Author Archives: jmarkowski

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ and Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’

After the first hard frost hit earlier this week, “color” in the garden is at a premium.

The one spot that stands out right now is this combination of Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ and Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’.


This Amsonia is absolutely on fire right now in terms of fall color. And it looks even better with the almost black foliage of the Ajuga at its feet.


Shockingly, I didn’t plan this combo (sarcasm alert).

I originally planted the Ajuga as a means to control the weeds around the stepping stones that lead from my back deck. And of course I also dug the dark, chocolate-like foliage.


Soon after I purchased 6 ‘Blue Ice’ plants and needed to find them a home. Planted among the Ajuga seemed to fit the bill and so, I did just that.

After a few years of living with this combo, I can safely say that just as the Ajuga blooms start to fade, the Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ flowers emerge.



From there, the Amsonia is covered in blue star-like flowers for weeks on end.




Once the blooms disappear, both of these plants provide clean and contrasting foliage up until the fall color arrives, which typically starts in mid-September.

This spot in the garden is in full sun, frequented by deer and rabbits and the soil remains wet most of the year.

To date, these two plants have thrived in these conditions.


Before autumn leaves us

I’m desperate to not miss out on the beauty that is the fall garden. Cold temps are in the forecast in the very near future and before we know it, all of the delicious colors of fall will be gone.

I’m not ready for that.

















John Scheepers bulbs

Being a garden blogger, who has been at it as long as I have, has its privileges.

A few weeks back I received an e-mail from someone who I had previously interviewed on one of my old podcasts (RIP my podcast) letting me know she was sending me a package.

I like.

This package would contain bulbs from John Scheepers, the renowned flower bulb company.

I like even more.

Here’s the best part: she had read through my blog and determined the bulbs that would be the best fit for me and my conditions.

She nailed it.

Those bulbs arrived a few days ago and I was thrilled to have another garden task left on my plate this late in the season. I dread the winter and nothing left on the to-do list.

So I happily endured the high winds and cooler temps and got to planting my haul.

I cherish the challenge of where to plant bulbs in my garden. Like so many of you, I have little empty space available, but of course, we manage to find a way. We will always be able to squeeze in more plants.

We never say “I’m good.”

With bulb planting it requires some imagination. We need to imagine what our garden will look like at the time the bulbs are scheduled to bloom. We need to anticipate the state of all of the plants surrounding these blooms.

The in-flower bulbs can’t be blocked by other plants.

The bulbs can conveniently reside in an area that is bare in spring, but will eventually be occupied by perennials. The added advantage here is that the emerging perennials can hide the declining foliage which needs to decline in order to restore energy to that bulb.

But you all know this already; I’m preaching to the choir.

After a 20-minute strategy session with myself, I had a plan of attack for getting all of these new bulbs in the ground.

Out came the shovel, the trowel and I got to work.


I did my best to work around existing plants, trying to not disturb their roots. I think I succeeded but only time will tell.

I considered taking detailed notes to ensure that I would remember what was planted where, but that would be too logical.

I opted for being surprised come spring.

Because these bulbs were gifted to me, it would be easy to simply say:

“Oh yeah, they were all in perfect condition.”

But the truth is, they really were.

Like pristine and healthier than any other bulb I’ve ever planted.


No lie.

I also managed to find large swaths of earth that had yet to be traversed, which allows me to plant these bulbs in bulk for maximum impact come bloom time.

As you can see in the photo to the left here, my soil is not what you would call “ideal”. Far from it.

But from all that I’ve researched, these bulbs were chosen for that exact reason. They’re tougher than the more tender options.

That there is quality customer service from John Scheepers.

Within an hour or so, I had all of the bulbs planted in the ground with the exception of one pack of 10 daffodils (narcissus).

This was part of the master plan as I love to plant some bulbs directly into a container and store it in my attached garage for the long cold winter.

Come spring, the foliage will appear and I’ll then move the container outside on to my back deck where the flowers can be enjoyed from inside the house.

The only winter maintenance is the occasional watering but not too much or else the bulbs become susceptible to rotting.

Beyond that it is simply sit back and wait.

