Author Archives: jmarkowski

Sucky weather but a “Hell Yeah” moment

Hello everyone.

It has been a while since I last posted here so my apologies for that.

The truth is I have been hammering away on the book and I’m proud to report that it is completely written and I am now in edit mode. While I’ve known all along what I wanted to convey in this book, it didn’t fully gel until I had pulled in these three photos for one of the chapters.

They perfectly encapsulated the purpose of the book and my feelings on gardening. It was the “A Ha” moment and that moment felt real frickin good. I cannot wait to deliver this to you all and thank you again for your constructive feedback. That feedback has been sitting on my shoulders throughout the writing process.

On the actual garden front, I’ve got nothing.

We had such a mild winter here in the Northeast U.S. and I thought I would have been out in the garden by now, cutting down ornamental grasses, removing weeds and cleaning up the messy perennials.

But then March threw us a curve and we ended up with this.

And this.

And now that the foot of snow has started to melt, we have this.

I may have no choice but to throw on my waterproof shitkickers and start cutting and pruning.

Look for that in the next post.

 

Eupatorium coelestinum (Hardy Ageratum) ‘Wayside’

I have always loved Ageratum, but have been unable to keep it looking good for any period of time. By mid-summer, they are a mess, I cry and vow to never put myself through that ordeal again. Fool me once …

Lo and behold, one day I was googling “Ageratum” thinking I could unlock the secret to keeping this annual alive all summer and found a plant claiming to be a perennial Ageratum. What? Has someone been reading my diary?

Dreams do come true.

But it gets better. This plant prefers a wet site. And is deer resistant.

Hardy Ageratum? I’m like totally in.

Specifics:

  • 18” x 18”
  • Blooms in mid-summer, early August here in zone 6B
  • Requires full sun
  • Survives zone 5-8
  • Deer resistant
  • Very tolerant of a wet site
  • Very slow to emerge in spring, one of the last to show signs of life
  • Great winter interest with the spent flowers
  • U.S. native
  • Has recently been reclassified as Eutrochium

As mentioned above, this plant is slow to emerge in spring and I’ve actually forgotten about it until it finally emerged sometime in late April. Another reason to not cut down those perennials too soon people. The spent flowers/stems are a much needed reminder of what is what in my ever expanding jumble of a garden in spring.

I’ve noticed that my original five purchased have expanded a bit in year two as this plant appears to reseed some. It is too soon to say if it is TOC (Totally Out of Control, for those without young kids) or if the reseeding is a must because this perennial is short lived. That is what I’ll be keeping my eye on this year.

The blooms start to develop in July and are a welcome site and color, as we proceed through the dog days of summer.

 

Within a week or so, the blooms fully emerge and they are quite stunning in my humble opinion.

 

The blooms are so interesting up close that I’ve taken to capturing them on my camera phone, macro style.

 

But the interest in the blooms doesn’t end there. As the purple/blue flowers fade with the arrival of cooler weather, they remain interesting into the colder months.

Here in October, fluffy seed heads looking right in place with the gold and red hues of autumn.

 

And especially handsome when covered in frost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book excerpt – looking for your feedback

Here is an excerpt of a first version of my book that I’ve been pounding away on for weeks now. I so cherish all of your feedback and have taken all of your comments into account to this point.

When in doubt, why not ask?     

I would love your feedback on the following:

Book title – any creative ideas after reading through below? I’ll handsomely award the winner of the one I like best.

Content – more or less info based on the excerpt below? Less “sentences” and more boxes/bullets/etc?

Layout – this snippet isn’t an exact replica of the layout but it is as close as I can get. What do you think?

Tone – is it me?

Thank you all in advance for taking the time to assist me here.


Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)

I remember the exact day back in the fall of 2003 when I decided to purchase some Lady’s Mantle for the first time. Up until that point, all I thought about was flowers in my garden. Foliage was nice, but an afterthought.

My obsession with plants and gardening was gaining steam and I was reading books relentlessly. Books you ask? Those are pages of printed words and photos that are held together with binding. Your grandfather can tell you all about them.

I don’t recall the exact book, but it was all about design and one photo grabbed my attention and changed the course of my garden fanaticism. A beautiful and haunting garden photographed in the early morning was lined with Lady’s Mantle that was covered in dew droplets. My tongue dropped to the floor and I knew I had to try it.

