Getting into The Spirit of Fall

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Everywhere you go in the retail stores, you will see a bit of both these days – fall and holiday decorations and supplies. A month ago, I saw so much holiday decor in a store, I told myself – don’t look that way and stay focused on fall.

I love both seasons, of course, and I also have lots of activities surrounding both in my world of offering workshops and seasonal plant related gifts.

For example, in October, my succulent topped pumpkin workshops and custom orders kick it off. Then, as October comes to an end, a craft fair or holiday event pops up, which quickly leads to my holiday workshops in early December where we make kissing balls and wreaths.

Fall Fair by C Testa Copywrite_0004

As I worked in my greenhouse yesterday preparing for a fall craft fair coming up next weekend (as noted above), I was totally in the mood for fall. I know the holidays are right around the corner, but fall is still in the air. The fallen tree leaves crunched under my hiking boots as I walked the path to my greenhouse, and the cold brisk morning temperatures were just chilly enough to require a vest to keep warm, but not a jacket.

These environmental elements are what gets my mood into a particular seasonal theme. In fact, I went to a couple fall themed events last Saturday with Steve, my husband. The weather was predicted to be sunny and warm – and I was feeling like taking a break and enjoying the fall scenes, while they last, because it won’t be long before fall moves by quickly.

We drove to a pumpkin event in Coventry, CT at a church, which turned out to be directly across the street (practically) to a restaurant we enjoy there. The pumpkins were being sold at a church and the money is donated to various causes, one of which is a Navajo Indian farm. Since it was a nice area, we picked this as our first stop on Saturday.

The pumpkins were quite large and so were the gourds of various colors which I had not seen these colors before. I thought how wonderful some of these would have been for my succulent topped pumpkin workshops in October, but no matter, I still was there to enjoy them for carving or other projects.

Fall Fair by C Testa Copywrite_0007

I picked out this one for myself. This gourd weighs a lot but I just may make something creative with it this week. I had never seen this orange and white pattern on a gourd before. It is not a candidate for carving because it is so thick, but I couldn’t resist it.

Because the sun was brightly shining on this little journey of our’s, and the color of the shrubs next to the church were so intensely red, I used the opportunity to have Steve take a photo of me. As you can see, we were in the pumpkin and fall mood for sure.

Fall Fair by C Testa Copywrite_0005

I absolutely love that Steve enjoys fall adventures like this as much as I do. He is a kid at heart when it comes to carving pumpkins (and me too). He picked out a large tall one for his carving plans the next day.

Fall Fair by C Testa Copywrite_0006

After we visited this church and had lunch nearby, we drove back roads over to Manchester, CT and it turned out to be a spontaneous beautiful ride with some foliage colors still to be enjoyed. Steve commented how wonderful these roads would be on the motorcycle. He was starting to appreciate that we decided to take the day to have some fall fun.

In Manchester, we visited some small shops on Main Street during a Halloween Candy event, which even if you don’t have kids (we do not), you might enjoy. Seeing all the creative costumes and the smiles on the children’s faces is another way to get into the spirit of the fall season. Plus, they have a couple breweries in that area and we stopped at one which Steve also appreciated.

All of this activity got my spirit into creating plant related gift items and decor themed in fall colors, but I am still making some fun holiday items too. One of the fall items are large glass globes filled with live succulents and decor of orange and yellow fall colors. These will be available at this weekend’s Fall Craft Fair at the Stafford Fire Department’s event on Saturday, November 2nd which runs from 9 am to 2 pm.


Fall Fair by C Testa Copywrite_0003

I was debating whether I should create holiday items or fall themes for this craft show. As I got into making items, I let the fall spirit nature guide me. The natural cones and lotus pods of warm vibes as well as some vivid and bright orange and yellow fall decor let me go into that decorating mode. I think our Saturday adventure helped me get into that mode too, which was perhaps another reason why we got out there for some fall events.

This fall fair is expected to have various craft vendors, some of which are hand-made pottery and other items. I’m sure it will be a fun day for me – and you too if you decided to stop by! I always love meeting other vendors and adventuring to a new place, as you never know what kind of inspiration you will get from it – like we did this past weekend. Stafford is also another nearby town to be appreciated in all seasons. They have a local cidery and gift shops. They have a lot to offer and it is not far from the fire house.

Fall Fair by C Testa Copywrite_0002

Here are the details, again, of the location and event:

2019 Annual Fall Craft Fair at Stafford Fire Department No. 1 Ladies Auxiliary
Saturday, November 2nd, 9 am to 2 pm
27 Willington Avenue, Stafford Springs, CT

Stafford Fire Dept Building

Hope you will have the opportunity to swing by this weekend!

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT

Why I love (and I mean LOVE) Container Gardening!

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Everyone who knows me, or has attended my container gardening hands-on workshops in the spring and summer months, is fully aware that I am nuts about container gardening. I love it. Even in winter as we stuff beautiful mixed evergreens into our pots to bring life and some color into the winter landscape – we are enjoying a form of container gardening.

Today, I am listing just some of the reasons why I love (and I mean LOVE) container gardening – and I think you should too:

It is easy, fun, and fast – Provides instant gratification! Even in winter, stuff in some greens, add some berries, and voila – You have a beautiful container garden on your front steps to welcome your holiday guests.

Cathy T Winter Pot

A Beautiful Barrel Stuffed with Mix Greens and Decor for the Winter

Container gardening takes less space and energy than in-ground gardening does to achieve success. It is instantaneous and provides lots of color and life to your yard. Just watching the plants and its visitors is good for your health. It makes you pause to view it all.

It is okay to make mistakes – This is how you will learn about plants. Plants in pots are more forgiving. You may easily fix mistakes quickly by re-potting or re-positioning the container to suit the plants’ needs, or the decor look you are attempting to achieve outdoors.

Deer can not jump onto your deck or easily visit your patio (hopefully) to dine on your plants in the containers and patio pots, and groundhogs have a difficult time reaching them too. Nice!

Your pets enjoy them – Cats enjoy them for shade in the summer, and they like to hide behind the planted pots when observing the birds or checking out the yard from different areas.

