Category: Shrubs

Favorite photos of 2014

First off, I want to thank all of you for your kind comments on the last post and/or on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Text. Each one made the sadness just a little bit more manageable and that was so appreciated by my family and me.

We are all still bumming big time over the loss of our Casey and the new “normal” thrust upon us. It is so painfully empty in the house. And damn I had no idea what slobs the kids are; the crumbs Casey disposed of are now piling up. She did an awesome job of covering up for them.

So while I don’t have the drive or want to write up a witty post or research a favorite perennial, I did have the need to look back through ALL of my garden photos from 2014 for an energy lift out of these doldrums.

I find it so easy to immerse myself right back into the bloom and foliage colors like it is the middle of summer.

If I had any sense of smell (note to self – surgery in 2015) I could smell those flowers like they were in the room with me.

I can physically feel the warmth of that time.

This all feels damn good right about now.

So here is the what I think is the best of the best.







peony buds












mt airy fothergilla





Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’

After a long, cold and brutal winter, is there anything better than the sweet scent of flowers in spring? The correct answer is “yes” with baseball spring training a close second and NCAA March Madness a distant 3rd. There is no argument in regards to this answer.

For me, the sweetest smelling flower in spring is hands down Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’.


Typically this shrub is in full bloom by mid April here in zone 6B New Jersey and it is a welcome sight along with all of the spring bulbs in bloom. Beyond the bloom show, it signifies that warmer weather is on the horizon and that the cold weather will soon be a distant memory.

Here are some more deets and photos on my beautiful relationship with this gem.

I purchased this shrub as a tiny little guy (approximately six inches in height) back in 2009 from Bluestone Perennials. It didn’t take long to establish as here she is back in 2011.


While it took shape early on, the deer nipped off at least half of the buds each fall/winter.


I would get blooms each spring, but they were sporadic. I knew she could deliver more.

I had the shrub located in a more hidden part of my garden so I made the executive decision in spring of 2013 to move it into a more prominent location where I didn’t expect the deer to find it. With fingers securely crossed, it has thrived and the deer have left it alone.

Here is a timeline for this Viburnum starting in late winter/early spring:

The buds start to show a hint of color in March.


Then the pink buds really start to take form in early April.

viburnum bloom

Soon after, the shrub is covered in pink buds.

vib aurora

vib aurora2

And then one day … boom. Full blown blooms and full blown heavenly scent.

vib bloom



As I was compiling this post, I realized that more often than not, the dandelions in the lawn were blooming at the same time. No significance here really, just an observation. Moving on …

While ‘Aurora’ is in full bloom, it creates a “white garden” in my front bed along with the blooming Mt. Hood daffodils. It also helps take the eye away from the recently cut down ornamental grasses.

vib whites

The bloom period is rather short – maybe two weeks – but it is worth the bang for the buck in spring.

From May through mid October, this Viburnum still looks great, it just takes a back seat to all of the summer blooming shrubs and perennials.


But then by mid October, big show #2 hits with the fantastic fall color.

vib aurora

It has become a focal point in perfect view as visitors walk up my front walkway and to the front door.

vib aurora3

And as a bonus, I get to dream of the following spring as the buds have formed and stand in nice contrast to the wine red foliage color.

Dreaming of next spring’s Viburnum blooms already #garden #plants

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

A few additional bits of info before we call it a day:

  • Size – on average it is 5′ x 5′
  • Sun requirements – Full sun or partial shade
  • Soil requirements – Well drained in any soil type – works in my wetter clay soil
  • Zones – 4 to 8
  • Pruning – only immediately after blooming for shaping purposes
  • Native to Korea
  • Introduced in 1958
  • Many sites claim it is deer resistant but mine has been nipped over the years

Ninebark ‘Diablo’ is a winner

Back in March, I wrote about the spring pruning of one of my Ninebark ‘Diablo’. You can read about it here.