Fast forward a few months and I planted a whole bunch myself in my tiny front bed at our old Cape Cod home in Somerville, NJ. I was so proud of it and sensed that my love of plants was going to exponentially increase now that foliage was part of the game.

Sadly, we moved out of that home by the end of that year and I never got to grow with my new favorite edging plant. I did drive by the home periodically for a good 2 to 3 years after that just so I could watch my babies mature into full adult plants. They ended up looking beautiful even if the new homeowners let everything fall to shit in the garden around them. The day they pulled them out of the ground, I almost got out of my car and approached the house in a fit of rage.

Luckily I thought better of it and drove away and spared myself jail time.

Instead, I bought a bunch and put them in my newly developing garden where they still reside today.

Alchemilla mollis rarely steals the show in the garden. Instead, it is that steady performing groundcover or edging plant that makes the garden whole.

From the moment those leaves start to unfurl in spring, you know old reliable is back for another season.

Let me correct myself for one moment. There is a time when this perennial does truly “shine”. That is when Lady’s Mantle captures the rain droplets in spring. It is a photographer’s dream.

Beyond that, this plant provides a nice contrasting leaf shape to other perennials and shrubs from spring through fall.

The chartreuse blooms, typically arriving in June, are a nice understated feature as well.

 

 

 

I have found it is best to trim off the spent flowers as soon as possible to keep this plant looking its best as summer approaches.

 

 

 

Specifics:
• Survives in zones 3 – 8
• Size typically maxes out at 1.5 ‘ x 2.5’
• Can handle full sun to almost full shade
• Blooms in June here in zone 6B
• Prefers a consistently moist soil
• Has been reliably deer and rabbit resistant over the years
• Non US native
• Flowers brown quickly and can become an eyesore (see more below)
• Leaves are scalloped and fuzzy to the touch

I currently have these as a groundcover in my back bed along the deck.

In full bloom in June and backed by the light of the afternoon sun.

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see below, Lady’s Mantle comes along pretty quickly in spring as evidenced by the “still no signs of life” ornamental grass sitting behind them.

**NEGATIVE ALERT** The one negative/higher maintenance aspect of Lady’s Mantle is that it does require constant moisture. If not, this is what you may see.

Luckily for me, constant moisture isn’t much of a problem unless we have a real dry summer but keep that in mind before purchasing Lady’s Mantle.

This perennial has been labeled as “invasive” but I can say that has not been a problem for me at all. In fact, I’ve never seen a single seedling since I’ve had these. This may be due to the fact that I am pretty diligent in cutting off the spent blooms and therefore there is no opportunity for reseeding.

I must also add that my deadheading has never resulted in any re-blooming later in the season.

 

Garden optimism

A break from all of the baseball posts today.

Our trip down south unfortunately has come to an end. I now turn my attention from photographing athletes throwing a ball to photographing all signs of green that are popping up all over my garden.

And for the sake of a smooth transition, I like to think that I went from the promise of a new baseball season where all teams still think they can win it all, to the promise of a new season in my garden.

No weeds to deal with yet.

I like to think every plant in my garden will have survived the winter and will perform better than last year.

Optimism still exists.

So far, all of the Sedum plants appear to be intact.

 

And an endless number of daffodils have announced their presence.

 

 

The new irises I added last year (‘Wow Factor’) are ready to go and I cannot wait to share these killer blooms with you all.

 

But the plant I am most excited to see return is Allium ‘Globemaster’.

This is the first year, knock on wood, that it has returned for a repeat performance and that has me all sorts of giddy.

One last note:

Thank you all for your feedback/comments on the book I have in the works. I am putting all of your comments in motion and hope to share a sample chapter or two with you in the very near future.

 

 

New York Mets Spring Training – Day 3

Our time in the New York Mets bubble has come to an end.

Back to reality.

No more waking up in the dark, throwing on a wrinkled blue and orange t-shirt and tossing an interlocking “N” and “Y” inscribed hat on my head, preferably backwards, 19 year old frat boy style.

We’re back to khakis and hair gel and spreadsheets.

But another year of memories have been added to the ever growing repository. We’ve already relived them 8 times over and started the 2018 planning. I’m considering creating a binding contract for my wife and kids to ensure they will happily attend these same festivities through 2025. I need to know this will never end and that we will act this young for the foreseeable future.

That bubble I speak of, here is what I mean by that:

We took a detour from fastballs and fungos on Tuesday afternoon and headed for the nearby beach, about 25 minutes away. We’d find a place for lunch and then glance at the ocean for some time before heading back to Mets Land.

