Newtown Bee - Home & Garden Spring 2024

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Raising chickens and other livestock in your own backyard may seem like a daunting task for many homeowners. Indeed, taking up such an endeavor requires a serious commitment to the care and protection of live animals.

For those considering taking on the project, though, home livestock cultivation can be a rewarding and enriching experience, offering not only fresh produce but also opportunities to expose oneself and one’s children to the natural world. Universal consensus, however, agrees — from local farmers to the US Department of Agriculture — that thorough research and preparation are critical to making the process of keeping livestock such as chickens at home successful and enjoyable.

Rob Mitchell, of Southbury’s Mitchell Farm, spoke with The Newtown Bee about some of the challenges that novice home farmers may face along with some practical measures that should be taken in order to guarantee the fruitfulness of their efforts.

According to him, there are a number of obvious benefits that chicken cultivation specifically can bring to a household at relatively low cost.

Chickens provide homeowners with a steady supply of fresh eggs. Depending on the quantity of hens being kept, one could even expect to enjoy fresh eggs daily. Typically an adult hen lays around two eggs every three days, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac Mitchell also pointed out that there are other less obvious benefits.

“You can use chicken manure as a natural fertilizer,” he said, suggesting that livestock cultivation and home gardening can go hand in hand as mutually supportive processes.

Mitchell also stressed the importance of food security. By managing chickens or other livestock in your own backyard, he argued, you gain more control over your own food sources thereby providing yourself with direct access to high-quality, sustainable organic food.

Even if a homeowner does not wish to consume all the produce she gathers herself, it is worth keeping in mind that excess goods can be sold away to others in the community to provide an additional income stream to the household or simply distributed freely among family, friends, and neighbors.

Mitchell emphasized that among the challenges homeowners would encounter, predators would likely represent the most significant threat to their animals.

“With livestock the predators are serious,” he explained. “Especially with chickens. Everything likes a chicken.”

Raccoons, coyotes, foxes, cats, and even unsecured pet dogs were all mentioned as repeat offenders. Weasels, bears, and chicken hawks were also noted as potential local threats.

“You even have to have your wire go into the ground,” he added, “because of foxes, and those raccoons are unbelievable. I’ve had them squeeze in four inch holes. And then you’ve got weasels. Weasels will suck the blood out of them.”

Mitchell recommended heavy gauge fencing over chicken wire for its superior durability.

Avian flu is another potential threat to one’s chickens, which requires constant vigilance on the part of the homeowner to prevent.

“I think it’s from if the [wild] birds come by,” said Mitchell. “When the wild birds go to the bathroom, and then the chickens eat their feed. The little birds can get it in the pens.”

He also pointed out that larger birds could also potentially contribute to the spread of disease. Geese specifically can gather in groups of over a hundred, and each one can produce up to a pound of excrement a day. Their flocks have the potential to become dangerous vectors of disease when flying overhead a chicken coop, he explained.

One Newtown resident, Nicole Ducsay shared her experience of keeping birds on her property over the last four years. Along with a goat and a barn cat, she keeps a total of 16 chickens and four ducks, which also produce fresh, edible eggs.

She argued that apart from the material benefits, raising birds at home has been of immense psychological and educational value to her family as well.

“My boys during COVID would go out and read to the chickens,” she recounted, “They are just learning how to care for the chickens. They’re learning about the life cycle and how to respect an animal to the day it goes. I’m very happy with the values that it’s teaching my boys as they grow up.”

Besides predators and disease, she also pointed out that rodents can become a serious issue with the storage of feed. However, she went on to argue that keeping a barn cat can provide a convenient way of addressing the problem.

“My barn cat is fantastic,” she said. “She’s great! The rodent problem is under control with her.”

Reiterating Mitchell’s concerns regarding predators, she also mentioned coyotes, black bears, and bobcats as frequent visitors to her property. She also explained that due to increasing levels of development in town, she worries that these predators may be driven onto properties such as hers even more in the future due to habitat depletion and food scarcity.

She emphasized the importance of having guidance from those who are more familiar with the process of maintaining a flock of birds, especially when just starting out. “Find yourself a good mentor,” she advised novice home farmers. “My neighbor is my official chicken lady. I used to call her anytime I had a question or concern, and her knowledge was what inspired me to keep learning.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission has recently passed regulations allowing for Newtown residents to apply to keep pigs on their property as well. However, the process for establishing a home piggery represents a significant commitment above the keeping of smaller animals such as chickens.