Cathy Testa Container Gardens_0019

Cat inspects the bees buzzing into a Mandevilla bloom. Little coco bowls with succulents make nice little decor on table tops.

If you have dogs, they usually like to sit by plants in pots to rest and relax after playing in the yard. They are less likely to tromp thru big pots of plants which are up high or elevated versus a level big garden inviting them to run over it and everything in it, or dig there. Setting up a garden to be pet friendly is somewhat challenging compared to plants in containers where you can monitor your little furry friends near your entertaining spaces by you, your home, doors, and entrances. Just be sure to keep any poisonous candidates out of your pots if they are the curious eating types.

Plant caddies (trays with wheels) allows movement with a slight push of the pot anytime I want, or anytime the plant wants, to be relocated if it needs more sun or more shade, a better home to view it from, etc. That’s flexibility. You don’t even need to get your hands dirty.

It is instantaneous – which is important in today’s world. Most of us want to enjoy beauty around us without too much time if we are busy with work and other fun things. Container gardening is quick, it is not too difficult to learn the how-to’s of Five Must Do’s by Cathy T – once you know them, it is simple and gratifying – and you end up being addicted.

You may use practically “any” plant – You are not so tied to your planting zones or rules because you are enjoying your plants for the summer season, you can use tropical plants and more. Don’t limit yourself to just annuals in the summer season, there are so many choices.

Drama is created with big and bold – Think different, big, unusual, and BOLD.  We like beautiful and showy backyards – and container gardening is a great way to achieve this BOLD look. Just one big plant which grows fast in a gorgeous pot will stop you and your friends in their tracks.

Copywrite Cathy Testa Concrete Planter

A HUGE container garden with showy tropical plants extends the season into Autumn (Photo Protected by Copyright)

You may create niches by grouping or staging various pots together. Potted plants will divide or connect spaces, they frame your view. It is an “extension” of your decor of your home and using some pots creates an additional room outdoors while entertaining your friends or being solo enjoying nature. The right pot can draw you out into your landscape to escape and veg’ out – something we all need to do more of, right?

Winter container gardens with evergreens dress up your outdoor space too – two pots by an entrance with greens, berries, golden or red sticks, is a way to say enter here and enjoy the holiday party. In Autumn, you extend your outdoor spaces with plants in pots that will remain until the first frost – they give so much those potted plants.

Not many bug problems or diseases in potted plants, and if there are any, you see them right away because your patio pots (and indoor house plants in pots) are usually near you. Potted plants have a more sterile environment as well, so the incidence of pests problems are less likely. If pests occur, the containers are easy to treat or quarantine.

If it fun to observe the cute visitors to your plants – hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, butterflies, bees, or even your mother in law admiring your patio pots! It helps your important pollinators – when you see bees visiting a flower, you will hear them buzzing as they go in and out to collect their nectar. It feels good to assist our little friends; we need them so lend them a hand by planting flowering plants in pots.

Bee on Turtle Head Cathy Testa

Bees enjoy a perennial (Turtlehead) flowers in a Container Garden

It helps your health – as you sit up close and personal enjoying your patio pots in your deck chair – you tend to relax, smell the aromas which calm your senses, and you take time to breath deeply – rather than think about all the weeds you have to pull from a garden bed. The distraction of admiring your potted plants in various mixed combination is a form of meditation which is very beneficial to your balance and harmony.

It is not too physically intensive, so if you have any issues with your back or knee problems, or digging in dirt in the ground with a heavy shovel is not your idea of fun, this type of gardening is for you. You may elevate pots or position them in a way for easy harvesting of veggies, herbs, and other goodness. Right outside your door – kitchen container gardens rule.

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A pot on the deck by the pool – two pots say walk here to lawn area, etc.

You can hide problem areas in your landscape, or place beautiful container gardens on your steps or patio to utilize pots as amazing focal points, or test the scale of a plant to be planted in the garden by putting a pot there first. Plants in pots are functional art – they say, “Go here, step down there, look here, and stay here to enjoy life and nature.”

Mojito Ele Ear Cathy Testa-001

The amazing colors and patterns from an elephant ear – Colocasia ‘Mojito’

Textures and/or colors to be added to the garden later are easily tried out by using plants of them in a pot in your garden first. If you are unsure what to plant in your garden, put a pot there for a while and contemplate the look and feel of the plants’ style, look, colors, etc.

Lastly, you can create containers of lush plants, strategically place them on your patio or deck, and drink a margarita – now that is my idea of gardening and reducing stress.

And let’s not forget – during the winter, you can admire all the beautiful container gardens and patio pots you have arranged and grown from last summer as you browse your own photos or ‘Pinterest Pages by Cathy T‘ and Instagram photos – This will help you get through the winter months when there is more snow on the ground than anything.

Container gardening and patio pots are part of life today for adding beauty all around. Add a rain barrel to the area near your pots in the summer to use natural resources to water them. Keep an empty big barrel by a greenhouse or garage door to fill with snow during winter, and take it inside to melt onto the soil of pots of dormant plants being sheltered for the winter.

We all will enjoy container gardening as much as I do. I hope…

Cathy Testa


A Fairy, the Castor Bean Plant, and Poison. Can They All Live Happily Together?


Perhaps the only person to definitely know if the castor bean plant and its three little seeds lying within each of its seed capsules has been and continues to be falsely portrayed as a lurking killer is the beautiful and bold imaginary fairy by the name of Ricina, a clever creation by Nancy Farmer, an artist residing in the United Kingdom.


  • a small imaginary being of human form that has magical powers, esp. a female one.” (source: Google)

Art may be left up to the interpretation of the admirer or defined by its originator but my perception of Nancy Farmer’s creation, the fairy she named Ricina, is of a mature woman seductively perched upon the stalk of a castor bean plant.  With her eyes glanced to the side and a sneaky facial expression, Ricina appears to be ready to protect or serve the possible magical yet deceptive powers of the plant and its seeds. Her bright red lips and finger nail polish flanked by a smart little red bow tie around her neck matching her classic attire provides the admirer a glimpse of her individualistic style. And she looks a little playful too with a suggestive rise in her sexy leg and fashionable but just the right sized heeled shoes. A handsome umbrella dangles from the tips of her fingers and she sports a masculine hat – teasing mementos to remind of past stories and tales regarding the castor bean seeds and its potentially lethal toxin known as ricin.

