Sunday, April 20, 2014

A garden stroll on Easter

A garden tour from this Easter afternoon:

Viburnum buds continue to progress. And I realize just how many ornamental grasses I have based on their need to constantly photo bomb:

See what I mean?

What is interesting with these Mt Hood daffodils is how the trumpets start off yellow and eventually settle in pure white:

The Summer Snowflake blooms are appearing in bunches now, but I was more intrigued by the early evening sun on these bulbs:

More and more leafing out on the trees:

The lilac shrubs have shown signs of life for the first time:  

The peonies continue to emerge and unfurl:

I planted two Leymus (Blue Lyme Grass) 'Blue Dune' in containers last summer and let them overwinter outdoors. They didn't take long to appear again this spring:

The Dappled Willow (Salix 'Hakuro-nishiki') has fully leafed out and looks better than ever:

The tulips I overwintered in the garage actually bloomed (yeah buddy) so I made sure to bring them indoors where they could be gleefully ogled:

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend.

Ours was kind of awesome.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


"Stuff" is still happening out in the garden even as we experience wind chills in the teens and a bit of snow:

Buds on the Viburnum carlesii 'Aurora' continue to march towards actual blooms:

The buds are in full effect on the Amelanchier grandiflora (Serviceberry) 'Autumn Brilliance':

An initial bloom can be seen on the Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake) 'Gravetye Giant':

The to-be monstrous bloom on the Allium 'Globemaster' has made its initial appearance:

The foliage on the Viburnum plicatum 'Shoshoni' has emerged: 

We have the first signs of the Astilbes:

And the cool season ornamental grasses have arrived:  

You have to love this time of year.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Time to get dirt under the fingernails

There were new blooms to visually consume this weekend and that was cool:

And more to come in the immediate future:

But this weekend was all about getting shit done ... in the dirt ... with tools ... and the bare hands.

Here is a running list of what failed to survive the winter and was subsequently removed:

6 Emerald Green Arborvitae
1 Arborvitae (forgot the cultivar, had white tipped foliage, oh who cares, she is cooked)
1 Variegated Boxwood
1 Green Velvet Boxwood
1 Ilex glabra (Holly) 'Shamrock' (with one to go as seen in my foundation planting below):

The cupboard is bare with lots of work to do. Annoying, frustrating and exciting all at the same time.

Oh, there are three more Arborvitae that need to go (for those keeping score at home, we are down ten arborvitae in total):

A lot of death to handle but in my world of crappy conditions you quickly grieve and move on. Truthfully, good riddance to all of the Arborvitaes. I won't make that same mistake again.

On a more uplifting note, I planted 5 bare root trees that were given away at my local park as a means of tree restoration after Hurricane Sandy. Two Red Oaks, a Pin Oak, A Bald Cypress and a Sweetgum were all added and it will take some nursing to keep them going but I am up for the challenge:

Most of my winter online plant orders are in and after a day or two of them breathing outside of their boxes, they all went in the ground. Most of them replacing their aforementioned fallen brethren.

A Viburnum 'Brandywine':

Two Pennisetum 'Desert Plains':

An Ilex 'Berry Poppins':

Additional plantings included: 3 Andropogon 'Red October', 1 Schizachyrium 'Blue Heaven', 1 Ilex 'Mr. Poppins', 2 Viburnum 'All That Glitters' and 'All That Grows' and 1 Rhamnus 'Fine Line'. Good times.

There was additional dead foliage clearing to allow the new growth to come in:  

Exciting times to see the deciduous shrubs starting to really leaf out:

Even had some critters to chase around:

We were all happy to be outside again:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Keeping It Real

“I just want to let you know that I drool quite a bit when I sleep.”

That statement was uttered by yours truly back in October of 1990. It was one of the first sentences I directed towards a beautiful young lady I had just met while a freshman at Trenton State College in bucolic Ewing, New Jersey. That woman just happened to become my wife six years later.

Now before you blast me for one of the worst pick-up lines in the history of courtship, just know that I may have been slightly inebriated when I said it, and I may or may not have been hanging upside down on a bicycle rack when those words spilled out of my mouth. It is all a little blurry in the memory bank. And yes, it was a little forward of me but it felt like an important piece of information to share with the future Mrs. Markowski. She had to know what she was getting into from the get-go.   

