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.

Plant Sale Strategies

This weekend presents a seasonal high point for avid gardeners in the Monterey Bay area. Marking the beginning of the spring planting season, three significant plant sales offer a fine array of plants to choose from for your garden.

The Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Native Plant Society will offer several categories plants that are native to the Golden State. The sale will be on Saturday, April 13th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 for CNPS members and 12:00 to 4:00 for the public. There is more information about this sale today in this paper’s Home & Garden section. 

The UCSC Arboretum and Botanic Garden will hold its spring plant sale, presenting collections of plants that are native to South Africa, Australia, and California, plus some from other dry summer regions. This sale is at the same time and place as the CNPS sale. The Arboretum  is “a favorite destination for those who love  plants, birds and natural beauty. [It] inspires stewardship of the world’s biodiversity through research, education, and the conservation of rare and extraordinary plants.”

The Arboretum’s sale event includes a first-ever Silent Auction of striking and uncommon plants. This activity will be active from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. , with a last call bidding opportunity at 12:55. Winning bidders must be present at the end of the Auction to claim their winnings.

For lists of the sale plants and the Silent Auction plants, visit the Arboretum’s website and click on the Events calendar.

The CNPS and Arboretum sales are at the Arboretum, the entrance for which is on the west side of the campus, off of Empire Grade. For driving directions, browse to the Arboreum website and click on the Visit menu.

South African Blossom
Leucospermum erubescens Photo by Bill Bishoff

Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society will conduct this weekend’s third plant sale. It will be held at the Community Hall, 10 San Jose Street, San Juan Bautista. This is a two-day event, from 9:00 to 5:00 on Saturday, April 13th, and 9:00 to 4:00 on Sunday, April 14th. Use Google Maps, MapQuest or other service for driving directions from your location.

The MBACSS event brings together several advanced growers of cactus & succulent plants for a combination of a show of well-grown exceptional plants and a sale of mostly young plants that are easy to cultivate in the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, and that bring a fascinating range of colors and forms to local gardens. Many gardeners enjoy collecting different cultivars within a genus, or a variety of different genera from South Africa or Mexico or other areas of the world. In addition to adding plants for your garden, the plant show provides an unique and enjoyable opportunity to see and study outstanding specimens of cacti and succulents.

The sale also includes creatively designed containers and planting supplies. 

Advanced growers will be available on request to provide growing advice and background information for specific plants.


When planning to participate in one of these sales, or visit a garden, or select plants from a mail-order catalog, optimize your satisfaction potential in these three ways.

1. Determine the plants you want or need to add to your garden. Be specific! What is the desired mature size of the plants you want? Will they be in full sun, partial shade, or full shade? What colors would support your design? What plant forms would work best?

2. Decide on the low and high amounts you want to spend. The low amount would be appropriate if only a few plants meet your objectives, and the high amount would serve to control your urges on an occasion was lots of what you see is appealing.

3. When plant lists are available online, as with the Arboretum’s sale, take the time to mark your targets for possible purchase. Unless you are already a plant maven, this process could require “Googling” the plants by name. With very rare exceptions, such a search will yield good information about the available plants. This preparation is particularly wise for the Arboretum’s Silent Auction.

Your plant search could extend over all three of this weekend’s plant sales.  Enjoy the hunt!

Succulent Events Blooming

As we write this column on April 1st, our focus is on cacti and succulents. Three factors inspire this topic, as summarized in these paragraphs.

Spring Show & Sale of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society.

This local organization, an affiliate of the Cactus & Succulent Society of America, presents two of these two-part events each year, in the fall and the spring.

The show presents a variety of exceptional plants, representing prime specimens from several different succulent plant genera. This display provides an extraordinary opportunity for both novice and advanced gardeners of these plants to see mature plants that have been grown expertly and shown aesthetically in selected containers.

The sale brings offerings from multiple growers, all of whom are members of the Society. Generally, several tables each present small and reasonably priced, inviting gardeners to select multiple plants to add to their indoor or outdoor gardens. The sale tables might also include specimens of relatively rare plants. Gardeners with special appreciation for unusual plants often quickly gather up these premium oifferings.

