Swingset trellis

“Jamie, how would you feel if we took down the swingset and put in a large vegetable garden and orchard? We could all work on it together. Wouldn’t that be fun? You could learn all about gardening. Plus, you don’t really play on it any longer.”

“Dad, you would ruin my childhood.”

OK then.

I’m still not sure if she was joking, but point taken. This swingset was put up before she could even walk and she is now 10.5.    

swingset trellis

Those are actually nicely trimmed weeds within the “playground” and not grass. At some point I gave up on mulching it and trying to fight the otherworldly weeds that emerged there each spring.

And now I’m prepared to turn that area into a deer-proof vegetable garden along with a few fruit trees for good measure. I’m still an amateur when it comes to growing anything edible but I’m ripe and ready (see what I did there?) to get all sorts of educated.

But what to do about that swingset?

I’m a nostalgic guy and all but it’s just a swingset, right? We’ll always have those memories of sliding down the slide in the snow, pushing the kids for hours on end when they were wee things and that one time when our family picnic went awry when the bees started to attack us all. Just because the swingset is physically removed doesn’t mean the memories are removed, correct?

Would you mind telling her that?


And them that.


So my plan looks to have hit a roadblock. I can’t live with being a destroyer of memories.

But then one wonderful reader (may have actually been two) made a suggestion that I really should have thought of myself …

Use the swingset as trellis for beans and other edible vines. A swingset trellis solves the dilemma. 

I get it.

The swingset still stands in some capacity satisfying the children’s need to not erase their childhood and we get our long desired vegetable garden. F’n brilliant.

I haven’t approached the little decision makers with the swingset trellis idea yet but I think it could work. I can sell this. I’m even thinking we may be able to keep the set functional in ways while all sorts of deliciousness grows around them. This could actually be fun and dare I say, creative.

Here are some ideas I’ve already pulled from other sites:

Check out this swingset as trellis.

And this swingset as arbor.

And the benefit of not creating waste by doing this.

What do you think about a swingset trellis concept? Have any suggestions on how to best sell this to potentially heartbroken children? How about any creative ways to incorporate the swingset and keep it functional, like still being able to swing?

Thank you in advance for your feedback.

Chasing down the hummingbird

I’ve noticed one remaining hummingbird that has been buzzing around the last few days and so I made it my mission to capture one last photo of him or her before he or she heads south. This hummingbird has been attracted to a batch of pink obedient plant (Physostegia ‘Vivid’) so I set up camp nearby on my deck. After an hour of failed surveillance and a lot of sitting and waiting, I finally got something as the hummer lingered in a nearby crabapple tree for only a few seconds.


Not too bad of a shot I guess. At least I walked away with something. My guess is that the hummingbird has since packed a bag and is off to greener and warmer pastures.

I did try killing time by snapping a few shots of other birds coming and going from the river birch tree also near my deck.




And shocker, a few photos of the garden as she quickly descends into hell autumn mode:

Joe Pye, Bee Balm and Karl Foerster grass



The blooms of Indian grass.



And moving from back to front: Boltonia, Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’, Baptisia and Joe Pye Weed.


QOTD: What did you do in your garden this past weekend?





F the pumpkin latte

Before you break the bank for that $5.75 pumpkin spiced latte.


Before you start buying overpriced mums from Shop Rite.


Before you head to the basement to hunt down the Halloween decorations.


Before you start with the leaves and the leaf blower and the lawnmower.


Before you start telling me how great it is to take a stroll on a crispy September evening.


Before you go apple picking.


Before you ditch the flip-flops.


Before you start cutting down your dying perennials … Grrrrrrr.



Can I get one last shout-out for summer?


Much appreciated.














Plant spreadsheet

September is all about inventory or time to update the plant spreadsheet at “Le Jardin du Markowski”.

I pray to God I got that right or my father, a former high school French teacher, will disown me. I took a few years of French in high school myself, but never grasped the language. I could, however, pull off some sick mash-ups of Franglais, like “You’re full of merde” or “Let’s go jouer some baseball”. That and I remember that the French used an alternative to “It’s raining cats and dogs”. They would say, and I’m paraphrasing here, “La vache qui pisse” meaning it is raining like the cow pisses. Score one for higher education.

My inventory process is rather simple.

