Category: My garden

That’s not what I ordered

Where’s my white?

Four years ago, in the depths of winter, I went on a virtual evergreen-shrub-buying- spree. Yes, my garden is dominated by perennials and ornamental grasses, but it also needs the contrasting texture/shape/size that an evergreen shrub can lend to the equation. It also desperately needs dem bones.

One of the shrubs that I purchased on-line that year was Tsuga canadensis ‘Moon Frost’. I was enamored with the color of the new growth and the white tone of the needles. Here is how I anticipated it to look (photo from Kigi Nursery):

I had the perfect location for it; right at the bottom of the stairs of my front porch where it would glow at night, living up to its name ‘Moon Frost’.

In year one, while small, it had that exact look. I was super psyched to watch it develop over the next few years.

Fast forward to the last 2-3 years and this is what I now have.

Attractive, but not what I had hoped for.

You (meaning on-line purveyors of said plant) all told me:

“New growth emerges white and the older needles retain a hint of white. The white foliage is often blushed with pink in winter.”

Bright, white, new growth with older, inner foliage that retains a light tone combine to give Tsuga canadensis ‘Moon Frost’ a distinctly white appearance. In winter, foliage of the seedling, developed by Ed Wood, takes on a blush of pink.”

I followed the recommendation of spotting it in partial shade where it is protected from the afternoon sun. Yet it still lost that desired white hue. The new growth is more of a yellow/charteuse.

I have no intention of ditching it as it is healthy and thriving, but I still long for what I saw in year one.

Where are my purple-black leaves?

“Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial that is grown in gardens … for its showy rounded clumps of large, glossy, purple-black leaves.”

Its best ornamental feature is probably the leaves which generally retain good color throughout the growing season.

Leaves may acquire some green tones as they age.

It forms a clump of large, rounded maroon-black leaves.

Come again?

This is what I have as of this minute and it is a repeat of what I had in years 1 and 2. It doesn’t quite match the stunning picture from the Bluestone Perennials website.

I’m happy to report, I have had a solid volume of flowers …

… but we all know we add this perennial to our garden for that killer foliage color.

I’ve researched it a bit and I can’t blame the color mismatch on how it has been sited. I have it in partial shade with moist soil and that appears to make it very happy, just not happy enough to give it that f’n black-purple color I ordered.

You can open up now flowers

Here is a photo of Trollius chinensis ‘Golden Queen’ in bloom from a few weeks ago in the garden of yours truly.

Pretty and orange, but it would look even better once those flowers open up and are in full bloom, right? Just like 99% of the plant catalogs have promised.

But no.

They didn’t and they haven’t for years now.

It might be nit-picky, but it still bothers me. I scoured the ‘net for photos the first year it occurred and in only one were they presented similarly to my non-opening-up-flowers. I’ve yet to find this discussion on any message board or forum but I’ll keep hunting.

I guess the possibility of a label mix-up exists as well.


This shit is unpredictable.

Have a great long weekend.


Tour of the garden – 5/23/17

The Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ are still making a big impact even as they start to decline, especially when absorbing the raindrops.


And still drawing in the critters.

Allium ‘Globemaster’ is in peak form, mixing well with the emerging flowers of Baptisia australis.



Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ is in flower.


Baptisia ‘Carolina Moon’ is in full bloom mode and a bit ahead of Baptisia australis in that regard.


I haven’t written much about Arborvitae ‘Rheingold’ over the years, but patience has paid off as it has rounded into an appealing shape, about 7-8 years in. It sits now at a golden chartreuse and will soon change to a very handsome light green as we head into summer.


Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ (Catmint) is another perennial in full bloom in my garden right now and the drooping branches of the Ninebark ‘Diablo’ shrub add a nice contrast in color.

Nepeta also combines well with the Salvia ‘May Night’ in the background.

Speaking of ‘May Night’, it is a bee magnet.

Lots of activity today. #bee #pollinator #flower #blooms #garden #instagarden #beesofinstagram #flowersofinstagram

A post shared by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on


Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ is bursting in color and only after some serious dead branch clean-up was it presentable. I am leaning towards a harsh prune post-flower to hopefully improve the shape of this shrub. It has been years since I’ve pruned it at all.




