Author Archives: jmarkowski

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.




















A review of “Container Gardening Complete” by Jessica Walliser

Here’s the deal people.

If you are looking for one gardening book to give as a gift this holiday season, look no more, I have the answer.

No, it isn’t authored by me. I’m way overrated and you know that.

It is, without a shadow of a doubt, this book:

“Container Gardening Complete” by renowned author, Jessica Walliser. Click on the following link to buy it on Amazon:

Container Gardening Complete

The book was just released today, but because I’m all sorts of important, I received an advanced copy and had a chance to review it ahead of time.

One word to describe it: Killer

This is not an exaggerated claim, it’s the best book I’ve ever read on container gardening and I’ve read a lot because I’m kind of bad at container gardening and need all the help I can get.

The book kicks off covering the three pillars of container gardening:

  1. Container type
  2. Potting mix
  3. Container location (ex. full sun)

The author covers these pillars in great detail and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. From the best means to create drainage in a container (tile bit vs. masonry bit) to which containers withstand the winter temps to the benefits of coir fiber as a potting medium, it is all here.

And I’ll be returning to this section over and over again come spring when I plan to up my container gardening game.

From there the book is divided into the following chapters:


This is personally my favorite section of the book and the most informative IMHO. A few key highlights:

How to plant a container in “proportion” – ideally, the container height is at 1/3 with the plants taking up the remaining 2/3 of the height

How to plant a container in “balance” – with a window box, plant the tallest plants in the center or evenly throughout in a group of 3

5 container design styles – from 1)thriller, filler, spiller to 2)flat-backed to 3)featured specimen to 4)monoculture to 5) pot-hugging

Designing with edible plants – a serious weak spot for me so I took lots of notes here.

Designing with annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs, trees, etc – littered with fantastic suggestions and lists

Caring for your containers

Watering -She points out how the volume of potting soil and the type of container ultimately determines how much water is appropriate. She also dives into the different types of self-watering mechanisms which are a must during the heat of summer. This includes some you can make on your own.

Fertilizing – how to do so organically and naturally

Deadheading – key for prolonged bloom

Staking/Trellising – how, when and why is thoroughly covered


This section dives into more detail than any other book I’ve seen on the topic. No one knows more about insects than Jessica, and it shows here. This runs from “beneficial” to those that are known destroyers of plants.

There are endless photos capturing all that can go wrong in a container garden and how those problems can be addressed.

Here’s one I am all too familiar with:

 Harvesting and Seasonal Considerations

This chapter educates on how to harvest and when to harvest, even down to the preferred time of day to pick those fruits and veggies.

It also discusses how to succession plant and the best ways to overwinter your containers, especially those prized possessions we don’t want to lose with the impending cold weather.

Container Concepts

This is where the ideas get stoked in my brain. This is where I copy the ideas and sell them as my own. This section is inundated with photographs and ideas and will warm the heart as we head into the long and cold winter months.





Throughout the almost 300-page book are 21 different “projects” that are DIY with the necessary steps easily laid out with photos to accompany each.

Even someone as DIY averse as me could pull some of these off.


As the book is marketed, this is a one-stop read for all things container gardening. I’ve read it once and I’m now on read number two. Not only is it educational, but it is even more inspirational. You’ll want to add a dozen more containers to your garden after reading this.

I couldn’t recommend it more.

Go get it now.

One for you and one for a fellow gardening friend.

You won’t regret it.

Pinky swear.






Book #2

A few weeks back (or maybe it’s a few months, I’ve lost all track of time) I mentioned that my next book was going to focus on ornamental grasses. As you may or may not know, they are the focal point of my garden, especially right now as we head into winter. They changed my entire outlook on what a garden can be once I discovered them and I’m forever indebted to the Miscanthus, the Calamagrostis, the Panicum, the Pennisetum, the Andropogon and many others I’m sure I’m forgetting to thank.

But that book isn’t ready to be written.

Not yet.

I have work to do out in the garden, at wholesalers, at public gardens and in the research lab before it can be attempted. I need further education both in my own garden and from others.

But there will still be a book #2.

Book #2 is going to be very different from book#1:

  • I’ve written 35,000 words to date with 31 chapters.
  • There will more than likely be no photos in book #2.
  • I’m attempting to find a publisher as we speak but I’m prepared to self-publish if necessary.
  • If I do self-publish I plan on creating it as a hardcover book, a paperback and an e-book.
  • If I do self-publish I will be working closely with editors and designers rather than tackling it all on my own.
  • You will laugh
  • You will cry
  • You will be inspired
  • I hope

Here’s a sample “rough draft chapter” from the book. I hope you dig the vibe.