The Society will hold this event on April 13th & 14th, at San Juan Bautista’s Community Hall, 10 San Jose Street. The accompanying photos can be spotted on flyers posted in garden centers and other public places throughout the Monterey Bay area. Photography by Fred Valentine.

Succulent plant in container
Mammillaria blossfeldiana grown by Elton Roberts
succulent plant
Boophone disticha grown by John and Lisa Bloss

Succulent Blossoms on Stamps

To draw attention to the Society’s upcoming show & sale, the United States Postal Service has released ten new First Class stamps depicting the blossoms of ten cacti. Art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamps with photographs taken by John P. Schaefer. Visit, and scroll to “Cactus Flowers” for more information, including images of the stamps. The many growers of succulent plants will appreciate these stunning stamps.

Succulent Blooms by Month

Some gardeners have impressive awareness of the timing of events in their gardens, particularly when various plants burst into bloom. I am not one of those gardeners, but one who typically discovers new blooms with surprise and delight. A gardener who knows when succulent plants bloom has helped those of us with less awareness with a monthly series of photographic collections of succulent plants in bloom.

The gardener is Geoff Stein, who describes himself as an “obsessive, compulsive collector of all oddball tropical and desert plants.” To date, he has produced photographic overviews of succulents in bloom in December, January, February, March and April. The April issue of this series extends to nineteen pages and includes scores of photos.

Geoff Stein is a prolific garden writer who has created scores of lengthy articles on a range of topics within his interest in “tropical and desert plants.” Each of these pieces includes numerous photographs of the plants under discussion. Some of his articles are broad in scope, e.g.,, “Introduction to Dyckias and Hechtias,” while others deal with specific cultivars, e.g., “Easy Succulents: Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’.” For a list of his articles go to and search for “Geoff Stein.” His writings are definitely worth exploring.


Admittedly, the USPS produced its Cactus Flower stamps in recognition of the growing interest in gardening with cacti and succulents, not specifically for the Society’s Show & Sale. April Fool!

Still, that event will be a pleasure for avid gardeners interested in these fascinating plants.

Garden Shows & Sales

Each gardening year includes shows and sales of favored plants, hosted by local garden groups. This column describes these recurring events, organized by three basic scheduling models. Specific dates vary a bit each year because of various factors, so this overview provides only a heads-up for interested gardeners to be on the alert as each date approaches. Locations are mostly the same, year–to–year, but changes happen.

Following this overview, we’ll focus on four upcoming big events in April.

Blooming + Planting Model

In this model, shows occur at the peak bloom period, so growers can display their best blooms, spectators can “OOO” and “AHH,” and thoughtful gardeners can select varieties to add to their gardens during the next planting season.

The sales then coincide with planting season. The Monterey Bay Iris Society (MBIS) and the Monterey Bay Dahlia Society (MBDS) provide clear examples of planting season sales.

  • MBIS: show late April; rhizome sale early August
  • MBDS: show late August; tuber sale early April

Show & Sale Combo Model

Some plants grow year-round, so their shows and sales can be combined on the same weekend. Exemplars of this model include Santa Cruz Orchid Society (SCOS), Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society (MBACSS), and Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai (SCBK)

  • SCOS: annual show & sale early March
  • MBACSS: spring show & sale mid April; fall show & sale early October
  • SCBK: annual show & sale mid April

Show or Sale Only Model

A third pattern includes either show or sale, but not both. The Monterey Bay Rose Society (MBRS), the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), UCSC Arboretum & Botanic Garden (UCSC-Arb), and Cabrillo College Horticulture Department (Cabrillo Hort) follow this pattern.

  • MBRS: annual show early May; continuing show at Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Watsonville
  • CNPS, Santa Cruz Chapter: Spring sale early April; Fall sale early October;
  • CNPS. Monterey Chapter: annual wildflower exhibit
  • UCSC-Arb: Spring sale early April; Fall sale early October; continuing show at the Arboretum & Botanic Garden
  • Cabrillo Hort: Mother’s Day Sale, early May
  • Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz: Fungus Fair, early January

Monterey Bay Dahlia Society’s Annual Tuber Sale

If you visited the Society’s annual show at the Museum of Art & History last August, you would have enjoyed the great diversity of the array of dahlia blossoms. This plant offers an extraordinary range of blossom colors, sizes, and forms, making it a source of endless fascination and a great temptation to become a collector. The blossoms can be appreciated both individually and as a grand display of natural specimens of botanical beauty.

