Day 2 – New York Mets Spring Training 2018

5:30 am – The alarm gently awakens one of us.

5:33 am – I attempt to gently awaken my son.

5:34 am – I squeeze my son’s nose and remind him that he wanted to wake up this early.

5:45 am – We depart for the field and allow the ladies to sleep later. Spoiler: they don’t fall back asleep. We don’t understand the word “quiet”.

6:01 am – We are at the field and ready to stalk the Mets players as they disembark from their overpriced automobiles and walk into the locker room.  We are the only ones in the parking lot. Our dedication cannot be questioned.

We are eventually joined by other stalkers fans. Apparently we aren’t the only ones who value a scribbled name on a ball.

We have a small amount of success with nabbing a few autographs of players and eventually make our way into the formal practice … close to four hours later.

My lower back stings.

My feet burn.

I’m drenched in sweat.

All from nothing more than standing still.

Fun.

We watch the players reunite on the field as this is the Mets first full squad workout. The boys of spring, summer and fall are back.

New faces, like Todd Frazier, waste no time assimilating themselves into the team.

Every team is undefeated. Every player is in the best shape of their lives. No one has been cut. No dreams have been squashed. For a few days at least, it is nothing but smiles.

The day commences with stretching or dancing or some bizarre mash-up of both.

I wonder if I can still do this. Nope. Just tried. Hurts like hell. I hate 45 years old.

Dads and sons. I could watch Asdrubal Cabrera and his son all day.

Bad ass is defined as stretching/hopping and not spilling your sunflower seeds.

Long toss for pitchers can’t be missed. It’s a work of art IMHO. Color me mesmerized.

Have I mentioned my love of baseball and warmth and sun and the colors blue and orange?

This is a staff meeting I’d like to attend.

Happy faces in a happy place.

This is Anthony Swarzak. He was signed by the Mets this off season. What you wouldn’t know if you didn’t attend spring training, is just how friendly and kind and cool this young cat is.

My son with P.J. Conlon who was a late round draft pick in 2015 and is defying the odds as a pitcher since he doesn’t throw harder than 90 mph. We’re all big fans.

My son has been dying to get a signature from pitcher Steven Matz. It finally happened. Here he is stretching out a ball, just hoping.

And then success.

Another new Met this year, Adrian Gonzalez, patiently signing after demanding all kids were to go first. I like him.

When autograph hunting, it can be a blur as to who is signing where.

And then the crowds clear, and your chance to jump in arrives.

Even after a ridiculously early morning and a three hour practice, we still hit up the parking lot and beg for more face time. This is new Mets manager Mickey Callaway.

After a lot of sitting around and hoping and waiting and pacing, you get this and it makes it all worth it.

Let’s do this again tomorrow.

Day 1 – New York Mets Spring Training 2018

And we’re back.

The promise of spring has returned.

The sound of ball popping in glove is intoxicating.

It’s mutha f’n spring training my friends.

#36 would be new Mets manager, Mickey Callaway, who is one charming fella. So much so, I had no fear asking him for a selfie post-practice.

Today was in the mid-80’s, nothing but sunshine and a few hours of pitchers and catchers.  I was kind of a Matt Harvey fanboy.

 

 

 

He is on retribution tour 3.0 and here’s hoping he regains his form of 2013 or even 2015.

While the crowds were on the small side since this was only pitchers and catchers practicing  (the first full squad workout is tomorrow), there was still an air of optimism and relief that baseball was back.

And yes, autograph hunting was on full display.

 

One happy 15 year-old boy and his equally happy father.

And yes, he even took the time out to pose with both mom and dad.

And lest you think my daughter didn’t have any fun, I give you this.

And this: being interviewed as part of the Mets “Kids Clubhouse” where she killed it so much, they gave her close to ten different spots.

And this.

Three more days to go.

And a hell of a lot more Mets to come.

