for about a week, mostly because I was busy doing other fall plant project, but also to allow it to dry out somewhat. It is still moist from the water held in it, so a good suggestion is to tip it upside down and let the water drain out of it after removal from the pot or ground. I did have to cut off more of the top to fit it inside my storage bin which is about 3 feet long. The cover barely shut – this stump is a doozie! (That is heavy and big).

Container Garden by Cathy T in the month of October at a client site

If there’s one thing I will tell the plant Gods when I visit them some day, is, “THANK YOU!!” for offering me the wonderful opportunity to plant on a high rise. This is an October photo of just one of the many container gardens I install at this client site, and it is full and lush. I love how the fuzzy big leaves of the Lamb’s Ears plant grew extremely well, no blemishes, and as perfect as ever. It is called Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears” and I guess you could say, I do have a fondness for big plants which make a big impact. It is a perennial plant for full sun (hardy to Zone 4). The silvery soft leaves are low maintenance and used as groundcovers, or in containers as I did here. I paired it with two flowering plants, one an annual and the other a tropical lover for hot sun. They looked just beautiful but it was time for the take down process this month. The nice thing about using perennials in containers is if you wish to move the pot (not doable in this case due to the location), you may do so to an unheated garage and there is a good chance the perennial will return the following spring. Or you may dig out the perennial from the container garden and plant it in the ground in the fall to continue your plant investment.

Mop Head Hydrangea Bloom at my House

I guess you could say, this month of October 2021 has been a very colorful one. This plant above usually hasn’t produced many blooms for me before, but this year, it took off. I had these big colorful blooms and I cut them from the plant just yesterday. I read you may spray the flower head with hairspray (aerosol hairspray) and set it in a cool dark room to dry. I am trying that out this season with these Hydrangea mop-head blooms in purple, blue, and rosy tones.

At a Client Site

A pumpkin centerpiece I created (referred to as a succulent topped pumpkin) is shown above at a lady’s home. I absolutely love how she decorates her table, putting the Family piece and candle holders with the mums all around. And a nice photo she took, which I decided to share here. Isn’t this another beautiful fall color photo? And yes, that is a real pumpkin, one of a nutty brown color. Sourcing my pumpkins was a little trickier this year. Many local farmers had issues growing them because of our summer abundant rainfall. Some fields were flooded and ruined some of the crop. I had to hunt and peck to find good ones for my succulent topped pumpkin creations this season.

More of my creations above. I love making these in October. I have made some Halloween themed too.

Me in-front of a Wall of Mandevilla

That is me again, here I am standing infront of a wall of Mandevilla plants I installed in the spring. By October, they were full and gorgeous all the way to the top of the 7 foot wall situated above planters. I have to say, I was distraught early this spring because right after I finished planting these, there was an extremely freak cold rain day where temps dropped so low and it poured, cold rain. I was so worried it would ruin my work at the client’s site, but the Mandevillas did well, and the rain all summer encouraged their growth. The foliage was shiny, perfect and lush. Each year is different, and I was so thankful these performed well. They have white trumpet shaped blooms that last all the way into the fall. These plants are vine-like growing easily up when trellised. They will keep on climbing, reaching for the skies, which they did here on this high-rise garden. I have planted the red, pink, white types. All add a tropical feel to any container gardens outdoors in summer.

Plant Gifts by Cathy T

Well, I guess that is it for now. I’ll finish off today’s blog post to remind everyone I offer custom plant gifts, especially popular in the autumn and at the holiday season. Look me up on Facebook or Instagram under Container Crazy CT. I do all in containers, planters, patio pots, dish gardens, etc. You name it. This month I’m offering adorable succulents, bagged up and ready for pick up. If interested, DM me on Facebook or text me!

Thank you and enjoy the rest of this week’s perfect and fantastic fall weather.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Zone 6b
Broad Brook, CT
cell: 860-977-9473
email: containercathy@gmail.com

Today’s weather: 72 degrees F day, Lows at 48 degrees F at night (still safe for tropicals outdoors, I suspect the frost will arrive later next week!)

Tomorrow – partly sunny and Saturday and Sunday look nice during day. 37 degrees predicted for Sunday night.

Back to work I go outside today. Trying to make the most of this perfect fall weather, did I mention, it is fantastic?!

A Lamb’s Ear Perennial with a Different Look and Feel – Say Hello to ‘Hummelo’


Butterfly visits in Early July

Butterfly visits in Early July

Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ is a perennial I spotted for the first time a couple seasons ago.  Because of its tall blooms, I decided to include it in a whiskey barrel container garden, and thought it worked well when going for a naturalistic theme because it has a soft color to its blooms and the stalks are tall, rising upwards like you would see in a meadow.

