Tom Karwin, on gardening | Facade options – The Mercury News



Take care of your garden

Composting organic garden and kitchen waste is certainly a good practice, but it takes more work than I could handle. The nutrient level in my garden seems to be sufficient, in part resulting from the slow decomposition of many yards of wood chips imported over the years as mulch.

Coming to this conclusion, I removed the large, three-bin composting structure behind my garage, freeing up the area for a new raised bed. This bed is 7 feet deep, 18 feet wide, against the back wall of the garage which is approximately 15 feet high.

This space connects to an existing bed of Mexican succulents along the side of the garage. Therefore, for thematic continuity, the new bed will focus on Mexican / South American plants.

The new bed is large enough to accommodate a lot of plants, but the initial challenge is for the design to include enough height to take advantage of the garage wall. Coincidentally, one of my garden coaching clients has the same opportunity to showcase a large plant specimen in front of a windowless wall in his residence. I’ll explore the possibilities in a future column.

The San Pedro cactus blooms in the fall. (Lars – Wikimedia Commons)
The San Pedro cactus can develop an impressive cluster. (Forest & Kim Starr – Contribution)

A first thought for a tall plant in my new planting bed was a cluster of three San Pedro cacti (Echinopsis pachanoi, also called Trichocereus pachanoi). This plant, native to several parts of South America, is popular for its ornamental value and height, reaching 10 to 20 feet tall. This plant came to mind because a friend of the landscape gardener gave three copies, which were a surplus for her work.

This option combines great height, attractive appearance, thematically focused and free!

Then another friend announced that Santa Cruz City Council very recently revised its two-year-old policy to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi with an exception to plants that naturally contain mescaline, known for its hallucinogenic effects. This action effectively recriminalizes such plants, in particular the San Pedro cactus and the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii).

There are many plants and fungi with psychoactive properties. Visit Wikipedia for a list if you are interested. The city council acted to re-criminalize plants containing mescaline because, according to the resolution, decriminalization of plants, including peyote, “may disrupt the Native American-led national strategy to protect, conserve and ensure spiritual and ecological sustainability. peyote. . “

I don’t understand the disturbance issue, and I don’t have a problem with the policy, but it might have allowed ornamental uses of at least the San Pedro cactus.

There are many good choices for a specimen plant in front of a white wall. If you have any good experiences or ideas for such a selection of showcases, send them for inclusion in this study.

Improve your gardening knowledge

The Pacific Horticultural Society’s YouTube channel has a growing and intriguing collection of video presentations of particular interest to California gardeners. This collection includes the documentary mini-series, Landscapes of Change, “documenting stories about climate resilience in horticulture, landscaping, restoration, and research applications.” New models that impact green infrastructure and industry, explore real and human challenges, and extraordinary professionals who drive innovation. “

This series begins with “The Portreo Hill Eco-Patch”, the story of a unique group of people in a neighborhood of a big city, who all came together around a very special idea. Episode 1 of this story will premiere at 4 p.m. on October 14.

To see Landscape of Change and other Pacific Horticulture offerings, visit and search for Pacific Horticulture.

Enrich your gardening days

With the huge and growing number of garden-worthy plants, many gardeners rely on plants they are already familiar with that are readily available at garden centers and big box stores. Some gardeners, however, are drawn to different plants, which could be described in two categories: new and rare.

The new category includes recently introduced cultivars, which are either selected varieties of plant species or hybrids of two or more compatible species. Nurseries enthusiastically present each season’s new introductions of roses, daylilies, irises, and other popular genera. These offerings often have good physical attributes and attractive flower colors, both of which are sought after by plant collectors.

The rare category includes unusual or uncommon species in gardens. Typical garden plants are angiosperms, which produce flowers and seeds. These plants include 13,000 known genera and 300,000 known species. It is a vast universe that includes a small number of familiar garden plants and a very large number of plants that most gardeners have not encountered.

Not all unfamiliar plants are always desirable in the garden. The rare category can be divided into fit for a garden and “not fit for a garden”. Suckers include plants that are unsuitable for a given garden environment and some that are just not attractive. These are clearly subjective criteria linked to specific gardens and gardeners, but they are important nonetheless.

This leisurely walk through the plant kingdom brings us to a strategy for discovering rare plants that might be successful in your garden and that you would find interesting, suitable and (hopefully) attractive companions for your garden.

It is not an easy task. Most gardeners rely on chance, discovering rare plants by visiting other gardens, browsing magazines and websites about the garden, or interacting with other gardeners.

A more organized strategy for finding rare plants for your garden might start by reviewing someone else’s list of rare plants. Many such lists are available in the Helen Crocker Russell Horticultural Library at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, described as “the most comprehensive horticultural library in Northern California … with 27,000 volumes and 250 periodicals on plants and the gardens”.

Visit, click on “Find a Collection” and search for “Rare Plants”. These milestones will result in an impressive 85 hits on books on the subject, representing various slices of the botanical world. These hits are likely to include some that relate to your interests.

You can travel to San Francisco to visit this library (see or search to determine the availability of the book (s) you have selected.

Prediction: This process might present plants that aren’t as rare as you might expect, or highly attractive plants that you can’t find. Or it could lead to new plants that offer bragging rights and enrich your gardening days.

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 a Lifetime Master Gardener of UC. He is now a board member and garden coach for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society.


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