As you anticipate spring in your garden, you could be thinking about adding new blooming plants for summer and fall color splashes. The dahlia is an excellent bloomer to add to your garden, and now is the right time to find dahlias to plant.

The Monterey Bay Dahlia Society will hold its annual tuber and plant sale on Saturday, April 6th, 2019, from 9:00 –11:00 a.m., at Deer Park Shopping Center in Aptos, on the Center’s upper level, near the Red Apple Café.  This sale provides a fine opportunity for gardeners to select from a wide variety of cultivars that have been grown locally, and benefit from good prices. Prospective buyers should arrive early, as the tubers are sold quickly.

Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai 31th Annual Exhibit

April 6 – 7, 2019 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. both days at †he Museum of Art and History, 705 Front Street, Santa Cruz. The highlight of each day’s show will be at 2:00 p.m. when Bonsai Masters, Mike Pistello (Saturday) and Sensei Katsumi Kinoshita (Sunday) will demonstrate the techniques for creating an artistic tree from common nursery stock. The newly created bonsai tree will then be offered in a raffle drawing along with other trees and items donated by club members. These trees have been cared for, designed, wired, and potted in bonsai pots so individuals winning the trees can begin enjoying this art form immediately.

Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society’s Spring Show & Sale

The Society will hold this event on April 13th & 14th, at San Juan Bautista’s Community Hall, 10 San Jose Street. We’ll have more about this increasingly popular show & sale before that date, but mark your calendar now.

California Native Plant Society, Monterey Chapter’s 58th Wildflower Show

This amazing, eye-opening event will be held April 19-21, 2019 at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, 65 Forest Ave, Pacific Grove. While visiting nature’s bounty in person is an incomparable experience, this show provides a unique opportunity to study and appreciate California’s wildflower treasures without trampling them.

If you are a gardener with broad horticultural interests, you develop your own calendar for benefitting from the creative offerings of our local garden groups.

Discovering a Chilean Plant

Ochagavia litoralis

It’s not easy to find plants for my Chilean garden, so I was pleased to come upon a fine specimen at a local garden center. Its common name, calilla, must mean something, but because I don’t speak Chilean I will use its botanical name, Ochagavia litoralis.

The plant is a member of the Bromeliad family, which, with a few exceptions, is native to the tropical Americas. The family is quite large, with 51 genera and around 3475 known species. Some of its relatives are familiar, e.g., pineapple and avid gardeners will recognize some others: tillandsia, billbergia, puya,

My new acquisition, which grows to about one foot high and wide, has look-alike relatives, including Dyckia (from Brazil and central South America) and Hechtia (from Mexico). There are differences, including flower color, that require close examination.

In the course of my Internet searching, I learned about the Crimson Bromeliad (Fascicularia bicolor), which is a close relative of my new plant, and also from Chile. It is even rarer than the calilla, and about twice its size with softer spines and rosette centers that become bright red. My Chile garden should have one of those!

The Ochagavia litoralis forms multiple rosettes. The plant I bought looked like a candidate for division into three or more offsets. I have been pleased on occasion to acquire a plant that has outgrown its container because I could get multiple plants for one price. When I pulled this plant out of its pot, however, I found that its rosettes were more like branches than offsets so dividing it would be tricky. I just cleaned up some dry leaves and planted it without dividing.

The plant’s roots had filled its 1.5–gallon nursery can. For some time, the plant needed to move into a larger pot, or into the ground. San Marcos Growers, a wholesale nursery just north of Santa Barbara, had grown the plant. I have visited that impressive nursery, and have often drawn plant information from its excellent website. This plant, which some people regard as quite rare, might also have infrequent demand, with the result that it languished too long in the can.

