Odds and ends

True story … I researched the origin of the term “odds and ends” and it was really boring so I stopped. And I didn’t feel like changing the title of this post so I left it as is.

My son is quickly becoming an entrepreneur in the world of sports card collecting and autographs and has just started a You Tube channel. I would forever be indebted to you all if you could check it out and maybe throw him a “like” or two or even subscribe. You can view it here.

Score one for dad.

My buddy Matt (he of this post) and I have rebooted our “Two Guys at Lunch” blog. You can read our two new posts here. So not only will Matt be joining me in our plan to take the gardening world by storm, we will also get back to our beautifully inane lunch discussions.

You’re right … it is going to be a huge year for us.

Speaking of Matt, I just unearthed a gem of a video he had sent to me this past summer. It is a tour of his backyard along with questions on how to improve his garden/landscape. This video will give you a good flavor of Matt’s plant knowledge level and also a glimpse into the personality of this budding (get it?) gardening superstar.

Grab a beverage and settle in and check out his video here.

After multiple views of the video myself, here are just a few classic moments that cannot be missed:

00:37 – Red mulch … uh oh

01:01 – “White thingies” coming out of hostas – officially scared

01:42 – Still looking for the “brick” wall

02:15 – I like the Coleus against the shed a lot

02:58 – Knows the name “pansy” … pause for effect

03:35 – Did he say “decorations”? Martha Matthew Stewart perhaps?

03:50 – Did his son call him “Matthew”? Must demand more respect

04:06 – I could listen to him say “hydrangea” on a constant loop … so proud

05:06 – Solid work on the lawn … even used straw … nice

06:08 – It hurts to see that the ornamental grass was hacked back. And in a god awful location. No Matt, that was not my advice.

07:12 – 07:55 – My fave story ever … the tale of cutting the hydrangea blooms and putting them in a vase.

08:09 – Nice call on the daylily!

So what do you think? Do you see potential in Matt or should I be worried?

In terms of my own garden, I ventured out into the snow to start assessing where I will be removing lawn and adding more “garden”. This spot below will be one of the areas for sure. This is looking from my driveway into the backyard …


And then wrapping around my deck …


You can sort of see the outline of the existing bed by the plants sticking out of the snow.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at alternatives for creating the newly sized bed from killing the grass by smothering it with cardboard or newspaper or a tarp to just removing it by hand and planting.






Two for the price of one

Let’s up the ante a bit …

I am demanding that a certain individual join me in the quest to “garden our asses off” in 2015. Or as I am want to call it, “All in”.

I have not personally contacted said individual about this challenge so he will not be aware of it until he reads it here. I am confident he will accept the challenge and together, this dynamic duo will take the horticultural world by storm.

I like to think I was a garden mentor to this guy. I think this blog inspired him to find his inner P. Allen Smith. He actually told me he cut hydrangea blooms off of his neighbor’s shrub in the middle of the night and put them in a vase. How can you not like this guy already?

Together we will give you:

Riveting, edge of your seat You Tube videos.

Dramatic and tense moments only rivaled by Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Demand for a reality TV show that we will turn down because we always keeps it real. 

So Matt, it is officially out there and I await your response. Don’t let me down.

P.S. For those of you unaware, Matt and I are coworkers and we had/have a blog all about our daily lunches at Wegmans. A bromance before the term ever existed.

If you would like more background on our adventures, click here. I warn you, it is addicting … and you’ll never look at me the same again.


The Votes Are In …

… and we’ll get to that in a few.

First off, thank you all for your feedback and comments. Blogging for me has been a weird mash-up of narcissism/creative outlet/escape from reality/taking myself and gardening too seriously in good and bad ways.

But through it all, I still get jacked up witnessing readers who are actually interested in my blabbering nonsense.  Scratch that, not all is blabbering nonsense; my ornamental grasses are kind of awesome so they fall outside of the blabbering nonsense category.

