Garden update

How things are looking right now:

Awesome mix of color viewed from my garage.



Need I say any more about Panicum ‘Northwind’?

panicum northwind


While it is still too early to draw a conclusion, I have loved year 1 of my Pennisetum ‘Desert Plains’. 

pennisetum desert plains

 pennisetum desert plains2


Molinia ‘Sky Racer’ has been phenomenal yet again this year, now I need to surround her with some decent companions.

molinia fall color


Ninebark ‘Diablo’ leaf color is way cool looking right now. 





As is Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’.

ninebark amber jubilee


Year 2 of Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’ hasn’t disappointed and I’m thrilled with how well it is holding its leaves to date.

fothergilla mt airy


Geraniums (this is ‘Brookside’) are way underrated in terms of their autumn color.

geranium acorus


I rescued this Bergenia ‘Rosi Klose’ from a nursery late last Fall and while it has been a bit slow to establish, I am digging the color right now. Fingers crossed. 



Baptisia seeds are finally visible. Now to research the best means to save these and make them viable.  

baptisia seeds


All of my recently planted Hyacinth are emerging with the warm weather of late but that is coming to a drastic halt this weekend. 

hyacinth early


Thanks for stopping by.




My Road to Gardening Obsession – “The Benefits of OCD”

Someone recently asked me, “How did you get this into gardening”? Most have an easy answer like, “My parents or grandparents were gardeners” or “I had an interest in plants from a young age”. For me, there was no simple answer.

With that in mind, I started to analyze where my passion for plants originated. And I realized it came from a series of events over the past 17 years.

Here is the story of one of those events:

When last we spoke, I left you with quite the cliffhanger; the arrival of a stranger in a beat-up white Ford Taurus in my driveway who just happened to know my name. Before we get to the exciting conclusion, let me give you some additional back story.

That morning back in the summer of 1998, I purchased four Barberry shrubs from my my favorite garden center with the intention of replacing my aforementioned “lollipop shrubs”. Through all of my new found research on shrubs, I became infatuated with red/maroon/scarlet leaved plants. They had so much more of an impact and were more interesting than the ubiquitous green versions and I had plans to dazzle my neighbors with color.

I some how managed to squeeze four of the shrubs into my bad ass, black, 1995 Geo Prism, gashed hands from the shrubs’ thorns notwithstanding. I was so anxious to install them when I got home that I ignored everything else going on around me (we call that foreshadowing in the industry).

As soon as I arrived home, I pulled the shrubs from my tiny car and left them in my driveway so I could plant them as soon as I removed the old yews along my foundation. There were numerous Barberry stems/thorns remaining in the car and they were awesomely intermingled with my Motley Crue and Metallica cassettes.

And then he showed up …

I clutched my shovel tightly as he emerged from his automobile. The showdown was on. As Mr. Stranger asked if I was in fact “The John Markowski” (OK, I added the “The” for additional drama) I tried my best to quickly determine why the Angel of Death was just now dropping by. My thoughts at the time were:

  1. He was there to collect my gambling debts. It fit the profile but I never had a bookie in the first place.
  2. I was some how involved in a criminal investigation. Always a possibility I guess, but the car didn’t scream detective unless he was truly undercover or his office had truly fallen on hard times.
  3. I won Publisher’s Clearing House. But there were no balloons visible in the car.

The answer was #4, none of the above.

Turns out, our mystery guest …

… had found my wallet sitting in the middle of Rt. 206 in Hillsborough, NJ and was here to return it out of the goodness of his degenerate heart. He apparently found my license inside the wallet, still in tact, and drove the five miles or so to return it to its rightful and careless owner. I thanked him profusely, gave him all of the cash I had in the wallet (around $20 or so) and bowed my head in shame. Stand off over … and I lost.

Here’s what happened …

I left the wallet on the roof of my car as I was loading the Barberry shrubs at the nursery. It then flew off as I pulled out of the parking lot and on to Rt. 206. I didn’t even know it was missing until the dude showed up.

Lesson learned right? Not a chance. I can even one ten up that story.

Four years ago, while on our way home from vacation in Connecticut, we stopped at a gas station to refuel. I pumped the gas like a champ (never an easy feat for a NJ’er) and the trip home was back under way.

Two and a half hours later, we pulled into a Starbucks in Oakland, New Jersey for some coffee. You guessed it, no f’n wallet. I had used it to pay for gas back in Connecticut, so it no doubt fell off somewhere along Rt. 95. No chance I see that again. The entire family was ready to hand me divorce papers.