Before I show you the exact bulbs I was given, along with photos of what they will look like when in flower (courtesy of the John Scheepers website), I have to share something else with you that is funny.

Well it’s funny in its seriousness.

I wrote a poem.

About bulbs.

And actually shared it with readers over at Medium.



If you have the intestinal fortitude and won’t be embarrassed by amateurish poetry, check it out by clicking here.

You’ve been warned.

Here are the 6 different varieties of bulbs I planted. I encourage you to read more about them on the John Scheepers website (click on the bulb name to read more).

I can’t wait to post the flowering photos in spring where we can then see just how phenomenal I am with garden design.

Or not.

But at least the flowers on their own will be pretty.


Allium ‘Pinball Wizard’


Brodiaea laxa ‘Silver Queen’


Ornithogalum nutans ‘Silver Bells’


Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Excelsior’


Narcissus ‘British Gamble’


Narcissus ‘Decoy’


Tour of the garden – 10/26/17

Ego boost of the week

After my daughter’s recent field hockey game, my parents returned to our house with us to watch the New York Giants football game. They live in Pennsylvania and don’t get the New York CBS feed. We fortunately get the CBS feed from both New York and Philadelphia.

Irrelevant info but I gave it to you any way.

As my mom got out of the car, it was approximately 4:21 PM EST. That is when the sun illuminates so many of my ornamental grasses.

Even she, non-grass aficionado, had to comment on the Indian Grass that greets you at the end of my driveway.

I won the day.


Panicum ‘Northwind’

Fun fact #1 – this native grass won Perennial Plant of the Year in 2014 by the Perennial Plant Association (PPA).

Fun fact #2 – the name “Northwind” is based on Northwind Perennial Farm, where its owner, Roy Diblik, discovered the grass after collecting its seed near a railroad track in Illinois in 1982.

Fun fact #3 – the fall color is friggin underrated.





More autumn grass love





This hydrangea sucks all year

‘Lady in Red’ hydrangea has been a disappointment ever since I added it to my garden back in 2007.

Virtually no blooms and the advertised darker foliage has yet to emerge.

This is it at what I’ll sarcastically call its “peak”.


The view

This is what I see when I immediately look right after walking out my front door.

Ninebark ‘Diablo’ basking in the autumn sun with a gold-soaked Panicum in the background.

I like it. A lot.


Amsonia, yet again

Another week, another Amsonia money shot. These were planted only two years ago and they’re already making an impact. This one is Amsonia hubrictii.


Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’, more of a groundcover, is just starting to strut its autumn hues.



But I like it.


I see dead flowers

I added Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’ this spring because I love the blue foliage. The yellow flowers are OK but I look at it as a foliage plant.

Call me odd, but I really dig the dark brown seed heads that have recently emerged.


Speaking of dying plants

The slow death of the Mountain Mint is kind of … attractive in its own way. Very seasonally appropriate may be a more accurate description.



Grass reviews

This is Molinia ‘Cordoba’. The straw-colored panicles are way impressive even if the grass itself is kind of drab. I know I can improve upon its location in the garden and will be studying it all winter. Most likely I’ll look to hide the foliage behind taller plants so only the panicles are visible.


This is Pennisetum ‘Burgundy Bunny’. I’ve got 5 planted along a walkway and while the foliage color is fantastic, the blooms have been sporadic and they are taking some time to get established.

More wait and see for next year.


Don’t judge. I think this is Calamagrostis brachythricha which I know I ordered online a year or so ago but can’t account for its location. I have high hopes for this one based on its universal love from other grass enthusiasts.

If this is a different grass, this photo will be deleted and you shall never speak of it again.



Designing with perennials and ornamental grasses

Thank you all so much for your comments on my prior post. I truly covet all of your opinions when it comes to the topic for my next book. You all know better than I do.

Between those comments, feedback on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and chats with my people, I realize that the next book must be all about ornamental grasses. A shock, I  know.

That is my sweet spot even if I still have loads to learn. But research and learning should be part of any under taking so I look forward to the challenge.

Now the debate comes down to what to include in this book on grasses. Is it one-stop shopping or should the focus be on design only? I’m still working that out and my door is still open looking for your feedback.

