What I Did Right in 2014

I mulched one of my hydrangea today in hopes of protecting it this winter. Never mind that the deer can still find it and chow down on those delicious branches. At least I can say I put in about 35% effort.

And with that, I can now safely say that I have officially completed my last garden task outdoors this year. The temperature was in the teens here today and I am shutting it down. No more bulbs to be planted or weeds to be removed. Hibernation is in full effect.

Because of this, I am in a reflective mood. How did I do this gardening season? Have things progressed as expected? Am I any closer to hosting tours of my garden? Am I getting better at this? The answers are not too bad, not really, not even close and sort of.

For today, I am looking back on what I think I did right in 2014. As I look back on this year and review my many photos, I am proud of what I accomplished. Some things were small, others a long time coming and in some cases, I was simply lucky.

So sit back, grab your favorite beverage, crawl under your heated blanket, forget what is going on outside, turn off your TV’s and iPods and relive the 2014 gardening season with me. Coming to an IMAX theater near you soon …

Technically the dirty work was accomplished back in fall of 2013, but I reaped the rewards this spring. I used to shrug off the importance of early blooming bulbs as I find them fleeting and it is still too cold outside to truly enjoy them. All of that is true, but those first crocuses provide a spark after a long cold winter. They are a sign of things to come. I am thrilled that I finally loaded up on them and eagerly await their arrival already.



More with the bulb theme. I know definitively that I cannot grow tulips in the ground. They easily rot by spring. But what I can do is grow them in containers and store them in the garage over the winter. Come spring, once they show signs of growth I place them out in the sun and voila, we’ve got blooms. Who needs to spend $15 for them around Easter when you can buy 45 of them for like $3.99.




Simply put, you cannot have enough Allium ‘Globemaster’ and their giant 8″ blooms. Took me long enough to finally realize this.



It had been a few years, but I finally got back to growing lettuce and other vegetables in containers on my deck. The deer and rabbits can’t find them, I can control the soil and it easy to move them around for watering and various sun exposures. And it’s cheap. And the taste ain’t so bad either.



Don’t critique me, but I finally allowed many of my native plants to reseed wherever their heart desired and that resulted in more and more of these visitors.



You say this shrub has outgrown its location; I say right shrub, right conditions and it is just overly happy. Grow freely you beautiful Salix.



I read about a Carex/Ajuga combo in one of my hundred gardening books and jotted down the idea on a piece of paper. Go me for finally following through on something.



A Longwood Gardens visit was a long time coming.



I may not have succeeded in creating it in my own garden yet, but I promise you a “framed view” is always top of mind these days. Thanks James Golden!

federal twist garden12


I know I know, Baptisia are fantastic. Better late than never right?



Maybe my greatest accomplishment this year. A visit to the High Line. I’m thinking semi annual event going forward.

high line 30


The addition of multiple Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’ already paid off in year one. I am giddy with anticipation for year two.



I wish I could take credit for this one, but the sudden emergence of like 50 Milkweed plants was simply magical. Some times it’s better to be lucky than good.



Using grasses to protect the tomatoes was a stroke of genius.

grasses protect veggies2



Getting him involved is hopefully a harbinger of things to come.



On a personal note, getting a chance to be on the radio (twice) was very cool. Hopefully a few more opps are in the cards this upcoming year.



Now it is time to sit back, enjoy what was and start planning for next year.



Through the Seasons

Each season has its own unique beauty in the garden and dammit, that is why I love this gardening thing so much. It is never dull and in constant motion in a wonderfully subtle way.

With that theme in mind, there are some photo sets below depicting the same section of garden at different times this year. The first photo in each set is from current day. The subsequent photos then move backwards in time throughout the 2014 gardening season.


Eupatorium maculatum (Joe Pye Weed) in front of Miscanthus ‘Morning Light':


joe pye


joe pye and miscanthus



Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’, Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’, Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass) and Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus':





vib whites


Panicum ‘Rots’, Viburnum bracteatum ‘Emerald Lustre’, Miscanthus ‘Variegatus':


grasses fall color




ornamental grass snow


Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’, Purple coneflower, Perovskia (Russian Sage):




Similar plants as listed above but from a different angle:




Barberry, Iris versicolor, Clethra ‘Hummingbird’, Monarda (Bee Balm), etc.:






A little bit of everything:





Looking through Physocarpus (Ninebark) ‘Diablo’ to the aforementioned Joe Pye Weed/Miscanthus combo:




Benefit for Lyra

Just a quick post today.