A common theme with the comments was “Why not incorporate all of the ideas?” Great point. And I think to some extent I have included them all over the years … as have most gardeners I know. We all try to “smell the roses” more often, are thrifty when it comes to purchasing plants, try to get the kids involved and attempt to grow more of our own healthy food.

But what I think piqued my interest the most was trying to go to the extremes with each of the individual concepts.

Case in point:

Option 1 – “Do Nothing” 
This is friggin insanity.

Yet a real test of the will.

Who knows, maybe it will free up time for other interests? Maybe allowing your garden to proceed without any human intervention is the right way to do it? All of the meddling may be holding it back and this would prove that out. More enjoyment and less labor.

This is friggin insanity and a blog killer. But I can’t stop thinking about it.

Option 2 – “Buy Nothing”  
Just how difficult would it be to not buy any plants for one year? I know it flies in the face of being an “obsessive gardener”, but maybe it is the ultimate “enjoy what you have”.

I know I tend to ignore many of my sturdy and reliable plants and focus mainly on the “new”. Kind of like always focusing your attention on the problem child while the good one is ignored and underappreciated.

Could this be the ultimate opportunity to get reacquainted with the old stand-bys? Remind them that we love them and appreciate them for all that they do.

While this direction sounds kind of awful, I can’t help but wonder if I could pull it off.

Option 3 – “Strict Budget” 
Is a strict gardening budget a great lesson in ingenuity? I have never placed a specific restriction on my garden spending and would love to see how I react to it.

Plant purchases would be methodically and painstakingly reviewed as would all the others buys (soils, containers, mulch,etc.). All about priorities and identifying opportunities.

Makes all the sense in the world, but also kind of boring reading material. You deserve so much more than that.

Option 4 – “Operation Get Kids Involved”
I know I should say all the right things here, but I really have no interest. Sorry kids.

Option 5 – “All in”
Hold off on this one for a minute …

Option 6 – “No more meat”
Yet another test of my restraint.

Come to think of it, what is it with my need to restrain myself? I realize part of it is entertainment value. I would find a lot of humor in the attempt to not buy plants, spend money or eat meat. I think it could be comic gold and you all know deep down all I want to do is make people laugh. Comedic gardening blog … there’s a huge demand for that right?

The other part of this restraint need is deeply psychological. I’ll have to get back to you after I’ve had some time to work it all out. I fear the results.

As for becoming vegetarian, I have some issues to work out with my own hyprocrisy when it comes to the treatment of animals and my love of a cheeseburger. I’ll leave it at that for now. We all know how this type of debate is treated in the Facebook world we live in today. John doesn’t “like” this.

And now we revisit …

Option 6 – “All in”
I know you know that I knew where I was going all along. Not that I didn’t value the other options, but for me, this was the only way to go.

Go big or go home.

And all I really needed to remind me of where I want to go, are the three photos below:

less lawn

less lawn2

less lawn3

Less lawn and more plants.

Hard labor.

Plant decisions.

Additional space for more plants.

Sweaty 6:00 AM digging sessions in July.

Bad plant decisions quickly rectified the next day.

Is it March yet?

Dare me to do it?

I feel a strong need to mix things up a bit this upcoming gardening season.  I’m ready for a break from the norm.

A personal challenge, if you will.

I’ve bounced a few ideas around in my head for a while now and figured what the hell, why not share them with you and solicit your feedback. By making the challenge known, I’m hoping it will keep me on course with the pressure of failing publicly being the driving force.

So take a read through the options below and let me know which one you would find to be the most interesting or compelling or even humorous. After tallying up all of the votes, I will choose one and put an action plan in place immediately.

Let’s do this!

Option 1 – “Do nothing” – That’s right. I won’t purchase a single plant this year, reshape any beds, create any new gardens, etc.  Simply relax. What if I tried to simply enjoy the garden for a year without the pressure of improving/changing it. This one scares me to death.



Option 2 – “Buy nothing” - A more relaxed version of the first option. No new plants added at all this year. The focus becomes properly maintaining what exists and “adding” through the division of existing plants. Trips to the nursery at lunch would make me cry, but the savings in cash would be nice.