Foliage contrast is in full effect with the variegated Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’, Heuchera (Coral Bells) and Monarda (Bee Balm) below.


Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle), Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ (Beard Tongue) and Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ rounding out the tour for today.







Tour of my garden – 5/11/17


Long ago, I made the assumption that I could never successfully grow a Clematis in my garden. It must have been me thinking this climber couldn’t withstand my poorly draining soil. Or I was lazy. Probably a mix of both.

In 2014, while attending a gardening conference, I scored a bunch of free plants including a Clematis ‘Scented Clem’. It was free so it was a no-brainer to attempt to add it to my garden. I had zero expectations and just put it in the ground with nary a thought.

Fast forward to 2017 and we are in year three of “proving John’s dumb assumption was incredibly wrong”. This Clematis is a profuse bloomer and allegedly has a similar scent to that of a Gardenia. As many of you already know, I can’t smell a thing. I may need to pull the family in to confirm.


It’s official. Geranium ‘Espresso’ is my favorite Geranium of all time and it isn’t even close. That foliage alone is borderline orgasmic and when you throw in the lavender blooms, well, I need a cigarette.


I wrote about Golden Ragwort last week. Just here to report that it’s still blooming and looking great.


There was a time not so long ago when I had 5 or 6 Campanula ‘Joan Elliot’ plants thriving and flowering each spring. I am now down to one. But that’s OK. Through the wonders of division and some TLC, I will multiply this happy bloomer in no time.


And on the 7th day, God created … Allium. While they are still in the early stages of blooming and still forming into their happy ball of awesomeness, NOTHING screams “Happy spring time” like Allium. All of the Allium in the following three pics are ‘Purple Sensation’ and are all making a repeat visit.




The ‘Globemaster’ Allium is slowly unfurling, kind of like “I’ll take my sweet ass time because I know I’m all that.”



I know every gardener likes to take photos of their peony buds and the pics are everywhere on Facebook and Instagram. I don’t care because they’re awesome. I am holding out hope that this white peony blooms while there’s still a semblance of the Lilac blooms next door.


A comparison of Amsonias:

First we have ‘tabernaemontana’.


And then ‘Hubrichtii’

Both will be loaded with star-shaped flowers soon and that will rock my world.

As the Lilac slowly ascends to flowerdom, the nearby Baptisia tries to keep pace. If you look to the left, you’ll see I left the old flowers of the Hydrangea on the shrub for shits and giggles. I kind of like taking advantage of the ornamental quality until this year’s flowers emerge. You feel me or “no John, dumb”?



Spring flowers are great. But the emergence of foliage and it’s dynamic quality are up there in terms of impact.

My ever-growing collection of the smaller-sized Itea ‘Little Henry’ looks fantastic right now. The red hues making it all the more interesting.

The reason I write “ever-growing” is that they are all perfectly suckering (the runner roots are expanding beyond the original shrub) and creating my desired “colony” that is filling the previously empty garden space beautifully.


How great is the foliage of the Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ (False Spirea)? I’ve yet to witness the full seasonal cycle (white flowers and pure green foliage later in summer) but the spring foliage is a winner on its own.


A request. Please ignore the weedy growth underneath the shrub below. I’m working on it. As much as it pained me, I had to expose my warts so that you all could appreciate the leaf color of this Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’. It’s even better in person; but you can’t come see it, I have too much work to do still.


The shrub in the two photos below is Spirea ‘Blue Kazoo’. While it displays reddish hues now in spring, it will eventually transition to a blue/green foliage color with white flowers. I love a plant that provides such distinct and different attributes spring, summer and fall. The challenge is attempting to pull it all together without it looking like a hot mess.


Oh Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’, you look so clean now but we all know you have plans to fall apart in summer.

And why oh why can’t you develop the dark foliage as demonstrated in this photo?

I like this Heuchera but have no idea as to the cultivar name. Any ideas?


