Author Archives: jmarkowski

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.

 

Plant combo of the week – Daffodil ‘Mt Hood’ and Grape Hyacinth ‘Blue Spike’

Today I am rolling out a new feature on the blog – “Plant Combo of The Week” – where I’ll feature a plant tandem from my own garden that I am digging. We all know that our flowers and foliage look that much better with a partner or foil and I’ll do my best to highlight some of my favorites.

Since today is February 1st and spring is within earshot, I’ll give you a bulb combo I’ve had going for three years now. It is Narcissus (Daffodil) ‘Mount Hood’ and Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) ‘Blue Spike’.

The photo above was taken when both were in peak bloom, near the end of April and into early May here in my zone 6B garden. They typically look like this for a good two weeks. I am desperate for color at that time of year so this vignette is a welcome sight.

I had written a post about Daffodil ‘Mount Hood’ a few years back, so feel free to check that out if you desire more info. One of the more interesting features of ‘Mt Hood’ is that the flowers emerge yellow, and then quickly transform to an ivory white.

 

While this daffodil/hyacinth combo has only been together for 3 years, I’ve had the ‘Mount Hood’ daffodils for 7 years now and they show no signs of slowing down. I let the foliage die back completely and feed the bulbs each summer and I assume that has aided in their longevity.

The Muscari ‘Blue Spike’ foliage emerges in the fall and in the winter (I can see it right now out my front window) depending on intermittent warm spells, often dies back fully and then reemerges in spring. And the rabbits nibble it like mad. But even with that, they still perform and bloom without issue. I haven’t had a bloom chowed on to date.

 

I do have to admit that these are in the one spot where I have good soil drainage because they would never survive the winter with wet feet.

They are also in partial shade and don’t seem to mind even though full sun is the ideal exposure.

The ‘Blue Spike’ blooms get no taller than 6″ and have a decent fragrance but nowhere near that of other hyacinths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s hear it for Veronica ‘First Love’

Let me kick this off by saying Awwwwww. Is there a better plant/flower name than Veronica ‘First Love’? We need it now, don’t we? I’m blushing as I type this, and you may be puking but that is OK, I think together we can agree this is a sweet looking perennial, no?

Veronica 'First Love'

After a quick glance at my plant spreadsheet, it looks like I first planted this in the spring of 2015. Normally I prefer to snip the flowers off of a plant when first stuck in the ground so the plant’s energy can go into root development, but this one was an exception. I left all of the flowers on my three Veronica ‘First Love’ for immediate impact and haven’t looked back since.

These bloom FOREVER. The photo above (Catmint included) is from the middle of June. The photo below (with Karl Foerster grass, Coneflower ‘Fragrant Angel’) is from a few weeks after that.

Veronica 'First Love'

And then a few weeks after that …

Veronica 'First Love'

… and even hints of color extending into the middle of September.

Veronica 'First Love'

More Veronica ‘First Love’ info:

  • Full sun or partial shade. Mine are in partial shade and performing beautifully.
  • Sizes out at 12″ x 12″, maybe a smidge larger.
  • Deer resistant … so far. Don’t hold me to it.
  • As referenced above, blooms early summer and into fall.
  • Pruning – while I snip my other Veronica regularly, I’ve left these alone so far. I may dabble this upcoming summer. You’ll see the results here for sure.
  • Soil preference seems to run the gamut and as usual, mine are thriving in clay that remains consistently wet.

With their small size, Veronica ‘First Love’ would seem to best used in the front of a border and will have the greatest impact when planted in high numbers. And make sure they are planted in odd numbers or you’ll have 7 years bad luck, or something like that.

The pink blooms mix well with so many other colors and I’m a huge fan of how mine look mixed in with Catmint. Pat on back complete.

So talk to me, who else has this and what do you think?

 

 

 

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’

Today’s plant recommendation is Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

 

Three years ago I purchased a very small plug of this perennial from Bluestone Perennials figuring if I love the purple varieties with such a passion, why not dabble in yellow blooming cultivars as well.

Color me happy to date.