My cousin’s new born daughter was recently diagnosed with a rare breathing disorder. You can read more about the story here.

I have witnessed the hardship and 24/7 efforts the entire family has put in for this beautiful baby girl. She is a fighter (that Markowski blood) but the family will need a ton of support along the way.

If you click on the link/photo in the left sidebar, you can donate any denomination possible.

Thank you for your consideration.



Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’

After a long, cold and brutal winter, is there anything better than the sweet scent of flowers in spring? The correct answer is “yes” with baseball spring training a close second and NCAA March Madness a distant 3rd. There is no argument in regards to this answer.

For me, the sweetest smelling flower in spring is hands down Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’.


Typically this shrub is in full bloom by mid April here in zone 6B New Jersey and it is a welcome sight along with all of the spring bulbs in bloom. Beyond the bloom show, it signifies that warmer weather is on the horizon and that the cold weather will soon be a distant memory.

Here are some more deets and photos on my beautiful relationship with this gem.

I purchased this shrub as a tiny little guy (approximately six inches in height) back in 2009 from Bluestone Perennials. It didn’t take long to establish as here she is back in 2011.


While it took shape early on, the deer nipped off at least half of the buds each fall/winter.


I would get blooms each spring, but they were sporadic. I knew she could deliver more.

I had the shrub located in a more hidden part of my garden so I made the executive decision in spring of 2013 to move it into a more prominent location where I didn’t expect the deer to find it. With fingers securely crossed, it has thrived and the deer have left it alone.

Here is a timeline for this Viburnum starting in late winter/early spring:

The buds start to show a hint of color in March.


Then the pink buds really start to take form in early April.

viburnum bloom

Soon after, the shrub is covered in pink buds.

vib aurora

vib aurora2

And then one day … boom. Full blown blooms and full blown heavenly scent.

vib bloom



As I was compiling this post, I realized that more often than not, the dandelions in the lawn were blooming at the same time. No significance here really, just an observation. Moving on …

While ‘Aurora’ is in full bloom, it creates a “white garden” in my front bed along with the blooming Mt. Hood daffodils. It also helps take the eye away from the recently cut down ornamental grasses.

vib whites

The bloom period is rather short – maybe two weeks – but it is worth the bang for the buck in spring.

From May through mid October, this Viburnum still looks great, it just takes a back seat to all of the summer blooming shrubs and perennials.


But then by mid October, big show #2 hits with the fantastic fall color.

vib aurora

It has become a focal point in perfect view as visitors walk up my front walkway and to the front door.

vib aurora3

And as a bonus, I get to dream of the following spring as the buds have formed and stand in nice contrast to the wine red foliage color.

Dreaming of next spring’s Viburnum blooms already #garden #plants

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

A few additional bits of info before we call it a day:

  • Size – on average it is 5′ x 5′
  • Sun requirements – Full sun or partial shade
  • Soil requirements – Well drained in any soil type – works in my wetter clay soil
  • Zones – 4 to 8
  • Pruning – only immediately after blooming for shaping purposes
  • Native to Korea
  • Introduced in 1958
  • Many sites claim it is deer resistant but mine has been nipped over the years

Weekend in Philadelphia

We spent 2 days/1 night in Philadelphia this past weekend and here is some of what we did while in the City of Brotherly Love.

We started things off with a tour of the Philadelphia Phillies ballpark – Citizens Bank Park.  While we may be Phillies haters, we couldn’t have been more impressed with the stadium and what we were allowed to see behind the scenes.

cit bank2


Someone looks like a natural in the press box.



Who knew how great a wall full of baseballs could look (16,000+ screwed individually by the way)?



The Phillies locker room. A lot smaller than I ever imagined.

phils locker room


The dugout was a lot of fun. I just missed catching my wife making a call to the bullpen.   