This deciduous shrub sits smack dab in the middle of the foundation bed in front of my home, so homeboy has quite the impact. Yes, conventional garden wisdom says an evergreen would be the right call here, but I play on the fringes so convention be damned. I dig the red leaf color in contrast to all the other green in this bed and enjoy the untamed look where formality is typically the norm.

As most of you know, Physocarpus (Ninebark) can get quite large if not kept in check (10′ x 10′). At a minimum, I had to selectively prune it this Spring if I wanted to keep it in its current location. The test was under way.

Important note – this shrub has lived in at least three other locales and in each, the deer chowed down on it like mad. This new spot seems to be outside the deer purview.

So here is ‘Diablo’ as of this past summer, post spring pruning.



Pretty sexy, eh?

I would say it maxed out at about 6′ x 5′ which is just about perfect for this spot. If I can continue to keep it at this size and assuming the deer continue to not be able to find it, we may have a winner here.

I should also add, this location gets about half sun and half shade but has managed to keep its fantastic foliage color.



And while it didn’t bloom profusely, there were enough to keep things interesting.




And those flowers are the gifts that keep giving as they turned into awesomely ornamental seed heads.



And while Physocarpus loses all of its leaves by November, that bark provides a decent show all winter long, especially when draped in snow.




More to come in Spring ’15.

It’s Clethra time

As of the past week or so, there is an unbelievable scent that overwhelms me each time I skip out of my garage and head to work. And that is coming from a guy in desperate need of fixing his deviated septum. Seriously, I can’t smell a thing most of the time.

The producer of said perfumey scent is my Clethra ‘Hummingbird’:  

This deciduous shrub has been a top performer for me for years now. The deer leave it alone, it doesn’t mind the wet feet and blooms profusely each and every July. But maybe the coolest thing  about it is the way it attracts all sorts of critters to it when in bloom:

I’ve even captured a quick video to truly represent the bee party that goes on all day long:

Knowing how solid Clethra is in my garden, I finally made the smart decision to add even more shrubs this spring. Here is where those stand as we speak:

I am even enjoying the fact that ‘Hummingbird’ has started to sucker at the base of the plant:

Sucker away you beautiful thang. The more the merrier.

I plan on scouring the nurseries this fall for even more Clethra shrubs on the cheap.

I can’t have enough of these gems.    

Random musings

Some thoughts as we head into the weekend:

I am now realizing the ornamental interest with Baptisia seed pods:

The grasses are starting to make their presence known:

Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’:

Panicum ‘Northwind’:

From left to right – Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’, Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ and Calamagrostis ‘Eldorado’:


Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’:


I planted Veronica ‘Royal Candles’ in mass this spring and the color blast is most welcomed right now:

Daylily ‘Little Grapette’ is still chugging away and I am enjoying the blooms for the first time in three years as the deer have stayed away. Like I’ve always said, daylillies are the greatest:

And finally, Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ is kind of liking its space. Looking at a severe pruning next winter:



Have a great one.

A garden update

What’s been doing in my garden these days:

Monarda (Bee Balm) is reliable, spreads as I need it to, has great color and attracts the critters:



My Purple Coneflower/Russian Sage combo is the oldest in my garden and never disappoints:


Hot damn, I love this Helenium (Sneezeweed) ‘Short n Sassy’:

The first of the Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed) to bloom. This is ‘Baby Joe’:

The Physostegia (Obedient Plant) is blooming weeks before it ever has before:

Phlox’n awesome:

Man do I love daylillies (‘Little Grapette’) … pause for effect … look up hypocrite in the dictionary … lose my street cred:



First Coneflower “Sunshine’ bloom:

Awaiting first Coneflower ‘Fragrant Angel’ blooms:

Filling in nicely:



A favorite photo

Ten reasons why I love this garden vignette/photo so much:

  1. It is sunny and summer

  2. The Allium is still providing interest weeks after it stopped blooming
  3. The way the Iris looks backlit by the sun
  4. The fact that the Monarda and Phlox are blooming at the same time
  5. The contrast of the Barberry branches and the Iris leaves
  6. The combined scent of the Monarda and soon to be blooming Clethra
  7. The creatures drawn in by both the Monarda and the Clethra blooms
  8. It is sunny and summer
  9. The privacy afforded by the mature trees along the back of my property
10. The deer have never touched any of these plants  

    Pruning Ninebark ‘Diablo’

    I ventured outside early this morning with the intention of … well … I actually had no real intention. It was -10 degrees with the wind chill¬† (maybe a slight exaggeration) and I wanted to see how quickly my nose hairs would freeze. A fun little test of my intestinal fortitude.