'Hummelo' in a Container Garden

‘Hummelo’ in a Container Garden

If you like the cottage garden look, or a perennial with the power to attract bees and butterflies for a long period of time, you need to say, “Hello” to ‘Hummelo’ – A lamb’s ear perennial with a different look and feel.

The color of the blooms, violet to a soft purple, and the shape of the two-lipped flowers, similar to the perennial, Catmint (Nepeta), have a welcoming appeal.

Because of this, I decided to plant two in front of my border by a Knockout Rose this year, and the plant’s habit and characteristics have impressed me since.

Despite our bouts of harsh weather this season in Connecticut, such as hail storms, strong winds, and heavy rainfalls, this plant has not bent, cracked, or toppled.

And the flowers, rising 18-24″ tall on strong, 4-angled stems above the low-growing clump of soft green wrinkled leaves, have been blooming continuously since early June.

It has a long season of bloom, expected to last to the end of August or early September, and it is a butterfly and bee magnet.

Lamb's Ear Perennial

Lamb’s Ear Perennial

However, what makes this lamb’s ear perennial different is the look and feel to the leaves, which are not like the typical species known to gardeners, Stachys byzantina, where the leaves are fuzzy and woolly, soft to the touch.

Foliage on Lamb's Ear

Foliage on Lamb’s Ear

‘Hummelo’ has wrinkled and wavy leaves.  The texture gives it some interest but I find the color of the leaves a little dull – just your basic plain, soft-green, so what you place near and around it should be considered.  You may want to find other perennials with a darker green foliage color, and pair up the beautiful violet blooms of ‘Hummelo’ with other monochromatic colors in the pink and purple tones, along with some contrasting coarse colors and textures.

Lamb's Ear Blooms

Lamb’s Ear Blooms

Some companion candidates for Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ are:

Baptisia australis (False Indigo) has tall darker purple blooms on tall flower spikes, as compared to Hummelo’s bloom color, and its foliage is a bit darker green.  It will end its bloom period around the time ‘Hummelo’ begins, but the dark seed pods will add interest later in the season.  Place it behind ‘Hummelo’ to add impact and height.  It can reach shrub size, and is great at the back of a border in full sun to part sun locations.  And it also has a “naturalized” look, similar to ‘Hummelo’ – plus it was the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year.

For a dramatic effect next to ‘Hummelo’, try a tropical Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ (Elephant Ear).  Its large, coarse and wide foliage with dark purple tones on the leaves and stems will be a great way to add contrast against the soft greens of ‘Hummelo.’  This gets large, so position it where it won’t eat (hide) the ‘Hummelo’ perennial, but pop near it.  The purple stems on this elephant ear will look great with the violet blooms of ‘Hummelo’ – and the soft green foliage of ‘Hummelo’ will pop against the dark tone of the elephant ear.

Supports Pollinators

Supports Pollinators

Incorporating some soft silvers in a more sunny location, such as Artemisia (Wormwood) is a good color to add.  I prefer Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’ with its soft airy foliage and dome shape, with lower stature than ‘Hummelo.’  This plant likes full sun and well-drained soils.

Another darker purple bloom color that would look great as a contrast to the softer violet blooms is Centaurea montana ‘Black Sprite’ (cornflower) with almost black-purple flowers blooming in July to August and reaching about 14″ tall.  The spidery like bloom structures is intriguing and would also pick up the darker purple colors of the Elephant Ear noted above.  It can take full to part sun locations.

Pronounced STAKE-IS (Click HERE to hear), Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ is a relatively unknown plant, great as an edger in garden borders, filler in container gardens, and provides a uniformed, sturdy look, and it is a “workhorse” because it has long-lasting blooms and strong upright stems.  And, it can survive under walnut trees.  This plant is a member of the mint family, so be aware it can spread, and often looks good massed or as a ground cover planting.  However, if used in a container garden, it is not a trouble marker, but a star – where you won’t have the spreading concern.

If you decide to use Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ as a ground cover, you may want to consider including some Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’ for the foliage on this low perennial, also great as a ground cover, has soft pink and violet tones to it.  Put it in-front, and be aware it is mostly known as a shade to part-shade plant, but can take sun with moisture.

Lamb's Ear, Stachys monieri 'Hummelo'

Lamb’s Ear, Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’

Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ is a Zone 4-8 perennial, prefers Full Sun, and is a great addition to your gardens and container gardens.  Some references spell it monnieri with two n’s on the species name.  It is also known as Betony.  Click HERE to read a “Comparative Study of Cultivated Stachys,” by the Chicago Botanic Garden, where you can learn lots more technical details about this plant and its relatives.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy Cathy T
(860) 977-9473