Copyright Photo, Permission Required by Originator

Image courtesy of Nancy Farmer/ and

If Ricina could buzz by our ears, perhaps she would whisper there is nothing to fear. For only those with harmful and deliberate intentions could possibly use the plant’s powerful little bean-shaped seeds for malice and not joy.  She knows it requires the elements of keen knowledge about the plant’s toxic components and a bit of unrealistic determination by the offender.  Or maybe she would tell us only a fool would pry apart prickly seed capsules designed to keep predators at bay and then chew its seeds obviously marked with suspicious patterns.

Nancy Farmers artwork of the castor bean flowers ( and

Nancy Farmers artwork of the castor bean flowers ( and

She would continue to reveal the beautiful benefits of the plants’ ornamental characteristics and its ability to thrive with little encouragement to provide grandeur in our gardens.  As she continues to deflect our attention from unproven matters of the castor bean plant, she may fly around exclaiming the exceptional as well as unattractive features of the plant from its large showy leaves, a towering height, and flowers with a combination of features as complex as its tales. The key, she should would say, is to admire ‘all of the plant’s’ wonderful virtues along with its adversity.  Because the castor bean plant has its good and bad sides.

Source Permitted by: Nancy Farmer (

Source Permitted by: Nancy Farmer (

Source Permitted by:  Nancy Farmer of and

Source Permitted by: Nancy Farmer of and


  • “A large shrub of tropical Africa and Asia having large palmate leaves and spiny capsules containing seeds that are the source of castor oil and ricin; widely naturalized throughout the tropics.”  (source:
Castor Bean Seeds with a Leaf

Castor Bean Seeds with a Leaf

The castor bean plant or castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) is a tropical shrub or tree hardy in planting zones 10-11.  It is treated as an annual in Connecticut’s planting zones since it will not survive winter temperatures here. The plant grows rapidly from seed when planted in ideal conditions. It can easily reach between ten to twelve feet in a single season. As the stalk increases in diameter, it resembles thick bamboo. Large distinctive green leaves growing from the tips of long petioles are lobed shaped with several pointed star-like tips.  The species is primarily green, but cultivars come in vivid red to maroon colors, including the seed capsules.

Nancy Farmer's artwork of the red seed capsules of a cultivar the castor bean plant

Nancy Farmer’s artwork of the red seed capsules of a cultivar the castor bean plant

Photo Courtsey of Nancy Farmer's Artwork

Photo Courtesy of Nancy Farmer’s Artwork ( and

The plant’s odd-looking flowers consist of separate male and female flowers on the same plant. When both sexes are on the same plant, this is termed monoecious. The male flowers are white and tiny, situated just below the female flowers.  Red styles, the narrow part of the pistils, are clearly visible on the female parts of the plant.

Female Flowers on a Castor Bean Plant

Female Flowers on a Castor Bean Plant

Prickly seed capsules - Ricinus communis

Prickly seed capsules – Ricinus communis

Round seed capsules grow from the female flowers which are rather interesting. They are composed of three joined lobes or hulls covered with soft prickly spines. Inside each prickly capsule are the infamous castor bean seeds, known to be the source of a potentially lethal toxic, known as ricin. Although the castor bean seeds are the size of edible beans, think kidney beans – they are not true beans at all.  And they are not meant for direct consumption, but used for the production of castor oil and other traditional medicines. Some people think the seeds resemble inflated ticks, and the genus name Ricinus is the Latin word for tick.

Mature seeds of the castor bean plant

Mature seeds of the castor bean plant

Immature seeds in the capsule.  Photo by Cathy Testa

Immature seeds in the capsule. Photo by Cathy Testa


  • “a substance that, when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism, causes death or injury, esp. one that kills by rapid action even in a small quantity.” (source: Google)
  • “a person, idea, action, or situation that is considered to have a destructive or corrupting effect or influence.” (source: Google)

Relief from the use of castor oil derived from the seeds of the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) may yield some benefits for people still using this remedy as a laxative, but there are reported sinister sides to the seeds, that when used in a specific fashion and with its toxic substance, will lead to illness and sometimes death of an unsuspecting victim. Some stories or myths shared from past to present about such occurrences, including claims of sneaky murders from administering ricin with a common umbrella as the mode of transmission, to claims of accidental deaths from chewing the seeds without the realization of the disastrous results days later, may be somewhat exaggerated.

In the words of John Robertson who has spent ten years researching, writing and talking about poisonous plants:

Butthough ricin is extremely poisonous it actually does little harm. Around one million tons of castor beans are processed each year for castor oil production leaving the waste pulp with up to 50,000 tons of ricin in it. And, yet, finding instances of ricin poisoning is not an easy task. (source: THE POISON GARDEN website)

Victims are said to suffer from vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration once attacked by the evil person in possession of the ricin.  Others have eaten the castor bean seeds in ignorance with the belief it is a medical solution to their health problem. Yet the more you read regarding the poisoning powers of the infamous castor bean seeds, the more unclear the accusations and exaggerations become regarding the potential for eventual death to occur. Some sources attempt to explain the differences between poisonous and dangerous because a person can do no harm without the right combination of both a lethal toxin and attitude.

In a ten minute video on THE POISON GARDEN website about ricin, John Robertson states, There’s a big difference between poisonous and harmful.  For a poisonous plant to become harmful, there has to be a way to administer the poison.

Leaf of the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis)

Leaf of the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis)


Many references will indicate you should keep the castor bean plant and especially its seeds away from children or animals, and should you have either, this may be a needed precaution.  More important, I would say, is to be knowledgeable about the plants before placing one in your gardens. Unlike plant tags listing all the beneficial reasons a plant is successful (a winner, deer-resistant, hummingbird magnet, drought tolerant, etc.), the downsides of plants are not indicated at all.  One is to wonder if plants should have warning tags (e.g., potentially toxic, invasive, aggressive, addictive, etc.) but for obvious reason, they do not.  However, I have grown castor bean plants at my home and so have many others worldwide.  In some parts of the country, the plant grows as a common roadside weed and the population of people near these situations are aware of its hazards. Similar to other things in our society which are dangerous under the wrong circumstances and in the wrong hands, we must just be more educated and not be put in a state of fear.  After all, if the castor bean plant and its potential poison is a killer, why am I not dead?