My apologies in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fountain Grass and Joe Pye Weed

Ladies and gents, how would you like a fool-proof plant combo that requires virtually no upkeep and comes back bigger and better each and every year?

I give you Fountain Grass and Joe Pye Weed.

Or for those of you who dabble in plant snobbery like I do, I give you Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ and Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’.

If you’ve been here before, you know that I’ve written about Joe Pye Weed like 3,218 times in the past because it is that phenomenal. If you’d like to read up on the specifics of this perennial, check out the following before proceeding.

Joe Pye Weed

And know I love it most for this.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk some Fountain Grass:

  • Size: 2.5 x 2.5
  • Zone : 5-9
  • Bloom: August – October
  • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Moisture: Medium to wet

Like almost all other ornamental grasses, Pennisetum is deer resistant.

It’s a warm season grass meaning it won’t start putting out new growth until the soil temps warm up in mid to late spring.

‘Hameln’ is a smaller Pennisetum cultivar maxing out at no more than 3′ high and 3′ wide. It can easily fit into any-sized garden.

The beauty of both ‘Hameln’ and ‘Gateway’ is that they can both be easily found at almost any nursery or garden center.

When these two are first blooming in August, they look tremendous together.

And still great a month later in September.

Maybe it’s an acquired taste, but I still love this combo in November.

The bottlebrush-like blooms of Pennisetum contrast nicely with the Joe Pye Weed flowers.

The only maintenance required for both is to cut them to the ground in late winter each year.

That’s it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book excerpt: “Spiders”

My apologies for the lack of posts these past two weeks. I’ve been head down, day and night, writing the book. It’s been a blast but exhausting. Here’s hoping the final product comes out OK.

A huge thank-you to all who left a comment with a suggested book title. I loved them all  and appreciate you taking the time out to do it.

Guess what? I still don’t have a title.

The manuscript has been completed and sent to the editor as of yesterday and I’m still no closer to making a decision.

Uh oh.

The struggle has been that while the book dives into gardening quite a bit, it really isn’t about that. It’s more about how I found my passion along the way. It involved finding gardening but also finding writing. I’ve done my best to make the book inspirational and hopefully to get the reader to take a closer look at their own life.

I promise this isn’t self-help nonsense. It’s still me and light and goofy, just with a twist of trying to help.

Below is another excerpt for your reading pleasure. It should give you a better idea of the feel of the book.

If you get inspired and come up with a potential book title, I’m still all ears.

And I will need all of your feedback when it comes to picking out a book cover, etc.

Thank you in advance.

 

Spiders

Spiders so large they appear to be wearing the pelts of small mammals.
― Dave Barry

I wasn’t the kid who was intrigued by or ever sought out any type of critter. I didn’t play in the dirt and I didn’t pick up worms. I had friends who would turn over rocks in the woods just to see what creatures could be found underneath. When they did that, I squirmed, looked away and thought about baseball.

In fact, there is quite a legendary story in Markowski family lore about my deep fear of butterflies as a young lad. My mother reminds me of it regularly, now that she sees that I enjoy nothing more than chasing the Monarch butterflies around in my own garden. As a kid I refused to step outside if there were any signs of a butterfly nearby. If I was forced to confront my fears by my unsympathetic parents, I would physically shake and fall down in a heap.

Side note: Lepidopterophobia is the fear of butterflies. If it has an official name I couldn’t have been that crazy. Nicole Kidman allegedly suffers from this fear. It’s not so weird any more is it?.

I remember one giant spider that resided on a jalousie on our enclosed porch. It was there for weeks and we all completely avoided the porch, other than making sure it hadn’t left its perch. I couldn’t sleep at night. I had nightmares. I vowed to avoid the outdoors for eternity.

I don’t know how the spider issue ultimately resolved itself, but I do know that I’m not alone in recalling just how traumatized we all were by that mammoth arachnid.

Our region had awful caterpillar problems when I was young. The black and furry critters would completely cover our trees in spring/summer and it was a regular occurrence to see them smashed all over the roadways. They were creepy and everywhere and infiltrated our lives from every angle.

