I like it

I felt an itch today.

An itch to garden, whatever that means.

I walked my grounds in flip flops and a t-shirt because it was a pleasant 60 degrees outside.

I desperately wanted to weed. Or dig. Or snip.

But that opportunity didn’t exist.

The birds were raising hell throughout the backyard and I decided maybe running around and trying to photograph them might scratch the itch.

It sort of did.



Damn it is difficult to get them to sit still. Oh well.

When I was done I took one last pic before I walked through the front door.

Pat on back time.

My garden looks so much better in winter than it has before.

I actually stopped and let it all soak in.

I like gardens.

And gardening.

Even in winter.


A few quick items

A couple of quick things today.

I recently wrote an article through my Medium account that was ultimately picked up by the website – “The Good Men Project”. It’s all about my love for flowers and how it plays into gender. I would love for you to check it out if you get a chance. You can read it here:

I Love Flowers, I’m a Dude

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) was named the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year.

I have tried for years to grow this plant in my garden and it has never thrived. My assumption has always been that my soil is to wet for it survive the winter but wanted to get all of your thoughts? I have had it reseed each year but again, it has never established itself beyond one season.




Santa Rosa Gardens – “My Garden Box”

One of the nice perks of writing a garden blog is that there are opportunities to test out products from various garden and plant vendors. I could write an entire post about some of the more bizarre offers I’ve received the past 7 years so there is a need to find the flowers among the weeds. I’ve probably said “no thanks” 95% of the time.

Many times in the past I’ve mentioned that my go to purveyor for ordering plants online, especially grasses, is Santa Rosa Gardens. I’ve even held multiple contests giving away gift certificates to this nursery. Santa Rosa Gardens has never failed me and all of the plants I’ve purchased from them over the years are still thriving in my garden today.

So when Santa Rosa Gardens reaches out and asks me to sample/trial a product, I’m all ears. This happened a few weeks back when they asked me to try out their “My Garden Box” product.

**A quick disclaimer** This product was provided to me free of charge and no expectations were set in terms of a review.

“My Garden Box” is a subscription service where Santa Rosa designs a custom crafted collection of plants and gardening goods on a monthly basis and delivers them to those who sign up. Think of it as a “Wine of the Month Club” but with plants in a deftly themed format.

Or to describe it more specifically, as pulled right from their website:

Seasonal Plants, Tools & Living Decor and a Touch of DIY

I’ll provide some additional details in a bit as I first want to show you the contents of what I received in my inaugural box.

The box arrived just before the holidays and that old familiar logo put a smile on my face when I found it on the front doorstep.

Upon opening it, I was surprised to see that there was a lot more inside than expected. I could have read up on what to expect before opening the box, but I’m a I-like-to-be- surprised kind of guy.

Here is what was inside, after opening each of the carefully wrapped and protected items.

Now I have to admit I’m typically a dig hole, drop plant in hole kind of gardener and crafty plant stuff can be a struggle for me. That is why I have a smart wife (who loves all of this even more than I do) who can hold my hand along the way. On top of that, each item came with detailed instructions, simple enough that even this dope couldn’t screw it up.

For me personally, I immediately jumped to the gigantic Amaryllis bulb. It is ‘Apple Blossom’ and wouldn’t you know it, my wife’s personal favorite. Score one for good garden blogger husband.

In no time, that bulb was planted according to the easy to consume directions and it sits on my windowsill just waiting for the growth to kick in.

The “box” included the bulb and the stones and the glass bowl you see above.

Next in line was the Tillandsia “Airplant” in a hanging glass ornament terrarium. Who knew such a thing existed? Yes, I know what you are thinking, dreams do come true. It fits right in with the living decor movement.  

And yes, that is a Hello Kitty ornament. Don’t judge. I have an 11 year old daughter.

The kit included the Tillandsia, the glass ornament terrarium, faux snow, faux ornaments/gifts and faux moss/grass. Crafty ONG put it all together with no problem and has properly followed the directions by soaking the plant once a week. It still sits on our Christmas tree as I type this and I’m not exaggerating when I say 7-10 people have specifically asked about this ornament ever since it made its way on there.

