Thirty Days in the Garden: Kalanchoe Thrysiflora

A couple of summers ago, I emptied one of the planting beds and filled it with succulents. I’m always looking for ways to save water. I’d never planted a Kalanchoe thrysiflora, so I didn’t know what to expect. I loved the saucer-sized leaves and the unusual growth pattern, so into the cart they went.

Succulents, July 2020

California just ended the second year of dry conditions. We’re not officially in a drought, but water rationing can’t be far off. I keep adapting. I used to buy annuals each summer and fill pots on the deck. I’ve now replanted all of my containers with succulents. They have the added benefit of growing slowly, so they don’t need translating for several years. That said, it’s time for several of my succulents to find a place to spread out. Pots can only take you so far.

Kalanchoe thrysiflora are informally called paddle plants or pancake plants. The leaves remind me of saucers, with slightly upturned edges and pretty trim.

I didn’t know that the plant would bolt after it flowered, so imagine my surprise when the Kalanchoe tripled in size. I had to stake the plant over the winter to keep it from toppling. The plants unique qualities are enchanting. I learned today that I can propagate more.

Gorgeous red and yellow leaves

Over the weekend I noticed tiny florets or offsets along the stem of the plants. These can be propagated as well according to gardening know-how, though I’ll need to read more on this technique. You can cut the leaves, allow them to scar, then plant. I’m not sure how to remove the offset, though I’m curious to try.

Tiny offset on the mature plant

What do you think? Would you grow this unusual plant in your garden or a sunny window? I’m rather smitten.

Three’s A Charm: San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

On the first day of Spring this year I joined my friend Candace for the annual San Francisco Flower & Garden Show. We’ve decided that after attending for three years running, it’s officially a tradition. This year’s theme: Mother Nature Going Wild

Tumble leaf 4

Tumble Leaf No 4 Sculpture

The display gardens are the heart and soul of this show and they are really something to behold. Although they aren’t all necessarily my style, I appreciate the thought that goes into each one. It takes tremendous time and energy to install the garden displays in the middle of an indoor event center. They haul in plants, trees, soil and structures and in many cases paving stones, gravel and tile.


As you walk through each one, it’s fun to imagine what it might be like in the ‘real’ world.

There were fewer gardens then in past years with many of them focused on succulents or low-water use gardens. I also spoke with a gentlemen who designs a lot of water features  and learned that a properly installed water feature uses less water than drought tolerant plants. Of course flowing water attracts all sorts of birds and beneficial insects and is a key component of a healthy garden. Who doesn’t want a garden filled with butterflies, birds and bees? I’ve already designed one…in my head anyway.

Here are three of my favorites:

2015 garden show where the wild things are

Transformation: Hugelkultur Technique Garden Designer: Nathan Beeck and Juan Chavez Garden Creators: Clearwater Design

Transformation is based on the landscape elements of Hugelkultur

“using landscape waste into new organically rich soil and an underground sponge that holds moisture and encourages the development of a mycorrhizal web of life. – Program Statement

2015 garden show growing an artful garden

Growing an Artful Garden, Garden Designer: Max & Joanne Nagaele Garden Creator: Foothill Design

Growing an Artful Garden was full of whimsy and charm. We’re sitting at a table with a garden cake made of greenery. If you look closely you’ll see a slice. The program statements says:

The vibe is serendipity. The ornamental garden, vegetable garden and the vintage potting shed provides the viewer with a vibrant tableau.

Don’t you want to stay awhile?

2015 garden show waterfall

Beauty Gone Wild Garden Designer: Benjamin Goulart Garden Creators: Goulart Designs

Beauty Gone Wild’s design features

Gaia, the great mother of all: the primal Greek Mother Goddess, creator and giver of birth to the Earth and the Universe. She is the personification of nature itself, and we are creating her with nature itself in our garden.

I fell in love with this gorgeous fountain, and haven’t stopped thinking about it for a week. The soothing flow of water held me captive.

In addition to the garden displays, there are two other pavilion halls housing plants, trees and seeds for sale. A couple of hobbyist groups showed off Bonsai plants that were upwards of fifty years old. If those plants could talk!

There were plenty of gadgets for sale too, but nothing I couldn’t live without. We did leave with several bags of freshly made kettle and caramel corn, and put a serious dent in one of the bags during the 45 minute ride home. Yum!

Have you ever been to a garden show? If not, I highly recommend it.

Succulents ♥ Heat

While I’m not a fan of the heat, the succulents sure are. Amazingly, I’m only watering them about every ten days. They look refreshed, don’t they?

Senecio Vitalis

Senecio Vitalis

Panda Plant ‘Kalanchoe tomentosa’ from Madagascar

Panda Plant ‘Kalanchoe tomentosa’ from Madagascar

assorted succulents

Echeveria agavoides *  Echeveria peacockii * Rainbow Elephant Bush Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’

A certain feline enjoys rubbing his fluffy white cheeks along the edge of the pot. He’s probably about to whisper “how do you manage to look so good in this heat?”

mouse smells succulents

Remember to stop and smell the flowers

Felis catus

Felis catus

Thankfully,the high today is only 88 °F (31 °C ). It’s cooler still on Saturday which is such a relief. Our Little Free Library dedication is tomorrow at 3:00 so if you are in the area, please join us.

