Tom Karwin, On Gardening | Landscaping guidelines  – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Take care of your garden

If you are moving into a new residence and need to create your own landscape, or if you need inspiration to redesign the landscape in your existing residence, there are tons of options to consider.

In such situations, some basic guidelines can help. This column recommends useful guidelines as an early introduction to residential landscaping. This activity has been the subject of several books and trainings, so this column is humbly offered.

These guidelines were inspired by the thoughts of three skilled designers – Rebecca Sweet, Catherine Cooke, and Stacie Crooks – who contributed to a recent article in Fine Gardening magazine. This column reflects, interprets and complements your ideas.

When tackling a large landscaping project, Cooke recommends identifying what is not working, examining light patterns and view landscapes, and anticipating the desired traffic patterns within the landscape as well as between the landscape and the residence.

These thoughts relate to the practical importance of starting a landscape project with the harsh landscape. Depending on the terrain, the condition of the site, and the owner’s visions and activity patterns, the hardscape plan may have several components.

Crooks emphasizes three components. First, add generously sized paths. If you have enough space, provide 5 foot paths for two people walking in the yard and 3 foot paths for maintenance.

Other notices call for paths that are at least four feet wide and allow for minimal maintenance paths. To plan these dimensions, you need to envision the garden viewer’s perspective and anticipate maintenance access requirements. Ideally, the combination of viewing and maintenance paths should provide easy access to garden beds for planting, pruning, weeding, and other tasks. As a rule, garden beds should not be deeper than a meter and be as long as desired.

Crooks also recommends planning irrigation systems as part of the hardscape design. Hand watering can be easier if the irrigation system includes hose taps strategically placed to avoid dragging long hoses through the garden.

Alternatively, the landscape plan could include a comprehensive drip irrigation system with defined zones, valves and control stations. This planning could require that the gardener study irrigation systems or rely on a qualified counselor.

When an extensive irrigation system is required, an “as-built” diagram is very useful for operating, maintaining, and modifying the system.

Crooks also offers an interesting guideline for setting up an outdoor living space in the countryside. She recommends placing the outside edge of a patio or deck a distance equal to the height of the ridge line of the house. For example, a typical one-story residence is 15 to 17 feet high. The width of the outside space should be planned to suit the homeowner’s intended uses.

After addressing hardscape issues, the landscaper is ready to begin plant selection. Hardscape planning could often be changed in the future with significant effort and expense, while plant selection can be viewed as an evolving experiment. Both aspects of landscaping have their own appeal, sometimes for different members of the design team.

Crooks suggests planting two-thirds of the garden with evergreen plants, including conifers and evergreen deciduous trees. This is an interesting rule of thumb that coincides with some designers’ urge to focus more on foliage than flowers. All gardeners enjoy colorful, variable, and seasonal blooms, but the various shades and shapes of the deciduous plants provide an important dimension to the discovery and appreciation of garden aesthetics.

Many deciduous plants are naturally deciduous, so evergreen plants keep people interested all year round. Remember that conifers drop their needles, and evergreen deciduous trees (e.g. camellias) often drop their leaves in spring. In both cases. Evergreen plants create space for new growth.

In another aspect of plant selection, Sweet recommends highlighting color choices and calls for the use of a color wheel for planning complementary, analog, or split complementary color schemes. This may seem like a nerd’s approach to garden design, but being color conscious when choosing plants can result in pleasant vignettes and wider views within the landscape.

Another angle for plant selection is a thematic orientation that I recommended in the previous columns. By deciding on one of many possible topics for the entire garden or for individual garden beds, the gardener has a good justification or plant selection and a targeted strategy for considering plants in the garden center or in the mail order catalog.

Enrich your garden days

For a small, large, or medium-sized garden, landscaping can be a creative and satisfying exercise, especially if the designer uses well-established guidelines.

There are at least as many guidelines as there are garden designers. So don’t think that you need to understand all of the possible guidelines before you begin. Do your research, then dive in. Your garden will ultimately reflect your own aesthetic point of view as it should be.

Expand your gardening knowledge

This column comes from an article in the June 2021 issue of Fine Gardening magazine that featured helpful photos. Look for it in your local library or bookstore.

For information on color wheels, a Google search for “color wheels” yields multiple wheels based on nature’s color spectrum, as well as various color schemes that apply to both artistic media and gardens.

There are many sources of information about watering your garden. An online resource is Irrigation equipment suppliers can also provide helpful information. Immerse yourself in the flow of information by Googling “garden irrigation systems”.

Here are some upcoming gardening webinars:

The Berkeley UC Botanical Garden presents “Rare Butterflies of the Garden” on Sunday at 11 am. Caterpillar Lady Sal Levinson and Butterfly Guy Sarab Seth present a slide show about butterflies rarely seen in the UC Botanical Garden.

Berkeley UC Botanical Garden will also showcase Saving Rare Plants of California on April 13th at 1:00 pm. Garden curator Holly Forbes will describe how the garden is involved in efforts to conserve flora in California.

To register for one of these free events, visit

If you’re interested in fruit trees, visit the California Rare Fruit Growers’ Monterey Bay chapter’s blog. In the home garden you will find interesting articles on aspects of growing various fruit trees. This could be a new dimension to your gardening work!

Stay safe and enjoy your garden.

Tom Karwin is a past president of the Friends of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, and a lifelong UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999-2009). Today he is a board member and garden trainer of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To view daily photos from his garden, visit Visit to search an archive of previous On Gardening columns.

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