The truth is, I have a knack for not only giving up too much information about myself, but also taking self- deprecation a bit too far. I’ve always been that way and it hasn’t slowed down as I march through adulthood. I've never stopped to ponder why I am that way or even worried about how people perceive me because of it. I guess if I had to sit in the psychiatrist's chair and analyze it, I could come up with some reasons for it.    

It could be a defense mechanism where I beat you to the punch before you can point out a deficiency of mine. For example, at family get-togethers, I’ll immediately say something like “How do you like this pathetic attempt at a beard?” (which by the way, is completely accurate) before someone can give me that look that says “What a pathetic beard”. It is me proving to you that I am completely self-aware.

It could also be a means to avoid any nonsensical small talk and get right to “keeping it real”. I spend most of my time at my “day job” letting people know that everything is under control and that there are no “issues”, only “opportunities”. There is no room for admissions of failure or talking about your weaknesses. But once I get outside of that environment, it feels refreshing to tell it like it is or to not be afraid of how you will be perceived if you openly admit to not being so in control. Discussions of flaws can feel liberating as hell.

Or maybe, self-deprecation is simply “funny” and I love nothing more than to make people laugh. The best stand-up comedy comes from a place of brutal honesty where one can easily relate to the topic at hand. I have been listening to Howard Stern on the radio for more than two decades now and the appeal has always been his ability to be completely open with the listener. You may think he is crude and disgusting, but for me it goes beyond that. He openly admits to being unattractive and awkward looking and who can’t relate to that type of neurosis in some way? The comedy here is almost a sense of relief as it makes it OK to admit to our own faults and shortcomings.

Where is this type of discussion going on a gardening blog you ask? Am I announcing a career change to "garden stand-up comedy"? No ... but that could be a unique and cool direction to go in. At a minimum, I bet it is an angle no one has attempted before. I'll give it a try:

Q. Why did the gardener cross the road?

A. To pick up a stray apple peel for the compost bin. Not funny.

A. To take a picture of a mysterious blooming flower in a ditch. Never mind. A lot of work to be done here.

The reason for today's pontification is I am looking to fully explore the use of video in and about my garden. In doing so, I realize I am opening myself up to exposing some serious flaws. With photography, it is easy to crop out the bad parts and focus on the good parts. With video, it will be a much larger and comprehensive view of the garden and there is no way to shield readers/viewers from the truth.

But that is good.

There are so many beautiful gardens to visit in person and even more to ogle at in books, magazines or on-line. I love and drool (here we go again) over them like the next guy, but I realize I will never reach that level with my garden. Instead, I am looking to portray a more realistic version of how our gardens actually appear and perform. There will be highs and some sweet looking plant combinations, but there will be just as many lows and “what was he thinking?” moments. I hope to capture both of those with these upcoming videos.

So attached below is video #1. It is short, but it is a start.

You can see what the deer did to one of my foundation plantings this past winter. I felt so vulnerable as I recorded it (unlike most, I use a ton of perennials in my foundation plantings so it looks quite bare right now) but I am determined to push on.

You will see/hear plenty of self-deprecation and honest thoughts and just know I am more aware than you are of what doesn’t look so great.

That would be my gardening defense mechanism in full affect.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

More Unhealthy Spring Excitement

This dude, meaning me, seriously needs a hobby. I have spent hours just staring at the crocuses in bloom, in awe that there are actual bees paying them a visit:

I've never felt more desperate for the spring gardening season to take hold and I apologize for my desperation.

But it gets better, and more desperate, as I type this sentence.

I had taken a few photos of the branches on my Salix (Willow) 'Kaga Nishiki', excited to see that it was leafing out. But now, upon closer inspection, I see that there are f'n catkins on there. Take a look:  

That is a first for me and I am way pumped up! Bring it the hell on. I may set up temporary residence right next to this shrub just to watch these catkins fully emerge. Too much?

I am even intensely excited just to see the buds on my Crabapple tree:

Riveting ain't it?

It may seem like nothing to y'all, but I have had enough getting my only landscape thrills from the peeling bark on the River Birch trees:

Ain't gardening grand?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Plant more bulbs dummy

The crocuses have finally arrived.

Some one please remind me to plant more bulbs next fall. While they are fleeting and some times a challenge to incorporate into the landscape, they are a sight to behold this time of year, especially after our painfully long winter.