“With the pigs, you have to have unbelievable fencing,” Mitchell shared. “Those things are little bulldozers. You have to have a secure pen. Otherwise, they’ll be out in the road messing with the traffic.”

Reporter Owen Tanzer can be reached at

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B y S TaT e P O in T

When it comes to the home, bigger doesn’t always mean better.

A new survey from Duck brand, which offers products that provide simple, imaginative and helpful solutions for a variety of tasks around the home, discovers that more than half of Americans living in a small space say they feel cozy and comfortable as opposed to cramped.

“We often assume that a larger home is the most desirable, but that’s not always the case,” says Chaffy Assad, product manager at Shurtape Technologies, LLC, the company that markets the Duck brand. “In fact, nearly half of the survey respondents enjoy living in a small space, which most defined as a two-bedroom home or smaller.”

A more intimate space offers many benefits: 61% say it’s easier to clean, 54% say it costs less and helps save money and 52% say it’s easier to maintain. Additionally, 57% plan to continue living in their home for the foreseeable future.

While there are many benefits to tinier homes, there are some challenges to living with less space. Fifty-nine percent of Americans say the biggest downside is the lack of storage, with 48% of people feeling it’s harder to keep small spaces clean and organized compared to larger spaces.

Which areas prove to create the biggest cleaning conundrums? The kitchen ranks number one as the hardest room to keep neat and tidy, with the living room a close second, followed by the bedroom in third. The belongings that are the most difficult to make space for are cookware, bags, shoes and gym equipment.

That being said, Americans are good at finding ways to make the most of

their home by keeping clutter to a minimum and getting creative with organizing, the survey finds. Duck brand offers a variety of organizing ideas and solutions that help people tidy up, from the EasyMounts Mounting System that can transform a disorganized entryway, closet or garage, to the versatile EasyLiner Brand Shelf Liner that can make surfaces stylish and mess-free.

“No matter how limited your space is, there is always a way to maximize it,” Assad adds. “Making minor and affordable changes, like mounting removable hooks on the wall, easily adds extra storage to hang such items as cooking utensils or a purse, while installing shelf liner on kitchen shelves or in bathroom drawers protects surfaces and makes it simple to wipe up spills or messes.” This article is courtesy of

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Houseplants: A Refreshing, Healthy Addition

B y S hann O n h ick S Houseplants can offer a refreshing visual effect to an indoor environment, especially those that have stunning flowers or foliage. Before buying a houseplant make sure to do a little research to discover the plant’s light, soil, temperature, and humidity requirements.

The UConn Home & Garden Education Center has a lot of information for those who want to start or expand an interior garden.

Jeffrey Eleveld, a “former interior landscaper-turned restaurateurturned horticulture therapist,” was among those speaking at the 2024 Connecticut Flower & Garden Show. Eleveld owns The Li’l Plant Shop & Bus in Plainville. He also boasts a collection of more than 300 plants within his home, including more than 100 bonsai.

“I have plants on tables and countertops in the kitchen, bedroom, dining room, office, dressing room,” he said February 22 during his lecture. “I have plants in every room in the house.”

His advice is also shared here.

Plants “pull water vapor and poop out oxygen,” he said, drawing laughter from his audience. “It’s the opposite of what we do, so plants have a profound impact on us.”

Eleveld suggests placing plants that produce oxygen during the day in most rooms of the house, but says those that produce oxygen during the night should be in the bedroom.

“When you’re in your living room and you’re watching your TV, you’re getting that oxygen. At night-time when you’re sleeping, you want to put night oxygen plants in the bedroom,” he said. “I always tell people the best headboard you can have is a headboard that consists of 12 Sanseveria.

Named after the person who invented colored fireworks, Sanseveria is one of the best plants to clean indoor air.

“The oxygen will flow right over your head all night long” through reverse photosynthesis, Eleveld said. “The plant takes in CO2 at night-time, stores it, uses the CO2 to grow, and then stores the oxygen by-product from it. At night it releases the oxygen and takes in new CO2.”