We found a great lunch spot and hit up the beach where it was sunny and warm and pleasantly pleasant.

After sufficient breathing in of the salty air, we headed back to the rental vehicle with a brief stop at a bench in the dunes to wash the sand off of our feet.

Within seconds, we were welcomed by a group of five who appeared to be holding some sort of ad hoc religious discussion, complete with pamphlets and funky looking bibles. They were nice folk who appeared to be interested in the fact that we were wearing Mets gear. Of course we were still in Metsville so the fascination seemed like a means to strike up conversation and then solicit our sins.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to confess to slandering Matt Harvey’s reputation and ultimately learned that one of the women was former Met Tim Teufel’s sister in law who was in town to celebrate his 35th wedding anniversary. That’s how things work down there. It is all Mets all the time, and we love every fucking second of it.

Of course once you are armed with this type of intel, you have to take advantage of it. And so yesterday, when Tim Teufel, currently a Mets coach, arrives looking to sign autographs, it is a joy to throw a “Happy 35th wedding anniversary Tim, Rose says Hi” out there just to sit back and observe his dumbfounded reaction.


Day 3 was ultimately a wash out as most of the players remained out on the field for only a short time before heading indoors, and away from the crowd for the remainder of the workout due to the rain.

The rain kept the crowds away which was great, but it also limited our exposure to balls hitting gloves and the sound of wooden bat on ball. The sounds are almost as much of a part of the sensory experience as the sights are.

It is the sound of spring and promise.

We did manage to witness some action, including the daily treat of watching the players run from the main field to other fields where they are greeted by the coaches. The kids all jump in line and await their high-fives.

 

 

The pitchers day consisted of some long toss and a few bunting drills before they disappeared and left us wanting more. I had a lot of fun capturing their long toss sessions through the drizzle.

 

 

 

 

 

Every team should be forced to carry one side-armed pitcher because to watch them pitch defies the laws of physics.

 

Once the pitchers departed, I watched the infielders warm up and even a simple act of tossing a ball back and forth is fascinating to me. It is like art. I could ogle all day.

 

 

Warm up was done and it was time to practice turning double plays. Mets top prospect Amed Rosario has the “it” factor and I made it a point to observe the future for a few minutes.

 

 

 

Soft hands and panache. I like.

Another interesting part of watching practice, is to see which players are working out at positions other than where they normally play. Like Jose Reyes fielding grounders at second base.

Versatility is king as the player gets older.

 

 

We were heading out of the complex by 11:00 and other than a quick stay in the parking lot to see if any players were signing as they vacated the facility, our day and time spent in Port St Lucie was done for 2017.

We agreed to eat lunch before heading to the airport and just as we were about to turn right towards Rt. 95 South, we collectively agreed to take one last peek at the complex. As we pulled up, there was a small crowd gathered by the security gate so we gave ourselves 20 minutes max to wait it out and see who may appear.

The stars were apparently aligned as Mets captain David Wright emerged into the parking lot as the last remaining player. He got in his car, turned it on and then shockingly headed over to the group, willing to sign before heading home. With David battling injuries and Father Time, we knew that this may be the last opportunity to spend this type of time in his presence.

Our travel companion these last two years, Jeanine, nearly hyperventilated. To say she loves “David” is an understatement. She had never met him and had never secured his autograph.

Ladies and gentleman, dreams do come true at Tradition Field.

Who is with us next year?

 

 

 

New York Mets Spring Training – Day 2

Back at it again 5:30 this morning.

The day proceeded not too unlike the day before and come to think of it, not too different from year’s past. We ogled world class athletes while they played a game and then chased them all over the complex so they could scribble their name on an expensive official MLB ball.

And then we complained about lower back pain.

I could go into painful detail about geeky Mets and baseball stuff but that isn’t really appropriate in this forum. Some day soon I’ll start an all Mets publication where like minded nerds can wax poetic about the need for a third lefty in the pen or ensuring there is a balance of lefties available off of the bench or whether or not a six man rotation makes sense.

If you understood any of that, can we be friends?

Even as the chaos unfolded in front of me and I took hundreds of photographs, I felt something more today. I felt present. I stared at my kids and realized this was a special and fleeting moment in time.

My son is 14 and how much longer will he get this excited to take this annual trip?

I could watch him organize his binders and balls all day.

I could watch that shit eating grin when he scores another autograph.