Racina, the plant, and myself co-exist without any ill effects – and you can too if you admire the castor bean plant’s features.  One way to limit your anxiousness regarding the prickly seed capsules with seeds within is to remove the flowers all together on the plant, or remove the capsules before they mature and potentially crack open to drop seeds on the ground.  Wild animals seem to understand the precautions and warnings provided by the plants as an adaptation to say “don’t eat me, stay away, I’m trying to reproduce.  And if you tempt it, I will make you sick enough so you remember.”  How incredibly wondrous by the plant.  Racina, as I imagine her, understands this.  She, the plant, and the poison all live happily together.

And I think you could too,

Written by Cathy Testa©

White male flowers on the Castor Bean Plant (Ricinus communis)

White male flowers on the Castor Bean Plant (Ricinus communis)

P.S.  A very special thank you to Nancy Farmer, the obviously talented artist capturing the essence of the castor bean plant’s legends with a fairy.  She and her amazing works of combining ‘nature with art’ may be found at:

References and Other Sources:

Castor Bean Plant growing at Cathy Testa's home near a birdhouse on a 10 feet high pole.

Castor Bean Plant growing at Cathy Testa’s home near a birdhouse on a 10 feet high pole.

Living without my laptop taught me to swim like a dolphin and dive like a loon

Bitstrips Source

Bitstrips Source

I can not believe I went two whole months without a laptop.  It was painful but also allowed me to become intimately familiar with my other devices.  I borrowed an iPad and used my iPhone as a back up – but posting via an iPad to my blog was challenging. Sometimes the iPad screen would not display correctly or the typing on the screen’s keyboard was cumbersome – I’m much faster on a regular old keyboard. The iPad would be slow at times – for whatever reason, I could not figure out.  And the iPhone, it is small and difficult on the eyes. Handy as it may be, I can’t use it to post content easily.  It would take F–O–R-evvvv-errr.  It was hard to bold my text, add links, insert photos, or fix spelling errors.  And, although these irritations happened when I used either device, I still opted to post to my blog – and not completely give up, because I like to blog. I’m actually somewhat addicted to it.  But, I started to feel like a dolphin.

“Blogging without a Laptop was like being Stuck in an Aquarium”

Stuck without a laptop feels like being in an aquarium

Poor guy – bet he wishes he had full connectivity to the outside world

I felt stuck like a dolphin in an aquarium tank.  I could make do and adjusted, making the best of it — but it didn’t feel free or easy to enjoy my surroundings. I started to swim along within my confines.  Trying to live without “full” technology was difficult, but also allowed some freedom too.  It gave me a break, from sitting in my office and being tied to a laptop screen, and sometimes, when we take a break from technology, we pay more attention to the live things around us. That is why when I took a long weekend away to a place with no connectivity, it actually felt good.  I started to get comfortable living without it – for the short term that is.  Living without it forever, well, that is just plain impossible these days.  So much of what we do is online, sad but true.

A Land without Connectivity?  Here it is…

Our Cabin - JK

Our Cabin – JK

When I went on a long weekend with my siblings this year, we stayed in cabins up north, way up north, as in like 10 miles from the Canadian border.  And our lodging had no connectivity, as you can see why above. Just Kidding. This was a house down the street from our cozy cabins.  It was an old home that one must stop to take photos of. The funny part of this story – stopping for photos that is – is there was a small garden to the right of the house that was in good shape – as in someone was tending to it.  But who? We wondered.  We didn’t stick around to find out.  Just took a quick snap with the iPad and took off quickly.

Anyhow, back to our lodging (cabins).  We spent three nights at a place where we could not text or check our twitter tweets, email accounts, or post to anything.  And in this case, this situation was a good thing.  It gave us a chance to enjoy the view of lakes in front of our cabins without distractions, and “pay attention” when special things happened.  Like when my niece ran up to show us the fish she caught.  Our noses weren’t stuck to our iPhones (me being the most guilty of this of my family members), but focused on our real surroundings, fresh air, and in person opportunities. And how convenient!  My hand was also free to hold other good things, like my wine glass (rather than my iPhone).

“Catch of The Day – A Fish and Wine”

Eyes on fish catch of the day

One of us finally caught a fish!

However, I must admit I did take my iPhone along with me when kayaking on this weekend trip which I promptly dropped in the water at one point as I was entering my kayak, but by some miracle, it did not malfunction or die after getting wet briefly. I dove my hand into that water faster than a loon dives after a fish in a lake.  I dried it on a boulder and it started functioning again, then I quietly snuck up in my kayak to a loon sitting on a platform. She was NOT HAPPY and squawked at me loudly, and I almost dropped my iPhone again, but fortunately did not.  This again freed up my hands for more important things, like paddling away before that loon attacked me. She started to jump into the water and approach my kayak, and at that point, I was the one squawking.

“My Close Up Shot of a Loon in North Country”

Loon Lady sitting on her egg.  She did not like me!

Loon Lady sitting on her egg. She did not like me!

After kayaking a while, and returning to our cabins, I started to realize I wasn’t reaching for my iPhone anymore for anything other than capturing photos of the beauty surrounding us, but without connectivity, it was hard to share until I was back online again.  And sharing is what I like to do.  And now with a new laptop to replace the one that finally broke permanently, I can get to fixing my errors and updating my blog.  First to be updated was updates to my schedule of events.  See Cathy T’s Classes to learn about the next two classes in the fall and winter.  And next was a new page called SOCIAL, because it can’t be helped, but should be paused from time to time.

In the meantime, bare with me as I learn the new technology of my brandy new laptop.  Thanks for your patience.