When we arrived home, the goal was to cancel all of the credit cards immediately. As I picked up the phone to call the first credit card company, I noticed we had a voice mail. I hit play and this was the exact message:

“Hi John, it is your Uncle (blank), I have your wallet. Give me a call.”

Want to try and piece that together Encyclopedia Brown? You don’t? Good, because it would be impossible. Here is how it played out:

  • My wallet managed to stay on top of the car from Connecticut and all the way to NJ. No lie.
  • It fell off when we pulled off of the highway and into the Starbucks parking lot.
  • An off duty police officer found it in the middle of the road and scooped it up.
  • My uncle’s PBA card was inside the wallet.
  • The police officer who picked it up was best friend’s with my uncle’s son (my cousin), a fellow cop.
  • He gave the wallet to my cousin and asked my uncle to call me.
  • My uncle was at a wedding when he called me … with my parents.

This was clearly my last warning to get my shit together. These kinds of things don’t just happen. There was a higher being at work here and I was all ears. There was no third chance available.

Ever since that day, I refuse to wear shorts without pockets. I haven’t placed my wallet on top of anything since then. But most importantly, I started an OCD like ritual to make sure I have all the essentials on me at all times. It goes like this:

I say out loud “Keys, wallet, phone, work ID  (always in that order)”. I tap each pocket to ensure they are all securely in there. I do this upwards of 100 times a day and I haven’t lost any of them since then. So if you see me mumbling to myself, just know to not interrupt me or there could be dire consequences.

I’ve even extended that same mentality inside my home. “Alarm on, garage closed, refrigerator door shut, lights off, dog has water, etc.” It can look bizarre but dammit, it is effective.

How will I magically weave this tale into a garden related post? Don’t know, but hopefully I entertained you a bit. Actually I’ll give it a shot just to see if I can pull it off.

Back to the Barberry shrubs …

I mentioned I planted 4 of them, correct? Two on each side of the front door at my old home. Nice and symmetrical. That worked for me at the time until years later when I discovered the “rule of three” with garden design.

“Rule of three” pushes the design theory that all plantings look better when the same plants are grouped together in odd numbers. It is more pleasing to the eye. I don’t fully understand why this is true, but oh boy did I subscribe to the theory.

For a long time, all of the plantings at my current home were in groups of 3. Like freakishly so. I was that taken by the theory.




I even had to show you three photos in order to avoid the shakes.

It extended into my every day non gardening life as well. The mugs on my desk had to be grouped in 3’s. My deodorant and toothpaste and cologne triumvirate looked great on the bathroom counter. I considered asking my wife for a third child just so they would look “right” in photos. I had “Rule of 3″ OCD.

I’ve since let up some and have allowed my garden design to relax a bit. I can even drive by my old home where the 4 Barberry shrubs still sit and not hyperventilate. But through it all, I am a believer in rituals and how they saved me from myself and my garden.




Instagram pics

A little Instagram love on a Monday morning.

Autumn morning in NJ

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

Have I mentioned I like grasses?

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

Clethra fall color #garden #autumn #fall

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

Fall color on Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ #garden #plants #autumn A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

Itea on fire with color #garden #fall #autumn #plants

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

A nice lazy Saturday for all #dog

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

My Road to Gardening Obsession – “The Home Depot book”

Someone recently asked me, “How did you get this into gardening”? Most have an easy answer like, “My parents or grandparents were gardeners” or “I had an interest in plants from a young age”. For me, there  was no simple answer. 

With that in mind, I started to analyze where my passion for plants originated. And I realized it came from a series of events over the past 17 years.

Here is the story of one of those events:  

When I wrote about Shuttergate last week, I mentioned how soon after I had made a trip to my local nursery and picked up a shrub and read a plant label for the very first time. That kickstarted a new interest in “landscaping”, not to mention a small criminal enterprise that involved stealing plant tags. You can read about those high stakes adventures here.

Today, we pick things back up in spring of 1998. The world is Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,  Titanic continues to dominate the box office, major league baseball season is upon us, I’m continuing my plant label thievery and my new found liking of “landscaping” hasn’t waned over the winter.

You’ll notice I’ve used the term “landscaping” multiple times rather than “gardening”. That is exactly how I referred to my interest in plants at the time.

Like so many uninformed people today, I associated the “gardener” with an older woman snipping daisies while wearing a large brimmed hat. That could never be me. I like “landscaping” which is like totally masculine and shit. I like cutting lawns, firing up a gas powered trimmer, using a backpacked leaf blower unnecessarily on my postage stamp sized lawn and maybe planting some “green bushes”. There was no room for flowers or anything the least bit “feminine”.

While still armed with that ogre-like mentality, I made a trip to Home Depot to pick up, um, something. While impatiently waiting on the never ending checkout line, I spotted this.


