Social Distance in Gardening VI

While walking around in my garden (a highly recommended shelter-at-home activity), I was pleased to see one of the earliest Irises to come into bloom. (Local gardeners in slightly warmer locations already enjoy several Irises.) This specimen is Iris pallida ‘Variegata’, which is appreciated primarily for its green and yellow or green and white foliage.

We continue our exploration of three categories of gardening activities that are suitable under social distance constraints and rewarding to the gardener.

1. Care for Your Garden

Engaging school-age children  in gardening is a way for parents to and grandparents  to help children to learn and be productive while sheltering at home. A fine source of gardening activities is the non-profit Kids Gardening organization (

Short-term gardening activities can be enjoyable for adults and children to work together, but as we deal with extended stays at home, consider more programmatic approaches.

Borrowing concepts from formal schooling, adults should adopt a gardening curriculum for young learners. Basically, a curriculum involves learning objectives within a defined scope and following a logical sequence. Gardening naturally involves periods of a given plant’s development with beginning, middle, and end (germination, growth, ripening), so it lends itself to clear lesson plans.

Browse to and explore the menu, “Educator Resources” for a wealth of ideas for gardening with kids at home. The website offers many options, so interested adults will need to commit time to select lessons that are suitable for their site, workable with available tools and other resources, and interesting for both adults and children.

Pruning Salvias

Salvias should be pruned heavily every year to remove spent branches and promote fresh new growth. Some gardeners accomplish this pruning in the late winter, just as the spring shoots begin to appear at the base of the plants. That approach works fine, but this year the opportunity came and went, leaving the apparent option to skip pruning until next year.

Then, I learned of a more complex situation. Salvia specialist Kermit Carter, of Flowers by the Sea advised different strategies for each of four kinds of Salvias:

  • Rosette-growing, herbaceous perennials, e.g. Hummingbirds Sage (Salvia spathacea). Deadhead spent flowers; cut to the ground when growth stops (prune winter bloomers in summer, summer bloomers in autumn).
  • Deciduous or semi-evergreen types with soft stems, e.g. Mexican Bush Sage (S. leucantha). During the season, cut spent stems; at first frost, cut all to the ground.
  • Deciduous, woody-stem varieties, e.g. Autumn Sages (S. greggii species). During the season, cut spent stems; at first frost, cut all to the ground (same as above).
  • Evergreen, woody species, e.g. Karwinski’s Sage (S. karwinskii). Remove old wood at any time to encourage fresh growth.

Now, the task is to identify each type of Salvia in my garden and prune accordingly.

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

This lesson on Salvia pruning illustrates the importance of knowing the plants in your garden, as the foundation for their cultivation. For any given plant, the gardener can gain important information by searching the Internet for the plant’s botanical name. In many cases, a search by common name will lead to the botanical name, and useful knowledge.

For many popular garden genera, specialized web sites provide good basic facts of value in caring for plants. In the above example, Flowers by the Sea has an extensive database of Salvia species and cultivars.

For the large category of bulbous plants, a fine resource is the Pacific Bulb Society, which maintains a wiki with images and growing advice for a great range of bulbous plants. The Society’s name relates to its geographic origins; the wiki includes plants from everywhere. By the way, “wiki” comes from a Hawaiian word for “quick,” and it refers to “a website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users.”

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

Opportunities abound for virtual tours of public gardens. In previous columns, we have recommended public gardens in California and in England and France. Here, we feature some of the now-closed great public gardens in the United States, outside of California.

  • Chanticleer, A Pleasure Garden. This is a relatively small public garden (35 acres) that had been a private garden before 1990. Today, Chanticleer has been called “the most romantic, imaginative, and exciting public garden in America.”
  • New York Botanical Garden. 250 well-tended acres of plants. Use the Garden Navigator to explore the current and historic living collections, see photos, get plant information and see when they have bloomed at the garden.
  • United States National Arboretum. This amazing place, established by Congress in 1927, has 446 acres of plants. Try the Arboretum Botanical Explorer, a unique learning tool available on the website.

Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.

Social Distance in Gardening III

The spring season continues to unfold. The plant pictured is the Chinese Ground Orchid (Bletilla striata), believed to be the easiest orchids to grow.

A pink flower on a plant

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Over time, the Chinese Ground Orchid develops clumps with rose-mauve flowers.

In today’s column we again explore the three priorities suggested for gardening while maintaining social distance (everyone’s first priority).