Realistically, there are not many gardeners with an interest in Chilean horticulture, and even fewer that find very spiny plants appealing. The Ochagavia litoralis has foot-long spine-margined leaves, making it attractive in its own way, but hazardous to handle. I wore my newly acquired goatskin gloves with cowhide gauntlets and planted this specimen without the slightest injury. The gloves will be equally protective when dealing with roses, agaves, and cacti.

My new calilla is now safely and happily installed in my Chilean garden. I will need to practice its name.


For an inspiring garden tour this weekend, visit Love’s Garden, which on the west side of Santa Cruz. This free tour, from 1:00 to 4:00 on Saturday, features a permaculture food forest, with dozens of edible plants, a rainwater catchment and greywater recycling, all on a small residential lot. The enthusiastic gardener behind all this, Golden Love, is an ecologically friendly horticulturist and the proprietor of a long-standing landscaping business. For information and registration, visit the Love’s Garden website.

Joys and Fears of Sharing Your Garden

Many people garden for their own enjoyment. Whether they grow a few plants in containers on a deck or manage an extensive landscape, they find satisfaction in the process and occasional—or frequent— successes as plants flourish and look just right in their location. A fine day in the garden might include installing a new botanical treasure or digging out a few pesky weeds or just enjoying a cool drink and watching a hummingbird at work.

Everything changes when a visitor shows up. Some gardeners will be pleased by a visit because it presents an opportunity to show off the collection of healthy gorgeous plants in charming combinations.

Other gardeners will experience a bit of tension, wondering if the visitor will appreciate the garden and understand that it includes faults that haven’t yet been corrected or shortcomings that haven’t yet been improved, not because they haven’t been noticed but due to the persistent lack of time.

This could be the time to blame the plants. The classic line is “You should have been here last week when the (fill in the blank) was in bloom.” (I actually experienced a version of this excuse at the United States Botanic Garden, on the National Mall in Washington, DC!)

Usually, the occasional visitor to one’s garden does not generate a big response, whether delightful or fraught, because most visitors will bring a few opinions and less expertise, and besides they won’t stay long. The experienced gardener can survive the visit without significant aftereffects.

Another situation entirely is the scheduled and publicized garden tour, in which the gardener’s efforts have been designated as exemplary, and worth the price of admission. Strangers who take the time on their otherwise busy weekend to visit your garden, and are willing to pay for the privilege, certainly bring more options and expertise than the casual drop-in. They might assume the guise of a novice seeking ideas for their own garden, but secretively they could observe every flaw and devote the remainder of the day to joking with their equally expert friend about the sorry mess they’ve witnessed.

That experience, real or imagined, is not good for the garden owner.

So, in anticipation of the inevitable scrutiny that is part of a garden tour, the garden owner might embark upon extraordinary preparation for a tour, to ensure that the garden will be beyond reproach. Sometimes, there will be no time for such efforts because the garden tour organizer has run out of time and must pin down one more garden, and will assure the garden owner that the garden is perfect just as it is, so absolutely nothing needs to be done before the tour, which will happen very soon (e.g., in a week or two). This proposition tests the gardeners’ self-confidence and philosophical resignation, and encourages the perspective that the garden “is what it is.” Ideally, the garden is always in prime condition and ready for an invasion of friendly and sometimes critical strangers.

Another scenario includes several weeks or even months before the date of the tour. Given plenty of lead-time, there are few barriers to converting the garden into a showcase of inspired horticulture. The exceptions include except cost, imagination and the gardener’s other life

The most positive attitude for the home gardener is to welcome both casual visitors and garden tourists to see your accomplishments and trust that they will be more appreciative than critical. After all, visitors who know anything about gardening will recognize your good work.

Sharing your gardening achievements will inspire your visitors to elevate their own standards, so open your garden to visitors when opportunities arise, and occasionally become a garden visitor yourself.

Flurry of Flowers in May

Now, halfway through spring, we have blooms blossoming in many places. We might first notice new colors in our own gardens, which both rewards our horticultural achievements and urges us to add plants.

We can respond to such urges by scrolling through a local garden center and leafing through a nursery’s mail-order catalog. We also acquire new plants at local plant sales that support local garden groups.