I honestly want your feedback and please be as candid as possible. I need the critique and I need different eyes on it.

Too short?

Too long?

Too boring?

Too awesome?


Thank you.


Falling Leaves

Every child must have chores to do. It gives them dignity in work and the joy of labor.
Earl Hamner Jr.

Every gardener I talk to or read about has an origin story.

“I grew up watching Grandma tend to her garden and together we used to watch the bees jump from flower to flower in search of pollen.”

“I remember running through fields of wildflowers as a child and spending hours there, free as can be.”

“My dad put a trowel in my hands when I was 2 years old.”

“The sight of those plump tomatoes in summer never left me.”

Me? I got nothing.

I’ve searched the archival footage of my childhood and after hours of research I can confidently say there is nothing that stands out.

In fact, I’m disturbed by how singularly focused I was as a child. It was all sports, all the time. If I wasn’t watching it on TV, I was in the backyard throwing a baseball into the tree branches above, trying to make diving catches like Fred Lynn.

The obsession I had with organizing my baseball cards is therapy worthy as you’ll see in a future chapter.

I was studying the Vegas NFL point spreads and competing in football pools against my Dad’s fellow teachers before I understood fractions and decimals.

I distinctly remember convincing my 5th grade class to bet on Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA Basketball Championship game  against our teacher, Mr. Isola. We lost and had extra homework.

Not one sign of a future gardener.

But then I realized I was looking at it all wrong. It was a much more subtle route; a series of connected events that laid the groundwork for my love of the outdoors (and when I say outdoors, I mean the “yard” and not camping and the like).

And I feel confident in saying that it all started with my father’s obsession with getting rid of the fallen leaves in fall.

I grew up on Oak Ave, an appropriately named street as our 1950’s Cape Cod-styled home sat underneath many gigantic oak trees. Those trees produced quite the bounty of leaves in autumn; as did all of the neighbors’ trees. Our backyard was one big leaf orgy.

Every Saturday, starting in early October and running through November, was dedicated to eradicating said leaves.

In the early years it was all done via raking. Rake one section at a time onto a giant tarp and then drag that tarp to the front yard where the leaves were deposited over the front wall. The township would then pick them up on a weekly basis.

As technology advanced we invested in a leaf blower and our job was that much less labor intensive. The leaves could be blown on to the tarp and our forearms were spared. I’d still have to drag the tarp to the front wall, but the limited raking was a blessing.

Rinse and repeat with the tarp walk until almost all of the leaves were removed.

It all ended with a lawn cutting where the few remaining leaves would be cut up and destroyed. It looked perfect outside each Saturday evening as we settled in, nursed our wounds and watched “Chips” or “Solid Gold” or “The Price is Right”.

The next day, however, more leaves would fall or find their way from our neighbors yards after a strong wind.

Let’s do this again next Saturday morning.

As a kid there was nothing I wanted to do less than tackle those leaves each weekend. I would try to talk my way out of it, pray for rain or pray something else would come up. 99% of the time those efforts were futile and there we were again, Dad and I ankle deep in crispy brown leaves.

I remember one specific Saturday when I begged to be able to go to the high school football game with my friends but was told that my chores came first. None of my friends ever had to tend to chores. Why was I being punished? And while I’m at it, why aren’t my sisters part of this leaf removal enterprise?

At first I sulked and begrudgingly raked and raked. The sulking then dissipated and I got lost in the joy of hard labor. I took extreme pride in my work. I loved the ache in my arms and legs post shower on Saturday evening. And I never held a grudge after my initial complaints. This was better than watching the high school football team lose by 35 points.

The father/son bonding, while often bound in silence, was something I didn’t appreciate enough at the time. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college, when I was away at school during those leaf-raking months, that I realized how much I missed it and how bad I felt that I couldn’t be there to help my dad.

Autumn was crisp weather. Autumn was football season. Autumn was apples and pumpkins and Halloween. But autumn was also raking leaves with dad, consulting on NFL predictions with dad and eating salt bagels with melted butter with dad.

The leaf management program also foreshadowed my deep appreciation of a well-kept yard. I didn’t help in the yard as much as I too owned that yard.

That notion eventually extended to other “yard” tasks:

  • Cutting the lawn
  • Trimming the lawn
  • Using an edger-with-wheel contraption that created killer straight edges along our front sidewalk.

And one other task became a part of my weekly routine spring through summer:

I would use a small handheld rake that I dragged through our garden beds, breaking up the compacted soil. I would then follow that up with a “smoothing” of the broken up soil so it all was pleasurable to the eye.

I frickin loved it.

I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. I didn’t care if it served any greater purpose or if it was good for all of the nearby shrubs (I only remember azaleas and rhododendrons in our “garden”), it looked neat and clean.

