What I did wrong in 2014

“I can handle making tacos for dinner. Seriously, it is more about ‘preparing’ than it is actually ‘making’ dinner. It is one of the few meals I can’t screw up.”

That is an exact quote from me to my wife on January 5th, 2014. I know this exact date because since 1/1/14, I have logged 2-3 events from each and every day into a spreadsheet. With the spreadsheet I want to capture the lesser and easily forgotten moments to prevent them from collectively leaving our memories over time. Then on 12/31 this year (and in subsequent years), I’ll read the list off to the family and together we can laugh, get angry all over again and even cry. Brilliant, I know.

So back to the tacos.

The reason this moment stood out and was worthy of my spreadsheet, is that while I prepared the dinner perfectly fine (including black beans seasoned with lime juice, diced avocadoes, etc.) I did so with expired meat. Like really expired meat.

My wife had purchased the ground turkey a few days earlier and had taken the precaution to freeze it. However, dumb ass found another frozen package, this one beef. One he had frozen himself a few weeks earlier as a means to prevent it from stinking up the refrigerator until the way old meat could be properly disposed of.

I still remember the look on my daughter’s face when my wife said “This doesn’t taste like turkey” and I said “That’s because it isn’t.” Even she could put one and one together. Everyone’s mouth opened in unison and we had what appeared to be a well choreographed spitting out of food.

Fortunately, we were only a few bites into the meal when we called it off. But I was still convinced I had poisoned them all. I remember staying up late that night anticipating that horrific sound of the toilet bowl seat being violently raised followed by the inhuman howl. That never happened and I am happy to report I have “prepared” tacos on numerous occasions since. Fool me once …

While I haven’t reviewed my spreadsheet in detail, I’m sure it is filled with other John screw-ups. Some funny, others not so much. And as I write this, I’m thinking about a garden-only spreadsheet of events for next year. How great would it be to look back and laugh/cry at what I did wrong in my garden in 2015. We learn more from our failures than our successes right?

Speaking of which, here are just some of my failures in 2014.

I grew close to ten different varieties of tomatoes this past year and they were a welcome sight/taste all summer. But as much as I enjoyed them, I probably wasted at least half of them by not keeping up with the harvest.

tomato

Next year we grow fewer and we let not one go to waste. Shame on me.

Same goes with my broccoli plants. I didn’t harvest one stinkin head and allowed it to go to bloom before even noticing it. How the hell does that happen?

broccoli

Some times an unexpected visitor is a welcome sight. Other times it isn’t. It begs you to yank it. And you promise yourself you’ll do it. And then you never do.

goldenrod

Here is what I will now call a “half grass”. Literally half of it never grew after it was cut back in late winter.

gracillimus

And this is who we blame.

spring cleanup

I should have been a better supervisor/task master so I have no one to blame but myself.

This iris (along with numerous others) is begging to be divided as seen with the sizable hole in the center.

iris

Well that never happened even though it appeared on my to-do list for months on end.

Fool me once, shame on you (with “you” being a Monkshood); fool me twice, shame on me; fool me three times, shame on me x 2; fool me four times and well, I’m a bloody fool.

bad5

Seriously, I’ve attempted to grow Monkshood four times and each time it literally disappeared within a few months. Some times you just have to throw in the towel even if all signs and conditions point to it being a good idea.

There is color and then there is too much color.

garden3

I can’t tell you how close I was to ripping all of these plants out and starting over all while they were in full bloom. No, I wasn’t going for a red, white and blue theme. I don’t even remember the logic I applied when I pieced this together in early spring. It still annoys me to this day. It has since been rectified, but bad job, bad job John.

Yes, that is poison ivy that I ignored all spring/summer/fall and now I have no hopes of getting anywhere near that spigot in the future.

poison ivy

I continue to waste the impact and awesomeness of this Molinia ‘Sky Racer’ by keeping it solo in this yet to be developed garden bed.

molinia2

molinia

The goal to eliminate more and more lawn did not take a step forward this year.

yard

My lack of originality and creativity when it comes to container plantings continued.

heliotrope

pansies

Two consecutive years where the rabbits didn’t allow Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats) ‘River Mist’ to grow at all.

bad4

What I Did Right in 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

crocus

 

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

tulips

tulips

 

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

onion6

 

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

lettuce

 

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

moth2

 

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

salix2

 

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

carex

 

A Longwood Gardens visit was a long time coming.

long2

 

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

federal twist garden12

 

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

baptisia

 

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

high line 30

 

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

redoctober

 

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

milkweed

 

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

grasses protect veggies2

faro3

 

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

help

 

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

radio

 

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

garden2

 

Through the Seasons

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

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

Enjoy.

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

after7

joe pye

grass

joe pye and miscanthus

winter10

 

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

after10

garden

garden4

full5

vib whites

 

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

after

grasses fall color

garden2

grasses

yard

ornamental grass snow

 

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

after4

garden7

 

Similar plants as listed above but from a different angle:

after3

garden8

 

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

after6

garden2

garden

full2

 

A little bit of everything:

after2

garden

garden

 

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

after11

garden

winter20

Benefit for Lyra

Just a quick post today.

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

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

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

Thank you for your consideration.

John

lyra

Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’

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

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

vib3

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

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

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

viburnum3

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

viburnum10

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

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

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

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

viburnum8

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

viburnum bloom

Soon after, the shrub is covered in pink buds.

vib aurora

vib aurora2

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

vib bloom

viburnum2

viburnum4

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

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

vib whites

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

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

viburnum

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

vib aurora

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

vib aurora3

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

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

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

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

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

Weekend in Philadelphia

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

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

cit bank2

 

Someone looks like a natural in the press box.

announcer

 

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

baseballs

 

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

phils locker room

 

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

dugout5

dugout2

 

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

cheese steak

cheese steak2

 

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

independence hall2

 

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

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

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

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

columns

 

Overall, it was an incredibly beautiful Fall excursion.

bench

 

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

goldie

 

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

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

insonia cookies

 

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

donuts

hot dogs

crowd

 

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

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

soccer2

 

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

viburnum

 

It kicked that much butt.

Ninebark ‘Diablo’ is a winner

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

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

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

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

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

ninebark6

 

Pretty sexy, eh?

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

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

ninebark4

 

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

ninebark

ninebark3

 

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

ninebark2

 

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

ninebark

 

 

More to come in Spring ’15.

Good times

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

One of the questions posed to the attendees was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ain’t happening.

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

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

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

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

milkweed

monarch2

 

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

Picture-1867

easter4

 

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

Picture-1809

frozen crabapple 2

 

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

Picture-1414

 

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

ww-2

ea21

 

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

I can write about saying goodbye to my childhood home.

house (1)

 

Or why one lemon meant so much to me.

lemon

 

Or even something mindless like where I like to run.

94

 

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

Picture-1976

 

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

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

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

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

me

 

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

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

The Perfect Storm

I dread this day each year.

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

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

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

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

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

No thank you.

Here is some photographic proof:

The last surviving bloom in my garden.

sneezeweed orange

The last of the peppers have fallen off and surrendered.

peppers

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

grasses

grass

miscanthus gracillimus

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

sneezeweed

coneflower2

The concept of bark is back.

ninebark

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

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

zombie

And my wife was infected as well.

zombie

You have to admit, we are awesome looking zombies.

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