I walk the garden with printed plant spreadsheet in hand and check off those plants still with us and take counts of all those same plants. Anything not checked is eventually moved to the “Dead” tab in case it needs to be referenced in the future. Any plants that have been added to the garden since the last update are scribbled on to the hard copy of the plant spreadsheet. Later on, plant tags are referenced to ensure the appropriate cultivar name have been included with my new additions.

This is necessary, why? I’ll tell you why:

  1. It is an excuse to carry a clipboard which is always cool.
  2. My neighbors look on confused and that is always fun.
  3. In winter, I like nothing more than to refine my plant spreadsheet as a means of keeping the garden in the conversation.
  4. In winter, I like nothing more than to further educate myself on a plant’s longevity, ease of division and potential partner plants.
  5. My therapist says it gives me a feeling of control and that apparently is considered progress.
  6. Some day, when I’m good and ready, I’ll reveal the plant spreadsheet to the world and it will go viral and I’ll make like tons of money.
  7. I have documentation for the next owners of our home should they not tear it all down in fear of what goes into the upkeep.

And no, I’m not ready to reveal this cornucopia of plant knowledge so you’ll have to just imagine what it looks like.

Actually I’ll give you one little nugget as a teaser. After completing the inventory earlier today it was determined that I have 13 Panicum ‘Rotstrahbusch’ grasses. All are thriving and all originated from plants I bought from Bluestone Perennials in 2006. Come to think of it, I could put out a plant version of Ancestry.com for my own garden and it would be killer.

A thought for another day.

I love me some ‘Rots’ and so does my camera. Here are some pics I took of the “Rots” in various poses and I hope you enjoy them all.

These are numbers 4-6 in terms of their age.



Wispy comes to mind.



Great backdrop for perennials all the way into the Fall.



Intertwined with Boltonia.



Hanging with other grasses including Sorghastrum and Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’.



There is almost always one within earshot of the camera.



As seen through the eyes of Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ blooms.


QOTD: Do you really have any interest in my spreadsheet?


Yuck uh, what?

So this happened last week.


Yes, that is my back deck.

And these plants weren’t purchased on a whim or on a dare. I actually came up with the concept while falling asleep the other night knowing I had these two containers begging for occupants.

The tall and upright planters were most recently occupied by two Sorbaria shrubs and were strategically located within my garden. I thought the containers and shrubs were a decent attempt at focal points since they stood out from all of the surrounding greenery.

Except they weren’t very focally or pointy.

So I removed the shrubs, planted them in the ground in more logical locations (for now at least) and the containers became vacant. That vacancy sparked many thoughts as the clock struck midnight on Monday last week and I some how settled on two yuccas framing the view from my kitchen into the backyard.

But I despise yuccas.

They are too spiky.

And too tropical.

And too dry inspiring.

And too modern.

And need never set foot anywhere near my property.

Yet even after sleeping on the concept and waking up with fresh mind and thought, I was still in favor of operation Yucca. That afternoon I found myself at the nursery carrying the two potential weapons and willingly having my wrists cut up along the way.

And I still like them in their current location.

I don’t know if I could ever describe why but I’m rolling with it. Maybe I enjoy the departure from my usual style/liking. Maybe I’m looking forward to color in fall and into winter. Who knows, but for now they’re staying.

Am I crazy? What is the over/under for how long they will reside in their current location?



I am thankful for all of the deer that have made me a better gardener

I am thankful for my wife who makes me laugh, pushes me to dream and has more integrity than anyone I know

I am thankful for indestructible gardening gloves

I am thankful for a compassionate son who loves to write

I am thankful for 2.25 acres that has been my muse for 12 years running

I am thankful for my daughter and her unabashed enthusiasm and creativity

I am thankful for the health of my circle

I am thankful to have discovered Gary Vaynerchuk and James Altucher and Seth Godin

I am thankful for the written word and how it has dramatically changed my life



We have arrived at the initial stages of the the time of year when I get pissed off at a lot of my gardening brethren. When I say brethren, I mean anyone who has personally planted at least 19 plants within the past 3 years. I didn’t just make up those numbers, they have been carefully curated over time.

Plus I only work in odd numbers as all gardeners should.

My data shows me that this ratio properly identifies what I’ll call the “kind-of-into-it-gardener”. Anything less than that and the term gardener cannot be attached to those fools people. This is a crucial distinction and one I suggest you borrow/steal moving forward.