The final item in the box is this classic looking soap dispenser that has become the default soap dispenser in our kitchen every since it arrived.

If my math serves me correctly, that is three items that have made a big impact in the Markowski household over the holidays.

You can get all of the details as to how the subscription service works here.

I like the fact that you can do it for a year automatically, 3 months automatically or try it one time. There is something about getting this during the quiet time of year in terms of gardening here in the Northeast US. A little ray of sunshine through the bleakness.

I admittedly know little about houseplants and I am using this opportunity to get myself acquainted with them. It is a nice way to get the hands dirty even while indoors. The Tillandsia is my gateway houseplant.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this product/service. What do you think? Would you consider trying it out? Would you ever give it as a gift? Have you ever done anything like it in the past? Would you be interested in a giveaway for a subscription (wink wink)?

Thanks in advance and thank you to Santa Rosa Gardens for the opportunity to test drive this exciting product.

Journal entry #1 – January 2, 2017

Hi there.

I was going to start this with “Dear Diary” but that sounded very 1980’s teen girl-like. I am going to turn 45 this calendar year and it’s time I mature as a writer. Fortunately for me, this is a personal journal entry and no one will be reading this. Still, if I ever want to expand beyond “cute post”, I need to embrace a more mature writing style.

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing to you like this. Very astute observation. I’ve actually never done this “personal journal” thing before but without proclaiming it as an official “resolution”, I have quietly promised myself that I would write daily. Chances are slim that I will stick to it but only you will know that.

The inspiration to write daily comes from a book I’ve raved about before “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Her concept of “morning pages” piqued my interest a few months back and I’m now ready to embrace the practice. This means a daily routine of writing each morning as a means of clearing the brain. The writing isn’t intended to ever be published but the hope is by removing the clutter, the clear and sharp writing will follow.

As you may or may not know, I’ve been writing regularly through the writing platform at medium.com and I love it. In case you ever wanted to check it out, click here. The ability to write about non-gardening stuff came at a time when I felt a bit burnt out on garden writing. I’m still not sure where things go from here but I know I haven’t lost the passion for gardening and writing is who I have become so chances are garden writing sticks around for a while still.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I need “morning pages” specifically for garden writing. I’m all over the place with it so I need to work things out through this sheltered and hidden communication means we have here. I just need you to listen, not judge and let me work it all out over the next few months. You cool with that?

If so, here’s my first attempt at employing my garden writing windshield wipers. It will be rambling, odd and hard to follow, but know the goal is to come out firing on all cylinders on the other side. “Morning pages” are supposed to be hand written but my hand hurts after writing with a pen for any longer than 45 seconds so that is why I am typing it out here.

Again, the smart move was to do this in secret because if any readers were to get a hold of this, well, they may not be readers any more. Never let them know that you are a weirdo.

So here we go and thank you in advance for allowing me to experiment here. The inaugural spewing of thoughts will be generic today but I hope to make them hyper specific as I proceed ahead over the next few months.

When I walked outside this morning I loved the winter garden. I am so “I hate winter”, “I like winter” that it is driving me insane. Today I like.

At the same time, I think spring once January hits. But I’ve lost my usual gusto when trying to find new growth in March but I hope it reappears this year. Life has a way of getting in the way.

Do I have too many grasses?

I’m sick of my own writing and how I sound? Is that normal?

I’m dreading cutting down the grasses. Do I have too many?

Is this the year I abandon growing tomatoes and veggies all together? Every frickin year I have big plans and can never stick with it. Does that make me a bad person.

When will I be comfortable enough to allow others to see my garden? If I were a betting man I’d say the answer is never. That sucks.

Do I try and journal my garden more seriously this year. Ditch the sarcasm and goofiness and just show the results? I may like to try that.

Why do I still get embarrassed when someone says “Ask John, he is way into gardening”?

Usually by now, I have my gardening catalogs set aside for some online shopping. I’m thinking about not buying anything this year. Is that good or bad?

Fuck hydrangeas.





The results of my gardening resolutions since 2010

I dove way back into the blog archives for today’s post. Inches of dust were swept away and endless doses of humiliation were consumed just to prove a point to all of my readers.