The Annual Mother’s Day Plant Sale offered by Cabrillo College’s Horticulture Department is among the most expansive and inspiring events of its kind. This year’s sale begins on Friday, May 11th, 3:00 to 7:00 p.m., with admission reserved for Friends of the Garden. Surprise: you can join the Friends on the spot for $25. That pre-sale occasion includes a silent auction and refreshments. The event continues on Saturday, May 12th, and Sunday, May 13th from 10:00 to 2:00. For directions and more information about the sale, visit the Cabrillo Hort website.

If you are seeking inspiration and plant selection ideas, your opportunities arise at plant shows and garden tours. These events can be enjoyable in their own right, and also preparation for purchases. The Monterey Bay area has excellent shows and tours.

Annual Rose Garden Tea

The Community Church of the Monterey Peninsula will hold this event on Saturday, May 12th from 2-4 pm. The occasion will display a collection of 112 beautiful roses planted since 1970. Come to enjoy the rose superbloom. Stroll the rose garden and enjoy refreshments, fellowship and live music by flutist Julie Roseman and guitarist. Bring your camera and wear a hat! Location: 4590 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel. Free admission. Information: 624-8595 or

Sixteenth Annual Garden Tour and English Tea Luncheon

St. Philip the Apostle Episcopal Church sponsors this occasion on Saturday, May 12th from 10:00 to 4:00 p.m. Visit selected gardens in northern Santa Cruz County, and enjoy a full high tea luncheon with homemade English favorites such as scones with jam and cream, a delicious and light soup, sausage rolls and finger sandwiches, and sweet treats such as English toffee and shortbread cookies! A rare delight! Admission: Early Bird $35; At the Door $40. Information and ticket orders: visit the St. Philip website and click on “Events.“

Secret Gardens of the Valley

The Felton Library Friends invites you to visit their selection of seven gorgeous and unique gardens. These include a wildlife habitat with a huge koi pond; garden art, succulents on rock walls, a profusion of pathway plants, a tropical plant conservatory, and bonsai and “insect hotel” demos. The occasion includes a raffle, live music by Patti Maxine & Friends, gift seeds, and succulent sales. Saturday, May 19th, 10:00 to 4:00 p.m. Admission: $20 in advance; $25 at the tour. Information: visit or call (831) 335-1135.

Open Days in Santa Cruz

We’ll have more information about this tour next week but mark your calendar now for this first-ever tour in the Monterey Bay area sponsored by The Garden Conservancy, a national non-profit group. Three local gardens will be on the tour, which supports the Conservatory’s national program to preserve exceptional gardens. Hint: the gardens include one that has been featured often in this column. The tour will be on Saturday, May 19th from 10:00 to 4:00. Admission: $7/garden. At 4:00, there will be a Digging Deeper program, with a separate registration required. For information, visit the Conservatory’s Open Days website.

UCSC Garden Events for April

The Monterey Bay community benefits from the local presence of a productive and respected university. The US News & World Report’s ranking program places the University of California, Santa Cruz within the top 50 of the world’s 1,250 universities. This impressive ranking is based on multiple indicators, but because this column is on gardening, we focus on this noteworthy institution’s upcoming garden-related events. (Links for detailed information are listed below.)

April 7th — Opening of “Forest (for a thousand years…)” — This event is a “beguiling and uncanny audio installation” staged in the redwood grove of UCSC’s Arboretum. This immersive 22-channel audio piece will continue through June 30th, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller will discuss their work on Friday, April 6th, 7–9 p.m. at UCSC’s Digital Arts Research Center.

April 7thFirst Saturday Tour of the Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Meet at Norrie’s Gift & Garden Shop at 11 a.m. A guided tour is free with admission to the Arboretum.

April 14thSpring Plant Sale. Members pre-sale 10 a.m. – noon; Open to the public noon – 4 p.m. In partnership with the California Native Plant Society, the Arboretum’s Spring Plant Sale will offer quality, regionally friendly plants from both groups at great prices. Watch for more information in these pages prior to the event.

April 15thArboretum Phenology Walk. Sunday, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Do you enjoy watching plants change through the seasons? Would you like to be a part of a national effort to monitor the effects of climate change? Advanced registration is recommended.