Houseplants differ in light requirements as do outdoor plants. Some need bright, direct sunlight, while others may need only indirect sunlight. Still others may only need a minimum amount of light.

Greenhouse plants often go from 3,000 foot candle lights to approxi-

mately 200 foot candle lights in most homes, according to Eleveld.

“You need to gently introduce that plant to your home,” he said. “Place it, light it, water it, and give it time to get used to its new home.”

Most plants, he said, need 16 hours of light every day.

“It’s about quantity, not quality,” he said, adding “regular lights are fine. A 60 watt bulb will give you a good plant. You just need those 16 hours, even if you’re growing plants in your basement.”

LED lights are a good choice, he said.

“They use very little electricity, so you can keep them going on a timer and it shouldn’t be too expensive,” he said.

A plant with low light requirements would do well set back somewhat from a north-facing window, while one needing medium light may do well placed closer to a north facing window or set a few feet back from an east/west window.

Plants with high light requirements can be placed in front of an east/west window or up to five feet away from a south facing window.

Plants requiring direct light need close proximity to a southern light exposure.

“Make sure you get the right plant for the right space,” Eleveld said.

Easy To Grow House Plants

Philodendrons (Philodendron sp.) are a good low maintenance houseplant that tolerate a variety of conditions. They can generally deal with lower light and fertilizer applications than many other house plants. Just give them a consistently moist soil and they will be fine. They are also easy to propagate and can be snipped back to control size.

Aloe (Aloe sp.) is a succulent that comes in large and small varieties and has an added benefit of medicinal purposes. It likes dry soil, lots of light, and temperatures around 70º F.

Peace lily (Spathyphyllum sp.) can do well in low light conditions and prefers moist soils, except during the winter. White flowers are surrounded by a striking white spathe that stands out against dark green foliage.

Snake plant (Sansevieria sp.) does well in various light conditions. It is a very forgiving plant with few needs except an occasional watering.

—UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Aloe comes in varieties of all sizes, has the benefit of medicinal purposes, and is among the easiest houseplant to cultivate.

—Bee Photo, Hicks


Most house plants will do well with daytime temperatures between 65 and 75º F. An ideal situation is where night-time temperatures only drop 5-10º.

Keep plants well away from heat sources such as vents or wood burning stoves.

Similarly, avoid placing plants near cold air sources such as air conditioning units and keep them away from drafty doors or windows.

Some plants are even sensitive to air blowing from an indoor fan.

Do not allow foliage to touch cold glass window panes.


House plants vary in water needs. They may need more water when placed in direct sun or when planted in a light, well-draining soil.

Check labels on individual plants for instructions on specific watering requirements. Some plants need evenly moist soils while others may need to dry slightly between watering.

“Talk to someone before buying a plant,” Eleveld says. The last thing to do with a new plant upon arriving home with it, he said, is water it.

“By watering it immediately, especially after changing its environment, you’ve probably just killed it,” he said. Plants such as succulents may have different water needs during different parts of their life cycles.

Water kept in a container to keep it at room temperature is ideal for many houseplants. Using cold water can shock the roots of some plants.

“Restraint is the most important thing when watering houseplants,” Eleveld said. “Let the plant tell you when it needs water. Once you know that, you’ll be good forever.”

Eleveld also says houseplants should be planted in grow pots, which are then kept within decorative pots.

“Always water your plant in the sink, in the grow pot, not the decorative pot,” he said. “Water thoroughly, then put the grow pot back inside the decorative pot.”


Many tropical plants need extra humidity during winter months when the heat is on. Humidifiers can be used where practical or place the pot on pebbles placed in a tray or dish of water.

Misting plants is a short-term solution and may need to be repeated often

Horticultural therapist and Plainville plant store owner Jeffrey Eleveld offered a lecture on selecting and caring for houseplants during the 2024 Connecticut Flower & Garden Show. —Bee Photos, Hicks Coleus (center pot) does well indoors with indirect light. Geraniums (lower left and right) are easy, low maintenance plants that do well indoors and out.
10 - Home & Garden The Newtown Bee - April 12, 2024

To Home Interiors

during the day. Some plants will not respond well to misting and may develop diseases if foliage is kept too damp.

Rex begonias, caladiums, ferns and orchids like highly humid environments while other begonia species, cacti, jade plants and other plants with waxy, scaled or fleshy leaves prefer less humidity.


