Category: My garden

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.



Macro photography on Instagram

I’m still plugging away at my new found love for macro photography using the camera on my Samsung Galaxy 7 phone. As phenomenal as the phone is, it is in conjunction with Instagram where it all shines. Macro photography on Instagram is stunning and I’m having a grand old time studying others work and tweaking my own work along the way.

Some of my latest pics are included below and if it wouldn’t be a bother, I’d love to get your input on which ones you like the best. Admittedly, these photos lose a little when not viewed via Instagram but hopefully you can see what I was going for when I was taking them and hopefully they still look OK through your collective eyes.

Would you be so kind as to let me know your top 3 photographs in a comment below? A simple #3, #8 and #11 would be perfect. But should you feel like you have to provide additional feedback in the worst way, I would welcome it and be forever grateful.

I have something in the works with these photos and your opinions would be a huge boost to that endeavor. To be revealed at a later date …

Thank you a ton in advance.

1. Anemone petals

macro photography on instagram


2. Dew on anemone

macro photography on instagram


3. Boltonia bloom cycle



4. Boltonia unfurling



5. Aster

macro photography on instagram


6. Sneezeweed



7. Sneezeweed petals



8. Hardy ageratum



9. Rudbeckia



10. Geranium



11. Coneflower



12. Dew on leaf



13. Tomato



14. Sorbaria


Bragging through photographs

An unusual thing happened today.

I had some free time on my hands while at home. When that happens, instinct typically kicks in and I head directly to the garage where I put on my gloves and grab some combination of my trowel, spade and a large container for weeds. I then head out into the yard without any plans and just start weeding or planting or moving plants. All of this is done with reckless abandon until I realize I have run out of time or I pass out.

But today was different.

No trip to the garage.

No desire to do anything in the garden whatsoever.

I feel done for the year.

This feels unusual and I’m holding out hope that it is only temporary. Is it possible this is the new normal? Am I wearing down sooner in my old age? I’ll have to let it play out a few weeks longer before jumping to any conclusions.

I claim the right to change my mind in the near future without any ridicule from all of you. But at least let me have this today. 

While hard laboring John is on temporary hiatus, shutterbug John is not. Fall is arguably the best season for bringing out the best in my garden so I am outside taking pictures on regular rotation. I can’t miss a thing.

After taking a series of photos today and then reviewing them I couldn’t simply just post them here without any commentary like I did last Friday. I owe you more than that. My desire to write hasn’t dwindled a bit either so fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your point of view) I have come up with a theme for today’s pics. That theme is what I’m proud of with each shot. Proud in terms of my gardening skills not my photography skills.


Layers are good. It has taken a lot of time and experimentation but I’m happy with the results on this front.



Masses. Always good for the greatest impact. Especially in a wide open garden setting like mine.



Grasses make the garden literally shine in September and October.



“Foundation plantings” are boring and too neat. Glad I stayed away.



Protecting my precious tomatoes from the deer using ornamental grasses as fencing has been fun and rewarding.



Plants like Sneezeweed, which tend to topple easily, are best planted among, you guessed it, ornamental grasses. The grasses provide support and their see-through quality allows for a cool display.



There is still nothing better than Panicum ‘Northwind’. She still holds the title as queen of the grasses.


QOTD: Are you still performing hard labor in your garden?



Plant spreadsheet

September is all about inventory or time to update the plant spreadsheet at “Le Jardin du Markowski”.

I pray to God I got that right or my father, a former high school French teacher, will disown me. I took a few years of French in high school myself, but never grasped the language. I could, however, pull off some sick mash-ups of Franglais, like “You’re full of merde” or “Let’s go jouer some baseball”. That and I remember that the French used an alternative to “It’s raining cats and dogs”. They would say, and I’m paraphrasing here, “La vache qui pisse” meaning it is raining like the cow pisses. Score one for higher education.

My inventory process is rather simple.

I walk the garden with printed plant spreadsheet in hand and check off those plants still with us and take counts of all those same plants. Anything not checked is eventually moved to the “Dead” tab in case it needs to be referenced in the future. Any plants that have been added to the garden since the last update are scribbled on to the hard copy of the plant spreadsheet. Later on, plant tags are referenced to ensure the appropriate cultivar name have been included with my new additions.