One day we kids were all forced to stay home from school making sure all windows and doors were shut so a helicopter could fly overhead and spray some toxic chemicals on all of the town’s trees. One neighbor protested by sitting on her roof. I thought she was nuts then but I really like her now.

I broke my right wrist in 1st grade sliding down the giant playground slide. My body went down the slide as the kids pushed me, but my arm stayed behind, hooked around the top of the slide. I remember Patty Huff greeting a crying me at the bottom of the slide and escorting me to the nurse’s office that afternoon.

This was the same Patty Huff who was mercilessly mocked throughout middle school and all the way up through high school. I befriended her on Facebook years ago and was happy to see she was doing OK. Sadly she passed away soon after that from a medical issue I never fully understood. I wish I had thanked her for her kindness back in 1979 and that I had stood up for her more in school.

Those words ring hollow now because I did nothing. I don’t get to pat myself on the back now.

When I broke my wrist, I had this overwhelmingly strange skin reaction underneath my cast and I was convinced it was the result of a stray caterpillar that found its way up my arm. I would laugh until I cried and fall down and beg my mom to make it stop. She would sympathize through tears of laughter. The day I got that cast cut off was the most freeing day of my life.

When I found gardening or when it found me, I quickly realized I had to confront my fear of the critters that inhabited the soil. Worms were fine and I learned early on to appreciate their worth. I would pick them up, pat their squishy backs and place them back down so they could do their good work and improve my soil.

The spiders were another story. I squealed a lot at first. I would throw my trowel at them and run away. There were a lot of false alarms as my paranoia grew.

Then one day I spotted a mother spider scurrying with baby eggs still attached after I nearly decapitated her with my shovel. This changed everything. I had immediate sympathy and felt her fear. I was a lot bigger than her. So what if she has 8 fuzzy legs and always looks pissed off. She’s just trying to survive.

So we reached an unwritten agreement. I left them alone if they promised to quietly announce themselves; no jump scares, no surprises.

This arrangement worked and it worked beautifully. We were able to coexist. I came to sympathize with their purpose in life. They ate all of the bad bugs even if I didn’t know who those “bad bugs” were. I came to appreciate that they had work to do just like I had work to do.

I lost all fear of spiders.

This new found comfort with the spider allowed me to play hero to my wife soon after.

It was the day after Christmas in 2002. My newborn son was 5 months old and my wife was still on maternity leave. It was our first Christmas as a “family”.

I was at work and my wife was home with our son, watching him roll around and coo under the Christmas tree. This Christmas tree was a beauty. It was the perfect shade of blue/green and flawlessly shaped with the only drawback being that the needles were so sharp; we had to place the ornaments on the tree while wearing gloves.

The sacrifices we make.

We had cut the tree down weeks earlier on an official family outing. We have fantastic photos of triumphant me holding the tree in one hand and a saw in the other. A great shot of my father-in-law holding baby Jack in the snow. A borderline obnoxiously perfect holiday moment. But damn how happy I am now that we took those photos.

Here’s a tip for you all if you want to cut down your own Christmas tree. Sharp needles are a great means for protecting whatever wants to reside within the bowels of the tree. And more often than I realized then, spiders like to live in said trees; like a lot of spiders.

The call to my office was straight out of a horror movie. My wife was whispering like she was holed up in a closet, trying to escape her captors. She and my son had taken shelter in our bedroom. It was the only safe place in the house. As she recounted, it started with a peripheral glance at something jumping from ornament to ornament and ended with the realization that there was a full blown spider invasion. I can only assume all of the spider eggs hatched at the same time and they then agreed to set out and wreak havoc.

I jumped off of my conference call and raced home. Fortunately for my family, I was less than 10 minutes away.

I raced up the stairs, ignored the grisly scene in the family room, and consoled my wife. With the utmost confidence, I told her “I got this” and proceeded to head back down the stairs and directly into the line of fire. I did so with a smirk on my face because this guy no longer had a fear of spiders.

