26 observations from my 20th wedding anniversary trip to Antigua

My wife and I just returned from our 20th wedding anniversary trip to the island of Antigua. We expected it to be a romantic and relaxing and all time memorable trip … and it exceeded those lofty expectations and then some.

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Rather than write up a summary of the trip and potentially bore you to tears, I decided to write up the highlights in list form for ease of consumption.

If you are interested, and why the hell wouldn’t you be, we stayed here.

And had the anniversary drinks/dinner here. Yes, on a daybed and on the side of a cliff while watching the sunset.

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We’re still reveling in it all.

On to the list.


In no particular order:

  • Driving on the wrong side of the road (the left, sorry Brit friends) is challenging and fun. As is navigating around wild dogs and crater sized potholes. I found if I talked aloud about my next driving move, I was OK. “I’m making a left turn, don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic and will stay to the left after the turn.”

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  • I understand that vacation is a mirage and an escape from everyday life, but I like to think it removes all of life’s distractions and exposes the core of what brought you together as a couple in the first place. Our core is killer. Beyond what I ever imagined was possible as a wee young lad. I will not take that for granted. Ever.
  • Pineapple juice wins over orange juice every time. Why did it take me so long to recognize this? Oh, the quality of the pineapple makes all the difference you say? Got it.
  • My wife living in the upper northern hemisphere is akin to me growing bamboo in rural New Jersey. Neither resides in their native habitat and while we are knee deep in the native plant movement, maybe I need to initiate a move to get her back to her Mediterranean roots. Warm weather calls us. I just need to come up with a title for this movement.
  • The men in Antigua appeared to be way more friendly and engaging than the women. I wonder if that is cultural?
  • I am in the process of commissioning an artist to create a mural on our bedroom ceiling that simulates the view we had from our bed each morning.

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  • I reluctantly joined the fashion trend in wearing a shorter bathing suit and while I looked phenomenal and fit right in, I burned the shit out of my upper thigh which hadn’t seen the sun in decades.
  • Magical is an overused term and should be reserved for those moments that are truly magical by definition. Having said that, we experienced many of those magical times.
  • I am by nature, a non-explorer, so the day spent meandering through the windy and rainy and oft times terrifying roads of Antigua was a reach for me. An exciting and hilarious reach on a day we will never forget. Vasco de Markowski.

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  • She’ll never admit it, but my wife could be a travel agent and vacation planner solely off the top of her head. Her ability to research is off the charts. From packing to flying to driving to meal planning to excursions to best local options to you name it, she had it covered. Her hourly rate is reasonable. I did zero.
  • $32.00 for a hamburger. You read that right. I’m not sure if that price included cheese or not.
  • I may or may not have flashed my passport like an international man of mystery while walking through the airport. And I did get giddy each time it was stamped.
  • Afternoon tea must be incorporated into the Markowski household. With clotted cream and scones. And a British accent.

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  • I had no idea that an Eastern Caribbean time zone existed. I still can’t grasp that we were operating at an hour later than NJ time. I’m so sheltered.
  • I may need to revisit my self-imposed ban on bathrobes. Holy comfort.
  • Give me Tetris and Bejeweled on the headrest TV screen on the plane and I can be entertained for hours.
  • I’m convinced that I could be the social media lead for a resort and be kick ass at it. The scenery sells itself and there is no excuse for not posting at least 5 Instagram photos per day. It is free advertising.

The pool at Carlisle Bay, Antigua. #carlislebay #carlislebayantigua #antigua #pool #caribbean #sun #escape

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

  • Tropical plants are a foreign concept to me and someday I’d love to invest a significant amount of time in learning all about them.

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  • I think it is a good sign that we both had tears in our eyes as we exited the resort.
  • I think it is important that the kids observe their parents enjoying time alone as a husband and wife. They should know that we missed them and didn’t miss them at all.
  • At the same time, it was fun to virtually share our experience with them via Snapchat and Instagram.

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  • One of the things I miss most already was the walk to breakfast each morning. Holding hands while walking through a palm tree lined path that lead to our eating feet from the beach with the entire day still in front of us. It was intoxicating.
  • antigua-3antigua-2Holding hands is way underrated.
  • Our idea of “water sports” consisted of trying to pick up shells before they were washed away from shore and giddily chasing crabs before they descended back into their holes.
  • Traveling the day after Thanksgiving is fantastic. No crowds at all. Getting to JFK airport was a dream and that has never been uttered before in the history of declarations.
  • I dog eared a book for the first time in my life while we were away. I am going to define myself as writer from this day forward. You can read more about it here. “What do you do for a living John? I’m a writer.” That feels fucking great.

In and around the November garden

What have I been up to of late?

Glad you asked.


I finally got around to installing my Screech Owl house. Fine, I didn’t physically install it so much as I was an active gofer for my handy brother-in-law who fortunately lives two houses away.

You all know me too well.