1 Care for Your Garden

If you have school-age children whose schools have been closed for the present, and who need your attention and guidance, they could enjoy gardening with you. Developing and maintaining a home garden involves scientific, aesthetic and physical concepts that we have described before. In the present context, gardening with kids also could emphasize these aspects in a thoughtful manner.

There are several garden-related short-term activities and long-term programs that parents could organize for their child’s education and enjoyment. For ideas, check out the Kids Gardening website for a wealth of ideas for indoor and outdoor gardening. They invite opportunities in which children benefit most when parents and children work and play together.

During the early spring, weeding remains a necessary task. Some gardeners find weed removal sessions to be meditative and satisfying. It is certainly a safe and welcome distraction from our threatening surroundings, so align your thoughts to emphasize this work as a contributor to the health of your plants and garden.

Now is still a good time for installing new plants in the garden. Some local garden centers have continued business hours with various strategies for enabling customers and staff to maintain social distance. In some cases, for example, gardeners can order plants in advance by phone or email for curbside pick-up at the harden center.

Mail-order opportunities also continue to offer a great range of choices, and to evolve into a convenient approach to plant buying.

2 Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

If you are not already a well-equipped and capable computer-user, consider using this shelter-at-home period to update your devices and skills. Our society and the world have entered well into the digital age, and gardeners now have access to excellent online information on plants, landscaping, and related topics. While we still learn gardening from friends and relatives, an Internet search will provide basic concepts and answers to questions quickly and in abundance. If you should come across shaky ideas, comparing it with other sources will lead to reliable information.

Tutorial help (free or fee-based) might help to build your computing skills, but a good strategy is practice, practice, practice. And don’t hesitate to try different ways to pursue specific objectives: keyboard actions won’t hurt the computer.

Mail-order shopping for plants requires source information: plant catalogs and websites. A valuable resource for locating plant nurseries that will ship plants to your home is // which lists sources for several kinds of plants as well as a range of other garden-related information.

Here are websites to draw upon to advance your knowledge of some popular garden plants.

The American Horticultural Society also lists many garden societies that specialize in particular garden plant genera. To advance your knowledge of almost any plant genus, visit the AHS website and look under Resources/Societies, Clubs and Organizations.

3 Enrich Your Gardening Days

  • On Gardening. My Facebook page offers daily “garden notes,” brief current reports from my garden, as “what’s in bloom now” articles updates focusing on Mediterranean climate gardens. .
  • ReScape California. Tools and resources to help you to plan, design and create beautiful sustainable landscapes and gardens.
  • Gardening Discussion Forums. The National Gardening Associations community forums on a range of gardening topics.

These websites only suggest the online resources for enriching your gardening experiences.

Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.

Social Distance in Gardening II

Today’s column follows last week’s column suggesting three priorities for gardening while maintaining social distance during this difficult period. Many print and electronic media channels address the rapidly changing financial and health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. We’re all greatly concerned about those impacts but for the moment, let’s just think about gardening.

  1. Care for Your Garden

After each year’s vernal equinox, many plants spring into growth and begin a season of vigorous development and delightful blossoms. Gardeners often can do well by simply enjoying the season through frequent walls through the garden and observing Nature’s small miracles. A good garden has a few seats to accommodate reflection, perhaps with a cool beverage. Take occasional opportunities to meditate about your plants and life.

During a recent walk garden walk, I was surprised that my Madeira Island Geranium (Geranium maderense) was blooming. I had cut it back after year’s blooms. I understood it to be a biennial and expected to wait a while for more flowers, but here it is. It’s the most giant geranium, 4-5 feet high and wide.

A large purple flower is in a garden

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This giant geranium displays an abundance of light mauve flowers.
A pink flower on a plant

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Geranium maderense commands a 5′ x 5′ space in the garden.

When you can no longer resist do some weeding. Set aside an hour or two each day to clear weeds from an area that’s large enough to make a difference and produce a Gardener’s Endorphin Rush, while small enough to complete within the budgeted hour. It’s also good mild exercise to offset the stay-at-home doldrums.

Landscapers might or might not be available for garden development and maintenance, but the National Association of Landscape Professionals advocates classification of landscape services as “essential.”

In any case, most if not all garden centers and garden exchanges are closed temporarily, so adding to your landscape might require swapping plants with gardening friends (while maintaining a healthy distance).

  • Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Develop a learning plan to suit your individual needs and interests. For example, list your favorite plants in your garden and devote an hour a day to learning about each of them. There are excellent print resources for such a project, e.g., Sunset’s “Western Garden Book” and American Horticultural Association’s “A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants.”

The Internet provides easy and free access to great amounts of gardening information. A very good place to start is, which has detailed information on almost all plants. Other good general sources are San Marcos Growers’ Plant Index,, and National Gardening Associations’ Plants Database.

A future column will include sources of information for specific plant genera.

The best searches will be for the plant’s botanical name , which usually can be found, if necessary, by starting with the common name. Many plant names include a cultivar name, which might be of interest, but if you’re looking primarily for cultivation advice, the genus & species will be fine.

Knowing your plants’ seasonal development and cultivation needs contributes greatly to gardening enjoyment and success.

  • Enrich Your Gardening Days

The Internet’s many social features offer the gardener both “infotainment” and addiction potential. Rationing your time to about an hour each day would be good ideas.

There’s an abundance of garden-related blogs and videos, many providing opportunities to comment or even to dialog with the producers. Here are five to check out:

Gardening Gone Wild – A group of talented gardeners bring diverse perspectives to the topic.

Success with Succulents – Debra Lee Baldwin’s website, from southern California, offers expert, non-technical advice on growing, displaying, and landscaping with succulent plants.

Garden Answer –  Laura LeBoutillier demonstrates hands-on gardening in her expansive garden in Oregon and offers practical advice. 

Plant One on Me – Summer Rayne Oaks shares her wealth of knowledge and experience with growing houseplants in Brooklyn, NY, and tours public gardens and large-scale nurseries for more ideas.

Facebook: On Gardening. Do visit my Facebook page for “garden notes,” which are brief current updates from my own garden. The examples and ideas are fully appropriate and timely for gardens and gardeners in the Monterey Bay area and other summer-dry regions.

Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.


Tom Karwin is past president of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and Monterey Bay Iris Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). Visit for previous columns.
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Social Distance in Gardening

Spring is here! The vernal equinox, March 19th , marked this year’s first day of spring, and we enjoy the early stages of spring growth. Here are examples:

The Australian Wonga Wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana) produces a curtain of cream-colored blossoms. The Chinese Peony (Paeonia lactiflora): a common species with a great range of cultivars. 

The arrival of the spring season presents Natures gifts, delights our senses, and inspires our gardening urges. This has always been a welcome time of the year.

Our usual seasonal gardening activities include garden societies’ regular meetings and annual shows and sales. The early spring weeks have been filled with opportunities to share gardening ideas, techniques and plants with friends in the local community, to examine exemplary plants at regional showcases, and even to go out of town to attend national shows.

This year is different because the coronavirus threat requires everyone to avoid public contacts.

All garden-related events in the Monterey Bay area have been cancelled or are on the verge of being cancelled. Before you travel to an event of interest, verify that it is still happening!

One distant example was the 2020 Clivia Show & Sale, organized by The North American Clivia Society at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, and scheduled for last weekend. This rare event in a great location was worth considering for a major weekend trip, but alas it was cancelled, as were countless other garden events throughout California (and likely the rest of the country).

Gardeners and the gardening community are feeling multiple impacts of these cancellations. Many other elements of America and the world are being affected as well, of course, but let’s focus for the moment on gardening. The impacts include loss of interaction between like-minded members of the community, interruption in the continuity of non-profit garden societies, and loss of revenues that sustain those societies.

This situation undermines gardening’s social dimension. The good news is that gardeners have ways to stay busy and productive even while sheltering in place. Here are three ideas to consider.

The first priority is to care for your garden. Plants continue to grow during these difficult times, and to benefit from regular care by gardeners. Reserve a couple hours each rain-free day to keep your plants irrigated, pruned and weeded, and enjoy their contributions to your environment. This includes mild exercise, which keeps us healthy.

Another priority is to advance your gardening knowledge and skills. Assuming you have access to the Internet, search for information about plants you have—or would like to have—in your garden. A basic search by plant name will yield general descriptions. Searching for “how to cultivate [plant name]” will display helpful advice. Try this method on for video demonstrations by both amateurs and professionals.

With practice, the Internet can support your advanced education in gardening and provide a respite from binging on entertainment resources.

The third way to enrich the days of maximum social distance involves additional uses of the Internet: the social media, particularly e-mails with your gardening friends, garden-related blogs that support limited dialogs, Twitter messaging, and Facebook pages.