I got rid of every last one of them.

I took off every individual ornament, inspecting each for not only spiders but spider eggs and carefully packed them away. I carried the didn’t-know-what-hit-it tree out to the street, daggers from the branches and all.

I continued to monitor the house for weeks to ensure no stragglers were left behind.

My wife swooned when it was all done.

I was totally her Prince Charming.

We could go back to hanging-with-the-infant bliss.

Since that day, I have become the spider whisperer. Out here in the country, we get terrifyingly large spiders in our garage, in our basement and they are good at stealthily sneaking through our front door.

All the family needs to say is “Dad” and I’m there with a paper towel. I don’t kill them. I lure them into my paper toweled hand, gently ball it up and place them in their natural environment. They don’t scare me no matter how hairy or sinister they look.

I’m currently considering going into the spider removal business. Who needs help?

 

Chew on this: Do you explore what scares you? Lean into those fears and see where it takes you.

A book update

Good afternoon friends.

Hope you had a decent week and hope you are looking forward to this upcoming weekend. It’s supposed to be warmer here in NJ which will hopefully remove all of the snow and ice that I’ve grown to despise more and more each year.

The 2nd book has been written. That was the fun part. That was the easy part.

Now it’s time to edit and determine how it will be pulled together. There are 42 short stories and I really hope they all make it to the final product. Grouping them into sections/chapters and creating a flow has been challenging. I know what I want to say and why. I just need to ensure that it translates to the reader as well.

I hired a freelancer to assist with copy editing, cover (front and back) design, proofreading and file creation so this book can be created as hardcover, softcover and as an e-book (Kindle). This will ensure a great looking final product. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope the writing can keep up.

As of right now, I have two weeks to submit the final manuscript so her work can then commence. I’m thrilled to have an actual deadline and will be head down for the next 14 days. I look forward to it and have massive anxiety at the same time.

Here’s where you all come in: I still don’t have a working title. I desperately need your help. Any and all suggestions are welcome.

Here are the tentative section/chapter names as a guide:

“Early gardening interest” (Childhood)

“Finding my way” (College, writing, jobs, early adulthood)

“Getting educated” (On all things gardening)

“Taking it to the next level” (Hardcore gardening)

“Looking back to look forward” (Looking to childhood joys for inspiration)

“Worlds collide” (Gardening and writing)

“All in the family” (Gardening + Writing + Family)

“Inspiration” (Who and what keeps me going)

“Evolving” (Gardening and in life)

“Navigating through” (Fun times, tough times, the future)

Let’s up the stakes. If I choose your title, I’ll send you a gift card to one of my favorite online plant purveyors.

So get those brains churning, feel free to ask me any questions and please, save me from myself.

Thank you.

 

 

The to-do list

Shopping for plants is a nice escape this time of year. It’s easy to get lost in the flowers and lush foliage and the imagined scents of spring. I was there the past few weeks and loved every second of it.

But today it was time to get down to business. Time to get serious. Time to start thinking about what needs to get done in the garden in just a few short months from now. It’s never to soon to start building the to-do list.

Here are 5 things I added to that list today:

Move that shrub

This Salix ‘Hakuro nishiki’ (Dappled Willow) has got to be moved. Even after cutting it to the ground in spring and selective pruning throughout the year, I can’t control it.

Many of you have pointed out that these are shallow rooted and somewhat easy to relocate so I’m not too concerned with the hard labor required.

I’m more concerned with the deer gaining easier access with this moved further away from the house.

But that won’t stop me.

Too much of a good thing

I love me some yellow or chartreuse foliage. It can pop when sited appropriately and really brightens up a shaded area of the garden.

But too much of it lumped together is a turn-off.

I need to strategically relocate and/or rearrange these Heuchera because I can’t stand looking at them in their current state.

Of course if the rabbits keep gnawing away at them I may not need to worry at all.