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The owl house was installed during the day on Saturday at a temperature close to 70 degrees and got its first test that night when we had gusting winds and almost 2 inches of snow.

Yay, November.


Who can resist a good late season plant sale? How about this monster bargain:

carex-lowes50 cents x 3 is so worth the risk of getting these through the winter. They are all Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’.

I consider it research for my ornamental grasses book.

A tax write-off.

Wish me luck.


Some times you just have a feeling.

Some times your gut tells you to just do it.

Some times you need it.

As silly as that all sounds, it all added up to me attempting to grow tulips successfully for the first time ever (not including in containers).

tulips

There is a deeper meaning at play here and one I’ll never talk about.

I need this to work and I’m confident that it will.

Tulips don’t dig the wet winter soil and that has been my problem for decades.

Until 2017 that is.

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We now wait until spring where my blind faith will hopefully pay huge dividends.


Beyond all that, I’ve been doing my best to soak in what is left in terms of color out in the garden.

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Spirea nipponica ‘Snowmound’

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Heuchera

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Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’

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Pycnanthemum incanum (Hoary mountain mint)


And you know, ornamental grasses.

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Fall color on Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’

Quick one today.

The fall color on my Viburnum carlesii  ‘Aurora’ has been incredible for over a month now.

It gets better and better each year.

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I wrote a post about this gem a few years back – Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’ – and continue to recommend it as a must have shrub based on the fall foliage alone.

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It started changing color back in early September and is one of the few plants with its leaves still in place today.

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Time to divide

Look real close at the photo below.

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A colossal embarrassment.

This ornamental grass – Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ has begged for division for like three years now. And I’ve done nothing but ignore the request.

Why?

  1. It is a monster and the effort required to attack it has been intimidating.
  2. The effort requires time and time is in short supply these days.
  3. It is easily hidden from view so the pressure to do something about it has been lacking.
  4. Blog fodder – content for another post which you are enjoying right now.

But I am better than this.

It is 80% dead at this point and that is unacceptable for a so-called obsessive and neurotic gardener. Especially one who does nothing but wax poetic about the wonders of the ornamental grass.

So I’m calling myself out and asking you to do the same. Call me out on it from time to time. A nudge here and a nudge there.

Inexcusable John.

Cut back on the photos and maybe do some work John.

You must lack the physical strength to pull it off John.   

Task #1 for next spring has already been determined.

 

Fothergilla Mt Airy

If I had to choose the most disappointing plant in my garden right now, it would be Fothergilla Mt Airy. I have had two of these shrubs in the ground for four years now and while their features in isolation are killer, they haven’t matured to a level I would have expected by now.

Issue #1 – While I see them marketed as “deer resistant”, both of mine are consistently nibbled throughout the seasons. They’ve never been hit hard, but the nibbling has prevented them from growing much taller than 30 inches tall.

Issue #2 – While I’m sure this is related to issue #1, I’ve had very sporadic blooming in spring. To the point that I barely even notice the white bottlebrush blooms. It’s a shame because the blooms are beautiful and fragrant (which of course is a relative term to this sufferer of a deviated septum).

Both of my Fothergilla Mt Airy are situated in a partially shaded location and I’m contemplating moving one in spring to a more full sun area that would also be (fingers crossed) protected from the deer.

It’s all about experimentation with gardening, but I’ve got all winter to plan the move.

Here is the foliage color somewhere around the end of September.

fothergilla mt airy

fothergilla mt airy

Fantastic but damn if it couldn’t have an even bigger impact at 4 to 5 feet tall and wide.

Here are two photos of Fothergilla Mt Airy current day. The foliage color is a more consistent orange but still a presence.

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blonde-ambition

Late April/early May is when I’ve seen the first signs of bloom. The photos below, taken over the course of the past few springs, only show you the good. The bare branches have been successfully removed from sight.

Still, nice enough.

fothergilla mt airy

fothergilla mt airy

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I have no intention of giving up on Fothergilla Mt Airy and hope to create a full blown post dedicated to this native shrub next year.

As always, your feedback and advice would be greatly appreciated.

 

Trying to stay positive

Today is a depressing day.

The vitriol on Facebook is a disgrace. From both sides.

I’m not comfortable or thrilled with the direction we are heading but the people have spoken.

I can only hope this is rock bottom and we some how trend up from here.

As a white middle class male it is ignorant of me to speak on anyone’s behalf. I’ve been the privileged one from day one. But I can only hope the rhetoric is just that, rhetoric.

Equality is all that matters.

Now we wait and see and fight where necessary but also do our best to keep an open mind across the board and keep constructive dialogue alive as much as humanly possible.

Pie in the sky? Maybe. But what are our other options?

Soap box over.


The weather was the perfect metaphor today. Rainy and cold but if you looked beyond that, you can discover beauty.

At least that is what I’m rolling with for today.

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I require your advice

I may or may not have mentioned to you all that I am in the early stages of piecing together book ideas. These ideas range from straight forward gardening to a mash-up of gardening/personal anecdotes.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize what the first (yeah I said “first”) book should cover but I think I’ve determined the topic.