I have started to build an outline and will share that with you all in the very near future.

For today, I went back and found some of my favorite ornamental grass and perennial combos.

I know I’m already asking a lot of you, but I would love to hear which ones you like the most. If it wouldn’t be too much of a burden, would you rank your top 2 and let me know in the comments?

Also, I’d love to include photos of your grasses in the next book as well. If you have any you’d be willing to share, let me know and we can work something out. I’ve got no budget to pay, but I think I can get creative in terms of reward.

Thanks again and enjoy my OG’s.


Joe Pye Weed and Panicum ‘Northwind’

This may be my fave as it starts in August and carries all the way through October.





Joe Pye Weed and Pennisetum ‘Hameln’

Again, multi-seasonal interest extending summer through fall.





Bee Balm and Karl Foerster Grass

I could include just about any perennial in my garden with Karl Foerster but the bloom color of this Bee Balm really stands out here.



Bee Balm and Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This one really highlights the fact that grasses are the ultimate backdrop for blooming perennials.



Baptisia and Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This one is more understated, but for some reason I love the combo when the blooms have faded and the black seed heads emerge.




Baptisia and Sorghastrum nutans (Indian Grass)

This is from late summer when both are back lit by the afternoon sun. Some combos have a short duration but when it hits, it packs a punch.



Rudbeckia and Karl Foerster Grass

Like I said before, all perennials mix well with Karl and here is another example.




Bee Balm and Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens)

The Flame Grass on its own is stunning. But the spent flowers of the Bee Balm add a magical dimension in early mornings during the fall.



Dwarf Sneezeweed and Flame Grass

The bloom color on the Sneezeweed is represented in the foliage of the Flame Grass.




Amsonia and Panicum (Switch Grass)

The contrast is subtle throughout the spring and early summer, but really picks up in late summer and peaks in the fall.





Boltonia and Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’

I like the backdrop of the lighter colored foliage.



Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Karl Foerster Grass

Yes, I’m cheating as this is a shrub. But I couldn’t leave it out because I love the color contrast and the texture contrast.



Book #2

A few days ago I was all set to officially embark on the journey for book #2.

I was seated comfortably on my favorite couch. I had my favorite mug filled with black coffee. The dog was curled into a pretzel and leaning against my right leg. I had my headphones secured and started listening to my favorite loud and aggressive bands. I had a blank Word document open on the laptop.

The writing process was in motion.

And then nothing.

For hours.

What I thought was a good concept for the next book suddenly was not. It hit me like a ton of bricks. This wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t going to work because I was choosing what was easiest, not what was best. That never works.

So I’m back to square one. I’m back to evaluating all of the partially formed ideas that reside in my head. Back to the pros and cons columns.

And then I realized what I needed to do.

I need all of you to tell me what I need to do.

Here’s the cold hard truth: The first book was basically 8 years of blog posts curated into a book. Those posts formed the backbone of the book. Once they were pulled together, it wasn’t too difficult to tweak and edit it into a coherent book.

I have no regrets. I still feel strongly about the concept but realize the layout and content could have been better. While hooking up with a publisher wasn’t in the cards and there are limited options when self-publishing, I know there was still room for improvement. But I’m happy I took the plunge and published it.

#2 needs to be different.

I want to know exactly what you as reader would want to see in the next book. Yes, I want all of you to choose the concept/topic of my next book. Who knows better than the actual reading audience?

When that is determined, I then want all of you to weigh in on the layout/outline of the book. In short, I want to crowdsource this next book. I want the entire journey of the book process to be documented. I want the highs and lows accounted for in writing. After all, the fun is in the process and in the journey. If it’s going to be a marathon, I want you all there with me.

With that in mind, here are some of those ideas I referenced earlier. Read through them and let me know your initial thoughts. My best guess is that the topic for the next book isn’t in this first list and that we’ll slowly and methodically work our way there.

Let’s do this:

Ornamental grasses – including my origin story, my favorites, advantages, maintenance, history, etc.


Designing with ornamental grasses and perennials – I’ve got a ton of combos I’ve already identified from my own garden.