I cherish that fist pump he makes when he thinks no one is watching.

Unbridled enthusiasm and pure elation and I want to drink it in until I’m drunk and falling down.

I felt live in the memories today and while they filled me with warmth, there was a dash of bittersweet in there and I didn’t like it.

May this never end.

Jack with future superstar Amed Rosario.

 

The kids with Zack Wheeler.

 

Jamie and her Jacob deGrom autographed ball.

 

The kids and the joy of a bubble gum bucket.

The lack of sleep, endless waiting and pacing, sharp pain in the calves and disappointment when a potential autograph falls through is all worth it.

Baseball and sunshine and family and friends. That is a good way to spend a day.

Fine, here are a few additional pics for you Mets fans and baseball nerds.

The three-headed monster of a pitching rotation. Syndergaard, DeGrom and Harvey.

 

The beast that is Yoenis Cespedes.

 

Remember kids, Uncle David Wright always says look the ball into your glove.

 

I love me some baseball bats.

 

Manager Terry Collins firing up the boys.

 

Goofy stretching is a rite of passage in baseball.

 

Robert Gsellman signing for Jamie.

 

Mets owner Fred Wilpon.

 

 

New York Mets Spring Training 2017 – Day 1

Pleasant sounding alarm awakes us all at 5:40 AM.

We all slept like shit the night before. 75% of us are battling illness and the cacophony of coughing emanating from room 210 probably kept the entire hotel awake all night.

But Jack and I push on.

We get ready in 7 minutes but bump into every piece of furniture at least twice along the way. The ladies will be up for good as a result but thankfully aren’t dumb enough to accompany us to Tradition Field in the wee hours of the morning.

Quick trip through the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and we are on our way stocked with caffeine.

It is a 2 minute drive to the park because any further distance away and my son would physically attack us.

The three of us (including Jeanine, our Mets companion for the past two years now) arrive at the park at 6:07 A.M. and there are two other knuckleheads present and as insane as us.

We now wait for the players to arrive in the players only parking lot. The spots in the lot are marked with their uniform numbers so we immediately know who has arrived. Our move is to have me identify the player and then shout it out so Jack and Jeanine can plan accordingly. Some players are worthy of official major league baseballs and others fall down a bit and are worthy of a baseball card.

Within twenty minutes, we strike gold big time. Superstar Yoenis Cespedes agrees to come over and sign for us. Jackpot.

Fan for life.

We only get one more autograph but that is OK. The joy of this morning ritual is what gets us through the winter months in the Northeast U.S. We are diehards and proud of it.

The park opens up at 9:30 A.M, so we have time to head back to the hotel for a bathroom break and pick up my wife and daughter. The five of us are decked in Mets gear and ready to watch millionaires play catch.

Actually before that, there is stretching. Lots of stretching.

As they stretch, we start to sweat in the Florida heat and fucking love it.

The players then all run off to different fields to start the day’s drills.

The Mets lead the league in hair volume by a landslide.

We wander from field to field to watch infield practice.

But eventually settle on watching the pitchers because they are the main attraction for this Mets team and have been for years running now.

As the players run from field to field, we do our best to get in their way and annoy them and give them unsolicited high-fives.

That would be Thor (Noah Syndergaard) and his killer man-bun.

A favorite rite of passage dating back to 2014 is to be completely ignored by Matt Harvey and his ego and this year was no exception.

Swoon. I love a player who plays hard to get.

Practices last under three hours because baseball players are weak. I kid, they do a lot of work inside the facility away from the rabid fans where they don’t have to pretend to enjoy our presence.

And there are moments of intense exertion on the field as well.

As practice winds down, we all take our places in anticipation of the insanity that is autograph signing. And we wait.

And wait some more.

Until some of the players take the time to sign and interact with the fans.

Although, I honestly don’t know how they put up with it all day after day. Oh, they make millions? Scratch that.

We do truly appreciate those who take the time out and sign for the kids as they provide them with a memory for a lifetime. The smile on their collective faces make the trip worth it.

Each signed ball or card now has a back story that we relive throughout the year.

And f it, we’ll do it all again tomorrow morning starting at 5:40 AM once again.

 

 

Friday odds and ends

I started a push to convert the non gardening folk over to our side with an article here.

Who knows if it will go anywhere or do anything but I had to let it out. Feel free to comment on the article to aid in the fight.