Plants should only be fertilized when they are actively growing. Take care not to over-fertilize plants as excess fertilizer may burn roots. Plants may need much less fertilizer in the winter when days are shorter and growth slows down. Follow the directions on the fertilizer label and use nutrient ratios that are recommended for particular plants.

Pots may be leached of any potential salt buildup by using large volumes of water in the pot so that it runs out freely from the bottom of the pot if salt accumulation is noticed.

Eleveld encourages weekly fertilizing when plants are active. His solution is one-quarter strength fertilizer to three quarters water, “every time you water your plant.

“It’s much better than spiking it every time it starts to die off,” he said. “Keep a nice and even feed across the month and they’re going to be much happier.

“You don’t want to be fed a whole bunch of food at the beginning of the month, and neither do they,” he added.

Other Factors

Some plants are sensitive to new


Ficus (Ficus sp.), the fig tree varieties, may drop its leaves while adjusting to new light and air conditions.

Cyclamens (Cyclamen sp.) and the aluminum plant (Pilea sp.) do best in cooler temperatures between 60 and 65ºF.

Other plants benefit from being moved to different light situations at different times of year. For example, African violets (Saintpaulia sp.) need more light in winter and may need to be moved closer to a window. In spring, as days get longer, they can be moved away from the window.

Healthy plants lead to healthy homes, Eleveld said.

“They clean our indoor air. They create daytime oxygen, and nighttime oxygen. It’s essential to have plants in your home that will clean the chemicals out of your home,” he said. “We get everything we need from plants. That’s how our ancestors survived.”

Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at

Plants such as succulents may have different water needs during different parts of their life cycles. Mini orchids thrive in warm, humid conditions with semi-dry roots to remain healthy.
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Labels should contain everything needed to select and care for plants. This one, attached to a display of Tillandsias at the CT Flower & Garden Show, covers light, water, temperature, and fertilization needs.

Butterfly Gardens Benefit Humans And Creatures Alike

If attracting butterflies to a safe, pesticide-free space was easy, anyone could do it.

It takes time and close attention to details, but the benefits are beneficial to humans and creatures alike.

Diane St John, retail manager of Natureworks Organic Garden Center in Northford and self-proclaimed Crazy Plant Woman (X profile/user name), offered an informative and enjoyable lecture to open the seminars at The 2024 Connecticut Flower & Garden Show last month. St John presented “Create a Thriving Monarch Butterfly Habitat at Home.”

Although her presentation focused on Monarchs, St John told attendees from the opening that anything done for Monarchs “is helping all of them. Think of your favorite butterflies, pollinators, and bees. When you help one, you’re helping all others.”

Even a small place within a yard is a perfect start.

“A micro meadow— just a small space within your yard left to grow and bloom — is beautiful and serves a purpose,” she said. Native plants are well adapted to growing in native soil, so the garden will fill in quickly.

Gardens designed to attract butterflies are most successful when careful thought is given to site and plant selection. Consideration of the needs of butterflies and their life histories is also important. By following a few simple tips, a garden can easily become alive with fluttering visitors.

Most butterflies are sun-loving insects, so be sure to plant the garden in a sunny location. Butterflies use the sun’s heat to warm the muscles in their thorax (the middle part of an insect’s body), which enables them to fly.

Many butterfly gardeners place flat surfaces, such as rocks, among the plants for butterflies to bask on. If the site chosen has sun for a good part of the day, it will be used by butterflies.

Monarchs love milkweed, St John said.

“When you plant milkweed for Monarchs, plant just one,” she cautioned. “It will spread, quickly.”

Milkweed, she added, needs room to grow. It can be transplanted, which is done easiest during the spring.

“They eat all parts of the plants — buds, stems, flowers, and leaves. It is the perfect plant to give them,” St John said.

When choosing plants for a butterfly garden, be sure to provide both larval (caterpillar) “host” plants and adult nectar sources. For example, many caterpillars of fritillary butterflies eat the leaves of violets, their host plants; later, the adults visit the blooms of a different plant, such as purple coneflower, for nectar.

Sometimes, one plant can serve the needs of both butterfly and caterpillar, as is the case with butterfly weed. Trees and shrubs also serve as host plants for many caterpillars.

