Category: Spring

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A more honest view of the garden

I have one knee buried in the dirt and the other comfortably resting on a surprisingly smooth rock.

I’m profusely sweating with drips of said sweat some how finding their way to the inside of my eyelids.

I’m slightly shaking from too much coffee but then shaking more worrying about my shaking.

I’m strategically using my broad back to block the sun from shining on the Astilbe below so I can snap this picture without blinding sunlight.

Why the hell am I doing this again? Oh yeah, to capture that red stem up close and demonstrate how that lends additional interest to this perennial.


I first lay flat on my back on the front sidewalk. It’s 2:45 and my son’s bus will arrive home soon so I have to get this done quickly. I slowly raise my torso so I’m only a few inches off of the scalding hot stone that lines my front walkway. The abs are getting a killer workout, but I barely have enough strength to push the appropriate button on the camera. Thank God I pulled it off, because I got this gem.

Why is this a gem again? That’s right, I wanted to show how these Carex appalachica have a beautifully airy quality, especially when you can view those oh so slight seed heads/flowers.


I try to run at least twice a week. It isn’t a run as much as it is a lot of sprinting and walking. I learned a while back that high intensity intervals are generally better for you than steady state running. So I jog for five minutes and then alternate between 30 second sprints and a minute walk. The entire thing takes close to 40 minutes. I take the exact same path every time. I don’t why these details are necessary, but it’s too late, I’ve already given them to you.

I’m not going to lie, these runs are dangerous. It’s in the middle of nowhere and if I were to ever be attacked or even fall, no one will locate me for days.

Every time I take this turn, I wonder what evil lies on the other side.

Gunshots from the local shooting range keep me running fast and there is a high probability that I may be mistaken for an intruder by paranoid neighbors.

There is a reason for the build-up here, I promise.

By the time I am done with my run, I’m physically and emotionally shot. I can barely walk by the time I make it back to my street.

But there is one final hurdle and this one is the worst of all.

I have to do my best to not view my garden from the street. I’ve gotten really good at staring at the ground until I am at the front door. But every once in a while I make the mistake and take a glance. I’m already exhausted and sore and angry after the run, but the reality of seeing my garden from afar pushes me over the edge.


I realize that the majority of the photos on this blog are close-ups of the garden. That is the best way for you the reader to truly understand the attributes of a plant. It’s also the easiest way for me to make things look all pretty. The best way for me to present my garden in an appealing way. I can hide the fact that most of my perennials start growing late in the season and therefore lead to many open spots. I can hide the warts, and the air conditioner and the not-neatly-spooled-hose.

The close-ups also allow me to highlight plant details that differentiate the more unique and dynamic ones from the mundane. Hence the need for the red stemmed photo and the grass close-up presented at the beginning of this post. I love these details and have made it the focus of this blog for 7+ years now.

But my garden as a whole, that is a different animal.

This isn’t a “woe is me” complaint, but my garden and property is large and open. It provides limitless opportunities which is exciting, but also crippling and overwhelming. The vastness more often than not, dwarfs the garden; the reason why I duck my head after a run. Denial. 

I can be in the garden and be proud of all that I’ve constructed the past decade or so, but once I take steps back and look at it in relation to the property, I become disheartened and yearn for a small and intimate space.

So with that in mind, I’m going to present a few photos of my garden after taking a walk backwards. I’m not quite ready to show a view from the street, it’s too soon for that. This is just the first step in my rehabilitation.

There will be no further comments to accompany the photos, just an opportunity for me to allow these to be out in internet land and be comfortable with it.

A truer and more honest perspective of my garden.

I’m scared shitless but happy to put it out there.

 

 

 

Tour of my garden – 5/11/17

BLOOMING

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.”

 

ABOUT TO BLOOM

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”?

 

FOLIAGE

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.

 

OH SHIT

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

Post-book writing bliss

These past few days have been slow. Slow in a delicious way.

I’ve never felt more relief than after clicking that “publish” button. The book was out in the universe and I couldn’t stop it or change it.

**Take a quick glance to your right and you’ll see the book is for sale at Amazon.**

No more tweaking. No more anxiety. No more over thinking. It was done and now it was time to take a breath and reunite with the family and come out of the foxhole.

Time to coach softball.

Time to talk advanced baseball metrics with my son.

Time to see my wife and relieve her of editing duties (which she killed by the way).

Promotion of the book could wait. That’s for another day/week/month/year/lifetime.

And wouldn’t you know it, one of the first places I turned for some calmness was the garden. It felt different than it had the past few weeks. My pace through the garden was slower and devoid of plant facts and anecdotes and book material. I just enjoyed growth and flowers and even those adorable little weeds.

Pops of color from the bulbs never looked better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even a sole bloom that seemed to have come out of nowhere just felt right.

 

The promise of more to come.

 

Some of the perennials have started to bloom.

 

 

And one shrub has the entire street asking “What is that near perfect smell emanating from your lovely spring garden, John”?

 

Foliage growth from the perennials continue and even a few of the grasses have awoken.

