Tom Karwin, on gardening | Adding rarities to the garden – Santa Cruz Sentinel



Take care of your garden

Of the many ways to select plants, one particularly absorbing approach involves rarities.

The concept of rare plants is a slippery idea as the gardener’s familiarity with plants grows over time with individual experiences and as nurseries, garden centers and magazines explore the plant world.

While acknowledging the elusiveness of plant scarcity, we have a continuum that begins with the most familiar: memories from our parents’ garden, masterpieces, varieties we’ve grown for years.

On the next level, there are the majority of plants in the typical garden center or mail order nursery. Many of these offerings are easy-to-propagate varieties, as growers benefit from moving large-volume, fast-growing specimens.

A close up of Wedding Bush (Ricinocarpus tuberculatus), native to Australia. (Contribution – Tom Karwin)

During a recent survey of ground cover beds at a local garden center, I discovered that several were on the verge of invasion. No thanks!

On another level, there are many plants that may already be growing in your neighbors’ gardens, but you are unfamiliar with them. This is neither surprising nor embarrassing, as a gardener cannot be expected to know the large number of existing plants. To get an idea of ​​the amazing range of garden plants, search for “List of Garden Plants” or “List of Plants in the Bible”.

Then we have the ever-increasing number of new cultivars introduced by growers who select and name natural variations of plants, natural hybrids or patiently produced hybrids. These cultivars can be thought of as “created rarities” of primary interest to collectors of varieties of a particular popular genus. Keeping up with new introductions of roses, irises, daylilies, or any other popular genre can be enjoyable but ultimately frustrating.

The rarities created are easy to find because growers, as a normal business practice, promote their new introductions.

Following the common to rare continuum we arrive at natural rarities that are not commonly found in gardens or generally available from usual sources, but worthy of a garden and attractive to many gardeners.

Adding such plants to your garden can yield different rewards. For the indoor gardener, adding unusual plants could present challenges in cultivation, biodiversity, and aesthetic delights. For the outward-facing gardener, they bring bragging rights while welcoming garden visitors or engaging with garden friends via social media.

Either or both payments are welcome!

Finding natural rarities requires a diligent detective. To get started, look for retail nursery websites. Here are some examples:

Annies and Annie’s Perennials – visit and click on categories / rarities.

UCSC Aboretum & Botanic Garden – visit

Plant Delights Nursery – visit and search for ‘rare’.

Logee plants for home and garden – visit and click “rare”.

Rare succulents nursery – visit and click on “extraordinary plants”.

Search your favorite nursery websites for unfamiliar plants to invite into your garden.

An exceptional source of rare succulents is the International Succulent Introductions (ISI) program which the Huntington Botanic Gardens have been conducting since 1989 with the aim of propagating and distributing new or rare succulents each year. Most recently, ISI announced its 2021 offers, which are only available until September 20, 2021. For more information, visit

I selected a few plants from the ISI 2021 offers and started waiting a few weeks for confirmation and delivery (ISI is not very fast). A future column will include my unboxing experience.

Improve your gardening knowledge

Gardening webinars can push the boundaries of our gardening knowledge. More recently, as the pandemic subsides, webinars can also encourage businesses beyond our social bubbles.

A recent webinar on Japanese Gardens in California showcased the history of the Hakone Estate and Gardens in nearby Saratoga, California. Here is a brief information:

“A major National Trust for Historic Preservation and centennial site, Hakone is one of the ancient Japanese estates, retreats and gardens in the Western Hemisphere. Hakone has also been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013. 18 acres of magnificent beauty are nestled in the lush green hills of Saratoga overlooking Silicon Valley.

For more information on this amazing garden, including opening hours and directions, visit and consider a field trip.

UC Monterey and Santa Cruz County Master Gardeners will present a free webinar, “Grow a Hummingbird Garden,” at 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. The presenter will be UC Hummingbird Expert and Master Gardener Scott Adams, former Vice Chairman of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum Board of Trustees. This will be an opportunity to obtain advice on attracting these unusual visitors to beautify your garden. For more information, visit and click on Calendar of Events.

The Cactus and Succulent Society of America will present a webinar on Copiapoa, Chile’s little globular cactus, at 10 a.m. on Saturday. It is a popular genre threatened by poaching, climate change and the encroachment of civilization. Australian naturalist Stefan Burger will present this free event. For more information and to register, visit

Enrich your gardening days

Your most familiar plants can serve as “old friends” in the garden and allow for easy maintenance, but newcomers could make bold additions to your botanical surroundings and inspire new landscaping combinations.

The selection of plants should reflect the continuous evolution of the 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 photos of his garden daily, To find an archive of previous gardening columns, visit


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