I have begun posting frequent “garden clips” on my long-time dormant Facebook page, with an emphasis on topics that are current to the Monterey Bay area. You are welcome to sample these clips and to comment. Browse to

Future columns will include ideas in support of these three constructive ways for gardeners to shelter in place.

Meanwhile, for up-to-date health information, browse to and click on “Coronavirus Disease 2019”

Take good care of yourself during these difficult times.


Tom Karwin is past president of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and Monterey Bay Iris Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). Visit for previous columns.
Send comments or questions to

Garden Status in Spring

I walked through my garden, not to pull weeds or pursue other tasks, just to see what was happening. A routine status check can be useful in establishing priorities for the next stretch of sunny days.


These plants are coming into bloom rather late, compared to roses in warmer areas. The Monterey Bay Rose Society held their annual Rose Show May 4th when my roses were definitely not ready for display. They seem to be coming along just fine, however.

I always anticipate the display of one rose in my garden, a very vigorous rambler (R. mulligani) that blooms in the summer, after other roses, or that I learnt reading online in different blogs such as the andersfogh site that have information about this or many subjects. As described by Christine Allen of Great Plant Picks, “Although its individual flowers are small and single, they appear in such huge, pendent trusses that they cover the entire plant and cast their fruity fragrance far across the garden.”  


The irises also seem to be a bit later than usual. The American Rose Society’s annual convention (San Ramon, late April) included a tour of Jim & Irene Cummins’ exceptional iris garden in Scotts Valley, which are taken care of with the use of gardening tools from The garden was dazzling as always and the tour was successful, but not all the plants had reached their bloom peak. In my garden, I’ve developed a swath of a prize-winning bright yellow iris, That’s All Folks, with a complementary swath of blue irises. I had to learn how to use a battery leaf blower and turns out is very practical. The idea worked only half-way because the blue irises didn’t bloom at the same time. Maybe next year.

IIris and Geranium Blossoms
Hybrid Tall Bearded Iris ‘That’s All Folks’, with Geranium maderense in background

The Monterey Bay Iris Society had its annual show on May 4th (same day as the rose show), so my yellow irises at least were blooming on schedule. Iris expert Joe Ghio reported an exceptional year for irises, with peak blooms around May 10th.  He provided these culture tips for this time:

“Snap out or cut out spent stalks and dig pesky weeds. If you want to give your irises a bit of a boost, sprinkle a LIGHT, emphasis light, application of a balanced fertilizer. You can give a regular watering up to late June.”

I will do that!


My Mediterranean Basin garden has numerous lavenders, which are iconic plants for that part of the world. Happily, they were cut back at the right time and are now setting a proliferation of buds that will provide color and fragrance during the coming weeks. Lavenders perform reliably and well when they are treated well. The recommended treatment includes full sun, minimal irrigation, and timely pruning, twice each year. The first pruning is promptly after the first flowering, and the second is in late August after the last flush has faded. Cut back about two-thirds of the plant’s height and do not cut into the woody part of the stems.


I wrote recently about a seasonal hard pruning of the many salvias in my garden. I did not prune some selected plants for various reasons, but the pruned plants now are already generating new growth. When they bloom, I will resume my project to identify and map the plants that I don’t already recognize.

Meanwhile, I have been learning about the pruning requirements for four kinds of salvias:

  • Deciduous or semi-evergreen types with soft stems, e.g., Mexican Bush Sage (S. leucantha);
  • Deciduous, woody-stem varieties, e.g., Autumn Sage (S. greggii);
  • Evergreen, woody species (the largest category in my garden), e.g., Karwinski’s Sage (S. karwinskii); and
  • Rosette-growing, herbaceous perennials, e.g., Hummingbird Sage (S. spathacea).

For more on this topic, visit the Flowers of the Sea website. Very helpful!

Some time ago, for my South African garden, I planted a Beach Salvia (S. Africana-lutea), one of the evergreen and woody kind. It grew enormously wide among other plants, so I decided to cut it back severely and control its re-growth. After some serious pruning, we discovered that some of the plant’s lower branches had rooted and established new plants, so that its several offspring created the overall width. I now need to reduce my Beach Salvia grove to create room for other plants.

I have another South African salvia, Blue African Sage (S. Africana caerulea), which doesn’t grow quite as large as the Beach Salvia. One can control the size and form of both of these South African species at any time of the year by cutting back the oldest wood.