April 25th — “Amah Mutsun Relearning Program,” with Rick Flores. Flores will discuss the collaborative work by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the Arboretum to assist the Tribe’s efforts of cultural revitalization, recuperation and relearning of dormant cultural knowledge, and environmental justice. This 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. session is part of the Volunteer Enrichment Series. Each session is open to the public and free, with priority registration given for prospective and currently active volunteers. Contact Katie Cordes, Volunteer Coordinator, with questions (831.502.2300,

April 26th & 27th — Seedbed — A Soil Symposium. This free interdisciplinary symposium on the state of soil will feature performances, interactive activities, and visual artwork installed throughout campus. Panel presentations will take place in the Cowell Ranch Hay Barn exploring a diverse range of topics from microbes to waste management, labor and farming; the magic of composting and soil science. The symposium will explore how climate change and human industry have endangered our topsoil – rendering it deadly– as well as the amazing life-sustaining potential of what we call “dirt.”

April 28th & 29th — Farm & Garden Spring Plant Sale. All plants are organically grown and include a wide selection of annual vegetables and flowers, along with wonderful perennials for the landscape. Plants are selected for their proven performance in the Monterey Bay region. Corner of Bay Street and High Street at the base of campus, Saturday 10 a.m.– 3 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.–2 p.m.

April 28th — Free Tour of the UCSC Farm, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Take a free, docent-led tour of the beautiful 30-acre UCSC Farm. Learn about the education, research, and outreach work that is taking place through the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems. No reservations necessary. Meet at the Hay Barn on campus for the short walk to the Farm. Free parking available at the Hay Barn.

April weekdays — Visit the instructional greenhouses operated jointly by UCSC’s Divisions of Physical and Biological Sciences and Social Sciences, and located on the roof of Thimann Labs. This facility has a botanical collection as well as a lab, library, outdoor seating areas and staff representation to facilitate its appreciation. Open weekdays for free visits from 9 a.m. –3 p.m.

April all days — Self-guided walks through the Arboretum 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day except occasional holidays. Admission is $5 (18+) $2 (6 –17); free (<6).

This month’s diverse activities offer opportunities to broaden your gardening perspectives and gain familiarity with UCSC’s several garden-related programs.

For more information:

Inspiration for Next Year’s Garden

We are now one week into the fall season of the year (the autumnal equinox occurred last Friday. Now is the time to plant in preparation for the new season. In the spring, many gardeners become inspired as garden centers display flowers that have been nitrogen-dosed into bloom, but the fall is best for installing new herbaceous perennials, and woody shrubs and trees. This time is good for such tasks because the plants will have time to establish their roots during the winter months and prepare to burst into bud and bloom in the spring. As this underground growth happens, our seasonal rains (hopefully) will provide needed moisture.

Planting and transplanting involve the pursuit of landscape design visions, which makes the late spring/early fall also a fine season for touring gardens for new ideas.

The Garden Conservatory, a non-profit organization, conducts a national program of one-day garden tours, known as the Open Days program. The tours are organized in local clusters of three-to-five outstanding private gardens. The Conservatory publishes an annual catalog of Open Days events, which are scheduled from April through October.

Last weekend, I visited one of the Open Days clusters in San Jose, and volunteered as the greeter at one of the gardens. There were three gardens on tour: a garden designer’s “intensely private sanctuary” with extensive stone and cast embellishments; a design gem, once featured in Sunset magazine and recently recovered from five feet of flood waters; and an artist’s nicely designed and well-managed collection of palms, cycads, bromeliads, ferns and succulents.

I won’t attempt to describe these gardens in more detail. The direct experience is always best. These three gardens are not larger than standard city lots, and they each presented details that most gardeners could adapt for their own landscapes. They also have interesting and well-grown plants, one of which (shown below) I could not identify:

Photo of Unknown Plant in Container

Mystery Plant

This striking plant was in the designer’s garden, but he was not present when I visited. The flower resembles that of the Firecracker Plant (Cuphea ignea), but the leaves are quite different. I’m searching for its name.