I suck.

You should go elsewhere.

I’m a phony.

This is no exaggeration. I’m not playing the sympathy card.

I traveled back in blog time and collected all of my prior end of the year garden resolutions and tabulated my success, ahem, failure rate.

I will keep you in suspense in terms of a % until the end of this post.

Each and every resolution has been copied in its exact wording from the original post. I will add my current day commentary after each one and whether each one was a “success” or “failure”.

You can click on the year to view the original posts if indulging in other’s humiliation is your thing.

Allow the carnage to begin.

I vow to include my children more in the gardening process – Not even close. I haven’t even attempted to engage them for years now. Fail.

I will stay on top of the pruning, especially those perennials that require it for size control. There were some attempts back a few years but nothing since. Fail.

I will grow even more of my own food and do it in a sensible way. I have no idea what “sensible” meant but bottom line, I’ve grown a few tomatoes and that is it. I’m lazy. Fail

I will dig like a champ, put my body through complete torture and revel in the pain. I took on some bigger projects that following year but very little since. I hate myself. Fail.

I will continue to incorporate more and more native plants. This has been a focus every year to date. Success.

I will admit defeat to the deer. Yeah right. I assume this meant to only plant truly deer resistant plants. I’m still dumb. Fail.

I will do my best to stop and “smell the roses” more often. Huh? Fail.

Expand, expand, expand -I want to add more paths and “destinations” that will encourage you to want to explore more. Very little has changed since then. I’m really disappointed in myself retroactively. Fail. 

Foliage, foliage, foliage – The key is to focus on foliage with contrasting colors, shape and textures. Hmmmm. I’m still a foliage gardener but I know what I truly intended here. More exciting and dramatic foliage. There have been some attempts but not to the level I intended. Fail.

Take advantage of raised beds – This is a simple one. Raised beds eliminate the poor drainage issue and allow me to grow herbs and vegetables I normally could not. I still have only the original one and have added exactly zero since. Fail.

Give up on the plants I know will not thrive – It is all about survival of the fittest and if you can’t keep up, you’re gone. Good bye Phlox paniculata, Good bye daylillies, Good bye Geranium ‘Brookside’. I still have all three. Fail.

Visit more gardens and get my ass inspired. The aforementioned ass has not been inspired at all. Fail.


Soil test – as soon as the soil is workable in spring, I will get my samples out for testing and I cannot wait to see the results. Enough of the speculation and guesswork, time to get scientific. Didn’t happen. Fail.

Compost – it will take some time to get the production going, but thanks to that wonderfully inspiring GGW episode from last night, I now know where I can purchase compost in bulk. Didn’t happen. Fail.

Education – this is more of a keep reading, visit local gardens, talk to other gardeners, look into becoming a Master Gardener and simply get in the dirt kind of thing. I am now crying. Fail.

2014I tried reverse psychology heading into 2014. You’ll see, very little changed.

Growing your own food really is a waste of time. I would much rather just buy our produce from a big old supermarket and pay more for it. So let’s make a promise to grow less fruits and vegetables this year. See prior resolution and prior fail. Fail.

I love having to move large shrubs once they outgrow their location. The pain of digging it out and trying not to destroy all of the plants in its path once it is unearthed is the frickin best. I vow to ignore proper spacing rules in 2014. I have not gained any patience over the years with spacing. Fail.  

I love taking my chances on a plant that deer love to chow down on. Those plants that are not deer friendly, like Allium, are so boring. Again, see prior resolution and subsequent fail. Fail.  

I find berries on shrubs/trees to be such a distraction and an unnecessary mess. Plus all those annoying birds come and devour them. No more plants with berries in 2014. Does it count if berry producing plants have been erratically relocated and/or have been nibbled by deer? I didn’t think so. Fail.  

One of my favorite moments in summer is when we go on vacation and I fail to line someone up to help water the containers. I love the mystery of returning home to see if any of the flowers or even the plants survived. Pure adrenaline. I am going to do more of the same in 2014 and even try to plan our vacation for the hottest and driest part of summer. Beyond epic fail. I fried my containers so badly this year and we didn’t even take a long vacation. Fail.  

