Alumni Stories 

Cathy Testa

Cathy Testa, owner of Cathy T’s Landscape Designs and Container Crazy CT, completed the Master Gardener Program in September of 2010. She holds an Associates of Applied Science degree in Horticulture with a concentration in Floriculture from the University of Connecticut. During her studies, she managed a private nursery for a design install business in Bloomfield, CT. Upon graduation, Cathy was employed at the Garden Barn and Nursery in Vernon, CT for two years before starting her own business, which she has been operating for eight years. She served on the Board of the Connecticut Horticulture Society for two years on a volunteer basis, and continued her studies via programs such as the UConn Perennial Conference. Her current business services include container gardening design and installations for homes and retail business store fronts, small garden design consultations, blog writing which includes freelance writing for local farmers market blogs, and she offers regular hands-on classes on topics pertaining to combining nature with art from her classroom located in Broad Brook, CT. Her attention to plant details, growth requirements, and steps for success with container gardening, along with a passion for plants and their ornamental beauty, has contributed to her reputation of being “container crazy” in her area of services. Cathy has also appeared on the CT Style television program, participated on the CT Food & Farm podcast, and regularly speaks at Garden Clubs. Learn more about Cathy at:

James Gagliardi 

James is currently the Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist, a very prestigious position. After receiving his Horticulture degree at UConn and being actively involved in his area of study (such as being the Horticulture Club president), he went to graduate school through the University of Delaware as part of the Longwood Gardens program.

James is also the editor of the Smithsonian Gardens’ first gardening book, Encyclopedia of Garden Plants for Every Location.

Photo by Hugh Meehan, National Museum of American History.

Stephanie Ciparis 

Stephanie is Head Gardener and Park Manager at Madison Square Park Conservancy, which is a 6.2-acre historic park ground in midtown Manhattan. While at UConn working towards a degree in Turfgrass and Soil Science, Stephanie served as the Horticulture Club president. She loves plants and as Park Manager really enjoys cultivating the Victorian display garden, which is a cherished site among park visitors. Stephanie also runs the children’s horticulture program at the park and writes the park blog.

Oliver Gaffney 

Oliver is an Associate Landscape Architect at Site Systems Inc., a firm serving southeastern Connecticut. He received his degree in Landscape Architecture with a minor in Ornamental Horticulture. Oliver serves as horticultural advisor to the Wakeman Town Farm, where he is working to develop the sustainable and ecological components of the landscape. Learn more about Oliver at
Text and image courtesy of Oliver Gaffney.

Carolina Carvajal 

Carolina received her degree in Landscape Architecture. She is currently a Landscape Architect with Carol R Johnson Associates (CRJA). Headquartered in Boston, CRJA is an award-winning landscape architectural design and environmental planning firm.




Dustyn Nelson 

Dustyn received his degree in Horticulture and is the Business Development Coordinator at the Garden Barn Nursery and Landscape in Vernon, CT. The Garden Barn Nursery and Landscape is a locally owned business focused on producing locally grown quality plants, community outreach, and expert advice. In his spare time, Dustyn enjoys kayaking, white water rafting, and zip lining.
Text and image courtesy of Garden Barn Nursery and Landscape.

Julissa Mendez 

Julissa received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Landscape Architecture. She currently works with SLAM, a large member firm in Atlanta, Boston, Glastonbury, and Syracuse. SLAM offers architecture, planning, interior design, landscape and site planning, structural engineering, and construction services. 



Justine Leeper 

Justine graduated with a bachelor degree in Horticulture and minor in Agribusiness in 2014. After graduating she started her own business called Floral Design by Justine. She strives to give her customers unique, custom pieces of floral art specializing in weddings and big events. Justine has been involved in the Floral Design business since high school and it has always been her dream to own her own business. Justine also works at The Garden in Woodbury and is a Martial Arts instructor and a 3rd Degree Black belt. (Her business is on Facebook… Floral Designs by Justine).