It is important to remember that gardeners who provide host plants for

larvae must tolerate the sometimes “unsightly” look to their plants as the foliage is being consumed by the caterpillars.

“You want to see holes in your milkweed,” she continued. “Those are good.”

Monarchs will begin with small semicircles within the leaves, she said.

“They always start from within the leaf, not the edge,” she explained.

Two other important considerations when gardening for butterflies are to provide a series of blooms throughout the season and to emphasize the planting of native species. Suggestions for spring-blooming native plants include wild columbine and violets. Columbine will grow in a sunny, rocky area in addition to its

usual woodland habitat. Both examples are host plants for caterpillars. St John likes cosmos and zinnias.

“I intersperse annuals in my garden to continue to attract butterflies,” she said. Verbena, which can be found in annual and perennial varieties, is another butterfly favorite that has the additional benefit of attracting hummingbirds, St John said.

“If you can find a space to mix milkweed with annuals, you’ll have a nice area,” she said.

Mid-season blooming plants include mountain mint, dogbane, coreopsis, milkweed, butterfly weed, thistle (only field or pasture should be used) and wild bergamot. Black-Eyed Susan and purple coneflower are also midseason bloomers and, although not

native to New England, are native to the midwestern United States.

Late-season blooming plants for attracting butterflies include New England aster and goldenrod. Both can reach heights above three feet, but cultivars are available for growing shorter plants.

No Chemicals

Do not use insecticides because this will defeat the purpose of the garden. Monarch butterflies lay hundreds of eggs, but they are not always successful in getting them through the larval stage. Between man-made and environmental challenges, according to St John, it’s not surprising that pollinator numbers are declining.

Natural challenges to butterflies, particularly the Monarchs, include Tachnid flies, which lay their eggs directly on a butterfly’s caterpillar; predatory stink bugs, Trichogramma wasps, and viruses and bacteria.

“It’s nature,” St John said. “We can’t always do anything about that, but there are things we can control within our homes.”

Flea and tick medicines for pets, air fresheners including sprays, sunscreen, cleaning sprays, mosquito fogging and yard spraying, and garden chemicals can all be fatal for butterflies.

“Flea and tick sprays for our pets stay on our hands, whether after an application or just petting them,” St John said. “Wash your hands immediately after applying them. Try to keep your hands clean at all times, in fact.

“Everything we put on ourselves can kill your monarchs, which is a little scary to think about,” she said. “No pesticides are safe, including organic ones.

“If you spray your lawn for weeds or mosquitoes, you kill everything,” she added. “The whole ecosystem is affected by this.”

St John suggests buying pesticide free plants.

Finding a source for the plants is the final step in planning a butterfly garden. Plants should not be collected from the wild, says DEEP, because many will not transplant well. They also have an ecological role to perform within the natural landscape.

With some plants, seeds can be collected. Only a small quantity of seed should be collected from a large stand of the plant, however. Success will be dependent, in part, on the maturity of the seed being collected.

There are a few nurseries in Connecticut and other states where nursery-propagated native wildflowers can be obtained.

“Ask if anything nearby was sprayed,” she said. “You have to be very particular. Ask a lot of questions.” While milkweed is loved by Monarchs, St John said the plant also attracts aphids.

“If you have milkweed, you’ll have aphids,” she said.

“Ladybugs eat aphids,” St John said. “Don’t spray aphids. Plant more flow -

Diane St John lectures during the 2024 Connecticut Flower & Garden Show. St John focused on Monarch butterflies, but said anything done for Monarchs would be enjoyed by all pollinators. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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Without milkweed plants, Monarch butterflies would not exist. Three varieties that thrive in Connecticut include, from left, common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, and swamp milkweed. —Connecticut DEEP photo

ers to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs.”

Cilantro, dill, fennel, caraway, yarrow, tansy, angelica, scented geraniums, coreopsis, and cosmos are all attractive to ladybugs.

Puddling Stations

Beyond planting, puddling stations are attractive to butterflies. Butterflies rely on nutrients from soggy areas as much as they need sweet nectar. Providing the former can further attract butterflies.