On a future occasion, I will survey the status of several other plants that grow in quantity in my garden. All gardeners should consider an occasional unhurried survey of their gardens to gain familiarity with what is going on and planning for future maintenance and improvement. A well-known principal of workplace supervision is “management by walking around.” The same idea applies to the garden. The good news is that the gardener can conduct this supervisory function while carrying a beverage of your choice.

Renovation of the South African Garden

I recently visited UC Santa Cruz’s Arboretum & Botanic Garden for a preview of plans to renovate the Arboretum’s South African Garden. Executive Director Martin Quigley and Nursery Manager Martin Grantham presented these plans to a small group of interested supporters of the project.

The South African Garden holds the Arboretum’s impressive collection of plants from the Cape Floristic Region, the smallest of the six recognized floral kingdoms of the world, is an area of extraordinarily high diversity and endemism. The Arboretum’s other major gardens focus on California, Australia, and New Zealand.

Among the South African Garden’s extraordinary Leucodendrons, Leucospermums, and Proteas, several other native plants also deserve a gardener’s attention. One example is the Bush Aster (Felicia amelloides), which offers striking sky-blue and sunny yellow flowerheads, held well above the leaves.

Purple Blossoms
Bush Aster (Felicia amelloides )

Interested persons can see examples of the Arboretum’s South African collection by visiting the Arboretum’s website and searching for “South Africa.” 

The South African Garden was established early in the Arboretum’s history, which dates from 1964. Its development continued over several decades, but slowed markedly after the retirement of Ron Arruda, then the curator of the South African Collection. Due to budgetary limitations, a new curator could not be hired, so other staff provided minimal maintenance and development.

The arrival of Martin Quigley, three years ago, and Martin Grantham, last fall, brought a combination of vision and expertise to the South African Garden. Quigley brought a strong background in botany, horticulture, landscape architecture, plant ecology, and related fields. Grantham, a new addition to the staff, but about nine years ago he produced impressive “observations and ideas” for the South African Collection. Together, they soon generated an imaginative plan for renovation of the South African Garden.

Over the years, the South African Garden had developed a remarkable collection, but the typical visitor could easily feel confused by its arrangement of unfamiliar plants. While there might be a horticultural rationale to the grouping of plants, each plant seemed unrelated to its surroundings.

One notable exception has been the grouping of several species of Cape Heaths (the large genus Erica), comprising perhaps the largest collection of these plants outside South Africa. The Erica collection provides a valuable opportunity to compare diverse species and enjoy their flowering in late winter/early spring and mid-summer.

The renovation plan for the South African Garden envisions several focal displays. Visitors can anticipate these unique presentations:

Silver Tree Grove. These small trees (Leucadendron argenteum) are relatively short-lived, but their silvery, silky leaves provide a memorable effect. A gathering of these trees will be quite charming,

Pelargonium Field. Gardeners often have been confused by the relationship of geraniums and pelargoniums. There are historical reasons for the confusion, but today’s taxonomists tell us that these are different genera within the family Geraniaceae. Here’s a short explanation from “Geraniums are herbaceous perennials of the Northern hemisphere that can be also found in Africa and South America. Pelargoniums, on the other hand, are subshrubs from the southern hemisphere and occur naturally almost entirely within South Africa.” The Arboretum’s plan includes the creation of a Pelargonium Field that will both help to identify true pelargoniums and suggest the great variety of plants that are native to the Cape Floristic Region. It also will provide a pleasing display of colorful blossoms and attractive foliage.

Restio Maze. One of the exceptional plants of South Africa are the members of the genus Restio, which includes more than 160 species. These are rush-like plants that likely “originated more than 65 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period, when the southern continents were still part of Gondwana.” This genus includes a great variety of species, as one might expect. The Arboretum’s plan includes the development of a maze comprised of several different Restios, designed to showcase the variations within the genus and offer visitors an opportunity to commune with these dramatic plants. A maze and a labyrinth differ in important ways. By some accounts, a maze presents a challenging puzzle, while a labyrinth offers tranquility. We will have to discover the Arboretum’s Restio Maze when it ready for visitors. Today, it consists of plowed circles defining a coming attraction that is fifty-feet in diameter, with ten-foot wide pathways. Fortunately, Restios grow relatively fast, so it won’t be very long before we could explore this maze. It surely will be the first of its kind!

This plan for renovation of the Arboretum’s South African Garden is still evolving, so expect to see additional features in the coming months. The Arboretum has a long history as a horticultural treasure for the Monterey Bay area and California, and this new arc of development will increase its value.