Within only one year’s time, I had myself some blooms and it hasn’t stopped doubling in size ever since. To the shock of no one who has ever read a post on this blog, I like the way it looks best when in combination with ornamental grasses, as seen in the photo below.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

 

Some other notable facts about Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’:

  • Maxes out around 3′ to 4′ tall and wide, similar to its purple blooming brethren.
  • To date, it has been 100% deer resistant although I just jinxed it so buyer beware.
  • The blooms emerge in the middle of May and last a good 3-4 weeks in my zone 6B garden.
  • The blooms are a butter yellow so you fans of yellow blooms will dig these big time.
  • Survives in zones 4-9.
  • There is no specific soil preference as it is listed as preferring medium to dry soil but mine has been in wet soil for years now without issue.
  • As with other Baptisia, it is a tough as nails plant once established and it is recommended that it not be moved once established. Even a serial plant relocator like myself knows to leave these in one spot and walk away.

In early spring, the Baptisia stems emerge, not too unlike a peony.

 

The blooms start to emerge in mid April and are almost as impactful as when they are in full bloom.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

 

 

And then one day, boom, they’ve arrived.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

The dark stems are a nice touch aren’t they?

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’ has bloomed at the same time as many of my peonies so there is an opportunity for a kick butt color combo.

 

After the bloom period, I prefer to keep all of the spent/dried seedheads on my Baptisia as they retain a level of interest and lend a different look in the garden as the summer wears on and eventually meets autumn.

 

So what do you think?

Do any of you have this in your garden?

Are there any other cultivars you recommend?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helenium (Sneezeweed) ‘Mariachi Series’

There are very few people in my “circle” who give a rat’s ass about my garden. I know, sad but true.

But I’ll be fine.

Every once in a while, however, a visitor will ask to tour my garden. You would think I’d be all pumped up, but no.

My first instinct is to say “Oh hell no.” Those massive weeds hidden on the side of the house will be exposed. All areas of the garden currently “under construction” will need to be explained away. Can’t we just walk through this blog where all looks perfect? Where I can control what you can and cannot see.

Eventually I will relent and take the visitor by the hand into my little private world of plants. But before any tour commences, I make sure I answer a few questions quietly to myself so I know how to proceed with my visitor.

“When asked ‘what plant is this?’, do I give them the Latin name and sound like a pompous ass or the common name which I actually don’t know in most instances?”

The easiest way to know how to proceed here is to determine the plant knowledge of your visitor. I try and ask them something simple like “What is your favorite plant?” and then study the response. While you may not get all of the necessary intel, it can often be quite telling.

“Do I initiate the walk and the direction it takes or allow my visitor to make that decision?”

I almost always let them take the lead. I like to see if my garden layout and structure naturally leads them where I want them to go. This is where I hope my paths pull them in and make them want to explore what is around the corner.

“Do I allow my visitor to walk IN the garden risking soil compaction or plant stomping or be up front and threaten physical violence should they venture anywhere beyond the lawn?”

I tend to have faith in my visitor and their understanding of garden tour etiquette. However, if it is a dopey male friend, I have no issue laying down the law.

How much is too much information?

This question is ultimately what prompted today’s post. I had originally planned a straight forward piece on a few of my favorite Sneezeweed plants. But then I rememberd back to this past summer when I was walking the garden with a friend who stopped and admired my massing of these Sneezeweed.

“What are these?”

Here were my options for answering:

A. Sneezeweed (common name)

B. Helenium (Latin name)

C. Those are Helenium or Sneezeweed, dwarf in nature and are part of the somewhat newly introduced ‘Mariachi Series’ which includes ‘Sombrero’, ‘Salsa’ and ‘Siesta’.

I answered “C” and lost my visitor’s attention from that point forward.

The lesson here: Always answer “A” and move on.


All kidding aside, I am in love with all of the Helenium ‘Mariachi Series’ plants. They have been thriving for me since year one (three years ago). They bloom profusely all summer into fall, have never been nipped by the deer or rabbits and come back year after year.

Some quick info on these beauties:

  • Size is about 20″ x 24″
  • Survives zone 3-9
  • Prefers full sun
  • Blooms from June to September
  • Likes some moisture but not too wet. Mine have survived a few wet winters to date.

But to really sell these, I’ll allow you to take a look at some photos I’ve taken this past year from summer through fall.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like it

I felt an itch today.

An itch to garden, whatever that means.

I walked my grounds in flip flops and a t-shirt because it was a pleasant 60 degrees outside.

I desperately wanted to weed. Or dig. Or snip.

But that opportunity didn’t exist.

The birds were raising hell throughout the backyard and I decided maybe running around and trying to photograph them might scratch the itch.

It sort of did.

 

 

Damn it is difficult to get them to sit still. Oh well.

When I was done I took one last pic before I walked through the front door.

Pat on back time.

My garden looks so much better in winter than it has before.

I actually stopped and let it all soak in.