Butterfly puddling is when a butterfly gathers nutrients from a puddle. Gardeners just need a shallow dish or

A butterfly finds sustenance at Dickinson Memorial Park. Attracting butterflies to home gardens can be done and provides great benefits.

file photo

container, soil or sand, and a few flat rocks to provide perching spots. Add just enough water to moisten the soil, and sprinkle some salt on the surface.

Ripe fruit including bananas and oranges should also be added.

Swallowtails — including the Black, Eastern Tail and Zebra varieties regularly found in Connecticut — commonly find their way to these offerings. Red-Spotted Purples and Cloudless Sulphurs, also common to this state, will also be grateful for the offering.

Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at

Planting For Butterflies

An entire display at the 2024 Connecticut Flower & Garden Show was dedicated to pollinators, with a focus on attracting butterflies to gardens.

Suggested plants include the following:

Ilex Glabra ‘Densa’ (Inkberry) provides nectar for pollinators, specifically the Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici) butterfly, which appears from February to May. Adult Henry’s Elfin butterflies feed on the flower’s nectar. Other adult butterflies and bees are attracted to the blossoms as well.

Leucothoe Axillaris ‘Squirt’ (Compact Leucothoe) is an excellent source of pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. It also is a valuable source of cover for wildlife in the winter.

Yucca Filamentosa ‘Excalibur’ (Excalibur Adams Needle) is a host for the Silver-Spotted Skipper Moth as well as other species of Skippers.

Phlox Stolonifera ‘Sherwood

Purple’ (Woodland Phlox) is a beautiful perennial that provides early season nectar to swallowtail butterflies, hummingbird moths, and clear winged moths.

Salix Discolor (American Pussy Willow) is very valuable to hungry pollinators in the spring and is also used as a host plant for many species of larvae. Mourning Cloak butterflies use this plant as a winter habitat while the Viceroy butterflies lay their eggs on the branch tips. When the eggs hatch the caterpillars feed on the leaves before making their chrysalises.

Top 10 Native Plants

For Butterflies

Coneflower (Echinacea purporea)

Black-Eyed Susan (Ludbeckia hirta)

Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

—information courtesy American Beauties Native Plants

A puddling station offers moisture, nutrients and, with the addition of a few stones, a place for butterflies to enjoy sunshine. —Bee Photo, Hicks —Bee Monarch butterflies and other pollinators love purple coneflowers.
—Bee file photo

Getting Into Gardening — A Guide For First-Time Gardeners

Getting into a new hobby can be intimidating, and gardening is no exception. With a wide range of topics such as soil testing, proper tools, protection from pests and critters, and finding the right plants to grow, there are many things to consider before starting a garden.

It may take planning and patience, but gardening can be as relaxing as it is rewarding. Gardening can be a source of physical activity, help create a diverse diet, and be a way to connect with the local community. It doesn’t have to be intimidating forever. For those interested in gardening but have no idea where to start, it is never too late to learn.

To Hollandia Nurseries Owner Eugene Reelick, getting into gardening starts with inspiration. It might hit when wandering around someone else’s vegetable garden and wondering how they eat so much of what they grow. Or it could hit while passing through the vegetable section on a shopping trip and wondering which foods could be grown at home.

“All it takes is a thought, like, ‘God, I could grow these carrots. I could grow these peppers or these tomatoes.’ And when you are inspired to do something, you have that drive to make it work,” Reelick said. “And when you have that drive to make it work, you want to find out how to do that properly.”

At the same time, Reelick stresses the importance of starting small and to never “let your garden be bigger than your desires to garden.” It can be exciting getting into a new hobby. However, it can also be easy for someone to overestimate their own capabilities and time. They could fall in love with and stock up on vegetables and flowers they want to grow, but nothing will if not properly taken care of.

“Don’t make it a chore,” Reelick said. “Start small and be successful. If you do fail, it’s okay because you’ll learn. That’s what gardening is … Don’t let it get you down.”

Gardening, like with most things, comes with the potential for failure. However, this

can be mitigated with preparation. This starts with someone knowing whether their soil is healthy or not and understanding the environment they are growing in. Reelick said that dirt, being “dirty,” is not ideal or worth planting in. Plants instead should grow in rich soil in order to get all the nutrients they need. In areas such as New England, dirt has to be amended to make it healthy and fertile soil, such as topsoil or composted garden soil.

“You need to have a good foundation, and the foundation is your soil,” Reelick said.