Here is why I get all sorts of perturbed:

We are nearing the end of summer and with it, the end of the line for so many perennials. They’ve worked their asses off for weeks/months on end. They’ve given us nothing but joy all spring/summer and now they are ready to take a seat, drop their petals and enjoy some much needed down time. All well deserved.

But by no means does that require us to cut them down, clean them up and remove all signs of their existence. I liken that nonsense to those people who chuck their Christmas trees on December 26th or put away the holiday decorations the day after. Take a breath, relax and allow nature to do its thing. If you look at it through the appropriate lens, it is a wondrous thing.

Yes, I openly embrace the fact that I can be a bit obsessive and compulsive and neurotic in my own garden and hypocritical from time to time.

True story interlude: I announced my distaste for sedums earlier this week because they weren’t native enough and didn’t fit into my garden aesthetic here in the Northeast U.S. This afternoon I just bought two Yucca plants for containers on my deck. Hypocrite much?

But one thing I’ve done, or not done I should say, since gardening stole my heart back in the late 90’s, is cut down my perennials. I’ve always left them standing even when my OCD tendencies were telling me to cut, cut, cut. I enjoy them around all fall and winter and implore all of the “make it nice and neat” crowd to do the same. You want reasons why? Here are just some off the top of my head:

  1. Enjoy the life cycle – from emergence in spring, to peak in summer, to the slow death in fall and dormancy in winter, I love it all. It is how it works in the wild and the way it is supposed to be. Embrace it.
  2. You’ll remember what is planted where – this is very underrated. No more issues with mistaking a newly emerging perennial as a weed or digging one up accidentally when planting in spring.
  3. The birds and bugs need it – a place of respite or food source for so many. I like nothing more than watching the finches hit up my coneflowers in winter.
  4. They look good covered in ice and snow – I’ll take any additional winter interest I can get. And bare garden space is not attractive.

So friends, family, some time acquaintances and strangers, accept the demise of your plants.

Do a lot by doing nothing.

Clean the pruners and stow them away.

Accept a bit of chaos.

Give the bees one last chance to enjoy the Agastache.



Remember how that vivid orange color excited you in mid summer.



Don’t forget that brown is a color.



And thank your Bee Balm for the endless entertainment they provided all summer drawing in all of those bees and butterflies.


QOTD: What perennial do you enjoy most in fall/winter?




Breaking News

Frenchtown, NJ

The people in this small and tight knit rural New Jersey river town are in collective shock this afternoon after learning that one of their own has done the unthinkable; publicly denounce the ubiquitous and fall thriving plant known as “Stonecrop” (or “Sedum” to those garden snobs who throw around Latin plant names as a means to impress and ultimately intimidate).

John Markowski, a local avid gardener and supposed garden blogger, was allegedly discovered early this morning in a disillusioned state as he gave a tongue lashing to the previously mentioned “Sedum” plants in his sprawling garden. A neighbor, concerned that John seemed agitated and louder than usual as he walked through his garden early this morning, tried to approach him but was quickly rebuked by a look that he could only describe as “peculiar”.

Here is the unnamed neighbor’s take:

“John normally walks through the garden early each morning but he normally does so as if he were I don’t know, a giddy ballerina. The entire neighborhood knows this and we’ve all become accustomed to it. Whatever floats his boat.”

“But this morning was very different. Scarily different. There was an intensity like I’ve never seen before and the noises coming from within the garden were strange enough that it had both of my dogs barking incessantly.”

“I attempted to approach him to see what was wrong and all he was doing was mumbling to himself. All I could make out was ‘I’m done with sedums. I don’t like them and they will be removed from my garden’. Now I don’t know much about gardening, but I know enough to know that them there are the words of a crazy man. Everyone loves sedums, or whatever they are called. I quickly walked away and contacted my buddy at the local newspaper”. 

Upon receiving this tip, we immediately sent someone out to the property to monitor the situation but the self proclaimed ONG was nowhere to be found. We did, however, encounter a family spokesperson who offered little more than a “no comment” and “this family has suffered enough gardening drama to last a lifetime so please respect their privacy at this time.”  

We were however able to get this photo of what was allegedly the subject of Mr. Markowski’s wrath earlier today.          


Adorable and pink, right? 

