Making progress

I’ve never worked harder in my garden than I have these past two weeks. I’m outside every free moment I get; heat and humidity and endless downpours be damned.

It’s exhausting but I love it.

Ideally I would’ve kept up with things on a semi-regular basis but you know; family, kids, vacations and life tend to get in the way.

I’m nowhere near done but thought I’d share some of the results with you today as a means for you to help me keep going. The majority of the work so far has been weed pulling and I guess I should be thankful for all the rain; it makes weed removal that much easier when the soil isn’t bone dry.

So here are some pics for your viewing pleasure. Some of the photo quality isn’t where I like it, but I couldn’t wait for the right lighting to take many of these. That’s not the purpose any way.

I’d like to think I’ll be able to take some killer photos as we head into September when this garden is popping with awesomeness and early fall color.

At least I can dream. It keeps me going.

Not only have I meticulously cleaned out the bed that runs along the front of my home, I’ve also done the same with the walkway. Every freakin weed was pulled by hand and I vow to now control them through a natural weed spray I’ve concocted.

A big part of the front bed clean-up was cleaning up the six Catmint (Nepeta) plants. I trimmed them all back aggressively and they’ve all bounced back within no time.

Here is an example of one pre-haircut.

It’s embarrassing to admit it and I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve always been bad with maintaining a deer prevention strategy. Call it lazy or call it giving up too easily, there’s still no excuse for the lack of effort.

Well no more. I’m regularly spraying and experimenting with different options. This has allowed for blooms on the Sedum ‘Matrona’ for the first time in years.

And the Hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’ has been allowed to round into form without nibbles up and down the front of the shrub.

Now I remember why I planted it in the first place. That leaf color is fantastic.

One negative discovered here. While the deer had been pruning this Redtwig Dogwood back regularly all spring.

It has also been hit by the dreaded Dogwood Sawfly Larvae. They’ve nibbled the leaves quite a bit and my only means of addressing it so far has been to allow the pounding rain to wash them off the shrub. Ugh.

Don’t laugh, but while this section of the front garden takes care of itself these days since there is little room for weed growth, the addition of the black wrought iron post thingy really adds to its overall appeal. Right? Please tell me I’m right.

One other thing with this section of garden while I’m at it. It’s loaded with Veronica ‘Royal Candles’ that quickly bloomed like mad but then wore down quickly. I cut them all down to the ground and within a week or so, they are all on their way back.

Moving on.

While I love the large river stones under the basketball hoop here, I think I’m enjoying the lack of weed worry here more than anything else.

This looks like a simple patch of Sweet Flag but you have no idea what it took to clean these up. They weren’t visible from all the weeds that had inundated their surroundings. I wish I had taken the before pic.

I shared with you on a prior post how I had moved these white coneflowers to this spot. I still like it. They were meant to be here.

The Joe Pye Weed in this section are smaller than in season’s past because you guessed it: f’n deer. They’ve stayed away for the time being (don’t get lazy John, don’t get lazy John) and they’ll look even better as the Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ come to life behind them.

You wouldn’t know it, but the JPW and ML were surrounded by the weed that has become the bane of my existence these days: Japanese Stilt Grass. I pulled it by hand for a good two hours in this area alone.

But more on that weed in a future post. I need to dive into this one in detail.

Moving to the backyard.

Hours of weed clearance and relocating of plants that didn’t work here and we ended up with a good amount of open earth. Me no like open earth.

If you look closely enough, you can see that I divided a bunch of Bee Balm and added the new divisions here. They should fill in rather quickly with a sweet pop of color and critter activity. Best part of all: the new plants cost nothing.

I freed up a lot of available plant real estate along the front of this section as well and I’m still in the process of determining what to add here.

Side note: I dug out a section of the lawn to fit in large pavers for a fire pit (Photos to come once completed). All of the large stones in the photo above were found during that dig. That sums up our soil perfectly. It’s why it doesn’t drain well.

I’m really annoyed that I again, didn’t take a before photo with the section of garden below because it was fugly. Look back on my original garden tour video here to see just how bad it had become.

Again, the main culprit here was the Japanese Stilt Grass. As was the out of control Hardy Ageratum (which many of you warned me about).