The wear and tear, cost and effort of cutting the grass is so worth it. It is so rewarding to spend most of my free time sitting on a lawn tractor. So let’s remove more of those garden beds and add more lawn. While it hasn’t been on a large scale, I have continued to chop away at the lawn. Well look at that. Success.

Native plants are so uninteresting and do not add a lot to the garden. In 2014 we eradicate them all and add more yuccas and hostas. This is hard to fathom, two successes in a row. Success. 

Ignore what my daughter has to say and do my best to fail to live up to her expectations. I have no clue what this was about, but safe to say I’ve failed. Fail.

Remove all blue foliage plants from my garden. I have added some “blue” the past few years. Yeah me. Success.

Keep ignoring my conditions and try to fit a square peg in a round hole. I refuse to attempt to grow a bog garden. This pisses me off. My garden is ripe for a bog or rain garden. Why I haven’t tried is beyond me. Fail. 

2015 – None made. I’m sure I failed with many unwritten resolutions as well.

2016Even the year I try non-gardening resolutions, well, read on.

Stop drinking coffee at night. I managed to stay away for 4 days last week. Before that, not pretty. Fail. 

Make my kids watch the original “Star Wars” movie. Not even close. And they have no interest in “Rogue One” either. Fail.

Floss every night. Does every other week count? Fail.

Read one book a month. I think I managed 3 in 2016. Fail.

Watch one soccer game, I mean match, in its entirety. Why did I care about this again? Doesn’t matter now. Fail.

Eat vegetarian for one week. More like one meal. Fail. 

Cook one meal from scratch each month. Does placing an already prepped meal in the oven and applying the appropriate time count? Fail. 

Call a sports talk radio show. Fail.

More videos on this blog. How many did you see here in 2016? Fail.

Pretend to be a professional photographer for a day. What does this even mean? Fail?

At least finalize the “concept” for a gardening book. Well what do you know, here is one where I can proudly say “Hell yes”. 2017 is the year we see “Ornamental Grasses: A Love Story” come to fruition. Success.    

Write for another blog/publication. Wait, I didn’t see this coming. Another success in the realm of writing? I’m sensing a trend here. Expanding my writing on Medium has already opened some doors and I’m so thrilled to have found my way there. Success.

Stop the PennEast pipeline. The delays have been promising but there is still a long way to go. TBD.

So here is our final tally:

Resolutions made since 2010: 38

Successes: 6

Fails: 31

TBD: 1

Success rate: 22%

With that horrific success rate in mind, it is time to create some resolutions in for 2017 that are just about guarantees. Resolutions that will require little to no effort. Resolutions that are virtual locks.

You are free to remain skeptical based on past numbers.

My 2017 gardening resolutions:

Smile a lot.

Be thankful for each and every moment spent in the garden I’ve weaved for myself.

Remember the stories behind each and every plant.

Never feel pressure to do a thing.

Be aware of the escape the garden provides.

Understand the healing powers of a garden.

Embrace the words that emerge from a summer walk in the garden and enjoy the feeling of typing them.

And most of all, understand how blessed I am to be able to dig out that enormous ornamental grass, chop it up and create 5 more. To be healthy enough and strong enough to still be able to do it. To embrace the patience to watch the new ones mature. To have the resilience to see that grass book become a reality. To never forget the excitement of planting that first grass, a stake in the ground announcing the arrival at our family homestead. Understanding that having family as backbone has allowed me to throw myself into the garden and share its wonders with my readers.

Here’s to 2017 and tossing bullshit resolutions to the side.

Enjoy my friends.


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?

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.


26 observations from my 20th wedding anniversary trip to Antigua

My wife and I just returned from our 20th wedding anniversary trip to the island of Antigua. We expected it to be a romantic and relaxing and all time memorable trip … and it exceeded those lofty expectations and then some.


Rather than write up a summary of the trip and potentially bore you to tears, I decided to write up the highlights in list form for ease of consumption.

If you are interested, and why the hell wouldn’t you be, we stayed here.

And had the anniversary drinks/dinner here. Yes, on a daybed and on the side of a cliff while watching the sunset.