Once the Nepeta (Catmint) ‘Walkers Low’ fills in, this part of the garden starts to take shape. Flowers will be here within the week; as will those kick-butt bees.


Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) also filling in and contrasting nicely with the Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ in the background.


Speaking of Penstemon, I have a ton of these popping up all over the garden (assuming through re-seeding) and I’m trying to determine if they are true to ‘Husker Red’. Either way, I’ve been relocating them all to fill in available spots, to create foliage color contrasts and to attain that coveted garden design feature of repetition.


As much as I am proud of my ability to manage my garden and all of it’s inhabitants, I have no clue what this is. I love it by the way. Any clue as to what it is? First to answer wins … something.



This Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’ is almost unrecognizable. It has been taken over, actually I should say “taken under” by Northern Sea Oats and other bully weeds. It is virtually impossible to make headway on removing them. It may be time to dig it up and perform surgery as a last gasp to make it presentable.

Another reminder: Northern Sea Oats = bad

My book – “Perennials Through The Seasons” – is out

After weeks of editing it is finally here.

The first edition of the book was 188 pages (8.5″ x 11″ paper) but I soon realized that at that length, it would be too expensive to print. As painful and excruciating as it was, I ultimately cut it down to under 100 pages.

Who knew that the actual writing of the book would end up being the easiest part of this project?

But it is done. And I am super excited.

A quick synopsis of the book:

There are 20 chapters, each a different perennial that resides in my garden today. The chapters commence with a personal story that is tied to that particular plant. It then takes you through a photographic journey, spring through winter of that perennial with 1,000+ photos in all. While the flowering of each perennial is happily celebrated, I also include other aspects that too often go underappreciated: new spring foliage, spent blooms, seed heads and fall color.

For all of you who have been loyal readers over the years, please know that this is all new material and not a copy of old blog posts.

You can purchase the book here through Amazon.

Thank you all for your support over the years as this book wouldn’t have been written without you.

I am forever grateful.

Volume 2 will be out later this year.

The 2016 ONG Gardening Awards

This was a strange gardening year for me. As I look back on spring and summer and early fall, I feel like I didn’t do much.

No marathon overhauls.

Not a lot of plant movement.

Some new plant additions but fewer than in prior years.

And way fewer photos than any time in the past seven years (when I started photographing my garden).

Either I’m losing my mojo, allowing life to get in the way or if the glass is half full, I’m maturing as a gardener.

Let’s agree that it is 25%/50%/25% respectively.

Still, there will always be time to look back and learn and review the gardening season that was.

And what better way to do that than through an awards ceremony. I like dressing up and I’ve already prepared a few rough drafts for victory speeches.


Gardening book of the year:

The Perennial Matchmaker

ondra 10

IMHO, no one does a better job than Nancy Ondra when it comes to the combining of perennials. This book sparked so many ideas and will continue to do so this gardening “off season”. I’ve already worn out a lot of the pages.

That is always a good sign.

It doesn’t hurt that she loves the grasses as much as I do.

ondra 8

“Best riddance of a plant” award:

Finally removing all of my barberry shrubs.



remove barberry 3

As if I needed to be reminded yet again about the invasive nature of this non-native shrub. While it was a bit of a nightmare to eradicate the two remaining dwarf cultivars, it was a long time coming.

Even after I dug both of them up, I still spent all summer and fall pulling roots/branches that were left behind.

I don’t think I’ve seen the last of these.

The “I will not panic and therefore do nothing” award:

Eastern Tent caterpillars.

bag of bugs

While I can’t say that I’ve embraced them, I can say that I have witnessed them on my crabapple tree for three years running now and have done nothing to address them.

And guess what? I haven’t seen any signs of damage as a result of my inaction.

Some times you just let nature take its course.

“My biggest obsession of 2016” award:

Destroying my lawn with cardboard.


If I do the math, I should have no lawn by April of 2045.

No lawn = more planting space and less maintenance and prettier stuff.

The jury is still out on the success of using such a method as I haven’t layered it quite as thick as I have in the past. I can say that the cardboard typically fully breaks down after 3 years and then we enter into weed management time.


