Category: Ornamental grass

The ornamental grasses have arrived

Ornamental grasses are typically referenced as making an impact in mid to late summer and even more so in the fall. There is no denying their influence during these seasons and that is when my garden truly shines (self pat on back).

But I also see them as a great foil to all of the perennials and shrubs that are kicking ass in the late spring and summer. The perfect back drop to all of that color. The perfect contrast in texture.

They may not have reached their peak color or form, but this OG obsessive says they still play a big part in the spring/summer garden.

What do you think?

Here is where they stand in my garden today. Even their subtle emergence makes me happy. I literally can’t take a photo in the garden without at least one photo bombing the pic.         










The winter garden is the best, or it isn’t.

How shall I deliver this post today?

We can go one of three ways:

A. Be authentic and real

B. Lie my ass off

C. Rely on sarcasm to hedge between the two

Authentic and real is generally the right thing to do. But today is the exception.

Lying one’s ass off, I’ve been told, is not nice. Even if the lie is to protect someone or something or to make you the reader feel good out of the endless goodness that resides in my heart, it will ultimately destroy or erode my credibility. We can’t have that.

When all is said and done, sarcasm is the right answer. As it usually is.

So I choose “C“.

There is nothing better than the feeling of nose hairs freezing and intertwining within 2 seconds of setting foot outside.

It reminds me that the joy of feeling painfully cold is back.

It reminds me of the fun challenge of trying to not face plant when your insane dog pulls you viciously down the icy front stairs at 5:48 A.M.

Winter is flat awesome.

There is nothing quite like the sight of frozen and dead and brown.


It is not uncommon to hear me joyfully humming “Winter Wonderland” as the earth crunches underneath my feet.


Even as my ears form icicles and my tears freeze and shatter before hitting the ground, I stand and ponder the circle of life that is my garden. Life, like wow.


Falling down repeatedly on the frozen earth is so worth it, just to see the frozen individual grass strands.


That frozen what-was-once-a-Joe-Pye-Weed-bloom is just as beautiful as when the monarch butterflies graced its presence months back. It’s like fine china gifted from the gods of the winter garden and I am so blessed to have been provided with this rare gift.


You know what is underrated in terms of fun? When you can’t feel your fingers while taking a photo. The challenge of pushing that little button is so cool.


See that owl house in the background? It is going to be a hoot trying to get back there without stepping in 10 inch deep puddles of frigid water.


The excitement generated by hoping the frozen tree branches don’t break off and deform the shape of the tree is palpable.


Why I don’t cut down my grasses for winter reason #1,453. Something to look at from inside the warm house. Wait, that wasn’t sarcastic. Sorry.

God I love the magic of the winter garden.

Much better.


You know those people who love winter and the snow and the cold? They’re great aren’t they?


OK so I added this photo solely for the purpose of showing off our new columns on the front porch and the fact that we disposed of our old rusted railings which I’ve had to cut out of photos since the beginning of this blog.

A new beginning.


I so wanted to help this grass get back to its original shape but I got distracted from all of the other fun winter events.


How exciting, you haven’t seen this photo a hundred times over.


Heuchera on ice. Riveting.


I can’t even …

Little bluestem

There is an ornamental grass that is threatening to steal my heart away from Panicum ‘Northwind’. I know, scandalous. But the heart wants what the heart wants. And right now the heart is being tugged towards Little bluestem. Or if we’re being fancy, Schizachyrium scoparium.

I’ve even gone so far as to share my love for her on Instagram:


I realize I’m late to the party with Little bluestem. And I’m fully aware it was one of the dominant grasses in the Tallgrass Prairie in the central U.S of yesteryear and that only 4% or so remains to this day.

But better late than never, right?

I guess I never fully realized just how easily it fits into the home garden. I’m up to three right now and will probably divide one of those in spring.

Some Little bluestem info:

  • Plant hardiness zone 3-9
  • Mature size is 4′ x 2′
  • Blooms starting in August and lasts into November here in zone 6B.
  • Requires full sun for best growth and becomes a bit floppy in partial shade.
  • Soil should range from dry to medium but mine have been ok to date in somewhat wet soil.
  • Drought tolerant and thrives in disturbed soils. Perfect for use on banks and slopes for erosion control.
  • An underrated feature, as is the case with so many ornamental grasses, is the food and shelter it provides to wildlife like birds and butterflies.

Some other info, happily accompanied by photos:

Little bluestem is a warm season grass and typically looks like this for me by early June:

little bluestem

And by mid-summer, the pastel colors of Little bluestem are killer, especially when properly back lit by the late day sun:

little bluestem

As mentioned previously, this native grass starts blooming in August and is covered in silvery white seedheads. Beautiful:

little bluestem

By late summer, as the flowers fade, the grass takes on a coppery appearance which looks right at home in the fall garden. Yum:

little bluestem


little bluestem

By mid-November or so, as with most ornamental grasses, Little bluestem transforms into a buff color where it remains that way until it is cut down in spring (Which you should do by the way. Please don’t cut your grasses down in fall or winter. Thanks.)

little bluestem

Are you growing this in your garden? What are your thoughts?