A good four hours was spent here just to be able to again reveal the Lady’s Mantle and other assorted perennials and shrubs. Now we fill in all of the gaps.

A true before shot below. Also taken over by the JSG, as I now like to call it.

Hours of pulling and yanking (which is relatively easy with JSG by the way) and we end up with this.

Even more of a blank canvas to work with which is exciting and overwhelming.

Because I have enough newly designated blank slates to contend with still. Like this one that I’ve only now begun to fill.

More to come.





Critter pics

Still plugging away in the garden.

Still not ready to share the results.

In the interim, here are some photos I’ve taken the past week.

Hope you enjoy.

More Monarchs this year than ever before. Here on Joe Pye Weed.


Enjoying the Allium.


Spread your wings little guys and gals.



Swamp Milkweed attracts them all.


I thought I was photographing a Monarch Caterpillar only. Turns out a Praying Mantis had captured it. I can’t lie, I maneuvered the caterpillar loose. I did not let nature take its course.


Working my buttocks off

For the past week or so I’ve dedicated myself to getting the garden to a much better place. I’ve spent hours upon hours weeding, moving plants to new locations, adding new plants and even adding a fire pit to the mix. I’ve started some mornings at 6:00 am and ended some evenings at 10:00 pm.

I’ve never sweat more in my life and it’s freaking awesome. This is what I love to do. There’s almost a pleasure in letting the garden go for a long stretch (which I did) only to come back and straighten it all up. It’s work, but it’s truly a labor of love.

I’m nowhere near close to finishing it (and yes I know “finishing” is a relative term) and I also ain’t stopping any time soon. In due time I will share it all with you. I promise.

For now, here are just a few small things I’ve done.

I literally felt my anxiety lessen when I finally took care of this mess. For two years, these white and purple coneflowers have co-existed and I hated every second of it. I planted the white in this location but the purple showed up unexpectedly.

No more.

This section has become a purple/pink fun time.

And now the white coneflowers share a space with a white blooming Clethra.

Much, much better.

Sticking with the coneflower theme. These yellow coneflowers have never really fit in this spot. It gets too much shade so they fall over desperately seeking the sun. Plus color-wise, it’s a bit of a mess.

A few minutes later and they’re in a full sun spot and it feels like they should’ve been here all along.

That’s all I have for you today. Hopefully the next collection of changes I’ll show you will be even better.

But you’ll have to wait until early next week. More work to be done.

One last thing.

I held my first ever book signing last Saturday at Triumph’s Brewing Company in New Hope, Pa. It was a blast even if it felt a bit odd signing books for total strangers.

I hope to do a few more this summer (update coming soon) and if you’re in the area, I’d love to meet you all.

One more last thing. Again. If you did read the book, I’d love for you to leave a review on Amazon and it must be honest. I promise you not only can I take it, but I also need it.

As always, thank you.

Welcome back to your garden John

And just like that, we are back from vacation and slowly adjusting back to east coast time. It was a great trip with memories that will stick in Markowski lore, plus the realization that we like California … like a lot. Just knowing I could grown my own avocados is enough to push us all there at some point in the future.

The weather wasn’t so bad either.

Returning home to the garden after a long absence is always a bag of mixed emotions. It’s exciting to see progress and exciting to see what is newly blooming. At the same time, the weeds could dramatically expand without fear of eradication and I know that will set me back in my journey to create the perfect garden.

That last statement was sarcastic, FYI.

But what was more surprising than anything else was one emotion that stood above all else. One emotion I never anticipated upon our return. An emotion I don’t typically associate with the garden. But it was and is still here days later.


I need a change. Scratch that, I need many changes.

I need new and different. I’m bored with all that I’ve created and madly attempted to curate all these years.

I don’t like the feeling but I can’t deny it.

I have no time to implement these changes. And it wouldn’t be wise to start moving plants around during the dog days of summer. They wouldn’t be happy.

So I’m taking deep breaths and assessing the potential changes. I’m aware (finally) that my plant palette is somewhat limited based on my conditions, but oddly enough, I’m not looking to add new plants as much as I’m desiring a new look with my existing plants.