I like gardens.

And gardening.

Even in winter.

 

A few quick items

A couple of quick things today.

I recently wrote an article through my Medium account that was ultimately picked up by the website – “The Good Men Project”. It’s all about my love for flowers and how it plays into gender. I would love for you to check it out if you get a chance. You can read it here:

I Love Flowers, I’m a Dude

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) was named the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year.

I have tried for years to grow this plant in my garden and it has never thrived. My assumption has always been that my soil is to wet for it survive the winter but wanted to get all of your thoughts? I have had it reseed each year but again, it has never established itself beyond one season.

 

 

 

Santa Rosa Gardens – “My Garden Box”

One of the nice perks of writing a garden blog is that there are opportunities to test out products from various garden and plant vendors. I could write an entire post about some of the more bizarre offers I’ve received the past 7 years so there is a need to find the flowers among the weeds. I’ve probably said “no thanks” 95% of the time.

Many times in the past I’ve mentioned that my go to purveyor for ordering plants online, especially grasses, is Santa Rosa Gardens. I’ve even held multiple contests giving away gift certificates to this nursery. Santa Rosa Gardens has never failed me and all of the plants I’ve purchased from them over the years are still thriving in my garden today.

So when Santa Rosa Gardens reaches out and asks me to sample/trial a product, I’m all ears. This happened a few weeks back when they asked me to try out their “My Garden Box” product.

**A quick disclaimer** This product was provided to me free of charge and no expectations were set in terms of a review.

“My Garden Box” is a subscription service where Santa Rosa designs a custom crafted collection of plants and gardening goods on a monthly basis and delivers them to those who sign up. Think of it as a “Wine of the Month Club” but with plants in a deftly themed format.

Or to describe it more specifically, as pulled right from their website:

Seasonal Plants, Tools & Living Decor and a Touch of DIY

I’ll provide some additional details in a bit as I first want to show you the contents of what I received in my inaugural box.

The box arrived just before the holidays and that old familiar logo put a smile on my face when I found it on the front doorstep.

Upon opening it, I was surprised to see that there was a lot more inside than expected. I could have read up on what to expect before opening the box, but I’m a I-like-to-be- surprised kind of guy.

Here is what was inside, after opening each of the carefully wrapped and protected items.

Now I have to admit I’m typically a dig hole, drop plant in hole kind of gardener and crafty plant stuff can be a struggle for me. That is why I have a smart wife (who loves all of this even more than I do) who can hold my hand along the way. On top of that, each item came with detailed instructions, simple enough that even this dope couldn’t screw it up.

For me personally, I immediately jumped to the gigantic Amaryllis bulb. It is ‘Apple Blossom’ and wouldn’t you know it, my wife’s personal favorite. Score one for good garden blogger husband.

In no time, that bulb was planted according to the easy to consume directions and it sits on my windowsill just waiting for the growth to kick in.

The “box” included the bulb and the stones and the glass bowl you see above.

Next in line was the Tillandsia “Airplant” in a hanging glass ornament terrarium. Who knew such a thing existed? Yes, I know what you are thinking, dreams do come true. It fits right in with the living decor movement.  

And yes, that is a Hello Kitty ornament. Don’t judge. I have an 11 year old daughter.

The kit included the Tillandsia, the glass ornament terrarium, faux snow, faux ornaments/gifts and faux moss/grass. Crafty ONG put it all together with no problem and has properly followed the directions by soaking the plant once a week. It still sits on our Christmas tree as I type this and I’m not exaggerating when I say 7-10 people have specifically asked about this ornament ever since it made its way on there.

The final item in the box is this classic looking soap dispenser that has become the default soap dispenser in our kitchen every since it arrived.

If my math serves me correctly, that is three items that have made a big impact in the Markowski household over the holidays.

You can get all of the details as to how the subscription service works here.

I like the fact that you can do it for a year automatically, 3 months automatically or try it one time. There is something about getting this during the quiet time of year in terms of gardening here in the Northeast US. A little ray of sunshine through the bleakness.

I admittedly know little about houseplants and I am using this opportunity to get myself acquainted with them. It is a nice way to get the hands dirty even while indoors. The Tillandsia is my gateway houseplant.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this product/service. What do you think? Would you consider trying it out? Would you ever give it as a gift? Have you ever done anything like it in the past? Would you be interested in a giveaway for a subscription (wink wink)?

Thanks in advance and thank you to Santa Rosa Gardens for the opportunity to test drive this exciting product.