Without much thought, I scooped it up and added it to my cart. Perhaps a little light reading to accompany my breakfast.

A quick aside – my breakfast did not include coffee at that time. Believe it or not, my discovery of coffee a year later will be the topic of a future post as the story weaves in beautifully with my discovery of what a true garden is all about.

Damn I am deep.   

I ended up never putting the damn book down. It was the ideal bathroom read, the ideal book to leaf through while watching bad TV and the ideal book to bring outdoors as the weather warmed up that spring. Eventually and fortunately, it became my gateway book into “real gardening books” (another story for another day).

Around that same time, with the greatest of intentions, I had picked up another book.


Don’t laugh. This wasn’t a gag gift from my family. The internet hadn’t truly blown up yet, so this was THE reference guide.

I managed to follow some of the directions (translation – the real easy stuff) but diagrams like this made me run for the hills.


I’ve managed to comprehend things like plumbing and electrical in my later and wiser years (no comments family) just so you are aware that I am not a complete dolt. But items like this overwhelmed me to no end in my mid 20’s. I realized then that I really was missing the spatial relations gene.

As a result, I would seek refuge and take comfort in my precious landscaping book. I couldn’t do too much damage while digging a hole and throwing a plant in there.

After many hours studying and memorizing my Home Depot book, I actually started to map out a plan for my own yard. It mainly revolved around adding/replacing shrubs since my property at the time had sufficient mature trees. I had identified the shrubs I was interested in purchasing without a concern as to where they would be situated. Just a minor detail missed.

The very first shrub acquired was a ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangea. I was pulled in by the fantastic blue blooms (the move to “gardener” was initiated?) and bright green foliage. I figured I could just plant it and see the same results witnessed in my beloved book. Plus my wife was a big hydrangea fan and I needed to show that she in fact a part of the master plan.

It is difficult to see and I really had to dig through the archives to find it, but if you look closely enough, you can see the hydrangea to the right of my front porch stoop.


Nothing like dumping it in there without a thought around design. If my memory serves me correctly, the blooms were pink when I purchased it in late spring but I had plans to “make them blue” based on my new found knowledge of soil PH in the HD book. How you like me now?

By the way, how great is my shearing job on those shrubs along the foundation? I want to go back in time and punch myself in the face for that ridiculous display of lollipop-ness. Luckily, I eventually developed a plan to replace those hideous things.

But what I hadn’t included in that wonderful plan was how to account for the arrival of a shady looking stranger who pulled his car into my driveway as I was replacing the aforementioned shrubs.

The man slowly emerged from his vehicle, gazed at me creepily and asked “Are you John Markowski?”

To be continued …


Autumn delivers

Last week I declared that “Fall sucks”. Yes, I proudly own that declaration, yet at the same time, understand the influx of hate mail I received as a result. You don’t “f” with the autumn with certain people. They are a united and angry lot.     

But here’s the thing, I don’t dislike the Fall as much as I miss the sweaty tasks associated with Spring and Summer. In fact, I have come to realize I have an unhealthy love of sweating and blister development- who else wants to join me in #gardeningsadomasochism.                    

Having said that, I can still enjoy what Fall has to offer, even if the thought of winter approaching makes me physically ill.

How good does Panicum ‘Northwind’ look right now?

panicum northwind fall color

panicum northwind fall color2

And Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ as well. 

panicum rots

grasses fall color

Sorghastrum ‘Sioux Blue’ looks divine through the railing on my deck.

sorgahstrum fall

And lordy how I love Helenium (Sneezeweed) right now.




My road to gardening obsession – “Falling off the ladder”

Someone recently asked me, “How did you get this into gardening”? Most have an easy answer like, “My parents or grandparents were gardeners” or “I had an interest in plants from a young age”. For me, there  was no simple answer. 

With that in mind, I started to analyze where my passion for plants originated. And I realized it came from a series of events over the past 17 years.

Here is the story of one of those events:  

October 12, 1997:

Two weeks prior, we had just moved into our first home in Somerville, NJ. I’m 25 years old, married for one year and 100% clueless when it comes to home ownership responsibility. It is exciting, intimidating, overwhelming, fun and cozy all at the same time.

I know the exact date above because it was the perfect fall Sunday, in the heart of the NFL season and truth be told, I actually looked it up online a few minutes ago. I vividly remember watching a specific game while standing on a ladder and looking through the picture window at the front of our house. Why was I watching TV on a ladder and what does that have to do with gardening? Glad you asked.