Part 2 of “Perennials Through the Seasons” – but presented differently and including bulbs and/or shrubs


Short stories/collection of garden essays – that tie to life – a mix of funny/serious/emotional. Like this:

Committing crimes at the nursery


My favorite shrubs – that match specific criteria in my garden – deer resistant, poor draining





My garden – 10/11/17

A lot of changes in only a week’s time. I’m doing my best to capture those changes, both  subtle and dramatic.

To the shock of no one, the ornamental grasses lead the charge.

And the remaining flowers are few and far between.


Grasses reaching their peak







Color coming to an end








Bye Bye Berries





Seed heads




Garden tour – 10/6/17

Still holding on

The Globe Amaranth is finally showing signs of fading but what a show it put on for months. I’ve mentioned it before but it’s worth mentioning again, to myself.




You know it’s October

When there is artwork left behind each morning.





I said “Oh, shit” out loud when I saw the flowers on this Pennisetum early this morning. They are completely blinding. I think my eyesight is still screwed up hours later.



Sorbaria (Sem False Spirea) in front of Schizachyrium (Little Bluestem) in front of Panicum ‘Rots’ (Switch Grass).



I kind of like them. Especially in October.





Savoring Fall via Instagram

I can’t take enough of these types of photos.




That’s Why I Wrote the Book

The seed heads left behind on the Boltonia look fantastic right now.





Eco Garden System

I get pitched a lot of items as a garden blogger. Over the past 7 years, I’ve been offered  mosquito repellents, kink-less hoses and ostrich fertilizer. While I appreciate the passion and innovation of these start-ups, I almost always pass on accepting samples and a subsequent review. I like to think I’m a blogger with some integrity and many of these products don’t fit with who I am so I happily pass on the freebie.

But every once in a while an opportunity presents itself that is too good to pass up. A product that sells itself within seconds. A product that fits right in my wheel house. A product where I can’t say “yes please” fast enough.

The Eco Garden System is one of those products.

I was ridiculously fortunate to be given an Eco Garden System (“Original Garden”) for a trial and while it is too early to provide a full review, I can say the early votes are in and they are all extremely positive.

eco garden system

As you can see, this is a raised platform planter with so much more than meets the eye. Here are just some of the details:

  • The Eco Garden System is made out of recycled “food contact grade plastic” which means there is no leaching from wood, no contaminants and should provide more longevity than that of a wooden planter.
  • There is a water reservoir at the bottom of the planter and it is separated from the soil through a plant soil platform. This reservoir collects rain water so no water ever goes to waste.

eco garden system

  • The separation of the water reservoir from the soil and ultimately the roots of the plants above, creates a desired “air gap”. This air gap allegedly leads to “super growth” as the roots hang in the gap, absorb the maximum amount of oxygen and thrive with all of the moisture.
  • The water reservoir actually warms the soil temp above which allows for a longer growing season.
  • If the water reservoir becomes too full, there is a drain at the bottom of the planter to allow for excess water to be disposed.

  • If the water supply dwindles, you simply hook up a hose and fill the reservoir. Easy peasy.


I received mine a few weeks back and couldn’t wait to open the box and get to work.

Now if you know me, I’m kind of horrendous at all things DIY. That includes putting anything together. When the need calls, I always call my brother-in-law and beg for his guidance.

But not this time.

I did it all myself.

And while I’d love to pump myself up and tell you how proud I was of my accomplishment, the truth is it couldn’t have been any easier.

This is all I had to do a few times.

eco garden system

It took about 45 minutes to complete the assembly and I didn’t have to go back and correct myself at the very end.

Go me.

Once it was built, I found level ground in the garden and my new planter had a home.

I followed the suggestion on the website and filled the planter with a 4 to 1 ratio of organic garden soil and peat moss for moisture retention.

Since we are in the early stages of fall, I dug up some of my cold season veggie seeds and planted them in my shiny new planter.

And now we wait.

While I’m excited to see the seedlings emerge, I’m most excited to create a cut flower garden next spring.

So what do you think?

I’ll be working closely with this company moving forward and will see what we can do in terms of a giveaway/contest/discount.

More fun to come.