Option 3 – “Strict budget” – I’ll pick a limited budget amount and carefully document each purchase along the way. No unnecessary splurges. A lot of lessons to be learned here and it isn’t as restrictive as options 1 and 2.



Option 4 – “Operation get kids involved” – Not as tough on me as the first three but it would be a time commitment with not a lot of excess time available. I’m imagining providing each with a mini plot and then leaving it all up to them as to what they want to plant. Sibling rivalry would be fun to watch. And I could say I personally inspired two future gardeners.



Option 5 – “All in” – The opposite of option 1 above. I’m thinking of setting a goal of eliminating 25% of my lawn with plants that are low maintenance and with low watering requirements. The manual labor would be tough but I could take advantage of early mornings once the weather warms up. I’d be sure to video my exhausting struggles.



Option 6 – “No more meat” – I’d commit to going vegetarian which would in turn make me focus on growing my own vegetables and enjoying them more. It would be tough but I’ve always thought about taking the leap.


My future is in your hands.


Deer resistant perennials for wet soil

A friend in town, who only recently became aware of this life changing blog, asked me for some plant recommendations. Oh shit. Typically I am not a fan of doling out plant advice because the pressure can become crippling.

If the recommended plant doesn’t survive, I’m scorned at the next basketball game.

If the suggested choice can’t be found at the local nursery, I’m no longer trusted and the kids aren’t invited to any more birthday parties.

But I’m putting it all on the line today.

Without fear.

I am that confident with the choices I’m about to offer up. The following perennials (staying away from grasses for now; he’ll have to buy me lunch first) are very specific to the conditions we have here in zone 6B New Jersey. Throw in deer and rabbits galore.  And a high water table which leads to very poor draining soil.

So my local homey, here are the top 7 perennials that I can vouch for based on my personal experience. Each has thrived for at least 5 years running and all show no signs of slowing down.

Click on the hyperlink for each plant name for additional info where applicable.

You are welcome in advance.

#1 – Joe Pye Weed - close to 6 feet tall, blooms are long lasting, attracts numerous critters  and looks good all the way into the fall.

joe pye weed

joe pye and miscanthus


#2 – Amsoniathe deer have never touched it, great bluish blooms in spring followed by fine textured foliage all summer. But Fall is when it shines with unbelievable colors ranging from yellow to orange.   





#3 – Astilbeno critter has ever touched it, appreciates oodles of moisture, blooms in white and pink and red in late spring and the fern like foliage separates itself from others.   




#4 – Bee Balmthe scent keeps the deer at bay, the bees flock to it and the blooms last all summer and even into fall. I personally love the taller options which make their presence known in the garden.




#5 – Purple Coneflower - yes they are everywhere but it is still an oldie but goodie. Multiplies like mad so there is a full supply year to year. Consistent blooms without a care in the world.   




#6 – Lobelia - cherishes the waterlogged soil and provides late summer blooms.


blue lob


#7 – Mountain Mint - not the showiest, but what a critter magnet. I could stand over these in bloom all day.



We’ll talk again in spring dude but start doing your homework now if you want to continue to hang with me.

Juniper ‘Gold Cone’

Over the past ten years, I’m fairly certain that I have killed more evergreen trees/shrubs than I have managed to keep alive. As much as I love the ornamental grass, I still desire the evergreen and its place in the landscape, especially during the barren winter.

The problem I’ve found is that there appears to be limited choices when it comes to evergreens that can handle my conditions.  And when I say “conditions”, I really mean the deer and the waterlogged soil. They are the problem. I cannot be held responsible for any of the losses; I would never be so irresponsible as to plant an acid loving shrub in my alkaline soil. That would just be stupid.

So each year I try to introduce new evergreen options into my garden because one can only plant so many boxwoods and not get bored off his ass. They serve their purpose as consistent greenery, but we all know they leave a lot to be desired. A strange side note: Contrary to most, I like the boxwood scent. Strange, eh?