After leaving the home, we sent an email to Mr. Markowski hoping to get his side of the story so it would quell the fears of all of the locals. Within a few hours we received a response and well, you be the judge:

“I appreciate your concern and the concern from my neighbors and all of the community. I assure you I am of sound mind and there is no reason for any drummed up hysteria. It is as simple as this: I no longer enjoy having sedums in my garden. They just don’t work for me any more or I should say, they just don’t “fit” any longer. I knew there would be great backlash if I removed and tossed them because the friggin world loves sedums, especially right now as we move into fall. I had to psych myself up in order to do away with them and that pep talk must have been what scared my neighbor away. You can all breathe easy, it is no big deal. As the years have gone by, my garden has taken on a look and feel of mostly native plants and the sedum stick out like a sore thumb. If it would make everyone happy, I would be thrilled to donate them all to the highest bidder, I mean first to reach out. Thank you for your concern. By the way, check out my blog at www.obsessiveneuroticgardener.com”

We’ll all have to chew on that one for a while.

We plan on taking some time to page through Mr. Markowski’s blog to see if we can further assess his current demeanor. 

Our best guess is that this story still has legs going forward. Dude has a serious case of too many ornamental grasses and not enough flowers in his garden. Just look at these photos we obtained from an anonymous source.


grasses 2

grasses 3

Something just smells wrong here.   




I suck at the whole setting and attaining goals deal. Like I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually set one and if I did, I forgot what it was.

True story: The day I met my wife, freshman year in college, I managed to tell her within minutes of meeting that “I have no goals”. Gentleman, try that one on for size and let me know how it plays out. How this woman still agreed to hang with me after that I’ll never know and I won’t be selling my “Blueprint to Meeting and Retaining Your Future Wife” eBook any time soon. There had to have been divine intervention in play or my boyish charm was just too overwhelming to pass up.

Truth is, I have lived the majority of my life for the day or if I’m being generous, for the week. I’m not sure which parent supplied me with this DNA but it is who I have been for as far back as I can remember. I wasn’t one of those kids who would say “When I grow up, I want to …” and I have vivid memories of listening to those goal-oriented SOB’s and thinking, you’re shitting me, right? You can’t possibly be thinking that far ahead. We’re 5 and we’re supposed to be catching lightning bugs and riding our Big Wheels.

me blog

I’ve got anecdotes for days.

I was a solid to “good” basketball player in high school (helps when you are 6 foot 3 in a small town with a small pool of players) and probably had potential to be “dang good”. But guess who didn’t train in the off season or hit the weight room to add much needed muscle to his skinny frame? Don’t mess with #21.

me blog 2

I still remember my father offering to make me protein shakes and urging me to practice my jump shot nightly. I chose Wiffleball and Atari instead. I didn’t dream of making the varsity team as a freshman or set my sights on All League honors. I played hard and enjoyed the game during the season but after that I moved on.

The gist of my college entry essay was that I looked forward to discovering my passion while attending school and dedicating myself to it fully. A laser sharp focus with goals to carry it over to a career. I was ready to mature and the collegiate atmosphere would do just that for me.

That laser sharp focus took me from a Journalism major to an unknown major to a Criminal Justice major/Psychology minor to eventually taking the LSAT’s for law school only to never pursue that path and then dabbling in private investigation before settling in the insurance industry where I reside today. A true plan never entered the equation.

Now this mentality does have its advantages:

  • It is a lot easier to enjoy the smaller moments in life. Future? Who cares, this apple is delicious.
  • Stress levels remain low. There is no formal map to follow and no need to constantly assess where we are on said map.
  • You become the rock for others. Aren’t you worried about “blank” or “blank” John? Me, not one iota. I’m living for today, man.

But some serious disadvantages:

  • A lot of shit doesn’t get done. What’s the rush or why the urgency, bro?
  • The burden of future thinking falls on your significant other. Just ask my wife.
  • A true sense of accomplishment. “Wow, I did that” is against all odds is foreign to me.

Now don’t start painting me with the lazy brush or a wanna-be hippie (I’m talking to myself here). I’ve managed to navigate life rather decently to this point. I graduated college, got married and bought a few houses. We pay our bills each month, hold down jobs and we’ve managed to raise some pretty kick ass children along the way in spite of me. It has just been a battle of trying to shed a personality flaw and do my best to become a more goal oriented and future thinking fellow.