Care to guess?

I know you know it.

It’s a part of almost every post that I write, especially from early summer and into the fall and winter.

Yep, you nailed it.

ORNAMENTAL GRASSES.

Was there ever any other choice? Of course not.

Deep down I’ve always known but it wasn’t until I started taking photos before I left for work recently that it all came together.

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I do this every single day.

Stare out at my grasses and thank my lucky stars that they exist.

I photograph them as if they were my kids.

We chat and I praise them when deserved and scold them when they aren’t putting in a full effort.

A big ups to whomever invented them or should I say, introduced them to the world as a garden option.

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My garden would be next to nothing without them. They are the backbone and they helped me form my identity as a gardener.

The number of questions I receive in regards to grasses via email, in the hallway at work or at the holidays is phenomenal and I’m always thrilled to chat. And if I may forego my humble nature for a moment here, the “you da grass man” comments are another reason why I believe a book is the calling. One recent comment that a put a big ass smile on my face:

Hi John, late post here just to compliment you on your beautiful photos. Since following your blog, I find myself craving more grasses in our landscape and I’m gradually winning my husband and fellow gardener over to my side since they are relatively deer proof.

Swoon.


On to the book.

I have a general feel for the direction and for the content but I’ll keep that as a surprise for now. I have a lot of research to complete and a lot of experts to track down and a lot of gardens to visit. It may sound a bit overwhelming but I got this.

And remember that each of you promised to buy ten copies when it is released.

You’re so awesome.

Seriously, I would pay you handsomely for your feedback on what you would want from a book centered around ornamental grasses.

What intrigues you?

What doesn’t?

Is design as important as understanding all that exists in the grass world?

Do you desire maintenance advice?

Does the history of grasses, both in the US and across the globe tickle your fancy?

Human interest or get to the point already John?

A comment to this post would be great or an email (ongardener@yahoo.com) would work as well.

I’ll be flexing my writing muscle heavily this winter and your feedback would be an incredible means for better understanding what the people want, what the people demand.


While I hopefully still have your attention (and thank you for that by the way) I’m going to self promote just a smidge more.

You may have noticed a while back that I returned to the Obsessive Neurotic Gardener blog name. I struggled with the desire to remain focused on gardening versus the desire to write about other stuff.

Once I discovered the medium that is Medium.com it all became obvious. Keep this blog as ONG and use Medium as an outlet for my other writing desires. One helps feed the other.

So far so good and I’m loving the path I’ve chosen.

If it wouldn’t be a bother, I’d love for you to check out the stories below that I’ve written over at Medium.

Late night walks with Mia

Rick Springfield analysis

Writing formula

How I don’t write

Time to move on

While I think the style of writing is still all me, I’ve discovered that I love to write about writing more than I ever imagined.

And 80’s icons …

And my wacky ass dog …

Greener Earth Nursery

Today I am thrilled to recommend an online plant retailer for you all.

Say hello to Greener Earth Nursery:

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To the shock of no one, I was most interested in their ornamental grass selection.

Color me thrilled.

If you pop over there now, you can save 15% on your order by using the following link:

https://www.greenerearthnursery.com/?discount=TONG15

There is still plenty of time to get those plants in the ground if you are in the Northeast like me.

Here are three personal recommendations for plants currently thriving in my garden. Again, follow the links below to save 15% at checkout:

Desert Plains Fountain Grass

Dwarf Fountain Grass 'Burgundy Bunny'

Acorus 'Oborozuki'

 

Let me know what you’ve ordered and what you think.

 

 

Friday musings

Some Friday thoughts.

I’ve complained many times in the past about my difficulty in eradicating Northern Sea Oats from my garden. I’ve still fighting that battle but damn, if they don’t look good right now, especially with the morning frost.

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Geraniums offer up great fall color and I’m thinking about taking advantage of that next year. I’m not sure how yet, but it has been added to the many off season design topics to be discussed within my own head on nights I cannot sleep.

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I kid you not. Another design item in the hopper is more moss. I wish this was from my own garden. I want this as a focal point. I want to better understand how to grow moss or create the conditions where moss will thrive.

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Any idea what this is? I’ve seen many of his brethren of late and I’m thinking they’re really cool or a really bad sign. Probably both.

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Ok truth? I wanted to show you some of my latest Instagram pics and came up with stories around them to fool you into believing the story was the lead and not the photos.

Fooling you isn’t the right way to put it. The stories are legit, they were just prompted by the photographs.

Never mind.

Have a great weekend and my apologies for being such a narcissist.

Frost

The sight of frost this morning was jarring.

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The autumn sun so low, feeling like I could swat it if I had a running start.

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While I could see winter sneakily approaching through my back woods, autumn is all like “I ain’t going anywhere yet.”

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I wish morning frost was available year round. It beautifully outlines the leaves and stems.

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This is only one reason why we don’t cut down the perennials until spring.

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