The tour was followed by what else, cheese steaks. When in Rome Philly.

cheese steak

cheese steak2


After checking in at the Hotel Monaco (which was perfectly funky and old, not to mention, perfectly located), we walked around Old City and visited some of the historic spots like Independence Hall.

independence hall2


While we didn’t take any photos, we were all impressed by the Benjamin Franklin Museum. I knew he was an interesting cat, but I had no idea he did THAT much. I am now on the hunt for his autobiography. I should have paid more attention in  school.

And in the interest of full disclosure, my kids still can’t stop talking about the fact the good old Ben used an alias of “Fahr-ting” from time to time. That is some solid parenting right there.  

We also managed to check out the Liberty Bell through glass only as waiting on an hour long line didn’t seem like the best use of our limited time. Kids see famous bell, sort of understand its significance, check it off the list. History rules.

A nameless building with like the coolest columns ever. I know what it is important when touring an historic city.  



Overall, it was an incredibly beautiful Fall excursion.



The hotel allowed us to borrow a pet while staying there. Someone had an attachment to “Goldie”.



The kids were more than thrilled to have fresh cookies delivered to the hotel at 11:00 PM. Again, another shining example of some sick parenting skills. Who cares if the sugar kept everyone up the entire  night while in close quarters.

Insomnia Cookies is a fantastic concept and the cookies are absolutely stellar. It is no exaggeration that they are the BEST I have ever had.    

insonia cookies


The next day, we hit up the Reading Terminal and even though it was completely chaotic, the food choices were off the chain.


hot dogs



We loaded up on just about everything and the doughnuts from Beilers Bakery were the absolute highlight. My teeth still hurt and I friggin love it.

Even after being on our feet for like 42 hours straight, my daughter still managed to make it through her soccer game with ease after we  returned home.



And other than observing the new awesome fall color on my Viburnum ‘Aurora’, I didn’t give my garden a thought the entire weekend.



It kicked that much butt.

Ninebark ‘Diablo’ is a winner

Back in March, I wrote about the spring pruning of one of my Ninebark ‘Diablo’. You can read about it here.

This deciduous shrub sits smack dab in the middle of the foundation bed in front of my home, so homeboy has quite the impact. Yes, conventional garden wisdom says an evergreen would be the right call here, but I play on the fringes so convention be damned. I dig the red leaf color in contrast to all the other green in this bed and enjoy the untamed look where formality is typically the norm.

As most of you know, Physocarpus (Ninebark) can get quite large if not kept in check (10′ x 10′). At a minimum, I had to selectively prune it this Spring if I wanted to keep it in its current location. The test was under way.

Important note – this shrub has lived in at least three other locales and in each, the deer chowed down on it like mad. This new spot seems to be outside the deer purview.

So here is ‘Diablo’ as of this past summer, post spring pruning.



Pretty sexy, eh?

I would say it maxed out at about 6′ x 5′ which is just about perfect for this spot. If I can continue to keep it at this size and assuming the deer continue to not be able to find it, we may have a winner here.

I should also add, this location gets about half sun and half shade but has managed to keep its fantastic foliage color.



And while it didn’t bloom profusely, there were enough to keep things interesting.




And those flowers are the gifts that keep giving as they turned into awesomely ornamental seed heads.



And while Physocarpus loses all of its leaves by November, that bark provides a decent show all winter long, especially when draped in snow.




More to come in Spring ’15.

Good times

Last night I joined the weekly Twitter chat known as “#Gardenchat”.

One of the questions posed to the attendees was:

As you may be aware faithful reader, this is typically my sweet spot. I love self deprecation when it comes to gardening. Failures are way more educational than successes and more often than not, more interesting.

Twitter chats are super fast so you have to be quick on your feet with a response. I put my witty hat on and was ready to fire away on my keyboard. Time to impress the other Twitter peeps with my banter.

But I had nothing. I couldn’t come up with a reply. Nada.

Now I know I experienced a bunch of failures this gardening season and I’m sure I’ll be able to recall them at some point in the future, but last night was not the night. That will have to be a task for another day. And here’s why.