The “bad parenting” award:

mia 2


“The impossible to combine with other plants” award:

Trollius (Globe Flower)

orange flower

orange flower bee balm

Maybe it isn’t so much this particular flower as much as it is working with the color orange.

On its own, I like it. But in my rural and mostly native and mostly grass infested garden, it doesn’t really fit in. I tried combining them with spring blooming Allium …

trollius blooms

… and well, yuck.

The “one can never have enough of this bulb in spring” award:



What focal points and what fun and what a hoot to watch them tower over the lower lying perennials.

full 2

The “I’m shocked at how much I love this plant” award:

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moon’.

baptisia back

I don’t know if these bloom at a time when there is a lull in the garden or if I just like Baptisia so much that even yellow blooms are a stunner. Regardless, I am so thrilled with this plant and hope to add a few more in the not so distant future.

The “I can’t believe it took me this long to embrace a flowering vine” award:

Clematis ‘Scented Clem’ Sugar-Sweet.



clematis 2

The “Well, that didn’t work out quite like I hoped it would” award:

My robotic lawnmower.

husqvarna 2

I wrote an initial review here. And at first, it was a lot of fun to watch this guy run 24/7 without a care in the world, even in the pouring rain.


But eventually I ran into issues with the automower being able to locate its charging station. As a result, I had to carry it to the charger every few hours and it just became too much.

I think these work well within small properties and not large lots like mine. I had to have this running only in my front yard and while it was fun and a great conversation starter, it ultimately became a gimmick and so I moved back to good old standard mowing.

The “best performing week in my own garden” award: 

The week of June 19th, 2016.

front bed


front bed


front bed 2


veronica pink


planter bed

My “favorite public garden” award:

No spoiler alert required here, you all know that it is the High Line in New York City.






The “2nd best performing week in my own garden” award:

The week of August 7th, 2016.

joe pye butterfly


white coneflower


side bed 2

The most often asked “What is that plant?” award:

Variegated diervilla ‘Cool Splash’.


“My favorite newly added plant to my garden in 2016” award:

Pennisetum ‘Burgundy Bunny’

burgundy bunny 2

The award for “Most out of my comfort zone plant decision”:

Adding, gulp, Yuccas to containers. You can read about them here.


Yes, they are both still there.

Photo of the year:

No words necessary.

jack graduate

“The most f’n frustrating plant, three years running” award:

Cimicifuga, all cultivars. This is the best shot I could find.

cimici 3

The potential is so exciting and they start off like gangbusters but then the blooms emerge and it all falls to shit. I’ve tried everything to date and may just need to throw in the trowel (God I love typing that).

“Favorite new native plant finally added to my garden after ogling it at the High Line for so long” award:

Vernonia (Ironweed).



All six of these should dominate in 2017. I hope.

“Instagram photo that will hopefully be bringing in a little bit of cash this holiday season” award:


More to excitedly come on this.

“The most magical early morning where thankfully I was awake and conscious and the camera battery was charged” award:








That is why I garden.


In and around the November garden

What have I been up to of late?

Glad you asked.

I finally got around to installing my Screech Owl house. Fine, I didn’t physically install it so much as I was an active gofer for my handy brother-in-law who fortunately lives two houses away.

You all know me too well.


The owl house was installed during the day on Saturday at a temperature close to 70 degrees and got its first test that night when we had gusting winds and almost 2 inches of snow.

Yay, November.

Who can resist a good late season plant sale? How about this monster bargain:

carex-lowes50 cents x 3 is so worth the risk of getting these through the winter. They are all Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’.

I consider it research for my ornamental grasses book.

A tax write-off.

Wish me luck.

Some times you just have a feeling.

Some times your gut tells you to just do it.

Some times you need it.

As silly as that all sounds, it all added up to me attempting to grow tulips successfully for the first time ever (not including in containers).


There is a deeper meaning at play here and one I’ll never talk about.

I need this to work and I’m confident that it will.

Tulips don’t dig the wet winter soil and that has been my problem for decades.

Until 2017 that is.


We now wait until spring where my blind faith will hopefully pay huge dividends.

