Tom Karwin, On Gardening | Garden development – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Rainy days are welcomed by our plants (and weeds) and gardeners who care about the continued development of their gardens.

In today’s column, we begin our review of the garden development process as an introduction to this vast topic. We will follow up in a future column.

Today’s pictures are examples of some categories of elements to include in your garden design. Plant categories include groundcovers, ornamental grasses, small shrubs, and small trees. An example of hardscape is the decoration of passageways.

A small shrub helps in the middle of big news. Examples of these from Australia include coast rosemary (Westringia fruticosa “Morning Light”) and river wattle (Acacia congener “Cousin Itt”) in the background. (Tom Curwin)

Your interest may focus on partial or total improvements to your garden. Although the basic process is the same in both cases, the impact of the project will vary depending on the size of the target area.

Let’s walk through the process step by step. The order can be changed, but the overall process should be kept in mind as you perform the steps.

prepare the drawing

The process begins with a rough measurement drawing of the area to be developed. A 25 foot tape measure will help you measure the boundaries of your area of ​​interest.

Perhaps you are familiar with the area and don’t need photos. Still, even a small bed should be created. The usefulness of drawings increases as the area of ​​the project grows.

add notation

Drawings should include notes on dimensions, elevation changes, drainage issues, compass orientation, full sun/partial sun/full shade, and natural rock formations.

Inventory of existing plants

First, identify plants that are no longer needed in the area for some reason. Removal targets include trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, ground cover and lawns. They may be difficult to maintain, unhealthy or dead, no longer appealing to you, or simply don’t fit your vision of a garden.

Turfgrass (if properly cared for) is increasingly seen as a maintenance burden, a waste of water, a manure pit, and a monoculture unfriendly to wildlife. They are often subject to removal.

Many gardeners are reluctant to remove living plants, but it is imperative that you act decisively by removing plants you don’t need or want. It’s about creating space for design. Delete now to clear the space for the next step.

After listing the plants to be deleted, your inventory will include the existing plants you want to keep. These should be plants that you enjoy and hopefully are healthy and easy to manage.

A ground cover in front of a garden bed adds interest without blocking other plants. An example of this is wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), native to California.  (Tom Curwin)
A ground cover in front of a garden bed adds interest without blocking other plants. An example of this is wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), native to California. (Tom Curwin)

The ‘keeper’ inventory should include the botanical and common names of the plants and notes on their maintenance. A garden renovation project may involve existing plants that need to be pruned, divided, or moved. These actions should be pursued during dormancy.

Inventory of existing structures

List existing structures in the development area such as buildings, patios, walls, hardscapes and ponds. As with existing plants, identify structures that are no longer needed or needed or (possibly) do not fit into the emerging vision. deep inside your heart.

Again, it may seem difficult, expensive, and wasteful to remove an existing structure, but the structure is in poor condition, difficult to maintain, the wrong size, or in the wrong location. If so, mark it for removal, modification, or transfer. Remove rejects and make changes to the ‘keeper’ structure later, as with existing plants.

plan hardscape

After these preparatory steps, plan any changes or additions to your hardscape. In practice, it’s easier to build the hardscape before adding plants. It is good practice to protect, relocate, or store retained plants near hardscape construction activities. If you are already planning to relocate your existing plant, do so before construction begins. Consider lifting and storing moving plants in a container during hardscape work.

If your project involves both relocating existing structures and installing new structures, you can choose the order of work. In general, I prefer to complete the necessary transfers first.

Depending on your garden development vision, project size, time and resources, hardscape work can be varied and extensive. For example, it could include walls, garden sheds, ponds, water features, patios, and more. While it is not possible to cover all such possibilities in this column, it is recommended that you develop hardscapes before adding plants to your garden.Hardscapes are a popular component in garden development projects. Focus on the footpath.

plan the overall layout

A garden layout includes garden beds, structures, and paths.

When deciding on a garden bed, consider formal designs with geometrically shaped beds or informal designs with freeform beds. If the bed is more than 4 feet wide, maintenance pathways must be included (explained below).

Consider elevation changes. If your property has natural hills and slopes, you may need to incorporate those features into your garden design. If your property is basically flat, you can include a mound bed for a nicer look.

Common garden layouts include narrow beds on the sides of buildings and patios, adjoining walkways, and along perimeter fences and walls. Your tastes may lean toward such narrow beds, but consider other less common options as well.

A garden layout can include various features aimed at the installation of current or future plants. Examples include tall plants to compose borrowed landscapes, tall plants to block unattractive landscapes, cutting gardens, and vegetable gardens.

The layout may also include structures including garden utility sheds and greenhouses, compost storage areas, waste bins, plant storage, children’s play areas, animal enclosures, and more.

Route planning, installation

Think of two types of trails: walking trails and garden tending trails.

The walking paths are intended for gardeners and visitors to enjoy the garden as a whole and get a closer look at individual plants. Paths must start and end at the appropriate places. For example, if your layout includes a patio at the back of your residence, the walkway might start and end on the patio.

Walkways should be 4 feet wide, especially for two people walking together. There are many surface options such as decomposed granite, brick or paving stones, stone and poured concrete. A low-cost option, decomposed granite can be made effectively weed resistant by applying path stabilizers (available from Hardware or Landscape Supply Services).

Walking trails offer opportunities for creativity. Here is an example of a handmade path decoration surrounded by a 4 foot circle by the tree rings.  (Tom Curwin)
Walking trails offer opportunities for creativity. Here is an example of a handmade path decoration surrounded by a 4 foot circle by the tree rings. (Tom Curwin)

The walking path should include a edging to separate it from the garden bed. There are several edging options to consider such as bender board or plastic equivalent, metal edging, stone, brick, or flagstone. Search the Internet for ‘garden border ideas’ to explore the possibilities.

Actual access to plants for cultivation, which may be required frequently or seasonally, requires maintenance pathways. These paths should be wide enough to allow the gardener to move between plants, and can be made of paving stones, other materials, or simply unpaved.

Out of space in this column. We will explore garden development further in future columns. On the other hand, please make good use of the current season (especially the rainy season), review the situation of your garden, and consider creating a garden. It can be a fun creative exercise that leads to a rewarding and engaging personal display of nature.

Enjoy your garden!

Tom Karwin is Past President of the Friends of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the Monterey Bay Iris Society and Past President and Life Member of Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Co. Juicy Society, and Lifetime UC Master Gardener (certified 1999–2009). He is currently on the board of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society and active in the Pacific Horticultural Society. To see daily photos from his garden visit
566511763375123/. For garden coaching information and an archive of previous On Gardening columns, visit

A small tree provides height to the garden. Fruit trees are popular, but an example of this is the barren olive (Olea europaea). "majestic beauty").  (Tom Curwin)
A small tree provides height to the garden. Fruit trees are popular, but an example of this is the fruitless olive (Olea europaea “Majestic Beauty”). (Tom Curwin)

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