 

 

 

In my state of bliss, I even managed to cut down all of the ornamental grasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first tour of my garden in 2017

Daffodils in bloom

Some of the Narcissus (Daffodils) are in bloom now, no doubt pushed by the 80 degree temps we had here in New Jersey yesterday.

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers soon to arrive

Viburnum carlesii.

 

 

The tiny Muscari.

 

Golden ragwort (Packera aurea).

 

Daffodils that will hide the recently cut down ornamental grass.

 

More daffodils, ‘Kokopelli’, on the way.

 

New foliage growth, almost as exciting as the flowers

This is Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ or False Spirea. Say that 5 times fast.

 

I get a lot of anxiety in early spring, fearful of what plants didn’t survive the winter. While this pic of Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’ may mean little to you, it means the world to me. I’m so thankful to have her back for another year considering I recklessly moved her around three times last summer.

 

This is the plant I’m most excited to watch progress this year. It’s Filipendula rubra (Queen of the Prairie). This will be its third year in my garden and I hope it can reach upwards of 6 feet in height with plenty of pale pink flowers in summer.

 

This is Diervilla sessilifolia (Southern Bush Honeysuckle) with its variegated foliage emerging over a mass of Bee Balm rosettes. This combo should be killer by early summer.

 

Photos that make me think

Baptisia is here, yeah. So are the weeds, boo.

 

I like to sing the praises of Bee Balm (Monarda) and its agressive nature, but this spring they have marched into enemy territory. Enemy territory being other perennials. Here it is challenging Heuchera (Coral Bells). I think we know who will win.

 

I am way excited to see that tulips have, knock on wood, survived the winter and appear ready to bloom. Even better is the fact that this small ornamental grass will strategically cover the decaying tulip foliage as it gets larger with the warmer temps. Hopefully by allowing the tulip foliage to decay, it will energize the bulbs and provide a repeat display of flowering next spring.

 

I’m totally cool with the Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake) expanding its colony even if it’s underneath this evergreen shrub. I say “evergreen shrub” because I can’t recall the name even after a search through my garden archives.

 

Finally, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I can’t bring myself to cut down this pairing. I’ve loved it all fall and winter and can’t end it quite yet. It is Little Bluestem grass, with its stellar orange hue, and Mountain Mint with its still upright seed heads.

I’m going to enjoy it for a few more days before cutting them both to the ground.

Task oriented

Task 1 : Cut down the Redtwig Dogwood

As hard as it is to say goodbye to those killer red stems, it’s time to move on now that spring has arrived.

I cut the stems of this shrub to the ground each spring and without fail, it grows back rapidly through spring and summer. This keeps the shrub’s size within bounds since I have it in a tight spot along the foundation of the front of my house.

This is what it typically looks like by summer.

The severe pruning also aids in providing the reddest of stems that upcoming fall/winter.

That task was completed today.

 

Task #2: Prune out the oldest stems on the Ninebark

This is another pruning task I conquer each spring. I cut roughly 2/3 of the old stems on this Ninebark ‘Diablo’ to the ground with the goal of limiting the ultimate size of this rapidly growing shrub.

You can easily identify the older branches by their lighter color and heavier peeling bark.

Another task completed today.

BEFORE

AFTER

Again, I do this so this Ninebark doesn’t outgrow the somewhat limited space I’ve provided for it along my foundation. By pruning it in this manner, it doesn’t get too monstrous and looks like this by the time it stops growing in summer.

 

Task #3: Clean up the dead foliage around the perennials

A lot of hand pruning and pulling but it’s all worth it after seeing all of that delicious green new growth.

 

Task #4: Cut down the ornamental grasses

For today, I stuck with the grasses that could easily be handled by hand pruners. That consisted mostly of Karl Foerster grasses.

 

Task #5: Observe

Observe the bulbs developing in a see of Bee Balm rosettes.

Observe the Golden Ragwort quickly throwing out growth and hopefully flowers in the next few weeks.

 

I think gardening season can officially kick off now

This has been an odd winter/spring so far.

Yes, beyond the late nigh tweets from Donald.

Bulb foliage emerged in January. December, January and February were way warmer and less precipitation filled than normal.

I banked on getting to spring cleaning tasks sooner than normal.

And then winter was all like “I’m going down with a vicious fight”, and we were slammed with snow and ice a few weeks back.

The remainder of that snow is now slowly disappearing and I am determined to get outside this weekend and play the role of gardener once again. It has been way too long.

I haven’t cut down a thing since the fall so I’ve got nothing but dead perennial foliage and ornamental grasses to contend with.

The only color in these parts, besides my frigid red cheeks, is from the Crocuses (or is it Croci?) that finally arrived this week.

I found time to hunt for new foliage growth and it took some parting of dead leaves and branches to find anything but it still felt great to witness rebirth.

False spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia)

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)

Coral Bells (Heuchera)

Stonecrop (Sedum)

The daffodils are making up for lost time with many showing signs of flower buds. The bulbs below have found their way up and through an ornamental grass. I must have moved this grass last year without knowledge of the bulbs that quietly lurked underneath. Here’s hoping they can all happily co-exist.