Beyond all that, I’ve been doing my best to soak in what is left in terms of color out in the garden.


Spirea nipponica ‘Snowmound’




Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’


Pycnanthemum incanum (Hoary mountain mint)

And you know, ornamental grasses.












Trying to stay positive

Today is a depressing day.

The vitriol on Facebook is a disgrace. From both sides.

I’m not comfortable or thrilled with the direction we are heading but the people have spoken.

I can only hope this is rock bottom and we some how trend up from here.

As a white middle class male it is ignorant of me to speak on anyone’s behalf. I’ve been the privileged one from day one. But I can only hope the rhetoric is just that, rhetoric.

Equality is all that matters.

Now we wait and see and fight where necessary but also do our best to keep an open mind across the board and keep constructive dialogue alive as much as humanly possible.

Pie in the sky? Maybe. But what are our other options?

Soap box over.

The weather was the perfect metaphor today. Rainy and cold but if you looked beyond that, you can discover beauty.

At least that is what I’m rolling with for today.














Friday musings

Some Friday thoughts.

I’ve complained many times in the past about my difficulty in eradicating Northern Sea Oats from my garden. I’ve still fighting that battle but damn, if they don’t look good right now, especially with the morning frost.



Geraniums offer up great fall color and I’m thinking about taking advantage of that next year. I’m not sure how yet, but it has been added to the many off season design topics to be discussed within my own head on nights I cannot sleep.



I kid you not. Another design item in the hopper is more moss. I wish this was from my own garden. I want this as a focal point. I want to better understand how to grow moss or create the conditions where moss will thrive.



Any idea what this is? I’ve seen many of his brethren of late and I’m thinking they’re really cool or a really bad sign. Probably both.


Ok truth? I wanted to show you some of my latest Instagram pics and came up with stories around them to fool you into believing the story was the lead and not the photos.

Fooling you isn’t the right way to put it. The stories are legit, they were just prompted by the photographs.

Never mind.

Have a great weekend and my apologies for being such a narcissist.

Early morning garden photos

After a morning of panic because my son slept through two alarms and then awe at his ability to shower, shave, get dressed and eat breakfast in 7 minutes and then seeing him off to the high school bus after ensuring there were no clowns hanging at the edge of the woods with Snickers bars, I grabbed my camera and took the following photos.

Hope you enjoy.



























The grasses take the lead role

A few thoughts for today:

  • Doesn’t this picture make you a little bit sad?


I cut back this one Agastache to the ground a few weeks back because it was dried to a crisp and did it ever put on nice new growth in no time. And then just this week this one bloom appeared. It feels so bittersweet since the real cold weather is just around the corner.

Valiant effort little guy.

  • Is there a better name than Flame Grass for this one?


True story: An unknown civilian called me over to their car in front of my home the other day. I assumed they were going to ask for directions but then realized, no one does that any more with Google and GPS right? I prepared for the worst and even prepared for an evil clown to emerge only to have them ask, “What is that bush over there? It is stunning.”

Sir, that is Miscanthus purpurascens or Flame Grass for you common folk.

  • A close 2nd to the “best looking ornamental grass right now” is Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium).


Tremendous coloration, especially when back lit by the late afternoon sun.

  • This combination of Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’) and an Anemone I have no memory of ever planting has been fun. I couldn’t recreate this effect if I tried.


It is better to be lucky than good.

  • The Obedient plant (Physostegia ‘Vivid’) has easily quadrupled in size in the past two years and is a unique bloom color this time of year.


  • And finally, I would be super appreciative if you could read my latest post over at How losing my wallet made my life easier. This may sound crazy, but the content and style of this article is one that I’m strongly considering for a book. If you do check it out, I would love for you to click on the little heart at the bottom of the story. That greatly helps me with getting others to read it as well. And as always, let me know what you think, good or bad. I need the feedback, desperately.
  • I lied, one more. I hopefully fixed the issue with the subscription pop-up but need your confirmation that it is in fact working again. Let me know in the comments section if you have a minute.

Thank you and have a hell of a day.