Prior to the #gardenchat last evening, my wife and I were at the kids school attending conferences with their teachers. Now I am not one to brag, but the kids have kicked some major booty this year in school. But beyond their actual grades, the teachers made mention of how they were “great kids” and “great students”. It is hard to not have a smile on your face when you hear that.

I am a sarcastic son of a bitch but once in a great while, I buy into the smiles and rainbows and unicorns and shit. Last night was one of those nights. If the kids are healthy and thriving, it is hard not to walk with an extra jump in your step. Just maybe we kind of know what we are doing as parents.

So that is why I couldn’t drum up any level of negativity last night even though I usually operate within that zone. I didn’t even want to go there. Instead, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Happy Gardener and Mr. Giddy Blogger.

So as I now write this paragraph, I’ve had a night to sleep on it and now I’m ready to make a concerted effort to find me some failures for a blog post. Enough mushy stuff and back to reality. I’ll scan through this year’s pics to jog the memory and will enjoy mocking my shortcomings or yelling at the weather.

Ain’t happening.

I ended up scanning though EVERY picture I’ve ever taken for this blog. What a joyous trip it was through blogging memory lane. I may have even shed a tear or ten.

So please bear with my excessive happiness and know I’ll soon revert back to my sarcastic and complaining ways.

Here are a sampling of my thoughts as I revisited the last few years in my garden/world:

I am thankful that this blog has allowed me to completely grasp why this is so vital.




This blog has captured the journey I’ve taken with my children as I’ve watched them mature into pretty fantastic people. Each unique in their own wonderful way.




Writing/photography has literally saved me from Seasonal Affect Disorder for years now.


frozen crabapple 2


Some times you just have to accept what you’ve got and adjust accordingly.



A new found interest in photography accompanied the creation of this blog and allowed to me to look at things I had completely ignored in the past.




While this is labeled as a “garden blog” I think you all realize by now that it has evolved into much more than that for me.

I can write about saying goodbye to my childhood home.

house (1)


Or why one lemon meant so much to me.



Or even something mindless like where I like to run.



I have a diary of the many trips my beautiful wife and I have taken together.



I’ve been fortunate to have my own garden featured on the Fine Gardening website here, here and here.

I’ve spent time in beautiful cities with other garden writers and enthusiasts and made friends across the world through the wonders of social media.

I even got the chance to interview my garden idol, Joe Lamp’l through a new found love of hosting a podcast.

But more than anything else, this blog has given me the opportunity to be myself and to express myself in ways I haven’t been able to before.



It has never once felt like a job nor has it been difficult to keep up with after almost five years of pulling it all together.

Thank you for sticking with me and for all of your fantastic comments.

The Perfect Storm

I dread this day each year.

Check that, I dread this day each year x 2.

First off, I don’t like the day after Halloween.

No, I’m not a trick or treating ten year old. And I do not have an unhealthy fear of Movember (I could grow a mean mustache if I wanted to).

The day after October 31 each year represents the end of an era; and that “era” is the Fall. Technically I realize we still have another month and a half of the season, but you cannot tell me that it doesn’t look and feel way different once November 1st hits.

Most of the remaining leaves fall off of the branches overnight. Those wonderful shades of red/orange/gold are cut by like 75%. The air smells different. There is a new kind of chill/breeze in the air.

No thank you.

Here is some photographic proof:

The last surviving bloom in my garden.

sneezeweed orange

The last of the peppers have fallen off and surrendered.


The grasses are moving closer to their winter buff color and were swaying in the wind like mad today.



miscanthus gracillimus

Now that the few remaining flower petals and color have decided to leave us, all we have until Spring are the seed heads.



The concept of bark is back.


To add to the misery and reason #2 why I hate November 1st this year, is the arrival of Daylight Savings Time. The dreaded early evenings are back. I have to leave work each night in complete blackness.

Yes, the darkness has descended upon us. And this is what it did to me overnight.


And my wife was infected as well.


You have to admit, we are awesome looking zombies.

Halloween in Lambertville, NJ

Halloween in #Lambertville

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

Halloween in #Lambertville #NJ

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

Halloween in #Lambertville

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

Halloween in #Lambertville

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

Halloween in #Lambertville #NJ

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

Halloween in #Lambertville

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll learn what not to do