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.












Time to divide

Look real close at the photo below.


A colossal embarrassment.

This ornamental grass – Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ has begged for division for like three years now. And I’ve done nothing but ignore the request.


  1. It is a monster and the effort required to attack it has been intimidating.
  2. The effort requires time and time is in short supply these days.
  3. It is easily hidden from view so the pressure to do something about it has been lacking.
  4. Blog fodder – content for another post which you are enjoying right now.

But I am better than this.

It is 80% dead at this point and that is unacceptable for a so-called obsessive and neurotic gardener. Especially one who does nothing but wax poetic about the wonders of the ornamental grass.

So I’m calling myself out and asking you to do the same. Call me out on it from time to time. A nudge here and a nudge there.

Inexcusable John.

Cut back on the photos and maybe do some work John.

You must lack the physical strength to pull it off John.   

Task #1 for next spring has already been determined.



The sight of frost this morning was jarring.



The autumn sun so low, feeling like I could swat it if I had a running start.



While I could see winter sneakily approaching through my back woods, autumn is all like “I ain’t going anywhere yet.”





I wish morning frost was available year round. It beautifully outlines the leaves and stems.




This is only one reason why we don’t cut down the perennials until spring.









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.



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?


Grasses, transitions and a new destroyer of plants

A tour around my garden:

Ornamental grasses are the dominant feature right now as they round into their peak form. So why don’t we start there.

I’m sure you are well aware of my affinity for Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ by now but if not, here is some visible propaganda.



rots 2


More Panicum love here as well.

driveway bed


Not only do the grasses put a smile on my face but they also serve a very tangible purpose. Here they are protecting the tomatoes from the deer and doing a bang up job I must say.

tomatoes grasses


‘Karl Foerster’, kicking ass in John’s garden since ’07.



A recent addition to the grass collection, Pennisetum ‘Burgundy Bunny’ has phenomenal color right now. I am going to liberally add these wherever I can find the space for them. Love.

burgundy bunny 2


Soghastrum (Indian Grass) has announced its presence in a big way of late but I’ll hold off on photos until they are just right. By just right, I mean when all of the blooms have arrived. For now, here is a taste of one of those blooms. Love.

indian grass bloom


Speaking of blooms on the grasses. Here is one of the Andropogon (Big Bluestem) ‘Red October’ blooms. I now get why this grass is often referred to as Turkey Foot.

andropogon flower


Yes, there are plants other than ornamental grasses that tickle my fancy right now and some of these newly emerged this week. Like seen here with the first blooms of Chelone lyonii. This plant truly loves my often waterlogged soil and for that I am indebted for life.



This Boltonia bloom could be heard yelling “first” this morning.



Sedum ‘Matrona’ is playing nicely with Veronica ‘Royal Candles’ and my little hide-it-from-the-deer-game is still going strong.

sedum veronica


Transition of seasons. It is coming.

Look at what we have here. The seedheads of Baptisia are slowly opening and that makes me think winter is around the corner and that makes me cold which in turn makes me both mad and sad.

baptisia seedhead


Speaking of a transitional period, I just noticed this week that the stems on the Redtwig Dogwood are well, red and that also is freaking me out a bit. I love the red stems in winter and it is welcome winter interest, but for god’s sake, not yet.



This Rhamnus (Buckthorn) ‘Fine Line’ was inundated with Japanese beetles just a few weeks ago and looked nasty. Now I know how resilient and tough she is and that will be noted on the trusty plant spreadsheet.



This spring I ordered a massive quantity of small plugs of Packer Aurea (Golden Ragwort) from Izel Native Plants and while they all initially struggled with the heat and the humidity, they have all bounced back like a champ. I love the foliage. And I’m banking on mass blooms in early spring next year and post bloom, I plan on it being the plant to hide the ugly legs of others like Bee Balm and Sneezeweed.



I cannot for the life of me successfully grow Cimicifuga (Bugbane). It is official now. I’ve tried in full shade, mostly shade, partial shade and full sun. I’ve left alone for years and remained patient with no success. I’ve kept them consistently moist and no dice. It may be time to move on.

cimici 3


cimici 2




One last one before I go. I spotted this bloom of Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’ just laying in my front lawn this morning and thought it curious since it wasn’t actually eaten by the deer.


Upon closer inspection, there were Bee Balm plants knocked to the ground near it as well.

Upon closer inspection this was not the act of deer or any other animal.

Upon closer inspection, a certain 14 year old boy seemed awfully nervous around me this morning.

Upon closer inspection, said 14 y/o boy likes to hit a baseball across the front lawn and this area happens to be right in the way.

QOTD: How should I appropriately handle this situation?