By the time I was in high school, I was our family landscaper. I couldn’t have told you the difference between an annual and a perennial. I couldn’t identify any shrubs by name.

But I could trim the hell out of hedges. I could cut lines in the lawn like a champ. Lawn edges were always immaculate.

I carried over that notion to my first home many years later.

Where I also came to appreciate a “clean” garden but with the leaves utilized as beneficial to the garden.

John’s tip:

Leaf mold (leaves decomposed over time) is one of the best organic soil amendments. So save some leaves in fall and allow them to transform into an almost black crumbly mold. Add to the soil and reap the benefits.





Garden tour – 11/29/17

At first glance, my garden looks like it has called it a year, as it slowly collapses on itself.

But upon a closer look, that may not be true.

Here’s what’s going on as we head into December:


Time for the evergreens to shine

As subtle as they may be, the white-tipped stems on Tsuga canadensis (White Canadian Hemlock) ‘Moon Frost’ allow this conifer to stand out, especially right now when everything else around it is brown and dying. The deer do nip it but I have been fighting them off with spray.


Here’s another conifer – Chamaecyparis pisifera (False Cypress) ‘Golden Pincushion’ – that remains hidden through most of the year but is now on full display. This plant may only grow a few inches per year, but I’m doing my best to remain patient and to enjoy the contrast with all of the surrounding perennials. The deer have yet to discover this one. Yes, I just jinxed it.


Another slow growing evergreen that is now standing out in the garden is the Korean boxwood, ‘Wedding Ring’. And yes, the deer ignore it.


I have had this Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae)’Rheingold’ for 10+ years and I love how it transforms from light green/chartreuse in spring/summer to the more buff color it exhibits right now. The deer have never touched this, but honestly, I don’t know why other than the fact that it is close to the garage door.


I don’t know which evergreen shrub this is because I’ve misplaced the tag and I’ve yet to update my plant spreadsheet. Bad me. Here’s hoping this anchors this spot in the garden for years to come.


Yes, Dwarf Alberta Spruce bores me too, but it has persevered for more than a decade and I appreciate the green throughout the fall/winter.


Have I mentioned that I like grasses?

What more is there left to say?

These are mainly Panicum (Switch Grasses).


Panicum virgatum (Switch Grass) ‘Northwind’


Miscanthus sinensis (Maiden Grass) ‘Morning Light’


Miscanthus sinensis (Maiden Grass) ‘Variegatus’


Panicum virgatum (Switch Grass) ‘Heavy Metal’


Bouteloua gracilis (Blue Grama Grass) ‘Blonde Ambition’


Looking good, even while dying

Monarda (Bee Balm) for days. They look even better when covered in frost.


A Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed) bloom.


Maybe a bit of a stretch, but aren’t the spent flowers of Amsonia (Bluestar) still pretty cool looking?


Monarda (Bee Balm), Amsonia (Bluestar) and some grass.


Allium (ornamental onion) slowly yellowing.



Staying green

Packera aurea (Golden Ragwort) has been a phenomenal addition to the garden the past two years, even beyond the high flower count in spring. They remain evergreen for most of the winter and you guessed it, the deer haven’t chowed down too much on them.

The only concern is that they might grow out of control over time. I’ll deal with that when it comes.


Another subtle change, but one I am enjoying: Phlox stoloniferous (Creeping Phlox) turning yellow and remaining evergreen all winter. I like.


A closer look

A weed and a powerful one at that, but ain’t this Thistle kind of pretty?




I’m thankful for my family’s health, even if my back tightens up whenever I sit for a period of time.

I’m thankful for the impact my father-in-law left in this world, even if he left us all way too soon.

I’m thankful for a large garden, even if 1/3 of it looks like shit.

I’m thankful I found a passion for writing, even if I struggle to find the time to enjoy it.

I’m thankful for my son’s intelligence and awareness of all that goes on in the world, even if he proves me wrong on a daily basis and seems to revel in it.

I’m thankful for my daughter’s whimsical and optimistic view on life, even if I can’t fathom how she still believes in the tooth fairy.

I’m thankful for my wife’s compassion, authenticity and natural beauty, even if she thinks I’m full of shit when I say it.

I’m thankful that my parents are still here and I can continue to interview them and pick their brains, even if I don’t tell them that enough.

I’m thankful for this blog and all that is had provided to me, even if I don’t write here as much as I want to.

I’m thankful for ornamental grasses, even if I still have a lot to learn before I can write my book on it.

I’m thankful for the 30,000 words I’ve written for my new book, even if it is a bit self-indulgent and deeply personal.

I’m thankful for you readers, even those who don’t announce themselves.