Written by Cathy Testa

View without connectivity, but taken with my iPad

View without connectivity, but taken with my iPad

Miniatures Garden Workshop Update

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Workshop on August 15

Workshop on August 15

Hi everyone,

We decided to move our Miniatures Gardens Workshop to the August 15th rain date due to the predicted thunderstorms tomorrow.  Nothing is more fun than enjoying the class outdoors surrounded by plants and sunshine, and we don’t want to risk you and your miniature creation getting soaked during a strong rain.  I’m hoping those registered can make the new date. Please confirm your attendance to the new date by emailing at or 860 977 9473.  For more information, see SCHEDULE OF EVENTS on this blog. Thank you in advance. Cathy T

Class location: 72 Harrington road, Broad Brook, CT 06016

Cost: $15 per person. See description for items included under SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Time: 6 pm to 8 pm.

Date: August 15, 2013, Thursday

Come to socialize, learn, create, and enjoy. You take home your creation!!  Great as a center piece on a table, gift, hostess gift or keep for yourself!  Create a theme based on your style or home. The guest speaker is an Advanced Master Gardener and Professional Designer from Gardening Inspirations.

Where can I find some Heirloom seeds in Connecticut?

Comstock, Ferre & Co.

Comstock, Ferre & Co.

If you are looking for a good mix of seeds from the common to the unusual, heirloom plants, gardening supplies, farming antiques, and participating in a bit of history, then Comstock, Ferre & Co. in Wethersfield, Connecticut is the place for you!

Last Sunday, they held an Heirloom Festival in celebration of 202 years of Comstock service to CT.  They had nationally acclaimed horticultural speakers, musical entertainment, vendors, plants, and handcrafted products – and of course, lots and lots of seeds.

In fact, the seed stock is probably one of the coolest things about this place.  Tall wooden shelves line the interior building showcasing rows with a wonderful assortment of seeds in beautiful seed packets.  Even if you are not into growing from seed, looking at all the colorful labels is fun.  And most of the seeds are heirlooms.

Comstock is big on heirlooms, and they offer documentation and books to explain all and why they find them beneficial.  As one of their handouts states, “Heirloom varieties are often the product of many generations of careful selection by farmers and gardeners who knew what they wanted from their plants.  If a variety has been carefully nurtured and its seed kept by generations of a family or in a small geographic area, it stands to reason that it must perform well in the conditions under which it has been preserved.”

My definition of heirloom is summed up by my Dad’s tomatoes.  I swear they are the best, and he saves the seeds every year to regrow the product he carefully selected.  It pretty much has been unchanged, and unmodified by genetics, which is another big topic of discussion and awareness at Comstock, the whole GMO concerns.  I won’t go into that whole world which is really getting mega attention these days, but lets just say if you want to be educated on Heirloom benefits versus GMO’s – Comstock is one place that will do so for you.

Choral sings at Comstock

Choral sings at Comstock

During this festival day at Comstock, my sister, Louise, was sporting a GMO free shirt as she conducted her chorale group of students from the Silas Deane Middle School.

Louise just loves Comstock and their offerings, and I keep telling her she reminds me of a Master Gardener.  She is tending to her garden of veggies daily and continues to expand her collection of plants and knowledge.  I’m starting to ask her questions now on veggies – she is so passionate about it.

Comstock is located in a historial section of Wethersfield, CT at 263 Main Street.  When you arrive, you will find street only parking, and a couple of nearby quaint shops, and even ice cream just a few short steps down the side walk.

The building is very old and you get the feeling you are entering a bit of history as you walk around checking out the antiques upstairs and downstairs.

The greenhouse is stocked with starter plants – lots of tomatoes, and other veggies.  And you can pick up some handmade birdhouses or other gardening decor, weeding tools, and trellis.  They have an interesting mix of items for sale.

Steve, my husband, purchased a birdhouse, and when we got home to read the documentation provided about its creator, it turned out he is from our home town of Broad Brook, CT.  Small world.  He made them from salvaged barn board from Windsorville, CT tobacco barns and roof slates.

Stock of Seeds

Stock of Seeds

After we listened to the young group of singers with wonderful voices, we shopped around the rest of the vendors at the festival, and I picked up one packet of seeds – Castor Beans.  Yup castor beans. I love big foliage plants and this one is on my list to try.  It has reddish bronze leaves (Gibsonii variety), and stunning scarlet seed heads.  It looks tropical and gets very tall, but only one word of caution, all parts including the seeds are poisonous.  However, it was a must-have for me.

Reference Materials

Reference Materials

We couldn’t stay long that morning due to other obligations, but it is a place I will revisit – especially useful early in the season to pick up your seeds for the garden.  Comstock, Ferre & Co. has been selling heirloom seeds for over 200 years.  Let’s help them to add another 100 to their record.

Lots of various old scales at the store.

Lots of various old scales at the store.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy Cathy T

Comstock, Ferre & Co. Greenhouse

Comstock, Ferre & Co. Greenhouse

Crystal Ball Captures More than the Beauty of Flowers

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Class Attendees

Class Attendees

Photography for me is about capturing data at times.  I take photos at clients’ properties during my onsite evaluations for landscape and garden designs.  Sometimes, I will take at least 100 photos of a site while walking around, looking over their desired planting areas.  It is important to me to get every angle, and to record any problem areas – or potential design features spotted on the property or in the space. I also take photos of plants when visiting wholesale and retail nurseries for my plant research.  You can ask the garden center staff.  They will tell you I always have a camera in hand.

But I also enjoy photography as a “non-serious” hobby – what I mean is, I like to take photos of plants because I love them so much, especially up close to see the botanical aspects, from the stamen (male parts) to stigma (female parts) of the flower’s reproductive aspects. And of course, I like to take photos of butterflies, insects, and birds.  Sometimes, I’ll get a comment from a real photographer, a pro, saying a shot is good, but my photos are never anywhere near those taken by pro’s.  Again – I do it for fun – and like to keep it that way, but I should learn the techniques to improve.


So when I met my class group for a guest speaker on photography yesterday, they found it a bit comical when I mentioned I had not yet taken out the components (like filters and cleaners) for my new camera out of the packages. I’ve owned the camera for a couple years now.  It is not a super fancy camera, but it is a good one.  I’ve played around with it more than taken the time to learn it.