    Conclusion: It was cold and it hurt like hell.

    I lasted about two minutes and then headed back inside. However, I had enough time to check out my Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ and started thinking about how I was going to prune it in the near future.

    And that consumed me all day, all the way up until I started to write this post this evening.

    I have considered pruning Ninebark ‘Diablo’ back hard to within a foot of the ground to get nice fresh and vivid foliage this spring. Of course, that would mean sacrificing any blooms and subsequent red seedheads.

    I have considered cutting out only the dead wood and some of the older branches to the ground to keep the shrub’s somewhat upright shape. You can easily spot said older gray branches in the photo below:


    OK hold on a minute. Let me take a step back and think this through a bit and provide you some background before I make any pruning decisions.

    Here is how the Physocarpus (Ninebark) looked this past summer:


    Already at its ideal size after only three years in the ground.

    And how good do the dark colored leaves look against the other shrubs and perennials in front of it?





    Nice, huh? I wish I could do nothing and it would stay exactly as it looked this spring/summer. But we all know this shrub grows like mad and precautions need to be taken to keep it in bounds.

    Another factor in the pruning Ninebark decision is whether or not I care about retaining the blooms each season. Here they are. They look nice up close:


    But I won’t lie, I think they leave a little to be desired from a distance. Quick conclusion = I can survive without them.

    By the way, this deciduous shrub looks pretty fantastic in the fall:



    And the bark is fantastic when exposed in the winter:


    What was I getting at again? Oh yeah, “to prune or not to prune” or really “to severely prune or not to severely prune”. That, my friends, is the question.

    … and you will have to wait for an answer for a few more weeks. Some more in depth analysis is required.

    UPDATE: Here is the link to where I went with my pruning – Pruning ‘Diablo’


    Red Twig dogwood ‘Arctic Fire’

    Winter interest.

    Oh that elusive winter interest.

    It is in the single digits here today so winter is clearly front of mind.

    With four long months of fall/winter here in the NJ, and as good as the browns and greens may look, anything that can lend a unique color to the landscape is something worth investing in. And after four years of “investing” in a redtwig dogwood (‘Arctic Fire’ to be exact), I am proud to announce that I have successfully kept one alive and thriving, browsing deer be damned.

    More details on ‘Arctic Fire’ (Cornus stolonifera):
    *Typical size is 4′ x 4′
    *Survives in zones 3-7
    *Blooms in May-June (though I have yet to witness, no biggie)
    *Works in full to partial sun
    *Tolerant of most soils, including my almost boggy conditions

    Here she is current state:


    And from a few weeks ago:

    Just about bare, and ready to carry me through the winter with her glistening red stems.
    While this shrub puts on its best show during the winter, it looks “nice” in spring/summer with its clean foliage, reddish stems and leaf shape:
    Of course it took me years to get to this point. I have had it chewed down to the ground many, many times and just about had given up on it. But then I took a chance and placed it in a partial shade spot hoping the deer would be dumb enough to miss it.

    I am proud to announce the deer were indeed dumb and have not touched it since. Here are some of the old pics as the dogwood struggled to find its footing:

    As dumb and counterproductive as it sounds, I plan on pruning this shrub back severely in spring to maintain that bright red stem color and will be sure to track its success/failure. Until then, bank on way too many photos of the stems covered in snow.
    UPDATE: To see how I’ve handled pruning this shrub each winter/spring, read here. ¬†