Tom Karwin, on gardening | Garden Plants Play Plans – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Take care of your garden

Proactive Gardening: We are now in the planting season, acquiring and installing new plants in anticipation of the foliage and flower bursting in the spring.

Responsive gardening, by comparison, involves waiting for local garden centers to release small flowering plants and then paying the price for an instant garden.

By planning ahead, gardeners benefit from a wider range of options, larger plants, lower costs, and a greater sense of accomplishment.

Once synchronized with the seasons, we have the challenges and opportunities for choosing plants.

For 20 years, this San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi) has grown to 30 feet tall in a Santa Cruz garden and is now in full bloom. Last month, as described in a recent column, the city of Santa Cruz put this plant back on the list of plants not intended for personal use, personal possession, and personal cultivation. (Tom Karwin – Contribution)

For some gardeners, plant selection is easy. For example, when you have a gap in your rose bed, the project is to find a new rose that you like.

At the other extreme, when you feel a pressing urge to beautify your landscape, you might somehow come across the many, many choices of a mail order catalog or garden center. , and experience information overload. This is not uncommon, given the large number of garden-worthy plans and the continuous introduction of new hybrids.

One approach to being overwhelmed with botany is to throw multiple figurative darts, resulting in a garden mishmash that doesn’t match your vision.

Better, take an organized approach to improving your landscape.

Here are some suggestions for planning your garden planting.

First, define your garden as a set of separate areas and decide on your landscaping priorities. It’s good to have an overall design concept for your garden, and you might be working on more than one element during this season, but good practice favors working with manageable elements of a larger project.

Second, you need to be aware of the basic cultural conditions of your target area: climate, soil structure and chemistry, sun exposure, and drainage. This is all important, but let’s focus on selecting plants that would be successful under the conditions of the area you are working on.

Third, decide on the overall effect you want to achieve for this area. Some designers speak of the “story” told by a group of plants. This suggests a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but I prefer the concept of a statement.

For example, you might want your target area to be a highlight, a show, a knockout display.

Alternatively, you might want an attractive backdrop for a patio.

In between these extremes, you might just want a nice thumbnail to view from a window in your home.

There are other possible statements. The aim is to express your vision for this target area.

The fourth step is to select a theme for the target area. A theme can take several forms. It could focus on the color of flowers (white garden is a classic), a combination of colors (a coordinated array in a border), a genre (eg, a rose bed), or a type of plant (eg. , succulent, tropical). You may have other thematic concepts in mind, but choosing a theme helps narrow down the range of possible plant selections.

The fifth step is to narrow down the range of plant types that would work well for your target area. Depending on the size of the area, several types of plants might be suitable. Here are some examples: tree, shrub, columnar shape, fountain shape, vine, espalier, trellis, container, ground cover and bulb. Combining plant types for a given planting area could follow basic landscaping principles, including the ever popular “taller backyard plants” while still reflecting your individual inspiration.

The sixth step (we shouldn’t have an even number of steps!) Is to follow your heart. Select the plant that charms your eyes, stirs up fond memories, amazes your friends or magically succeeds in your unique garden space.

Enrich your gardening days

The step-by-step approach described in this column may not be your preferred method of selecting plants, but more intuitive or spontaneous or expert methods likely go through similar steps at high speed. For these gardeners, it is good, and I congratulate you on having achieved good results.

Still, if you’re feeling botanically overwhelmed, try planning your plant selection.

Improve your gardening knowledge

LeeValley, who I know as a source of great tools for gardening, woodworking, and other pursuits, has published “The Gardening Journal with Niki Jabbour,” a series of brief videos with “helpful tips, techniques and tool demonstrations to help you grow the garden of your dreams. The website also has well-done articles on the gardening aspect. Visit, click “Discover”, then click “GardenVideos” for Niki Jabbour’s videos or on “Garden Articles” for information on gardening (mainly on edibles).

Garden Gate magazine offers a series of short video recordings of the garden online. To check them out, visit, search for “garden gate” and scroll down a bit to see the list of video recordings.

The Cactus and Succulent Society of America will present the “Oaxaca Meanderings in Search of Succulents, Adventure and Fun” webinar on Saturday at 10:00 am Presenter Kelly Griffin is the Succulent Plant Development Manager at Altman Plants in San Diego. An exceptionally knowledgeable expert on succulents, Kelly is known as a plant hunter, hybridizer, collector, and engaging speaker on the subject. If you’re interested in succulents, Kelly’s presentation is a priority (and free) occasion. To register, visit

Enjoy your garden!

Tom Karwin is the past president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, and UC Lifetime Master Gardener (certified 1999- 2009). He is now a board member and garden coach for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To view daily photos of his garden, To find an archive of previous gardening columns, visit Contact him with comments or questions at [email protected]