The family is heading to Port St Lucie, FL in a few days for our annual trip to Spring Training for the New York Mets. I’ll be writing a daily post that sums up that day’s action so be on the look out for that baseball fans.

I made a left turn with my book writing. I have been busting my hump on a “Perennials” book that I’ll be publishing myself. It will only include perennials I currently have in my garden today along with my personal experiences.

With that in mind, I have a few questions for you all if you would be so kind to provide feedback. While I have a lot of it done, I want to make sure it brings the most value to potential readers.

Would you pay for this in the form of an e-book? How much feels right to you?

The main differentiator is that I cover each perennial from their first appearance in early spring up until they die in winter. Does that pique your interest at all?

Should I stick to natives only?

It is heavy with photos but I think that is a strong draw. Do you concur?

The full list of perennials is at 35. Too much and should I break it up into separate e-books?

A sincere thank you in advance for your consideration and have a great weekend.

 

 

 

Plant combo of the week: Bee balm and ‘Karl Foerster’ grass

You knew it wouldn’t be long before I featured an ornamental grass in a “Plant Combo of the Week” post and you would be correct. This one is brutally simple with the two plants available at every garden center around.

I give you Monarda (Bee Balm) and Calamagrostis acutiflora (Feather Reed Grass) ‘Karl Foerster’.

This combo peeks in early summer when the Bee Balm is in full bloom and smelling deliciously minty and ‘Karl Foerster’ blooms have settled into their long lasting buff color.

Take a step back in my garden and you’ll see that I also have them matched up with Joe Pye Weed which blooms the latest of the three.

But we’ll keep it simple for now and keep Joe Pye Weed and my exquisite design skills out of it.

I’d love to tell you that I masterminded this pairing from the beginning but of course I didn’t. The Karl Foerster grasses have been in this location for years with the only upkeep being a quick trim to the ground in late winter. By that time, new signs of growth are already evident since Karl is a cool season grass.

I should add one more piece of maintenance. Every three years I divide these grasses and as a result, have a ton throughout my garden. It couldn’t be an easier task and the divided sections are so quick to establish, with the only requirement being supplemental watering if divided during a dry time.

The Karl Foerster grasses look great spring, summer and even into fall, when the blooms shine when back lit by the late afternoon sun.

The Bee Balm started as three tiny little plugs that I shoved in an open spot at the end of the gardening season and in three year’s time, they have exploded.

Are they invasive? I would say they are “aggressive spreaders” but I have no issue pulling those that jump out of bounds and planting the piece in another spot or gulp, tossing them into the compost pile.

In case you weren’t already aware, Bee Balm attracts visitors like mad and provides endless hours of entertainment and photo opportunities all summer.

 

 

 

Even after the blooms fully fade in late summer, they still look  great with their brown seed heads.

 

And all the way into winter.

Both plants thrive in my clay soil, don’t mind some wet feet from time to time and are 100% ignored by the deer and rabbits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant combo of the week: Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Astilbe ‘Deutschland’

I know that the plant combo of Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Astilbe ‘Deutschland’ is fantastic.

Want to know why?

Because Nan Ondra told me so.

The author of one of my favorite gardening books, “The Perennial Matchmaker” featured this combo on page 46 of her book and used one of my photos.

That is some serious validation.

The combination of the dark foliage of the Ninebark and the bright white blooms of the Astilbe personifies the use of color contrast in the garden.

I’ve previously dedicated an individual post to both Astilbe ‘Deutchsland’ and to Ninebark ‘Diablo’ so if you want to read up on either of those plants, now would be a great time to do so.

I’ll wait.

Ninebark ‘Diablo’ typically blooms (here in zone 6B) near the end of May and into early June.

Those blooms quickly devolve into red seed heads that add a different ornamental dimension to this deciduous shrub. At that same time, the Astilbe blooms first emerge.

Personally, I prefer the look of the white blooms with only the dark foliage as the backdrop, after the seed heads have disappeared, or after I, gulp, have removed them by hand.

My combo currently resides in a partial shade location that stays consistently moist and both the Ninebark and Astilbe seem to love it. As you may know, the Astilbe will fry if kept in too much sun or without consistent moisture.

In late winter, I heavily prune the Ninebark ‘Diablo’ by removing about 1/3 of the old branches to the ground in order to keep it in bounds. The Astilbe are all cut to the ground in late winter as well with new foliage emerging in April.

I wouldn’t consider this combo low maintenance yet the one time pruning and water maintenance is well worth it.