Tom Karwin, on gardening | Shade Plants – Santa Cruz Sentinel



Take care of your garden

As you develop your flower beds, you can take a thematic approach, which can serve as the basis for the development of the garden, providing an organized plan for plant selection and the satisfaction of having achieved your vision.

Completing a thematic garden bed doesn’t mean you’ve gathered the whole universe of plants that follow your theme, unless it has been defined very, very narrowly. The final product will be a collection of thematic plants and a flower bed with a clear identity.

If your theme is based on a particular genus, for example roses, irises, dahlias or any other genus of interest, you will find many candidates of the species or hybrids within that genus. ‘Many’ may seem ‘endless’, as some genera include a large number of species, and breeders tirelessly develop additional hybrid forms in the continued search for more hardy, prolific or disease resistant plants, larger flowers, more colorful, better formed, etc., and cultivars that will generate income to offset the costs of hybridization.

Some new introductions are attractive to gardeners simply because they differ from previous cultivars.

Themes can be based on flower color, flower color combination, country of origin, adult size, or other characteristics.

One of my current garden landscaping projects deals with the theme of shade plants. This project started because part of my patio is shaded by two Chitalpa ‘Pink Dawn’ trees, hybrids of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) and northern catalpa (C. speciosa). They are deciduous trees with an open structure, so they provide filtered shade for most of the year and full exposure during the winter months.

I started collecting plants from the Bromeliad family including Matchstick Bromeliad (Aechmea gamosepala), Queen’s Tears (Billbergia nutans), and garden swap specimens (probably Neoregelia). I quickly learned that it was a large family, with 75 genera and around 3,590 known species, so I abandoned the theme of bromeliads in favor of shade plants.

I added three smaller Aeoniums and other plants for color: Begonia ‘Illumination Apricot’ (B. x tuberhybrida pendula), Begonia ‘Alba’ (B. grandis) and Multicolor Coleus (C. scutellarioides).

Then, on a routine visit to a garden center, I came across a striking plant to add to the shade collection. It is a Hohenbergia, a member of the Bromeliad family with a unique character. This specimen is a selection from H. correia-araujoi, with the cultivar name, ‘Chocolate Tiger’.

A growing collection of potted plants in filtered shade. (Tom Karwin – Contribution)

After some internet research, I learned that this genus had been “founded” (whatever that means) in 1830, and named after the Prince of Württemberg, a German patron of botany known as Hohenberg. The genus, native to Jamaica, Brazil and Venezuela, includes 52 species.

Apparently, this plant can be difficult to find, although some specialty retailers have puppies or seeds available. This is the first and only time that I see a Hohenbergia in a garden center; it was cultivated by the Monterey Bay Nursery. An Internet search located only one supplier with plants currently in stock: Bullis Bromeliads, Florida.

So, I am happy to have acquired an attractive and unusual plant for my shade collection. As I was writing this column, I showed this plant to a young woman who worked in my garden. She said she recently traveled to Brazil with a friend and saw a lot of Hohenbergia growing on the beaches. She said my specimen was more attractive than others she had seen, so that was a welcome comment. I always prefer “rare” to “common”.

My collection of shadows is starting to seem haphazard, despite the thematic connections between the plants. Still, they’re in containers and easy to rearrange for a more planned look. It’s a project for another day.

Improve your gardening knowledge

If you are interested in the huge bromeliad family, the Bromeliad Society International has a website with a great deal of information ( This site includes open access archives of the Bromeliad Society Bulletin from 1951 to 1986, with more recent issues available only to members. It also includes an extensive register of bromeliad cultivars, including 34 cultivars of Hohenbergia (but surprisingly not ‘Chocolate Tiger’, which may be relatively new). There is much more on this site for the bromeliad enthusiast.

The Cactus & Succulent Society of America will present a webinar featuring Ernesto Sandoval at 10 a.m. on September 18. Ernesto Sandoval is director of the Conservatory of Botany at the University of California at Davis and a popular lecturer on a range of topics on cacti and succulents. For the past several years (before COVID-19), he has spoken in person to the Monterey Bay Area Cactus and Succulent Society about the propagation of succulent plant seeds, the cultivation of succulents and the cultivation of hardy aloes in the north. from California. His lectures have always been lively, entertaining and firmly based on his work with succulents. We will have information next week on this webinar presentation but mark your calendar now.

The Garden Conservancy will present a virtual conference, “Envisioning Landscapes – The Transformative Environment of OJB,” at 11:00 am on October 14th. The speaker is James Burnett, the founder of OJB Landscape Architecture (OJB stands for “Office of James Burnett”), which has won numerous awards for his design work. This conference will examine four design projects, including the Sunnylands Center and Garden in Southern California. This presentation requires a $ 5 fee for Garden Conservancy members and a $ 15 fee for general admission. A reduced price for the new book “Envisioning Landscapes” is also available. For more information and to register for this conference, visit and click on news / upcoming events.

Enrich your gardening days

Consider developing a thematic bed in your backyard. Such a project could unleash your creativity and bring both a satisfying experience and a new asset to your landscape.

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 to 2009). He is now a board member and garden coach for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To view daily qaphotos of his garden, To find an archive of previous gardening columns, visit


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