However, yesterday, I got the chance, and what fun did we have.  We had a small group of attendees because the class, called “Capturing the Beauty of Flowers,”  was held in the morning of a weekday at a local garden center, where there were flowers a plenty.  And by the way, I heard loud and clear from my friends and past class attendees – they want a session held in the evenings so they can attend – so we will do that – on May 29th, Wednesday, 5:30 to 7:30 pm (flyer to be posted soon).  Note the date now.

Catherine Cella of Joyful Reflections Photography was my guest speaker.  It was an honor for me to have her show us her tips on how to maximize taking photos of flowers. There were some techniques I had never considered, demonstrated by Catherine, and we practiced as a group.  She then offered us advise on how to improve the shot.  But one of the best parts of the whole day is she taught us how to use a crystal ball to capture photos.  Any my favorite photo of the day is this one, I took, where the greenhouse roof is reflected in the ball.  Later I thought, is the Crystal Ball revealing my future?  I hope so (you know, I’m a dreamer).

My shot - love the greenhouse in it!

My shot – love the greenhouse in it!

Well, let me restate favorite, actually my favorite photos of the day, were those posted by Catherine Cella after class.  You can see them here on her blog at Joyful Reflections Photography Blog.

But before we got to the crystal ball photography part of the class, we practiced on flowers.  This is a shrimp plant, Justicia brandegeana.  A tropical plant I just adore, and so did another attendee in our class with a horticulture background. It is a little too early still to put out tropical types requiring heat and warmth – think of them like summer vegetable gardening — wait until Memorial Day to put them outside, but they can be enjoyed inside in the meantime as a gorgeous house plant.  This one was trained as a topiary – a real beauty and find, I must say.  Hummingbirds truly enjoy this flower on this shrub.  The flower is the white part extending out of the pink bracts.  This would be stunning in an urn with the style of this one being trained as a topiary.


Trained as a Topiary - Shrimp Plant

Trained as a Topiary – Shrimp Plant

We also took close-ups of water droplets on plants, and here is one I took on a bleeding heart.  It actually worked out the day was cloudy and just a tad bit rainy.  Gosh don’t we all love this plant in the springtime when it flushes out in our gardens?  Whether you love the Old Fashioned Bleeding Hearts or newer types with golden foliage, you can’t disagree with nature’s ability to capture our hearts with the rose-pink flowers on fern-like foliage dangling like charms from its stems in May.  This perennial looks amazing alone in a garden or mixed with other shade candidates like Astilbe, Pulmonaria, Hostas, and ferns – just to name a few.  However, I don’t recommend them in container gardens because they go dormant later in the season and kind of fade away.

Droplet on Bleeding Heart Leaves

Droplet on Bleeding Heart Leaves

The other two attendees had way more background on the camera’s technical aspects that moi, and they were practicing the tips reviewed by Catherine Cella.  My suggestion was to take photos of the flowering trees at our class location – The Garden Barn Nursery and Landscape in Vernon, CT.  There were many breathtaking blooms of magnolias, redbuds, dogwoods, and others in bloom now.

Here’s a photo I had to take of a Redbud tree, Cercis reniformis ‘Oklahoma’.  Talk about an intense purple wine color.  The coloring is more intense than the species on this small ornamental tree, great for smaller spaces.  It blooms in the spring, April to May timeframe, and the buds line the stems before the leaves expand.  It looks Asian to me, and has the most welcoming feeling in a garden space.

Redbud Tree Buds

Redbud Tree Buds

And I had to try to get a cool picture of one of my favorite ornamental grasses called Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’.  It can take partial shade and has a bright yellow color with a green stripes on the blades, and it cascades downward, versus growing upright. It is a beautiful plant to use in the front of a border, along pathways or by a terrace situation, or even in a container garden as a spiller to filler type plant.  The plant is a long-season ornamental grass, and won the 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year award. Looks great near Weeping Japanse Maples too – why? because the gold of the grass shows up against the burgundy color of the maple.

Hakon grass 'Aureola'

Hakon grass ‘Aureola’

Early in the day, Catherine joked around with a tiny toy camera hanging from her neck – it even flashes.  But rest assured, her professional camera is quite impressive – and so are her talents –  which you will see and learn from when you sign up for the next session on May 29th, Wednesday, 5:30 to 7:30 pm.  Bring your camera and your dreams – so you too can Capture the Beauty of Flowers and the images you desire in your crystal ball of the future.  The next class is only 2.5 weeks away.

Catherine holding a toy camera - as a joke of course, with attendee Jo-Anne.

Catherine holding a toy camera – as a joke of course, with attendee Jo-Anne.

Looking forward to seeing you there,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy Cathy T

How should I transport my plant from the garden center to my home?


My sister called me yesterday afternoon to ask about a new magnolia she purchased at a nursery.  She was planning to pick it up today, and wanted to know how to handle the transportation in her mini-van.  This was an excellent question to ask.  The last thing you want to do is damage your new plant purchase, so here are a few tips and reminders on what to do when you move your plant from the garden center to your home.

Balled and Burlapped B&B) tree example

Balled and Burlapped B&B) tree example


It may sound funny, but you may want to grab a couple old pillows and a thick blanket, or a tarp along with some bungee cords or rope, before you head to the garden center. The main thing you want to do for trees is protect its bark and foliage during travel. Bark is like your skin, overlaying the veins in your body.  On trees, bark protects the cambium layer responsible for transporting water and nutrients in the tree, much like how veins move blood in our bodies.

If the bark gets rubbed, broken, bruised, or nicked, it can prohibit the passage of nutrients and create a perfect place for insects and diseases to settle into your tree. When you place or lay your tree in a van, car (which I’ve seen done for small trees), or inside the back of your pickup truck, be careful to not nick the bark.  Don’t allow the tree to roll around in the vehicle, hitting something like tools, or your seats.  Damage on the bark, or the trunk for that matter, is a leading cause of death in trees.  Sometimes wounds will heal but it can make the tree’s appearance not as lovely as you had imagined.