Yet another faux pas. Moving rocks in winter knowing there is high potential to block a bulb’s growth come spring. Fortunately, this Allium bulb isn’t taking “no” for an answer.

I hope my fellow trapped gardeners can get outdoors as well this weekend.

Cheers.

 

Garden optimism

A break from all of the baseball posts today.

Our trip down south unfortunately has come to an end. I now turn my attention from photographing athletes throwing a ball to photographing all signs of green that are popping up all over my garden.

And for the sake of a smooth transition, I like to think that I went from the promise of a new baseball season where all teams still think they can win it all, to the promise of a new season in my garden.

No weeds to deal with yet.

I like to think every plant in my garden will have survived the winter and will perform better than last year.

Optimism still exists.

So far, all of the Sedum plants appear to be intact.

 

And an endless number of daffodils have announced their presence.

 

 

The new irises I added last year (‘Wow Factor’) are ready to go and I cannot wait to share these killer blooms with you all.

 

But the plant I am most excited to see return is Allium ‘Globemaster’.

This is the first year, knock on wood, that it has returned for a repeat performance and that has me all sorts of giddy.

One last note:

Thank you all for your feedback/comments on the book I have in the works. I am putting all of your comments in motion and hope to share a sample chapter or two with you in the very near future.

 

 

Allium love, a new holiday and introducing “Question of the Day”

Here is the latest and greatest in my garden on this, dare I say, warm and beautiful May afternoon.

It’s all about the Allium right now, as the fruits of my fall labor are being realized this spring. I’ve got at least 25 Allium bulbs in bloom right now and they are kicking ass and taking names.

They look good up close.

allium 2

And as we pan back …

allium

… and back even further.

full 2

 

Baptisia blooms have arrived this week and I’m thinking this day should be declared a holiday each year. That is how festive it makes me feel. At a minimum, I’m going to push for #NationalBaptisiaDay on Twitter leading up to this day in 2017.

baptisia

baptisia yellow

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moon’

 

Siberian iris ‘Snow Queen’ is blooming but I’m only giving you a macros shot because they actually look kind of lousy because this lazy gardener has refused to divide them for four years running now.

iris

 

Amsonia tabernaemontana is blooming and that’s all I will say here because I’ve raved about this plant enough already.

amsonia

 

All of my peonies will be blooming within the next week or so and until then, I’ll enjoy the ridiculously delicious scent of the lilac in the background.

peony lilac

 

Another day, another sigh from me regarding the awesomeness of Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’.

ninebark

 

And finally, it’s time to sit back and enjoy watching the garden fill in while all empty spaces disappear.

full

full 3

Thank you again for stopping by.

I am going to try something new today. A “Question of The Day”. Here it is:

What perennial do you find to be the most underrated?

Leave your answer in the comments so we can all discuss and get educated.

Grats

Foliage over flowers

It was Portland outside here today or at least how I imagine Portland to be most of the year. I’ve only visited the city twice in my life and both times it bucked the trend of typical northwest weather. It was sunny and dry but still an incredible city and one I’m anxious to revisit. While I may prefer the sun and the extreme warmth of summer here in the northeast, there is no comparison when it comes to the perfect garden conditions of the northwest.

Today was overcast with a relentless mist and a layer of fog that slowly looked to envelope the entire town. But hot damn if it didn’t perfectly highlight and saturate the colors of the garden and aid in it looking healthier than it’s ever been. I’m no professional photographer but I have to assume this was close to the ideal day for capturing the great outdoors in all her glory.

So this amateur shutterbug made it a point to not miss this golden opportunity before the bright sun returns and washes out all of the color. As soon as I walked through the front door and into Seattle, my eye was immediately drawn towards the soon to be blooming mass of Trollius (Globeflowers). The orange buds were radiant and glistening after being misted for like 51 hours straight.

As I settled into my plant-photo-taking-stance, I surveyed this little section of the garden and realized how much it was being taken over by the bee balm I had planted there only last year.

orange flower bee balm

The best part of the quick takeover? The crowding out of any weeds. Not one could be found and that is all sorts of awesome. But not my point, at least for today.

I snapped a ton of pics of this section of the garden and after reviewing them and trying to determine which were blog worthy, I noticed something that only affirms what I’ve always known.

Here is one of the soon to be blooming Trollius flowers captured as the dominant element with the bee balm stems more faded in the background.

orange flower

Nice shot, right? But I prefer this next one, where the bee balm takes the lead.

orange flower bee balm 2

Give me foliage over flowers any day of the week. In this case, I love the reddish/purple outlining of each bee balm leaf, the texture of the leaves covered in moisture and even the shape of the square stems. Flowers are great and special and all because of their usually short stay, but it is the foliage that makes the statement. It is the foliage that works hard to look good all year round. It is the foliage that defines your garden and your style.

As exciting as it is to witness the first Geranium bloom (‘Espresso’) of the spring.

espresso

Nothing compares to the statement made by Lady’s Mantle on a cool and wet spring morning.

lady's mantle