Divide and conquer

I can’t put it off any longer.

I have so many ornamental grasses that need to be divided. These are some serious clumps of grass so it won’t be easy, but the reward at the end is more grasses.

That is always a good thing.

Anyone want some? Make your reservations now. Yes, I’m serious.

Break it up

I shared this photo with you all back in the summer. You all gave me great suggestions on how I can improve the look of this section of garden.

Time to add some height.

Time to add some larger leaved plants.

Time to add some non-plants for interest.

This is what makes gardening so much fun.

Thank you.

Selective weed control

I believe the photo below is Bull Thistle. It is a biennial, rosettes year one and blooming/setting seed in year two. It’s hard to not allow this to flower when you see a scene like this one.

Canada thistle is another story. I need to stick with the “chopping it down to the ground regularly” strategy so it can burn itself out.

The point being I need to develop weed prevention plans by getting educated on the specific weeds I need to eradicate. Included in there are no chemicals and possibly allowing some weeds to stick around where it makes sense.

Time to evolve even more.

Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’

I carefully plan every plant purchase. Only after I’ve identified a viable open spot in the garden, done extensive research on all of my options and carefully evaluated my budget will I take the plunge.

And if you believe that, well, we need to get to know each other better.

I’m a reckless plant shopper. I grab first and ask questions later. I never have to locate available space in the garden because there is always available space in the garden. That’s rule 4.27 in the garden shopping handbook.

A few years back, while shopping at my local nursery, I spotted a variegated shrub that I assumed was a boxwood or euonymous. Upon closer inspection I was wrong. It was a Diervilla which I’m ashamed to admit I’d never heard of before. The common name is “bush honeysuckle” but that still didn’t help me.

So I put in my cart and bought it and brought it home without any additional research.

That’s how I roll.

I was the proud owner of Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’.

The next day, after some cursory research and a few walks around the garden, I found the spot. A partially shaded location along my front foundation where this section of the garden was screaming for some brightness among all of the green foliage. I squeezed it in right behind some red Heuchera (Coral Bells) and it instantly brought the spot to life.

But let me back up.

Here are some specifics on this deciduous shrub:

Size: 2-3′ high X  2-3′ wide

Zone: 4-8

Exposure: Full to partial sun

Moisture level: Normal

Bloom: Yellow flowers in June-July

Deer resistant: So far yes, but I’m still skeptical

By mid-April, this deciduous variegated shrub starts to break bud.

Within a week or two, it has fully leafed out and the foliage color is at its “whitest” at this time.

While the shrub is listed as 3′ x 3′ at its max size, it does spread through underground rhizomes and can allegedly form a colony. No signs of that yet for me, but I’ll be watching closely.

I have my Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’ next to pink Monarda (Bee Balm) and the bloom color contrasts beautifully with the bright foliage.

The variegated foliage remains on the shrub into November before it falls off.

If I take a step back, and show you this section of the garden from a distance, you can get a better feel of this shrub’s impact.

Here it is in late summer.

And in the middle of fall.

And finally in late fall, still making a statement.

I can only hope that impact increases year after year as the Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’ attains its full size.

What do you think?

Plant shopping at Bluestone Perennials

It’s that time again.

It’s time to do some plant shopping.

First stop is at Bluestone Perennials. I’ve been a customer for decades now and have never been disappointed with the quality of the plants. They are my first go-to for online plant shopping.

For today, I used their “Shop by Gardening Solution” functionality and focused on plants that are wet site tolerant. As many of you know, that is the biggest struggle in my garden. But that doesn’t stop me, that doesn’t slow me down. I’ve learned to embrace it.

I also filtered my search to include “deer resistant” knowing that isn’t always accurate but it’s a good start.

My search efforts resulted in 82 options. A good majority of these plants already reside in my garden but there were enough new options to get my gardening juices flowing.

Here are the top 5 plants I discovered, all now residing in my virtual cart on the Bluestone Perennials website.