That is all.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Good times at the garden center

Earlier this week, for the first time in 2014, I made my beloved "day-job-lunch-time-trip" to the local garden center. If you had a camera set up in the parking lot of this nursery, and you had it locked in on my face while I was walking in, you would have seen the f’n happiest man on the planet. I may even track down the surveillance footage just to prove my point.

These lunch time treks to the garden center go back almost two decades and hold a rather warm place in my heart. It is where I first learned the difference between a conifer and an evergreen. It is where I first fell in love with foliage and learned to look beyond the flowers. It is where my finely pressed khakis would get covered in mud and would result in stares from coworkers who questioned what I was doing during my lunch hour. I can't even begin to name all of the plants I've discovered over the years through these trips, but each one of them offered an incredible sense of discovery and were at the time, vital pieces to my garden design puzzle. I hope I can continue to do it for another two decades.

As I think back to the early days of lunch time plant shopping, one of my fondest memories is of stealing the plant tags of those plants I considered for future purchase. It was a simple process:

  • Bend down to look like I am inspecting the plant and/or checking out the price 
  • The tag is then stealthily pulled out of the container with the left hand 
  • At that same time, the right hand runs over the leaves of the victimized plant as a means of distraction
  • The excess soil on the tag is quickly removed by squeezing the thumb and pointer finger and dragging them along the tag
  • The semi-clean tag is then dropped into the pants pocket at the same time as I stand up

Once I had a healthy collection of tags, I would head right for the exit with my head down so this rugged mug could not be identified. I would then head out making sure I wasn’t being tailed by any other vehicles. Once safely home, I headed right to the computer so research could commence. It was a criminal enterprise I still miss to this day now that smart phones have rendered the practice useless.
Through the years, I have had a variety of different vehicles and all of them were on the small/cheap side. Personal fact 1 – I hate cars and have zero interest in them. They get me from point A to point B. That is it. I don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that means so little to me. Personal fact 2 – I am six foot four and look funny in small cars. I can steer a car with my knees like no one else.

Why am I telling you all this? Imagine big me driving in a tiny little car surrounded by shrubs that are climbing out of each of the windows. It is a sight to behold. I can only imagine what people are thinking as I pull into the parking lot at work. It looks like a tiny jungle on wheels with the faint sight of an actual driver. 

Speaking of the work parking lot, I have to be careful when allowing my precious plants to rest in my car for hours on end until the end of the work day. I have killed my share in the past due to extreme heat and for that, I am not proud. To combat the threat of death and because my cars are not exactly the envy of thieves, I leave the windows down the remainder of the day in the parking lot so the plants can breathe. Even if rain is in the forecast, I leave the windows completely open so the plants can grab a drink. A healthy plant is more important than the suffering that comes with a wet and smelly car.  

When I am walking the grounds at my garden center, I stick out like a sore thumb in my business wares; not the typical dress code when shopping for plants. I’d kill to be in my shorts and t-shirt but work day lunch is one of the only times I am free to spend an hour or so just walking aimlessly through a maze of plants. Sweaty pits be damned. It is worth it.

True story: A nursery I used to frequent fell on hard times financially. I don’t know all of the details but the government had to intervene and shut them down. They must have been selling illegal hostas or something. Actually, I think I would shut them down for selling hostas at all. But I digress ...

Eventually the nursery opened back up so I made it a point to check things out during another lunch break. As I approached the entrance, one of the owners asked me “Are you Brian?”. I laughed and said “not this guy” and went on my way. That was weird, I thought. However, upon further review, I believe they mistook me for an inspector or a government employee since I wasn’t exactly dressed like a dude who was looking for the new collection of Viburnums. On at least two more occasions, I was greeted in the same manner but instead of laughing it off each time, I gave them a slight nod and simply proceeded inside. I figured it would be fun to keep them on their toes and act like I was there for business purposes only. I’m not sure what they thought when I eventually rolled up with a cart full of bee balm, but I do know that I had fun.

As you can see, I’ve had my fun and had some shady times (pun intended) at the local nurseries over the years during my lunch hour. But more than anything else, I valued the escape. The escape from the corporate culture and mindset and into a relaxed environment that also happens to smell damn good. I feel at home amongst plants and the people who feel the same way as I do. For an hour each week , I am a garden designer or a plant doctor or a really obsessive and neurotic home gardener.

And now that we have marched into April, I couldn’t be happier.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spring Fever

A little "current day" and "what is to come" photo action for you today.

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