Tom Karwin, on gardening | Gardening with rhyme and reason – Santa Cruz Sentinel



Take care of your garden

A friend recently expressed her intention to renovate her garden from top to bottom. Other homeowners have spent time during the pandemic months taking a fresh look at their gardens and deciding it’s time to improve them.

The same urge could arise without the motivation of social distancing. I have a good sized project going on in my own backyard.

These activities inspired the idea of ​​tackling such projects, with “rhyme and reason” at every stage. (Here, “rhyme” suggests the subjective side of the project.)

Here’s an overview of the 10-step process.

The scope of the project is the first consideration. The goal could be a 100% renovation, like in my friend’s case, or just the front or back of the property, or a selected area, such as a side yard or a specific planting bed.

Make a scale by drawing the main features and dimensions of the project. It doesn’t have to be a nifty product, but a fairly precise sketch will come in handy throughout the project.

The list of owner’s goals for the garden is the next issue. Gardens serve many purposes: pleasing the eyes, growing food, entertaining guests, supporting recreation (for children or adults), increasing property value, generating income, etc. Two or more goals may overlap, but it is important to be clear about the desired outcome.

Then decide what to keep, what to delete, and what to change. Your garden may well include elements that “spark joy” and support your goals. It’s awesome! But if a feature or plant that has been in the garden for years doesn’t work with your new plan, remove it! The keep or throw away process, which is fundamental to cleanup activities, has both emotional and financial dimensions. Everything is replaceable, while sentimentality can also be respected.

Fortunately, gardening projects have a third option, so the process becomes “keep-throw-move”. Some items could be moved around the garden, donated or sold. For example, a plant with a personal history can be unsettling to just ‘prune with a shovel’. As an alternative, it could be given to a friend, along with their story.

Balance the cost of removing large plants or substantial landscape features with the benefits of the improvement plan. Example: a columnist in Santa Cruz wanted to remove a very large palm tree that dominated her small front yard. The project could have met the city’s policy on heritage trees, and certainly included substantial costs. I recommended a nearby company that could lift a palm tree to resell it (if it has market value). The final decision should be based on the goal of improving the garden.

Some “moves” are possible, but costly. Moving a large shrub or tree to another part of the property may require professional help and can always fail. Such actions require expert advice. If you have a problem with your terrain, like a large boulder or a steep slope, your only choice might be to work with it. However, if your property is too flat, you can import soil to create a nifty mound landscape.

Details to know: site climate, soil quality, drainage and sun exposure. These are basic factors for the selection, cultivation and maintenance of plants. A future “About Gardening” column will go over most of the simple ways to determine these aspects of your garden.

The previous phases prepare for the design phase. You can continue this work alone or with a gardener. The design should reflect your goals and preferences, and you can make it yourself, but a qualified designer could bring in-depth knowledge of which plants are right for your garden and new perspectives. Ideally, you could collaborate with a designer and not just let them produce a “cookie-cutter” design. Either way, you make the final decisions.

The installation phase of the project includes removing or moving plants as needed, shaping the planting area, installing landscaping, acquiring and installing plants, ‘adding irrigation and mulch and defining a maintenance plan. These activities could uncover the needs for fine-tuning the design, which prolongs the creative process. Again, you can perform these tasks yourself or seek qualified professional help.

Improve your gardening knowledge

Virtual resources for gardeners continue to expand. Here are two important issues that previewed with a certain delay, which is always useful.

Pacific Horticulture has announced two upcoming online events. To register, visit

Author Frédérique Lavoipierre, who for 10 years provided valuable essays in the journal Pacific Horticulture, will share more in “Garden Allies: The Insects, Birds, and Other Animals That Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving”. (Contributed)

A webinar to launch a new book, “Garden Allies: The Insects, Birds, and Other Animals That Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving”. Author Frédérique Lavoipierre, who for ten years provided valuable essays in the journal Pacific Horticulture, will share fascinating portraits of these creatures, describing their life cycles and showing how they keep the garden ecology in balance. This event will take place at 5:00 pm on August 31, 2021. The fee is $ 10 and free for PacHort members. The book can be purchased at a 35% discount.

A new virtual series, “Pacific Plant People,” featuring dynamic interviews with industry leaders from the Pacific region offering tips you can use right now in your own backyard! The guest of the first episode will be Sean Hogan, owner of Cistus Nursery, who commented, “The whole thing is trying to get [gardeners] on the right track, allowing them to succeed as easily as possible with their first plants… I am really fascinated by what I would call the West Coast style or the specific horticultural style.

The American Horticultural Society announced two new online resources:

A live streaming platform that offers immersive and interactive travel experiences, botanical garden tours. Experienced local guides will broadcast from their smartphones to create “social transport experiences”. For this project, AHS is partnering with Heygo (, which has provided numerous virtual tours.

The virtual garden market, with selected gardening products and services, on-demand videos and podcasts on gardening tips and techniques. More details will be available in September at

Enrich your gardening days

Whether you are embarking on a garden landscaping project or taking advantage of the wide range of opportunities to expand your gardening knowledge, 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 trainer for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To view daily photos of his garden, To find an archive of previous gardening columns, visit


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.