And that battle only continues to intensify as I get older.

Since technically, this is a garden blog, I’ll spare you my personal, professional, financial, etc. goal building and goal assessment plan. God bless my wife for setting the foundation on these fronts. It is time for me to step up to the plate but that will be handled on the down low.

But with garden goals, I am an open book or as open as the hole in the middle of my irises that I’ve failed to divide for years now. I’ve been passionate about this blog for over 7 years and even more passionate about my garden beyond that. It is who I am and what I do. And here’s one for you: I’ve got a book in me and it is in the works. That’s a friggin goal and one I will accomplish. I’ve never felt more confident in my life. But that doesn’t mean Johnnie doesn’t still have goal issues in the garden.

Case in point.

This past weekend we were up in Vermont visiting friends and ended up in the inevitable sitting around, enjoying some beverages and let’s get into deep discussion mode. The kind where you ignore the kids who have been on their devices for hours and the kids in turn wonder why adults like sitting around and talking so much. What should have been relatively light discussion ended up getting me all panicky. Not what you are supposed to do on vacation.

Topic #1 was the requisite pie-in-the-sky discussion.

“If you could start any business regardless of finances, location, etc. what would it be?”

To the surprise of exactly no one, I dream of a nursery that not only offers uncommon and interesting plants but also brings you killer coffee in the morning and craft beers from 12:00 on. We talk nothing but plants and gardens and sports while you traverse my grounds. Oodles of native ornamental grasses. There are plant/seed swaps daily and Piet Oudolf makes the occasional guest appearance. I make frequent visits to your home to see how your plants are doing. And maybe pull a few weeds along the way.

Quick aside: There was also a long discussion about an Uber type service for local kids’ activities. A lot of potential here. Please don’t steal this idea. And my wife’s idea is so unique and so solid that I can’t even share it here. It could work and I’m not messing that up.

So back to my potential nursery business. While it was a light conversation among friends, I felt a twinge of uneasiness. Should I at least be doing some level of research into this? If I really feel strongly about it, don’t I owe it to myself? A non-long-term-goal-setter like me typically shrugs this off. But I’m not getting any younger and I’d want to do this while I was still spry and full of energy. Should I be building a timeline/succession plan from my current job? How do the kids and college factor in? We’re so not in financial risk mode right now, but shit, I so want to pursue this in spite of myself.

Topic #2 was simple and straight forward:

Would you do a kitchen makeover?

As the discussion weaved in and out about cabinets, islands, subway tile and track lighting I found myself nodding out of that conversation and moving on to my own internal discussion. Is it possible to “redo” your garden?

My initial thought was “no”. While it is relatively easy to change cabinet doors, paint walls and switch out hardware, you cannot replace mature trees and shrubs. Beyond the physical labor, the prohibitive cost to buy new mature trees and shrubs make it a ridiculously expensive proposition. But what if I really wanted to attempt a garden makeover, albeit one on a smaller scale? Do I have enough time to start over? Do I have the time to actually install it?

From there, I allowed my mind to wander even further and after bypassing the idea of making over the garden, I started to do the math to determine how much longer I had with my current garden. The factors included:

  • College – if we follow the standard four year plan, my son would graduate in 2024 and my daughter in 2028. That is roughly 12 years from now.

jack graduate

  • Relocation – my wife and I dream of moving south to warmer weather and near the ocean. We’d wait until after the kids graduate from college at a minimum.
  • Current jobs – when can we say goodbye or more likely, when will they show us the door? Could we keep our jobs upon relocating?

With all that in mind, I couldn’t get 12 years out of my head. Shit, only 12 more years. Do I need to take that into account when buying new trees and shrubs? Do I need to lay out a plan or gulp, start setting goals around the end game of my garden as I know it? For years I’ve tackled a bit at a time without any thought as to how it ties into a larger master plan. Is it time to change that mentality? Do I care what the next homeowners will do with my garden? What if they tear it all out?

I have dreamed of getting my garden to the point where it could be showcased as part of a public garden tour and I can’t imagine accomplishing that in the next 12 years. Should I develop a specific site plan in order to attempt this? Does it take away from the day to day enjoyment of my garden and does that impact what I write about here?

A lot of questions with precious few answers at this point.

To be continued …

QOTD: Do you have a long term vision/plan for your garden?