Tom Carwin, on gardening | Special Garden Items – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Tom Carwin, on gardening |  Special Garden Items – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Itoh Peony 'Bartzilla' (Courtesy of Tom Carwin)

A recent column featured Tulipa 'Peer 'Gynt' which blooms annually in my garden. I acquired “Peer Gynt” in 1991, during a visit to the Keukenhof Botanical Gardens, in the Netherlands.

This column included a faded rendition of this lavender, so today's photo gallery includes a better 5-year-old example of 'Peer Gynt' and the other plants mentioned today.

This uncommon variety does not depend on the same winter cold that other tulips do. According to the internet, this item is no longer available.

So, to enjoy tulips in your garden, you can order bulbs through the mail by mid-November and refrigerate them at 55 degrees or lower before planting them in January. Some mail-order nurseries offer pre-chilled tulip bulbs, so you can look for such offers.

This unusual lavender encourages exploration of other unusual varieties that will succeed in gardens in the temperate climate of the Monterey Bay area.


Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are another desirable plant that requires winter coolness. Gardeners who enjoyed lilacs in cool-weather zones (such as Zones 3-7) and later moved to a temperate climate such as the Monterey Bay area (Zone 9) may miss lilacs' beauty and unique scent.

Fortunately, plant breeders have found a solution! For about 50 years, hybridizers at Descanso Gardens in Southern California have developed many varieties that grow and thrive well in temperate climates. My garden includes 'Angel White', 'California Rose' and 'Lavender Lady'.

These hybrids grow 6 to 12 feet tall, which is easier to manage than species that can reach 20 feet. Lilacs bloom in the second year so cut them back immediately after flowering to allow next year's flowers to develop.

fruit garden

The Orchidaceae family is a large plant family, with 28,000 currently accepted species in 763 genera. This family includes many diverse plants that are very attractive to gardeners and are often difficult to grow.

Some gardeners have success growing orchids indoors, with regular attention to light, humidity, temperature and fertilizer levels. For more information, visit the American Orchid Society's website ( and search for “Orchid Care.”

These planting requirements can be time consuming and easily overlooked (for some gardeners). It can take dedication to grow orchids.

Fortunately, the wide diversity of the orchid family of plants includes a species that grows easily in a garden in a temperate climate. Ground Chinese orchid (Bletilla striata), also called hyacinth orchid, for its gorgeous lavender flowers.

This plant is suitable for medium (clay) well-drained soil. It grows in semi-shade and prefers moist soil. It blooms from May to June and spreads slowly over time.


Hosta, or Plantain Lily, is an Asian genus of hardy, long-lived perennials with attractive foliage, which grow in shady garden places. Hostas are available in a wide and ever-increasing range of cultivars, typically growing 1 to 3 feet in height and width, although smaller and larger cultivars are also available. Its leaves can be variegated in white, lime green, blue and green, with a variety of shapes ranging from smooth and narrow to ribbed and heart-shaped. They also produce beautiful flowers from summer to fall, and support hummingbirds and other pollinators.

Overall, these are very desirable plants for the shade garden.

However, hostas have a downside: they are very attractive to slugs and snails. Chewed leaves are significantly less attractive than healthy, untouched foliage.

There is a two-part strategy for including snail-resistant hostas in your shade garden.

The first step is to choose plants with thick leaves, which are difficult for slugs and snails to chew. Some hosta cultivars recommended for snail resistance include 'Halcyon', 'First Frost', 'Krossa Regal', 'June' and 'Sum & Substance'. Although these things are worth trying, success may depend on the voraciousness of your garden snails and other environmental conditions. There are many other recommendations online for snail-resistant hostas as well.

The second step is regular use of snail bait as a backup plan. A good option is Sluggo, which is based on iron phosphate, which occurs naturally in soil.

There are several other ways to defend against slugs and snails: night patrols, copper rings, feathered predators (chickens or ducks), etc. Hosta lovers should be prepared.


Peonies are desirable plants with attractive white, pink or red flowers (and a few yellow varieties), ranging across a wide range of hues. The genus Paeonia includes two groups: herbaceous peonies, which die back in winter, and tree peonies, which are deciduous in winter but retain their woody stems.

Herbaceous and tree peonies grow well in zones 3-8, but do not thrive in temperate zone 9 of the Monterey Bay area. However, there are varieties of peonies that are well suited for gardens in the Monterey Bay area.

These are Itoh peonies, developed by Japanese botanist Dr. Toichi Ito, who was the first to successfully create a cross hybrid of herbaceous and tree peonies. He accomplished this feat in 1948 but died in 1956 before seeing his seedlings reach full size and produce flowers.

His plants were nurtured by his family, and they flowered in 1964. With the permission of the Ito family, American botanist Louis Smirno brought the plants to the United States and patented four Ito hybrids with yellow flowers.

Other plant breeders replicated Ito's techniques and produced many new hybrids in yellow and other colors.

For more information about Itoh peonies, visit the American Peony Society website ( and click on “Learn” and “Itoh Peony.”

These are great plants for Monterey Bay area gardens. Highly rated varieties include 'Garden Treasure' and 'Bartzella', both of which have received Gold Medals and Awards of Landscape Merit.

Fruit trees

Monterey Bay area parks and nurseries feature many types of fruit trees. They are popular and successful plants.

However, we should know that some fruit trees are not well suited to the temperate climate of the local area. Some require a warmer environment, others require long periods of winter cold.

Several years ago, when I was first motivated to add fruit trees to my new garden, my Internet search led me to a nursery in the Midwest. I selected a few apple and pear trees, received the young plants and installed them in my garden. After a few years, it grew well but did not produce any fruits. I learned that they are Midwestern varieties that require a cold period that does not occur in my garden.

One exception: The Cox Orange Pippin cultivar produced some fruit and continues to grow in my garden. This is an antique cultivar that originated in England around 1825. This plant is recommended for zone 8 or lower, so it does not thrive at its best in my garden in zone 9.

It's time to start over. I have since grown a Fuji, Gala and a grafted apple tree of multiple varieties. These are all in good condition.

If you want to add fruit trees to your garden, check their suitability by visiting the California Rare Fruit Growers website ( and searching for “low chill.” This research will result in a detailed list of fruit tree varieties that may succeed in a temperate climate garden.

The CRFG Fruit List, currently under development, is a new and expanded list of cultural data for over 700 individual fruits.

There are many interesting fruit trees that you can include in your garden. To succeed, be sure to check the suitability of the plant you like.

Tom Carwin is a past president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, a past president and life member of the Cactus and Succulents Society of the Monterey Bay Area, and a UC Santa Cruz Life Master Gardener (certified 1999-2009). He is now a board member of the Santa Cruz Lodge Association, and active with the Pacific Horticultural Society. To see photos from his garden For garden training information and the On Gardening column archive, visit for past columns or visit and search “Karwin” for more recent columns. Email comments or questions to

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