The curb appeal on our 1950’s Cape Cod styled home was decent but it needed something more. Believe it or not, landscaping didn’t even enter into the equation at the time. I couldn’t have told you the difference between deciduous and evergreen. There were a few “green bushes” along the foundation and I had already (cover your ears) sheared them into lollipops. Perfection.  

Eventually, that something more ended up being new shutters. Once that decision was made, I confidently volunteered to hang said shutters. Did I have any idea how to do it? Hells no.  And there was no You Tube to lead the way. Here we go Johnnie Boy.

This was a huge moment for me. This was my first chance to show my new bride that she married a man who could “do it himself”. Well technically not the first time. Upon moving into the house, I did pull up a hideously awesome 70’s carpet and proceeded to pull out each and every associated staple.


Those are some solid shorts you got on there buddy. Whew. But I digress …

I knew my wife quietly feared that we would have to outsource simple tasks like the replacement of light bulbs. Failure was not an option if I wanted my lady’s respect.

That October morning, I grabbed my ladder, my newly opened drill, a couple of screwdrivers and the shutters and got ready to amaze the world. As I climbed up the ladder and caught a glimpse of the football game through the front window, I strongly considered crying uncle and hitting the couch, beer in hand. It took all of my considerable strength to push on. 

I’m not sure how, but I managed to get on two of the shutters without much of an issue. I could have quit then and been happy for a lifetime the day. End it on a good note.

I moved on next to the side of the house near my driveway (key piece of info here as you’ll see in a minute) and was all set for shutter set numero deuce. As I climbed the ladder for the third time, I could see my wife through the window and I gave her a cocky nod like “I got this shit.” Apparently “having that shit” means you proceed to fall off said ladder while perfectly framed through a window while your wife looks on in horror.

Yes, I fell off that ladder.

But luckily and comically, I fell onto my car, rolled off the hood and onto my neighbor’s lawn. One shutter was broken as was my already fragile ego. After gathering myself and calmly getting to my feet, my wife popped outside to make sure I was OK. I laughed it off and gave the proverbial “no biggie” and pretended to get back to work.

Except I opted for a meltdown instead. A contained meltdown from the outside but damn did I give myself an internal tongue lashing like never seen before in my 25 years on this planet.

“You suck John”.

“Your wife will never respect you a-hole”

“If you can’t do this John, all hope is lost.”

To make a long story … longer, no shutters were ever added to the side of the house. I couldn’t maneuver the ladder properly to be able to screw them in.

I also ended up requiring help from my in-laws to install the other two shutters on the front of the house. I had issues with screwing through the aluminum siding and made the desperate call for help.


So all in all, I failed my initial test.

I really started to worry that maybe an apartment was a better choice for us. That, or our money budgeted for groceries each week had to go towards a permanent handyman who lived in our tiny shed in the backyard. Panic time had set in.

That following week, still mentally beat up after Shuttergate, I set out for the local garden center to pick up some mums. I couldn’t possibly screw up placing two baskets on the front porch.  

Once there, I innocently picked up a Helleri Holly on sale and casually read the label. This is kind of nice and the label sure seems to indicate that it is easy to grow. What is a “zone” and why do I care?

Maybe we did need to address that landscaping after all. How hard could it be to add some flowers? And I don’t need a ladder or a drill to put them in. I can handle a shovel.   

And ladies and gentleman, there was no looking back from there.



Fall sucks

I ripped out and disposed of all of the tomato plants today.

This is officially the last tomato harvested in 2014.


If you look closely enough, you can find pieces of my heart mixed in with the tomato plant scraps. This sucks.

I will praise autumn and the color extravaganza it provides and will romanticize this time of year and the plant “circle of life”. But just know that deep down I am desperately missing the summer and the warm weather.

It was seasonably warm today; in the mid 70’s. And holy hell did I enjoy it. Yes, there were maple leaves strewn all over the lawn reminding me this was a blip on the radar.

maple leaf 2

And even the Rose of Sharon was giving out a fall vibe.

rose of sharon

But I was sweating like an animal as if it were July 15th and loving every gosh darn second of it. I cannot put into words how much I love getting in the dirt, developing blisters on my palms, blinding myself with sweat and listening to nothing but the sound of the grasses swaying in the wind. My “zone”.

And now we are heading into the “dead zone” for another four months. Before you tell me that we need this time and that we wouldn’t appreciate the spring without the winter, save it. I’ll come around eventually but not today. I want to see all of my coneflowers in bloom, not the spent versions that are currently inside my house as Halloween props (true story).

Deep down I appreciate the wonderful fall  color on my Geranium ‘Espresso’.

geranium espresso 2

And even with the less renowned Siberian irises.


But dammit, I still want to pick weeds and deal with the dizziness that comes with it.