This means that the soil should ideally be tested before trying to grow anything in it. If someone brings in a sample of the soil they want to grow in, Reelick says that Hollandia can take a look at it and tell them whether it looks good or not.

From there, they would need to check the soil’s nutritional value through a soil test. Soil samples can be sent to and analyzed

by places such as UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory.

Hollandia is not an exception to this. Reelick has to make sure the compost at the nursery gets tested three times a year, once in early spring, in early summer, and in early fall. For Reelick, he has to know what he is growing in and make sure that they are as perfect as they can be.

However, he says the average gardener does not need to get their soil checked that often. The average gardener only really needs to check their soil once a year.

The Garden Club of Newtown President Paula Toi also believes in the importance of knowing her environment before gardening. Toi herself started her gardening journey in the 1970s in Burlington, Ontario. She continued gardening as she eventually moved to the Midwest, then to Texas, before finally settling in Newtown in 1997.

“It’s very important for new gardeners to

understand their environment,” Toi said. “You know, like the length of the growing season and what a typical season is. Is it wet? Is it dry? Is it sunny? Is it shady?

What’s your soil? These are all worth thinking about.”

A lot of plants also want good sunlight. Reelick pointed out that Florida oranges grow in the sunshine state with its hot weather because those oranges like to grow on well-drained soil. Sunshine warms up the soil itself so that the roots grow, but it also prevents plants from stretching, a process where plants stretch toward light in order to absorb as much of it as possible. If plants that need sunlight are planted in the shade, they stretch. The more a plant stretches, the weaker it becomes. However, some other plants can grow well even in shadier gardens. This is why it is important for beginner gardeners to learn the needs of the plants they want to grow, and if they are suited for the environment they want to grow in.

A lot of plants and flowers are separated into two different types: annuals and perennials. Annuals only live for a single growing season, while perennials regrow every spring. This means that if a gardener wants to grow annuals, they have to be purchased again every year.

Toi encourages beginner gardeners to do their research, and to not be afraid to reach out to professionals if they are confused or have questions. Places such as Hollandia are open to giving advice and want to help people get started.

“That’s what we’re here for. The stupid question is the one that is never asked,” Reelick said. “We want you to be successful so you do it again next year.”

Wildflower Meadows Landscaping owners Bill DeRosa and Sandra DeRosa recommend that people focus on learning more about their locality or region, and say that the Newtown Conservation Commission has a great guide online on many plants that can be used for specific conditions.

For good beginner plants, Reelick and Toi recommend tomatoes, peppers, and cucum-

14 - Home & Garden The Newtown Bee - April 12, 2024
A wide variety of plants growing in a greenhouse at Hollandia Nurseries in Bethel. —photo courtesy of Hollandia Nurseries

bers. They are low-maintenance compared to a lot of other plants and are also common and popular foods used to spice up dishes.

Bill and Sandra also warn against using common invasive plants such as barberry, burning bush, and Japanese knotweed. While they may look pretty, they reduce biodiversity, negatively impact the ecosystem, and continue spreading into woods and forests.

“In the past we didn’t know or care about the harm that would be caused by these invasives,” Sandra said. “Many were brought in intentionally because of their exotic appeal, looks, or resilience, and were popular in the landscape and gardening industry. So besides learning about invasive plants, everyone needs to stop buying them.”

There are also several different ways to plant. A beginner gardener could start their journey by planting flowers or vegetables in their backyard, but some people such as those who live in apartments, condos, or townhouses might not have the space for that.

Container gardening is a type of gardening where plants are grown in smaller containers such as pots instead of a large plot. This makes it ideal for those who might not have the space or a plot at home.

Reelick pointed out that there are several different community plots of land in Newtown where someone could buy a space to plant in. Community garden areas provide an opportunity for beginners to talk to and learn from the other gardeners there and try gardening out before adjusting their own gardening space.

There are also several clubs and organizations to get involved and start gardening with. The Garden Club of Newtown’s largest civic project is The Victory Garden, which provides fresh produce that gets donated to groups such as FAITH Food Pantry, Nunnawauk Meadows, and Real Food CT.

As for tools, there are several essential gardening tools that every beginner gardener should have. Gloves are important since gardeners work with soil and will get dirty. They should be durable enough to

protect against cuts, but breathable enough for a comfortable fit.