As for the foliage on the top of the tree, it should not be exposed to wind as you drive home.  If you put the tree in the back of your pickup truck, be sure to protect the foliage somehow.  A light bed sheet works well, wrapped like a hair net – or the nursery may have some type of light material to offer you to protect the foliage.  Wind will shred the leaves and dry them out.  Even if you drive carefully and slowly like Grandma.  This is also true with evergreen shrubs susceptible to drying winds.  It is best to cover the foliage on its journey to your home in a vehicle if exposed.

Container Grown Tree Example

Container Grown Tree Example


If you are bringing home perennials or annuals in pots, grab a cardboard box or plastic milk crate to insert the pots into your vehicle as you travel so they won’t topple over in your car.  Most nurseries offer a plastic liner to protect your car seats from the wet base of pots, but you may want to bring along a sheet as well if you have one on hand.  They can be handy.  Inside the vehicle, perennials and annuals are protected from strong winds, unless you drive a convertible, so they will be okay.  And in the back of a pickup truck, sometimes this is okay because they are lower than the top of the pickup truck’s bed.  But if you stop somewhere on your travels, and plants are inside your vehicle, don’t let them sit in the heat for too long.


Mostly likely, if you are out and about shopping for plants, you will also be stopping somewhere for another errand or to have  lunch.  If you have your tree, perennials, or annuals “in the car” – and plan to stop for a while, open up your windows slightly to allow some ventilation in the car.  Although many plants like the warmth, scolding hot temperatures will stress out the plants, and dry out the soil in the pot.  Overheating your plants is like overheating a dog in the car, it can lead to suffering and even death! Remember this for plants you may have put in the trunk of your car too.  If stopping for more than 15 minutes on a hot day, I wouldn’t leave them baking in the car’s trunk like an oven.  They will get weak and withered, and potentially at a permanent wilting point – unable to recover.  You may not either, once you learned you fried your investment.

Pick it up

Pick it up


You should not lift a tree by its trunk at the base or mid-way on the trunk.  You might not only hurt the tree, but hurt yourself too, especially if the tree is balled and burlapped.  B&B trees are dug up from the field with the soil base around the roots. They are very heavy compared to container grown trees.  With a B&B tree, you probably will need help to load and transport the tree, and unload it at home.  Big B&B trees are often better planted by an expert – and many nurseries offer this service.

If a container grown tree, it is much better to lift it by the container, and then place it carefully on a hand truck or in a wheel barrel to move the tree to its holding location or planting location in your yard.  Don’t leave your new tree or perennials in the wrong place if you don’t plan to plant it in the ground right away.  There are two things you must remember.  Some trees and shrubs will be top heavy if grown in a container, and the wind can topple it over.  And the second thing, is they can dry out in pots, so you must also remember to water them.

Last year, one of my clients took home two beautiful Kwanzan cherry trees for a park installation.  She placed the trees by her picnic table to wait until she could go plant them.  The next day happened to be a very windy day.  While she was at work, the wind had tossed one of the trees against the table repeatedly, rubbing away the bark and creating a good sized wound.  We decided to plant the tree anyways, and hope for the best.  Looking it over this spring, the wound is healing nicely, but you can visibly see the damage done, plus the tree doesn’t match the other one as a result.

A good tip is to insert the container into another bigger and heavier empty pot or box at home to stabilize the tree until you are ready to plant it in the ground.  Or put some weighted object, like large rocks or cement blocks around the outside of the pot base to keep it in place in the event of a windy gust.  Also, put the plant where there is a bit of shade to protect it from harsh sun until you are ready to plant it.  And also very important – don’t forget to water it from time to time if you don’t plant it right away, especially if you placed it on pavement where the pot can get hot quickly.

On your planting day, if you have several trees or plants to plant, line them out into their permanent positions in your landscape, but don’t remove them from their pots until you are ready to place them into the planting holes.  Leaving exposed roots could potentially dry out the roots too.

Once planted, another good reminder is to be careful when mowing your lawn or weed whacking nearby so you don’t nick the bark once you have successfully planted it in your landscape.  Something I have to remind my husband every year when he breaks out the mower!

So follow these guidelines, turn up the tunes while traveling home from the nursery, and rest assured all will be safe when you arrive home!

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

Bring on the Easter Colors

Tulips in Vase

Tulips in Vase

Yesterday I was determined to get some color, and since the outside was blanketed with snow on the first day of spring for 2013, I spontaneously decided to pick up some fresh tulips while at the grocery store.  I placed them in a green glass pitcher and added some white twigs – and voila, the color arrived.

Begins to Open

Begins to Open

Within the first five minutes or so, I could see the tulips petals begin to expand from the warmth and water uptake.  I thought it is amazing how quickly they respond to being admired.



So, because I’m obsessed with plants and flowers, I took a shot of the petals opening up.  Finally, I thought, I got some color in this house.  Then I placed one yellow tulip by my window to capture the sun’s rays.  Yellow happens to be my favorite color for tulips and roses.

Yellow petals capture the sun

Yellow petals capture the sun

This little bit of activity prompted me to go dig out a box of Easter decorations from my basement and put out some bunnies and other Easter goodies to brighten up the home inside.  It was time to bring on some Easter colors.

Easter Bunny Lady

Easter Bunny Lady

I also installed a container garden display outside of my client’s business.  Usually I include some daffodils, hyacinths, or other spring blooming plants – but it is only in the mid 20’s to mid 30’s, and I thought, I’ll jut put out some decorations and as soon as Easter is over, I’ll add some live plants.

It was cold outside as I was working with the wind blowing, and I was a bit frustrated of not having spring-like temperatures, but this process cheered me up.  The bunnies faces are too adorable – and the colors reminded me of the tulips I put in the house earlier.

The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple

When I work on the displays for this client, the customers walking into his store always compliment me – saying, “You do such a good job!”  They just love the change of the seasonal displays – and that makes me happy.

Cute Couple

Cute Couple

Aren’t these pair of bunnies so cute?  I think so.  Seeing them made me think of the Easter goodies and colors as a kid.  I always loved getting Easter baskets and cards when I was a child, and as an adult, I also love preparing and giving Easter baskets to my nieces and nephews, and still do.