Several design details caught my attention. I particularly liked the use of small black river stones (Mexican pebbles), which are available in several sizes. These can be used loosely as a stone mulch, placed in sand or concrete as decorative pavement made by Custom Rock Formliner, or in other ways as imagination might lead.

Another design detail of interest was the use of small Christmas light strings, woven into hanging metal pieces, e.g., chandelier, empty birdcage, etc. and serving a decorative lighting under a patio roof. Not everyone has a similar situation, but the effect would be attractive in the evening.

Thirdly, I was impressed by the use of very large carved stone, natural stone, and cast concrete pieces in a relatively small landscaped environment. Placing massive blocks requires bold commitment as well as physical effort, but such pieces express permanence with great clarity. Even a single specimen could be a strong addition to a garden, and a vote against more tentative actions.

Visit the Garden Conservatory’s Open Days website < > for more information.

If you are ready to add plants to your garden, a good opportunity is the 5th Annual Native Plant Sale of the Watsonville Wetlands Watch. The sale will be 8:30–1:00 on Saturday, October 7th, at the organization’s resource center at the Pajaro Valley High School campus in Watsonville. The sale supports the group’s education and restoration programs in the Pajaro Valley. For info, visit

Garden Faire Celebrates Sustainable Gardening

The first day of summer, June 21st, approaches rapidly, marking an annual astronomical event (the Summer Solstice), the annual Garden Faire (more about that below), and perhaps a time for gardeners to review their calendar calendars.

For each year since 2005, the Garden Faire has convened in Scotts Valley as a regional celebration of sustainable gardening, water conservation, and healthy living, The program varies a bit each year, but there are certain constants:

First of these is consistent—and greatly appreciated—support of local water providers, specifically the San Lorenzo Valley, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, and Soquel Creek water districts. Their interest in the Garden Faire reflects official reports that close to 50% of residential water use happens outdoors, largely for garden irrigation. That usage is ok when it is done wisely, which generally includes:

  • Using landscape plants that are appropriate for the local environment, particularly plants that are native to California or at least to our summer-dry climate, and avoiding tropical climate plants that require a lot of water; and
  • Providing only the amount of water that plants need, by using drop irrigation, turning off irrigation after a rainy spell (or during!), and directing water to the plants rather than to paved surfaces.

Water conservation makes sense during periods of drought and is always good practice. Drought considerations could return at any time, so we should make wise water usage a matter of habit. Our payoff comes in the form of smaller water bills.

Our water districts also prioritize the protection of the watershed. As we consider the water cycle, we appreciate the importance of keeping synthetic chemicals out of our groundwater. For gardeners, good practice means using only organic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides in the landscape. These products are best for our water supply as well as for the quality of our soils and the wellbeing of all forms wildlife: mammals, birds, insects and, lest we forget, the incredible diversity of organisms that make up the soil food web.

Gardeners and water providers have common interests: practices that are consistent with water conservation and watershed protection are also strongly preferred for garden cultivation.

This year’s theme, “Cultivating Community in Times of Change,” a variation on previous themes, emphasizes timely and interconnected issues: growing plants and society, and the opportunities and challenges of current environmental and political conditions.

The Garden Faire presents messages along these lines in various ways, without preaching. The event includes knowledgeable Main Tent speakers on various aspects of sustainable gardening, in the Main Tent, and Nutrition Tent speakers on healthy foods. The Faire also includes vendors that have been selected for their compatibility with the Faire’s theme, and that offer a variety of garden-related products and services. Community groups also participate in offering information related to sustainable gardening and healthy living.

The occasion also includes musical entertainment and healthy food choices. All these elements combine to provide a pleasant, low-pressure environment to celebrate gardening, learn a bit about sustainability, and enjoy a sunny day among friendly members of the regional community. For more information, visit the Garden Faire’s website.

The Garden Faire is a free-admission event, made possible by local sponsors, modest fees paid by exhibitors, and a hard-working team of volunteers. Still, you will want to be prepared to purchase plants for your garden.


What: The 12the Annual Garden Faire

Who: The Garden Fair, Inc., a non-profit corporation.

Where: Skypark, Scotts Valley

When: 9:00 to 5:00, Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cost: Free admission, free parking.