Shears are also important in that they help gardeners prune plants before they get out of control. Another essential is a watering can or hose that helps gardeners water their plants.

The types of tools a gardener needs also depend on the type of gardening they will be doing. Toi specifically says that it can depend on factors such as whether someone is a “stand-up gardener or an on-yourknees gardener.”

This is one of The Garden Club of Newtown’s motivations for getting the raised beds in The Victory Garden. Gardening can be a great hobby for older people who are looking for something to do, but it can also involve a lot of kneeling. Toi says that raised beds will allow The Garden Club members to get off their knees and maybe give them a chance to use a little tool to sit and garden.

Knee gardeners would want smaller tools such as hand rakes and hand trowels while a standing gardener would want a longer handled rake and shovel and so on.

It is also important to protect your garden from critters such as deer, rabbits, and woodchucks. They love plants and will likely eat them if given the chance. Animals like mice and chipmunks can also borrow holes and upset a plant’s root structure. Reelick says that the best way for beginners to protect their garden if at risk from wild animals is by putting up a fence. While there is a lot to explore with gardening, there are many online and local resources from which you can learn more about it. The experienced gardeners who go on to teach beginners were once beginners themselves. Whether someone wants a backyard full of flowers or a small potted plant by their window, it is never too late to learn. Everyone can be a gardener.

For more information on plants and gardening, visit Hollandia at, The Garden Club of Newtown at, and Wildflower Meadows Landscaping at

Reporter Jenna Visca can be reached at

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B y S TaT e P O in T

Home exteriors make a first impression, setting the tone for neighbors, guests, and if a property is on the market —prospective home buyers. So how do you boost your curb appeal and make your exterior pop? According to those in the know, a lot of it has to do with color.

“Choosing deep, bold colors for your door or siding can provide eye-catching focal points and dramatically increase curb appeal,” says Jon Lapp, vinyl siding product manager at ProVia.

To help you make selections that work best for your home and vision, ProVia is offering the following insights.

Siding Color and texture play significant roles in the overall look and style of a home, so consider pairing your vinyl siding with other materials, such as manufactured stone, decorative shake, or board and batten. Whether you go for soft earth tones or deep hues of primary colors, color retention technologies will maintain the look through the years. To that end, here are a few qualities to look for in your siding:

UV protection: Think of it as sunscreen for your house. This layer of protection helps shield your siding from the destructive effects of the sun’s UV rays.

Weather barrier shield: Anti-weathering materials on the siding’s surface can help ensure long-lasting color fidelity and low-maintenance freedom for your home’s exterior.

Heat resistance: Heat-resistant inorganic pigments ensure exacting deep colors, reflect heat from exterior walls, and deflect solar rays to reduce solar heat build-up and unsightly weathering.

Anti-fade protection: A strong molecular chain, found in super polymer vinyl siding, is engineered for superior color retention.

“At first, it might be difficult to tell the difference between a good vinyl siding panel and an outstanding one. But over time, the true strength and quality of each panel will be revealed,” says Lapp.

It’s for this reason that ProVia’s entire lineup of super polymer vinyl siding is formulated with Tri-Pigment Reflective Technology, Color Keeper Anti-Fade Protection, Weather Barri -

er Shield and SPX-2000 UV Blocker. These components work together to combat fade and increase weather resistance.

The Entry Door

The entry door is an amazing place to make a color statement. However, if you buy an exterior replacement door and try to finish it yourself, achieving the flawless finish you’re hoping for is easier said than done. Then there’s the trim, and possibly sidelights and a transom that also need to be painted to match or coordinate with the door color.

From classic hues, such as rustic bronze or forest green, to trending colors such as avocado or burnt orange, you can ensure a consistent, beautiful and lasting finish by having your manufacturer paint the door before it leaves the factory floor. Bonus: The color will also be under warranty. Look for a manufacturer that crafts custom doors, allowing you to choose different interior and exterior colors and other specifications tailored to your taste.

To get inspired for your home exterior project, visit In addition to photo galleries of finished projects, the site’s home designer tools allow you to visualize how various elements will look on your home.

By selecting professional-quality exterior products, you can ensure long-lasting durability and a big boost in curb appeal.

This article is courtesy of

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