Meanwhile, the South African Garden continues to invite a casual stroll on a pleasant day, and a resource for broadening one’s horticultural experience. The Garden’s plants all grow well in the Monterey Bay area, and a selection is available for purchase at the Arboretum’s garden store.

The Appeal of the Sticky Monkey Flower

Today’s column is about a California native shrub that widely available, and a fine addition to the garden.

The plant is the Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus, or Diplacus aurantiacus). Its common name reflects the feelings of some very imaginative observers that the plant’s blossom resembles a monkey’s face.

Orange blossoms
Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) and Pacific Coast Iris ‘Canyon Snow’ (Iris douglasiana)

The reference to “sticky” refers to a naturally occurring phenolic resin in the leaves, which deters the feeding of certain butterfly larvae, and also helps the plant retain water in dry environments.

The leaves of some other plants can become sticky from the sugary honeydew secreted by aphids and some other insects. Yet other plants can be sticky naturally because their leaves and stems have tiny hairs that can cling to passers-by and help the plant to spread. An exemplar of this survival strategy is a weed with many names, including Cleavers (Galium aparine).

The Sticky Monkey Flower grows up to four feet tall. Its blossoms are tubular at the base and about one inch long. They are most commonly a light orange in color, but some varieties display other shades, ranging from white to red.

This plant can grow in full sun or partial shade and will be most floriferous in bright sun, presenting an attractive display over a long period from late winter through summer.

Like many California native plants, Sticky Monkey Flower thrives in a wide range of difficult soil types when good drainage is provided. It requires little or no irrigation during the Monterey Bay area’s summer-dry climate.

This plant occurs in many different vegetation habitats and is compatible with a large number of other California native plant communities. For this reason, it offers considerable versatility in the landscape, and can have many other native plants as suitable companions.

The Sticky Monkey Flower attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, and also resists deer.

Maintenance recommendations include installing deep organic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weeds, pinching back new growth in spring to maintain compact form, and deadheading spent blossoms to foster flower production.

There are at least six species within the genus Mimulus (or Diplacus) and a growing number of hybrid cultivars. For an overview of the genus, visit the Las Pilatus Nursery website (www.laspilatas) and search for “monkey flowers.”

The Sticky Monkey Flower is a good example of a California native plant that offers ready availability at local garden centers, low maintenance, and very good “garden-worthiness.” If you have been hesitant about using California native plants in your landscape, this plant could change your mind.

A timely opportunity to discover new plants for your garden occurs this weekend, at the annual Mother’s Day Sale of Cabrillo College’s Horticulture Department. This academic program is a fine horticultural resource for the Monterey Bay area, and this sale is a both a good shopping event and an important fund-raiser for the Hort. Dept. For information including plant list, search the internet for “Cabrillo plant sale.” Include California native plants in your garden!

Current Trends in Garden Design

As I was planning to visit nine exemplary hone gardens in the Santa Cruz area, in a tour organized by the UCSC Arboretum and Botanic Garden, I happened upon a popular garden magazine’s summary of ten current trends in residential garden design. Redbud soil company online supplier of soil containers.

Most of these trends related to indoor gardening and flower arranging, while eight relate to outdoor gardening. I became interested in how those eight trends related to the Arboretum’s garden tour. Two question came to mind:

  • Do these trends actually appear in these community gardens?
  • Do these community gardens actually reflect the trends?

I managed to visit six gardens during the day. I won’t identify the gardens because they are not now on tour, but each garden was unique, nicely designed and developed, and very well presented for this special event.

Here are my observations, with reference to eight reported trends for outdoor gardens.

The Keeping It Low Maintenance

Everyone, it seems, wants a low-maintenance garden, and some strategies certainly can lower the workload, but gardens that shine for visitors show the result of ongoing maintenance plus “sprucing up” for tour day. All the gardens on this tour were neatly maintained: there were no weeds, diseased or neglected plants, or unsightly debris. Congratulations to the garden owners! My findings don’t negate the published interest in low maintenance, but it suggests that low maintenance doesn’t align with garden tours.

Creating a Staycation Spot

This trend focuses on recreational resources in the garden, e.g., outdoor kitchen, furniture, fire features, decorative lighting, etc. All of the gardens I visited included a table and chairs, and some had a basic barbeque set-up, but none appeared to have been planned for a “staycation.” People who invest significant money and effort in their gardens apparently prefer to explore new environments on occasion, rather than to switch from gardener to vacationer in the same place.

