Tom Karwin, on gardening | A parking strip project – Santa Cruz Sentinel



Take care of your garden

An important garden project has occupied our time recently, so this column shares how we did it and what we learned in the process.

I say “we” because the project was only possible with the timely and very knowledgeable help of a graduate of Cabrillo College’s horticulture program (another asset this college has for this community).

The project is a parking strip, a 40 inch wide bed between the sidewalk and the curb. This strip is interrupted by a driveway and two paved passageways, so the strip has four beds: approximately 40, 30, 20, and 3 feet long. (This makes it easier to break the project down into more manageable tasks.)

These beds had been planted with a single variety of daffodils (Narcissus ‘Mon Cherie’) for a mass effect. These trouble-free plants grew well without irrigation and produced additional bulbs each year for several years. They had become so crowded over time that their flowers had shrunk. They needed to divide.

The usual advice is to divide the bulbs every three or four years, but this bed was originally planted perhaps seven years ago, demonstrating that dividing the bulbs can be postponed for the benefit of countless other priorities.

In two of them, the bulbs had been overplanted with California Fuschia (Epilobium canum, previously named Zauschneria californica), a slow growing variety, ‘Everett’s Choice’. This is a California native that grows 1 foot tall and spreads with underground runners. This plant did well without irrigation in the 20-foot bed, which was partially shaded by a large tree. We decided to leave this bed untouched for another year.

The plant was not doing well in the more exposed 40ft bed, however, due to a lack of irrigation, so we cleared the stragglers out of that bed.

In the 30-foot bed, the bulbs had been overplanted with a hardy geranium (Geranium × cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’), a slow-growing evergreen ground cover that spreads and grows well despite a lack of irrigation. It’s a good plant, but it had spread too vigorously in this clump and nearby in the garden, so we decided to remove it without prejudice.

The project was now limited to the two largest beds, which totaled 70 feet long. You may recall that there is a small fourth bed across the aisle. We’ll plant it another day.

The work began by digging up an incredible number of sleeper bulbs and temporarily storing them in a dark, cool place (the garage, in this case).

The next task is to dig the bed, to allow the bulbs to be replanted. This approach involves moving 4 to 6 inches of soil over the sidewalk, so that the bulbs can be installed. We spaced them 6 inches apart to leave enough room to grow and spread for a few more years.

The task had to be completed in one day to move the soil off the sidewalk and put it back on the bulbs.

This process left a very large amount of bulbs. They should be replanted before the onset of the seasonal rains in mid-October, which will bring them out of dormancy. We bagged them in groups of 10 or 20 bulbs to share with friends and visitors during the monthly Santa Cruz Gardens Exchange.

Ten bulbs can make a pretty little cluster in a sunny spot in a garden. The usual advice is to place three bulbs in a triangle, and ring them with the other seven bulbs. Some gardens have spaces for several groups.

The next Garden Exchange will be on August 28 from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Live Oak Grange, 1900 17th Ave., Santa Cruz. There will be many free ampoule bags!

The next task was to install a ground cover to dress the beds during the daffodil’s dormant periods. As noted in recent columns, local garden centers have small ground cover plants available at reasonable prices in apartments and six-packs. Most of the offerings are from common plants, and some require shade or partial shade, as well as regular irrigation. The selection of ground cover involves individual preferences and garden conditions, so it is worth considering the options.

I chose the Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana ‘Birch Hybrid’) This plant is named after the German gardener Gustav Adolf Poscharsky). I call it the Serbian bellflower.

Wikipedia describes it as “a semi-evergreen perennial, valued for its lavender blue star-shaped flowers. He is originally from the Dinaric Alps of the former Yugoslavia. It grows 6 inches tall, flowers profusely all summer, tolerates full sun, and appreciates regular irrigation and good drainage. I am determined to water this plant regularly by hand!

Serbian bellflower can be divided every three or four years. This fits the daffodil division schedule and suggests a periodic schedule: three years of low-maintenance gardening alternating with a day of well-assisted vigorous gardening.

Serbian bellflower, growing in Ruhland, a town in southern Brandenburg, Germany. (Wilhelm Zimmerling / Wikimedia Commons – Contribution)
Narcissus ‘Mon Cherie’ in my garden, one of the many varieties of daffodils. (Tom Karwin – Contribution)

Improve your gardening knowledge

Here are the upcoming webinars to expand your knowledge and ideas.

The Cactus and Succulent Society will present the “Apocynads Through the Ages” webinar at 10 am Saturday. The presenter will be Colin Walker, retired senior lecturer in biology, currently an honorary researcher at the Open University of England.

The CSSA describes the Apocynads as “succulent members of the Apocynaceae family, known as Adeniums, Pachypodiums and Plumerias”, and notes that “… as a result of recent molecular studies, the family Asclepiadaceae has been merged with [the Apocynaceae]. Thus, Stapeliads, Brachystelmas, Ceropegias, Fockeas, etc. are now also Apocynades. The extended family now includes more than 600 species in more than 70 genera.

My collection includes only one plant from this huge family, a South African Fockea edulis. This is an edible caudex plant that was used to make a chunky jam (but I’m not going to).

To learn more and to register for this free event, visit

The American Horticultural Society, in partnership with, has announced a series of interactive live virtual tours of notable public gardens. Among the many upcoming events are Sunday’s “Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden”, “Iconic View of Banff from the Peaceful Cascade Gardens” and “A Meditative Walk Through 2,000 Bamboo Stems”.

These are “tip supported” events, which are apparently free with invited donations.

Visit for more information on these and other tours.

Enrich your gardening days

Larger gardening projects can be rewarding experiences when they are of a manageable size, well documented, and appropriately staffed with knowledgeable assistants.

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


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