Click on the photos to get specifics for each at the BP website.

 

Filipendula Flore Pena (Meadowsweet)

I have two different pink-flowering Meadowsweet in my garden already and was pulled in not only by the white blooms, but the fern-like foliage.

I like the 2-3′ size as it would appear to work in most gardens.

It blooms in June and appears to thrive with afternoon shade.

 

Eupatorium fortunei ‘Pink Frost’ (Joe Pye Weed)

A variegated Joe Pye Weed was all I needed to hear. I’ll take 5 please.

 

Tradescantia andersonia ‘Blushing Bride’ (Spiderwort)

This is a new addition to BP this spring and color me way intrigued.

The foliage is way different than the typical Spiderwort and check out those unique markings on the leaves.

Throw in the flower color and I’m sold.

 

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine Gold’ (Ninebark)

I am a Ninebark fan and this is a sweet addition to my ever expanding collection.

While not deer resistant, I’ll do my best to find a good hiding spot. Or I’ll plant it in a container on my deck.

The effort is worth it for that leaf color IMHO.

PSST … it’s on sale right now. Half off. Jump on it.

 

Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Northern Lights’ (Tufted Hair Grass)

I was sold as soon as I saw the foliage colors in the photos.

This is a cool season grass (growth starts in early spring when the soil is still cool) which is on the smaller side 16″.

I see it kicking some booty planted in mass as a groundcover of sorts.

Carex ‘Grayi’ and Packera aurea

As I wander through my decaying garden these days, it’s like a brown-out. All of the ornamental grasses have resorted to their buff winter color and almost all of the perennials are a mess of brown/black.

But there are two perennials that stand out in their still staying green color. Two native perennials that are not so well known and not so flashy but can be a welcome addition to the garden. That is assuming  your garden is like mine: moisture-filled (aka poorly draining) and critter-filled (aka herds of visiting deer).

Let’s take a closer look at both of these plants.

 

Carex ‘grayi’

Common name: Gray sedge

Zone: 5-9

Size: 3′ x 2′

Bloom time: May – October

Exposure: Full to partial sun (performs best in full sun)

Soil: Wet, bog garden plant.

Native: Eastern U.S.

Deer resistant: Yes

Origin of name: Named after famed botanist Asa Gray from the 1800’s

I purchased these in bulk a few years back and sited them in a known wet spot, in full sun.

They’ve thrived here and have quickly doubled in size in only 2 years time.

The seed heads have a club-like shape and start out yellow/green before transforming to brown as fall/winter arrives.

I welcome the semi-evergreen nature of this grass-like perennial. The green stands out in a sea of deadness this time of year.

And when the light hits them just right in winter, the seed heads are reflected in the snow in a cool and funky way. I have no photos to prove this so you’ll just have to trust me until I can prove it to you.

 

Packera aurea

Common name: Golden Ragwort

Zone: 3-8

Size: 2.5′ x 1.5′

Bloom time: April

Exposure: Full to partial sun (thrives in partial shade)

Soil: Wet, bog garden plant.

Native: Eastern U.S.

Deer resistant: Nibbled a bit but never fully destroyed (fingers crossed)

Origin of name: Named after famed botanist John Packer

I went nuts and ordered 50+ plugs of this native perennial two years ago from the native plant purveyor, Izel. To date, I have zero regrets.

While they were small when first planted, they have rocketed in growth ever since.

And they bloomed like mad that first spring with the buds first appearing in early April. A time when I welcome any blooms in my garden.

And do they ever bloom their little heads off. Endless yellow daisy-like flowers completely inundate the plant.

 

I made sure to snip off the spent blooms immediately to prevent seeding as this is a potentially heavy seeder. We’ll see if I was successful or not this spring, although I would welcome some reseeding.

After cutting them all down to their basal foliage, they remain bright green in color and thrive all spring/summer and even into late fall as seen in the photo below.

That is assuming they remain consistently moist as they do not dig the dry soil.