Structures as Focal Points

This trend relates to the development of garden structures, e.g., sheds, walls, and swimming pools. One of the six gardens had a small greenhouse and a hot tub, and another had an impressive collection containerized plants mounted on a fence, but there were no other structures serving as focal points. Some gardens include well-designed paths and retaining walls, but these were more functional than architectural focal points.

Private, Secluded Places

This trend envisions a smallish space dedicated to seating for two people, with perhaps a water feature, a wall or plant screen to separate it from the garden, or an arbor or pergola to create an enclosure. I saw one seating area that provided such seclusion; the others were positioned to support viewing and enjoying the garden. Avid gardeners enjoy being in their gardens, rather than relaxing in seclusion.

Notable First Impressions

This was a toss-up. Of the six gardens, three had front yards that were very nicely designed and presented fine streetside impressions. The other three had well-done front yards, but more impressive back yards. Clearly, the private, backyard garden area had the higher priority. Such differences could result by chance, differences in the available gardening space, or particular interest in impressing neighbors and passers-by.  Good arguments could be made for both front yard and backyard priorities.

Food in Landscapes of All Sizes

This magazine article envisioned a trend for including edibles in a primarily ornamental garden, whether in containers or raised beds, or mingled with perennial plants. There are interesting ideas for combining edibles and ornamentals, and good books on the creative design of vegetable gardens. Still, I saw vegetable gardening in only two of these six tour gardens, and in both cases, veggies were separated from ornamentals. To be fair, three of the gardens I did not visit reportedly included vegetables and fruit trees, so this tour evidently demonstrated this trend rather well.

Investing in Quality Furniture

Is this a trend? I saw attractive and serviceable garden furniture in good condition, but not the artisan-created teak items or classic showpieces like a Lutyens bench. It has been said that no garden can have too much seating, but gardeners with tour-worthy gardens might have more interest in the selection, placement and cultivation of plants than in the display of sophisticated furnishings.  

Giving Back with Gardens

This trend emphasizes gardening that is friendly to wildlife and the environment. The forms of such friendliness include providing wildlife habitats, supporting pollinators, using organic methods to control weeds and pests and not poisoning wildlife or the environment. This trend might be understood also to include using water wisely, in keeping with water conservation priorities. These tour gardens were highly compatible with this trend, with multiple sites featuring drought tolerant plants, e.g., Mediterranean climate specimens and succulents, and avoiding synthetic chemicals. I did not, however, see wildlife habitats, e.g., bird houses, brush heaps, bird baths or bird feeders.  Perhaps I just didn’t notice.

My conclusion is that the gardens on the Arboretum’s garden tour exemplify most of the design trends featured in this one magazine’s overview of 2019’s garden trends. These gardens are quite trendy!

We are now in garden tour season, so include at least one tour in your schedule, and enjoy the opportunity to discover unfamiliar plants and new approaches to garden design. An exceptional opportunity is St. Philips’ annual Garden Tour and English Tea Luncheon on May 11, 2019. For information:

When you embark upon a garden tour, you might find it interesting to review each garden with reference someone’s perspective on current design trends.

You also could expand this strategy by adding your own thoughts about garden design trends. For example, my design priorities include thematic design for sections of the garden, and landscaping with swaths of selected plants, in contrast to collections of single specimens.

Developing a Chilean Garden

Gardening can be made interesting by implementing a thematic plan for part or all of the site. There are many possible themes to choose from: a favorite color or color combination; a plant genus (e.g., roses, irises, dahlias, etc.); a design style (e.g., desert, tropical, etc.); or whatever interests you.

My garden has beds dedicated to each of the five summer-dry climate regions: Mediterranean Basin, South Africa, Australia, California, and Chile.

The world’s summer-dry regions occur within two bands: between 30°and 45° north, and between 30°and 45° south. Chile is a very narrow, very long country, extending from a latitude of 17° south to Cape Horn at 56°. The country extends well beyond the summer-dry region,

The county’s flora have been described in terms of three zones, the desert provinces of the north, central Chile, and the humid regions of the south. Central Chile’s summer-dry region extends from about 30°to about 36° south, making that region comparable in size to that of California, which extends from about 32°to about 42° north.

With only a little searching, a gardener can find good plants from the first four of these regions; finding Chilean plants can be challenging. That search can be motivated by the potential of discovering unusual botanical treasures. 