We’re still reveling in it all.

On to the list.

In no particular order:

  • Driving on the wrong side of the road (the left, sorry Brit friends) is challenging and fun. As is navigating around wild dogs and crater sized potholes. I found if I talked aloud about my next driving move, I was OK. “I’m making a left turn, don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic and will stay to the left after the turn.”


  • I understand that vacation is a mirage and an escape from everyday life, but I like to think it removes all of life’s distractions and exposes the core of what brought you together as a couple in the first place. Our core is killer. Beyond what I ever imagined was possible as a wee young lad. I will not take that for granted. Ever.
  • Pineapple juice wins over orange juice every time. Why did it take me so long to recognize this? Oh, the quality of the pineapple makes all the difference you say? Got it.
  • My wife living in the upper northern hemisphere is akin to me growing bamboo in rural New Jersey. Neither resides in their native habitat and while we are knee deep in the native plant movement, maybe I need to initiate a move to get her back to her Mediterranean roots. Warm weather calls us. I just need to come up with a title for this movement.
  • The men in Antigua appeared to be way more friendly and engaging than the women. I wonder if that is cultural?
  • I am in the process of commissioning an artist to create a mural on our bedroom ceiling that simulates the view we had from our bed each morning.


  • I reluctantly joined the fashion trend in wearing a shorter bathing suit and while I looked phenomenal and fit right in, I burned the shit out of my upper thigh which hadn’t seen the sun in decades.
  • Magical is an overused term and should be reserved for those moments that are truly magical by definition. Having said that, we experienced many of those magical times.
  • I am by nature, a non-explorer, so the day spent meandering through the windy and rainy and oft times terrifying roads of Antigua was a reach for me. An exciting and hilarious reach on a day we will never forget. Vasco de Markowski.


  • She’ll never admit it, but my wife could be a travel agent and vacation planner solely off the top of her head. Her ability to research is off the charts. From packing to flying to driving to meal planning to excursions to best local options to you name it, she had it covered. Her hourly rate is reasonable. I did zero.
  • $32.00 for a hamburger. You read that right. I’m not sure if that price included cheese or not.
  • I may or may not have flashed my passport like an international man of mystery while walking through the airport. And I did get giddy each time it was stamped.
  • Afternoon tea must be incorporated into the Markowski household. With clotted cream and scones. And a British accent.


  • I had no idea that an Eastern Caribbean time zone existed. I still can’t grasp that we were operating at an hour later than NJ time. I’m so sheltered.
  • I may need to revisit my self-imposed ban on bathrobes. Holy comfort.
  • Give me Tetris and Bejeweled on the headrest TV screen on the plane and I can be entertained for hours.
  • I’m convinced that I could be the social media lead for a resort and be kick ass at it. The scenery sells itself and there is no excuse for not posting at least 5 Instagram photos per day. It is free advertising.

The pool at Carlisle Bay, Antigua. #carlislebay #carlislebayantigua #antigua #pool #caribbean #sun #escape

A photo posted by john markowski (@jmarkowski0) on

  • Tropical plants are a foreign concept to me and someday I’d love to invest a significant amount of time in learning all about them.


  • I think it is a good sign that we both had tears in our eyes as we exited the resort.
  • I think it is important that the kids observe their parents enjoying time alone as a husband and wife. They should know that we missed them and didn’t miss them at all.
  • At the same time, it was fun to virtually share our experience with them via Snapchat and Instagram.


  • One of the things I miss most already was the walk to breakfast each morning. Holding hands while walking through a palm tree lined path that lead to our eating feet from the beach with the entire day still in front of us. It was intoxicating.
  • antigua-3antigua-2Holding hands is way underrated.
  • Our idea of “water sports” consisted of trying to pick up shells before they were washed away from shore and giddily chasing crabs before they descended back into their holes.
  • Traveling the day after Thanksgiving is fantastic. No crowds at all. Getting to JFK airport was a dream and that has never been uttered before in the history of declarations.
  • I dog eared a book for the first time in my life while we were away. I am going to define myself as writer from this day forward. You can read more about it here. “What do you do for a living John? I’m a writer.” That feels fucking great.

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.