Little Free Library

Little Free Library surrounded by roses and sweet peas

Have a terrific weekend.

Paradigm Shift: Gardening in a Drought

Thomas Kuhn used the duck-rabbit optical illusion to demonstrate the way in which a paradigm shift could cause one to see the same information in an entirely different way. Source, Wikipedia


Used to illustrate a paradigm shift. Do you see the duck? The rabbit? Both?

I’m applying those principles to my garden.  Instead of simply planting what I like year after year, I’m now thinking about water conservation first, then figuring out from there what to plant.  This isn’t a new reality for our semi-arid climate.  In an average year, our rainfall is a mere 14 to 18 inches (35 to 38 cm).

Living in a developed country, we take water for granted.  We open a faucet and water flows: fresh, safe and abundant.  Actually, the first two are correct, but as we face year two of a drought, further complicated by an unseasonably warm winter and spring, abundant may no longer be the case.

We’re making incremental steps to reduce our water usage. While these changes are small and, forgive the cliché, a mere drop in the bucket, I think they’re worth doing.

Last week we finished removing the lawn from the sidewalk strip.  This allowed us to cap off several sprinkler heads, and divert a smaller amount of water to one raised flower bed.

Over the weekend, I reduced the number of water-thirsty pots by half, then planted what remained with succulents. Native to warm, dry climates, succulents can go days without a drink.

Instead of lavender, drought-tolerant Mexican Bush Sage lines the deck.

There are a number of things you can do to improve water efficiency, but we’re already doing them:

  • Watering in the early morning
  • Use of a drip-irrigation system, delivering measured water directly to the source to avoid run off and rapid evaporation.
  • Use of native plants
  • Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil

The next logical  step is to replace the lawn.  Once a status symbol of the rich, water-thirsty lawns eventually found their way into suburban gardens.  I hope their popularity is on the way out.

Major changes are time-consuming and costly, so we are making our changes  incrementally.

Here’s what we planted:

Senecio Vitalis

Senecio Vitalis

Panda Plant Kalanchoe tomentosa

Panda Plant ‘Kalanchoe tomentosa’ from Madagascar

assorted succulents
Left, Echeveria agavoides * Upper right, Echeveria peacockii * Lower right, Rainbow Elephant Bush Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’

The other part of the water equation is indoor use. I’ve ordered a free water audit through the City of San Jose. They read your water meter, check for leaks, and determine water flow from sinks, showers and toilets. They make suggestions for laundry and dishwasher efficiency, shower duration, etc. They’ll audit our garden use as well. I’ll report back when they complete our audit next week.

Have you ever made a paradigm shift? Please let me know in the comments below.

Three Garden Projects, All in a Row

Hurray for Nick Timmermann!  Nick completed all three garden projects for me over the past two days.

You may remember that I managed to get most of the dead hardenbergia vine pulled, but had to stop at the roots. The same went for my attempt at removing the grass in the sidewalk strip. My back and neck can no longer handle that kind of heavy digging.

The third project on the list was to remove the depleted lavender (thanks to an early frost) and replace it with Mexican Bush Sage. I went to four nurseries and garden centers over the past two weeks looking for the plants without success.  Central Wholesale Nursery said they were seeing a shortage of plants. At the start of the recession, growers reduced production.  Now that people are buying again, they’re having trouble keeping up with the demand. Nick went back this week and they just got them in!

I’ve been waiting to get the front garden rehabbed before our Little Free Library dedication. Now I can move ahead.

Here’s Nick’s handy work, starting with my attempt at digging up the grass, left, and the completed garden strip, upper right:

Curb garden

Colorful pebbles, stepping-stones and thyme replace the 18-year-old, water-guzzling lawn

I’m trying to reduce my water use and getting rid of the lawn in the sidewalk strip was a first step. We replaced it with tiny pebbles and drought tolerant thyme, capping off several sprinkler heads in the process.

sage replaces lavender

Out with the old, in with the new

wooly thyme

Wooly thyme planted between the rocks

Colored pebbles and slate stepping stones

Colored pebbles and slate stepping-stones

I loved the lavender and was sorry to see it go. That said, here was another opportunity to reduce water usage. The Mexican Bush Sage prefers dry conditions and needs almost no water once established. These plants will fill the space within a season. Meanwhile, I’ll put in some sunflower seeds and mulch and see if I can outsmart the squirrels.

As the daffodils slowly fade, the perennials are taking over.  I’m loving all that color.  Here are a few closeups:

red buckwheat

Red Buckwheat

snapdragons and daffodils

Snapdragons and daffodils


Scabiosa (it’s prettier than it sounds)

I ♥ flowers. Don’t you?