Because I’m an incredibly smart and well thought out individual, I only purchase new evergreen plants that are small in size as a means to protect the pocketbook. I can rebound if a $15 plant fails to thrive but will be in therapy if I kill a $100 substantially sized version.

Which brings me to a recent introduction to my garden. Fall of 2013 to be exact. I purchased a one gallon sized Juniper ‘Gold Cone’ on a whim as I was pulled in by the gold coloration … and the 50% off price tag.


Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone’ is an (eventual) columnar, needled evergreen that matures to an approximate height of 7′ to 10′ and a width of 2′ in ten years. I have it on good source that it puts on 3″ to 6″ of new growth each spring. And that growth is a fantastic gold color.

juniper gold cone

This shrub survives in zones 5-7, prefers full sun and apparently tolerates most soils (we’ll see how much it digs the wet clay). There are claims on many web pages that this Juniper is deer resistant, but I’ll be the final judge of that.

So while it’s only been a little more than a year and by all means too early to pass judgment, I can report that it has thrived and the deer have left it alone.

I even went ahead and purchased a second one a few weeks later.

As advertised, this shrub retains its gold color throughout spring and summer.


And did take on a blue hue as the temps dropped in the fall.


Settling in at what I’ll call a brownish blue all winter.

juniper gold cone


While conducting my research for this tale, I came across a great blog post about ‘Gold Cone’ and how it looks at full maturity and how best to ‘spiral tie” it so the shaded brown needles are not exposed. You can read all about it here.

I would love to hear your feedback if you have had any experience with this shrub.

Thanks as always.






Our Christmas vacation

It all kicked off with a baking marathon and the kids were happy to take part.


Our 2nd annual Christmas Eve/Eve dinner at “Inn of the Hawke” in Lambertville, NJ was another smashing success.

Xmas eve, eve dinner #Christmas #NJ #Lambertville #InnoftheHawke

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on


A side note: most of our “traditions” are the result of a change to our original plans in which the kids go screaming and kicking against their will. However, the plan change ends up being “awesome” and a new tradition is born. Of course they never remember not wanting to do it in the first place.

One tradition we’ve maintained for a decade now is the reading of “The Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve. They will never get too old for it … I hope.


Some day soon this will end and it will break our collective hearts.


The calm before the Christmas day storm.


Can I hit pause for a few years?


Football cards were all the rage this year … reminds me of someone else I know quite well.


Beanie Boo’s galore.


A lot of cousin time.


For you coffee lovers, I cannot stress enough just how life changing this Chemex is. Seriously, click the link and never look back. My wife knows me oh so well.

Check this out. Guess who is going to be a guest DJ for an hour? What do you think, an hour of garden themed music? Or maybe half talk and half music?


So for a week now, we have run around like mad, chilled out, visited with friends and family, hit up the movie theater, eaten cookies for breakfast, chilled out some more and I even found some time to visit my lonely winter garden.




And chase the herd of deer away. Nothing to see here.


Here’s to 2015 my friends.

No resolutions for me this year. I want each day to proceed slowly. I refuse to wish time away.



Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’

A little over two years ago, I created a masterpiece post about Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ (Dappled Willow) and my new found love of this shrub. I was immediately taken by the variegation of the leaves with its mix of pink, white and green hues. Not to mention the appeal of it’s fast growth rate and love of wet soil.

At the time, I wondered aloud about how best to prune it and when. I had quickly realized it could wear out its welcome in it current location yet I enjoyed having something substantial in my relatively young garden. I also wanted to determine the best way to maximize the variegation and stem color. How was one to deal with such a life altering dilemma?

Fast forward to this past spring and I had yet to touch it.


And she looked damn good.

Upon closer inspection, I even had catkins growing for the first time. Small and delicate in nature and a nice added bonus to its spring appeal.


And that fantastic leaf color was still in play as the spring progressed.



The sight of the back lit leaves with the late afternoon sun grabbed my eye every time I gazed out on to my deck.


But as you will see in the following pics, homegirl finally outgrew her spot.