A few Chilean plants are readily available in garden centers. The most familiar example, perhaps, is the so-called Peruvian Lily (Alstromeria sp.). There are some 122 species within this South American genus, and only four are native to Peru, while at least thirty-three are native to central Chile, which is the center of distribution for this genus. We’re told that Chileans take offense at having their plant called Peruvian Lily!

Other Chilean plants that are not hard to find include (in no particular order): Chilean Jasmine (Mandevilla laxa), Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae), Chilean Puya (Puya chilensis), Shining Pink Rock Purslane (Calendrina spectabilis), Maiden’s Wreath (Francoa sonchifolia), Hummingbird Fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica), Purpletop Vervain (Verbena bonariensis), Chilean Potato Vine (Solanum Crispum), and others.

Interested gardeners can find descriptions of these plants by searching the Internet for their botanical names.

A less common Chilean plant that is particularly attractive in early spring, is the Sacred Flower of the Andes (Cantua buxifolia). This is an upright shrub that produces “a profusion of orange to magenta-pink flowers that have a long tube with a flaring mouth held on thin pedicels so the flowers dangle beneath” (quoting San Marcos Growers). The blossoms are “outrageous,” but the plant sprawls in a way that calls for staking. The older stems can be pruned to improve the plant’s overall form, but because blossoms are produced on the previous season’s growth, pruning should be done only after flowering.

Chilean blossoms
Blossom of Cantua buxifolia (Sacred Flower of the Incas)
Chilean shrub
An unruly shrub: Cantua buxifolia

My continuing quest for interesting these plants focuses currently on the Chilean Bellflower (Lapageria rosea), a beautiful flowering vine that is Chile’s national flower. A few nurseries list this plant on their websites, but it’s generally out of stock.

Persistence should produce results!

Adopting a theme of your choice could provide an alternative to the usual spontaneous approach to gardening in favor of the satisfaction of design coherence and the appeal of an ongoing hunt for botanical treasures.

Time to Prune Salvias

Salvias are sometimes called “super shrubs,” at least in this column, because they are easy to cultivate; diverse in form, size and blossom color; and well suited for gardens in summer-dry climates, like that of the Monterey Bay area.

Many salvias have blossoms in shades of red and blue. Some uncommon varieties have white or yellow blossoms. A very uncommon species is the Beach Salvia (Salvia Africana-lutea), which has rusty orange upper petals that turn to a russet-brown color.

Salvia shrub
Salvia africana-lutea (Beach Salvia)

These form, size and blossom color qualities have supported the development of a growing collection of salvias in my garden, to the point that I have lost track of the number of plants, and of their names. I do recognize the genus salvia when I come upon it; on a good day I can name several of the cultivars. My digital files include just about all these plants in my garden, and I do intend to map their locations, one of these days, as part of the ongoing mapping project.

The recent annual Hard Pruning of the Salvias in my garden required substantial help. This necessary pruning process both supports and hinders the mapping objective.

When salvias grow closely together their branches intermingle and merge into a botanical mass that defies mapping. Gardeners who grow salvias know that they benefit from hard pruning in late winter or early spring, as new growth appears at the base of the plant. Hard pruning reduces the plants to six-to-twelve inches tall. This treatment counters ranginess and promotes bushiness, which adds to their value in the landscape. It also supports mapping by enabling the determined mapper to distinguish each plant from its neighbors.

Many salvias bloom throughout the year in our moderate climate, and many have distinctive leaf forms that can be essential clues for identifying the cultivars. These characteristics certainly help in mapping, but hard pruning hinders the process by removing all blossoms and perhaps all leaves.

The ideal time for mapping a mature salvia bed, then, occurs after pruning (while the plants are small in size) and after they begin producing leaves and blooms (which happens in early spring). Salvias’ growth cycles differ somewhat, so the plants are not all in lock-step, but this strategy should work fairly well.

Another consideration related to hard pruning salvias: after plants have been pruned seasonally, they are most visible as individual plants, ready for transplanting. As with any plant, transplanting should be done as promptly to avoid drying the roots. A good practice is to dig the hole for the plant’s new location before digging the plant. This strategy avoids any lag time between listing the plant and placing it in the new hole.

Salvias can be propagated also during the pruning season through stem cuttings.

Salvia plants also can be divided at pruning time, but this method is not recommended generally because it leaves each division with a minimal boot structure.

Finally, salvia propagation can be done from seeds collected in the early fall, i.e., around September.

One or several salvias can be botanical assets in your garden.