So maybe it’s a series of tweaks that I desire more than anything else. When I say that out loud it doesn’t feel as intimidating. It says “a little at a time”. It doesn’t erase all the blood and sweat I’ve poured in all these years.


I like that. I’m going to roll with it. I think I addressed my issue on the fly as I wrote this post.

Thanks for listening.








Vacation pics

A new garden post will be coming soon.

We’ve been on an 8-day vacation in Southern California and while I’m not ready to return home any time soon, I do look forward to seeing where things stand in my garden.

Until then, please enjoy these vacation pics.


Odds and ends

The latest and greatest in the garden.


The basketball hoop couldn’t have been sited more perfectly. Not only does it bring height to the garden. Not only does it act as much needed hardscape in a sea of green. Not only does it bring more visitors into the garden.

But it also forces me to clean up a weed-filled section of the garden that will now be home to stone. I also feel like this section of the garden has now been perfectly divided and provided me with a chance to do some serious design.

Divide and Conquer

It may be time to figure out how to divide all of my Nepata (Catmint). This is how most of them look right now. They’ll look better after I cut back the spent blooms, but long term I need to take care of this.

Have any of you ever divided Nepeta?

The Lady in Red, she’s …

The good news: I’ve never had this many blooms on my Hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’.

The bad news: that was the view from the back of the shrub against the foundation of the house. Here is how it looks in the front. Damn deer nipping away all fall and spring.

My First

Shhhhh … don’t jinx it. I’m about to get an actual bloom on my Cimicifuga (Bugbane).


Many blooms coming on the Purple Prairie Clover


The seedheads on the Baptisia still make this perennial a showstopper.


Removing Canada Thistle

I’ve written about my attempts to remove Canada Thistle many times before and I’ve attempted to capture it all on video before but never followed through.

That changes today.

The video below captures step one in my attempted eradication of this terrifying and invasive weed.

I will win.

Video – a thriving part of the garden

The video below makes me happy. It’s a part of the garden I’m very proud of and one that has filled in nicely over time.

After watching this life-changing video, check out the photos below which identify all of the plants that were part of the mini-tour. I’ve even linked the pics to sites where you can read more about each.

You are so welcome.


Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’


Physostegia (Obedient Plant) ‘Vivid’

This is how they looked only a little over one year ago. How quickly they fill in.


Sorbaria sorbifolia (False Spirea)


Veronica (cultivar unknown … my bad … the spreadsheet wasn’t updated.)


Pennisetum (Fountain Grass) ‘Desert Plains’

In September

In October


Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)

Brodiaea laxa ‘Silver Queen’

Back in the fall, I wrote a post about receiving a bunch of free bulbs from renowned bulb purveyor, John Scheepers. While most of the bulbs were a success this spring, one stands out above all the others IMHO. That would be Brodiaea laxa ‘Silver Queen’.

Brodiaea laxa ‘Silver Queen’

These star-shaped flowers have been blooming non-stop for me since early June and they’re showing no signs of slowing down any time soon even as we head into the brutal heat of July.

Brodiaea laxa ‘Silver Queen’

I planted them back in October in a mostly sunny location (they prefer full sun) and found a spot where the soil actually drains well. That’s hard to find in my garden but I knew these would struggle to survive if I didn’t.

I can say with 100% certainty, they have thrived in year one.

I’m loving the combo of the silver hue of the flowers and the grass-like foliage. They give off an airy quality that plays well with others perennials. They look fantastic both up close and from a further distance away.

Brodiaea laxa ‘Silver Queen’

Here’s hoping they make it through the fall/winter okay as they are apparently not super hardy. I’ll do my best to treat them with kid gloves.

If they do survive, here’s hoping they increase in numbers as advertised. These bulbs up themselves in volume through corm offsets.

And fortunately, I’ve given them plenty of room to expand.

I like plant expansion.

I like it a lot.


Me and my containers

You’ve created a monster.

Your feedback has me invigorated.

I’m loving taking videos of the garden. It gives me a new perspective which I never anticipated. It allows me to take a step back and evaluate the garden through a, ahem, different lens.

For today, here’s a look at my back deck. The views out into the garden and the containers that reside here. As you’ll see, I could really use your expert opinions on how to improve these pots o’ plants.

There may even be some actual tomatoes.

So I’ve heard.