This is necessary, why? I’ll tell you why:

  1. It is an excuse to carry a clipboard which is always cool.
  2. My neighbors look on confused and that is always fun.
  3. In winter, I like nothing more than to refine my plant spreadsheet as a means of keeping the garden in the conversation.
  4. In winter, I like nothing more than to further educate myself on a plant’s longevity, ease of division and potential partner plants.
  5. My therapist says it gives me a feeling of control and that apparently is considered progress.
  6. Some day, when I’m good and ready, I’ll reveal the plant spreadsheet to the world and it will go viral and I’ll make like tons of money.
  7. I have documentation for the next owners of our home should they not tear it all down in fear of what goes into the upkeep.

And no, I’m not ready to reveal this cornucopia of plant knowledge so you’ll have to just imagine what it looks like.

Actually I’ll give you one little nugget as a teaser. After completing the inventory earlier today it was determined that I have 13 Panicum ‘Rotstrahbusch’ grasses. All are thriving and all originated from plants I bought from Bluestone Perennials in 2006. Come to think of it, I could put out a plant version of for my own garden and it would be killer.

A thought for another day.

I love me some ‘Rots’ and so does my camera. Here are some pics I took of the “Rots” in various poses and I hope you enjoy them all.

These are numbers 4-6 in terms of their age.



Wispy comes to mind.



Great backdrop for perennials all the way into the Fall.



Intertwined with Boltonia.



Hanging with other grasses including Sorghastrum and Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’.



There is almost always one within earshot of the camera.



As seen through the eyes of Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ blooms.


QOTD: Do you really have any interest in my spreadsheet?



We have arrived at the initial stages of the the time of year when I get pissed off at a lot of my gardening brethren. When I say brethren, I mean anyone who has personally planted at least 19 plants within the past 3 years. I didn’t just make up those numbers, they have been carefully curated over time.

Plus I only work in odd numbers as all gardeners should.

My data shows me that this ratio properly identifies what I’ll call the “kind-of-into-it-gardener”. Anything less than that and the term gardener cannot be attached to those fools people. This is a crucial distinction and one I suggest you borrow/steal moving forward.

Here is why I get all sorts of perturbed:

We are nearing the end of summer and with it, the end of the line for so many perennials. They’ve worked their asses off for weeks/months on end. They’ve given us nothing but joy all spring/summer and now they are ready to take a seat, drop their petals and enjoy some much needed down time. All well deserved.

But by no means does that require us to cut them down, clean them up and remove all signs of their existence. I liken that nonsense to those people who chuck their Christmas trees on December 26th or put away the holiday decorations the day after. Take a breath, relax and allow nature to do its thing. If you look at it through the appropriate lens, it is a wondrous thing.

Yes, I openly embrace the fact that I can be a bit obsessive and compulsive and neurotic in my own garden and hypocritical from time to time.

True story interlude: I announced my distaste for sedums earlier this week because they weren’t native enough and didn’t fit into my garden aesthetic here in the Northeast U.S. This afternoon I just bought two Yucca plants for containers on my deck. Hypocrite much?

But one thing I’ve done, or not done I should say, since gardening stole my heart back in the late 90’s, is cut down my perennials. I’ve always left them standing even when my OCD tendencies were telling me to cut, cut, cut. I enjoy them around all fall and winter and implore all of the “make it nice and neat” crowd to do the same. You want reasons why? Here are just some off the top of my head:

  1. Enjoy the life cycle – from emergence in spring, to peak in summer, to the slow death in fall and dormancy in winter, I love it all. It is how it works in the wild and the way it is supposed to be. Embrace it.
  2. You’ll remember what is planted where – this is very underrated. No more issues with mistaking a newly emerging perennial as a weed or digging one up accidentally when planting in spring.
  3. The birds and bugs need it – a place of respite or food source for so many. I like nothing more than watching the finches hit up my coneflowers in winter.
  4. They look good covered in ice and snow – I’ll take any additional winter interest I can get. And bare garden space is not attractive.

So friends, family, some time acquaintances and strangers, accept the demise of your plants.

Do a lot by doing nothing.

Clean the pruners and stow them away.

Accept a bit of chaos.

Give the bees one last chance to enjoy the Agastache.



Remember how that vivid orange color excited you in mid summer.



Don’t forget that brown is a color.



And thank your Bee Balm for the endless entertainment they provided all summer drawing in all of those bees and butterflies.


QOTD: What perennial do you enjoy most in fall/winter?