F you Fall.

Sincerely, John.



Thanks Casey

It’s 5:18 AM this morning, Casey is barking at the bottom of the stairs. Yet another wake-up call from our 15 year old labrador retriever. This is much earlier than normal but understandable considering our beloved and elderly dog’s weak bladder.

I climb jump fall out of bed, grab her leash and head outside. As I wait for Casey to take care of business, I am incapable of thought and my eyes may not even be open. All I keep thinking about is returning to my warm bed and maybe another two hours of sleep.

After 5 minutes I realize Casey has no interest in squatting. She is only interested in smelling the deer and rabbits who visited last night. I eventually coerce her into coming back inside so she can enjoy her breakfast but I’m still confused as to why she won’t pee.

I head over to her food bowl and throw in two scoops. But Casey has no interest in eating. That never happens. She has voraciously eaten every meal since 1999. I walk over to her so we can have a chat and then realize what is going on.

My cold and bare feet are drenched.

Now I know why she never did #1 outside.

Son of a …

I grab a bunch of paper towels, some Clorox wipes and begin clean-up time. I am now officially awake for the day.

Ten minutes later and we are as good as new. Casey no longer is worried about the pee barrier to her food bowl and is chowing down. I’m cleaning my feet in the tub. Good times.

Since I am now up for the day, I make a pot of coffee and hop on my laptop. Casey and I catch up on our favorite websites as the sun rises. I love that dog but dammit, I am tired.

Casey then puts her head on my lap indicating she is now in need of pee#2. No problem. I grab the leash again, my heavenly black coffee and we head outside.

And when we do, I see this …































All part of Casey’s plan.




A peek behind the curtain

A nice looking ornamental grass – Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ to be exact.


Until you pull back the curtain and see that only the front half of the grass is actually growing.  


The blame falls squarely on my underachieving kids as I let them cut down most of the ornamental grasses this past spring.

So your lesson for today – don’t trust kids with power tools, they will only disappoint.

A very special delivery

You want to know what is awesome?

Beyond a fried egg on a pizza or cheeseburger.

And beyond the current version of my Excel document that lists every plant I own. That thing is closer to “really awesome”.

And beyond the fact that I have planted over 100 bulbs the past two days … as the sun was rising each morning. No, that screams “utter determination”.

Today’s “awesome” story is shockingly about … ornamental grasses. But we’re not talking about another endless photo shoot from yours truly. Nope.

I wanted to share the fact that I recently received close to 75 new grasses in the mail from my friends over at Hoffman Nursery (full disclosure, they were provided free of charge).

Upon opening the box, I fainted and had to be revived by my daughter. She is used to this type of reaction by now so it was no biggie for her. I like her ability to handle herself under pressure.

After coming to, I actually found myself pumped up and a nervous wreck at the same time. I couldn’t wait to find a place to plant them all. And I was terrified thinking about finding a place to plant them all. We all garden to relax, right?

After I carefully removed my skirt and put my big boy pants on, I came up with a plan for just about all of the grasses. Although I will ask you for the right to change my mind within the next 24 to 48 hours.

I won’t bore you (as if that has ever stopped me before) with all of the details since the grasses are still only little pups,  but I have to show you some of what I did. If only to use as the “once upon time” portion of a future post that shows just how damn awesome these grasses really are.

For true visual impact and knowing that they would be planted in a “moist” area, I planted 10 Carex grayi as a ground cover along one of the beds in my backyard.



This is my first exposure to this sedge and I am most excited about the unusual looking seed heads that are produced. To see a good shot of those seed heads, click here.

Staying with the groundcover and sedge theme, next up are the ten Carex appalachica I planted underneath a River Birch tree.



These sedges prefer a much drier soil and based on what I had researched, can withstand root competition with trees. I’ve struggled to keep anything alive under my Birch trees so I’m hoping I’ve finally found the solution.

The next two pics are of Sorghastrum ‘Indian Steel’ (you can read more about it here). I found a few locations for these natives and look forward to the their upright and deliciously blue stems.



This spring, I planted a Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Blue Grama Grass) and I’m just now seeing the horizontal seed heads it is known for.



And guess who now is the proud owner of 7 more of these? I added a bunch of them around my existing grass, hoping the massing will make quite a splash for summers to come.


OK, technically I haven’t planted all of the grasses yet, but I am doing my best to keep them watered until I can find them a semi-permanent home.


I would love to hear from you if you have had any experiences with any of these grasses mentioned above.

I also planted Panicum ‘Squaw’, Panicum ‘Thundercloud’ and Calamagrostis brachytricha.

And yes, I rule.

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