One year, my Aunt hid Easter baskets all over my parent’s house.  I remember us running through the house, trying to find our basket. The rule was if you found someone else’s basket, you could not give it away – where it was hidden, so we would scream and laugh when we would find other’s – for our brothers or sisters.  Thank you Aunt Lucy – I remember you doing this for us!

I miss the “Candy Castle” store we use to have in our town where you could buy homemade chocolates.  The smell would be so alluring when you would walk into the place, but now it is gone.  Another fond Easter memory.

Two barrels

Two barrels

There are two barrels in front of this store, and the other one has a male bunny.  I didn’t take a photo.  Lovely bag of rock salt in the back, eh?  It is the little hint that we have snow right now.  But – Spring is Coming – It is coming – right???  In the meantime, get into the Easter spirit.  Add some color inside if you can’t get it outside yet.

Container Crazy Cathy T

3 Quick Examples of Color and Plant Combinations from the Boston Flower & Garden Show

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Great combination of colors

Great combination of colors

No . 1:  Tradescantia x andersoniana ‘Sweet Kate’ with Daffodils and Hosta

This weekend, at the Boston Garden and Flower Show, I admired a combination of plants with a monochromatic color scheme utilizing hues of yellow and greens.  It was displayed at one of the garden exhibits and included yellow blooming daffodils (Narcissus), variegated hosta, and Tradescantia x andersoniana ‘Sweet Kate.

‘Sweet Kate’ was placed between the daffodils and hosta.  This perennial, with the common name of Virginia spiderwort or widow’s tears, has long strap-like leaves, resembling long blades of slender grass.  The leaves of this cultivar have an iridescent yellow color, most showy in full sun conditions.

At the base of this planting bed, an ivy plant was tucked within which had leaves with yellow margins, repeating the hues of yellow in the grouping of plants.  Purple blooms of Muscari armeniacum, grape hyacinth, with urn-shaped flower clusters on short flower stalks created a complementary color (purple opposite yellow on the color wheel).  It was a soft and spring like combination.

Softly repeating yellows

Softly repeating yellows

I thought to myself, this designer carefully selected plants that worked well together in regards to subtle colors, and it also had a nice woodland feel.  I think it is a good example of simplicity, and a perfect combination to use in spring container gardens, with the daffodils serving as a “welcoming” plant, ‘Sweet Kate’ as a filler along with the hosta, and the ivy as a spiller.  It was charming and calming, so I took a couple quick photos to post on my blog, and share with you.

No. 2:  Heuchera with hot red Tulips and Euphorbia

Another arrangement, located at the next display, was a combination of intense red blooming tulips combined with the bright leaves of a Heuchera perennial at the base, and yellow flowers of a Euphorbia perennial to the left of the tulips.

The display was elevated with a mirrored window frame in the background to capture the colors in its reflection. Again, the designer was thinking of color, but in this case, a harmonious relationship of red, yellow, and green was utilized.

The red tulips were the thrillers, and caught your eye from a distance, adding some heat, while the yellow was a bit less intense but still created a warm tone to the grouping of plants, quite opposite of the soft hues displayed in the prior exhibit at the flower show.

Red Tulips with Euphorbia and Heuchera

Red Tulips with Euphorbia and Heuchera

The Euphorbia, left to the tulips, with yellow flowers at the tips, echoed the bright yellow colors of the Heuchera tucked in at the base of the grouping of plants.

The Euphorbia perennial, known as spurge, has flowers with yellow bracts turning an orange-red.  In the center, you can see a dab of red again repeating the red tulips’s color.  The leaves have a reddish midrib.  These small pops are like the brush strokes in a painting – adding a bit a flare you may not consciously notice, but feel.  Take notice in the next photo, there’s some yellow strokes at the base of the red flower petals on the tulips.

I didn’t write down the Heuchera’s cultivar name from the display, but it reminded me of Heuchera ‘Citronelle’ with bright citron yellow foliage.  Common name is coral bells. Heucheras make great fillers in container gardens in spring and last well into mid to late summer. And while the Euphorbia flowers may fade, the foliage will last to the end of summer too.  Both plants are easy to grow.

Close up of red Tulips with Heuchera

Close up of red Tulips with Heuchera

The arrangement using hot reds and yellow with solid, reliable greens immediately reminded me of one of my favorite spring container gardens I assembled a couple years ago, using a pop of red and probably the same bright yellow Heuchera, with some red repeating colors from a Euphorbia.  See here:  Cathy T’s container garden:  spring combo

The next plant combination may not be for everyone, but it caught my attention.  I really like foliage in designs, and this one put together an unusual grouping. In the center, a very tall bamboo plant is showcased, with Helleborus orientalis ‘Brandywine’ perennial sitting below at the base and Mondo grass. Who would have thought these would work together?  But they do.

Bamboo with Helleborus perennial

Bamboo with Helleborus perennial

No. 3: Fargesia nitida (bamboo) with Helleborus ‘Brandy Wine’ and Mondo Grass

I also liked how they alternated the Helleborus plant at the base with what I believe is a Mondo grass.  Again, foliage shapes and forms work well. The Asian styled walls and windows make the foliage plants stand out more and draw your eye in to the design area at the same time.

Helleborus plants happen to be one of my favorites because of their coarse semi-evergreen foliage, deer-resistant trait, and early flowering in late winter to early spring. Hellebore is the common name.  It has cultivars with flower colors in dark plums to soft pinks, whites, and more pale colors.  Hellebores also make excellent long lasting container garden plants as fillers, lasting well into fall. They are a “solid” plant to use in containers and can be transplanted to your gardens when the season is over.  I like how the basal leaves are tough, and some have a little bit of serrated edges.  It is a partial shade to full sun plant and fairly drought tolerant.  Some are starting to poke out of the ground right now, as we enter spring.

These are just three quick examples of color and plant combinations I saw at the show – there were many more.  There was even a display covered in fake snow, which was so appropriately timed – as we got snow fall yesterday – one day before the “First Day of Spring” which is today, March 20th.  I hope it melts quickly so we can go get some of these spring flowers and start adding some color to our porches and gardens soon!

Snow covered display

Snow covered display

Container Crazy Cathy T
(860) 977-9473