So now the time has finally arrived to prune this shrub back hard in late winter 2015. I’m thinking a severe pruning down to about a foot hoping that by season’s end, this willow will recover to a size of about 4′ x 4′.

I’m also hoping to continue to have the appealing red winter stems I’ve seen on this willow with the current season’s growth.

winter salix

More to come in 2015.


Favorite photos of 2014

First off, I want to thank all of you for your kind comments on the last post and/or on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Text. Each one made the sadness just a little bit more manageable and that was so appreciated by my family and me.

We are all still bumming big time over the loss of our Casey and the new “normal” thrust upon us. It is so painfully empty in the house. And damn I had no idea what slobs the kids are; the crumbs Casey disposed of are now piling up. She did an awesome job of covering up for them.

So while I don’t have the drive or want to write up a witty post or research a favorite perennial, I did have the need to look back through ALL of my garden photos from 2014 for an energy lift out of these doldrums.

I find it so easy to immerse myself right back into the bloom and foliage colors like it is the middle of summer.

If I had any sense of smell (note to self – surgery in 2015) I could smell those flowers like they were in the room with me.

I can physically feel the warmth of that time.

This all feels damn good right about now.

So here is the what I think is the best of the best.







peony buds












mt airy fothergilla





Goodbye Casey

We lost our beloved dog Casey yesterday.

Even though she was 15 1/2 years old (how lucky were we?) and frail, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept that she is now gone. The void left behind hurts like hell and the entire family is officially out of tears. I will never forget the kids saying their final goodbyes to Casey and how a  whirlwind of old memories flashed by in an instant and punched us in the gut.

Seeing crumbs on the floor now hurts. We never had to worry about them before.

I struggle looking at the peanut butter jar. That is what we used to get Casey to take her medications over the years.

Twice I have moved to refill her water bowl.

I will forever think I hear her paws on the hardwood floor in the early morning.

But I don’t want to this post to be a downer; ha, too late. But seriously, we’ve had enough of that for now. Our therapy over the past 48 hours has been about reminiscing and laughing at all the memories Casey has provided since 1999.

We watched old videos to remember when she was young and spry. That felt good. She also clearly invented the idea of “photo bombing”, as she is literally in almost every home video.

We took out the old photographs (no digital for us in those early years) of when she was just a pup. We shared stories with the kids of Casey before they were born or just too young to remember.

So selfishly, the following pics and commentary are additional therapy for us and an homage to the greatest dog we’ve ever known. As I write this, I hope she is curled up on a couch made of bacon and is chewing away.

Here we go.

We picked Casey out of her litter solely based on the fact that she ran under a nearby car away from her siblings. She had a naughty streak we immediately took a  liking to.


The first night she was home with us, she pooped in her cage and rolled in it. Good times. We had to give her a bath 2:30 in the morning. Game on. This dog thing wasn’t going to be easy.


Casey literally never sat still that first year and wiped us the f out. Great, great practice for having children.


Casey was there while we tackled projects in our first home. On this day below, she and her uncle managed to get loose and I ended up picking thorns out of her eyelids.


A few things here. Casey loved car rides and I still hadn’t learned my lesson to not put my wallet on top of the car.


When I say she was our first baby, I am clearly not exaggerating.


She wasn’t cared for or loved at all.


The entire street would smile as they walked by the house and saw her welcoming mug.


Trips to the family lake house were not only enjoyed by the “humans”.


She ALWAYS managed to put a smile on everyone’s face.


Casey never took to any toys other than a football. One of our most distinct memories is of Casey munching on said football as she hung with the family.


But if I had to come up with one lasting image of our beautiful girl, it is of her laying her mouth on our laps while we ate breakfast, lunch or dinner. The girl adored food.


Maybe we tortured her without her knowing once in a while.


Even up until her last day when she was ready to leave us and cross over that rainbow bridge in the sky, she looked like that cute puppy.


There will never be another dog like you Casey and we all want to thank you for the impact you have made on all of our lives. We love you and will never forget you. I would kill to give you one last pizza crust and watch you crunch the hell out of it.


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