Friday, October 30, 2009

Hot Stuff in the World of Garden Design – Agaves!

For a special Agave surprise, click here.

The Agavaceae family of plants includes many well-known desert garden plants such as agave, and yucca. The bold, sculptural, symmetrical forms of this family of plants add drama to any garden. Most agaves are native to Mexico and the arid southwestern United States. The most well known, A. americana is called century plant because it was reputed to bloom only once in 100 years, but that's an exaggeration. Actually, it blooms once after at least seven years—although sometimes it can take up to 20 years to bloom. Like the century plant, all agaves are monocarpic: the main plant dies after blooming and setting seed, however most species produce side shoots that will take over and grow to maturity. Extraordinary flower spikes reach for the sky and a few can have a bloom spike up to 20 feet or more!

Will they do well in the Pacific Northwest? Indeed they will, provided they are grown from hardy parent plants found at high elevations in the southwest United States. It is also essential to grow them in full sun and gritty, well-drained soil. If winter rains drain quickly away from the plant, success is assured according to Blooming Nursery. Agaves love the dry summers of the Pacific Northwest and rarely need supplemental irrigation. Drama in the garden, water wise and hardy. Go figure!

Keep an eye out for the hardy agaves described below in Pacific Northwest garden centers, spring 2010.

Agave americana var. protoamericana - The ghostly blue-gray evergreen foliage has pronounced bud imprints on the leaf surface. This exotic architectural plant grows 3-4’ tall and can be used as a focal point. Zone 7

Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’ - The name reflects the fantastic shape of the glossy evergreen leaves, which are concave and heavily toothed. It forms a large clump 24” tall by 36” wide. Zone 7

Agave harvardiana - The stout gray evergreen leaves are armed with marginal teeth and a sharp terminal spine. Over time, it will form a large rosette of foliage 3' tall and wide. Zone 6

Agave montana ‘Baccarat’ - This agave features broad, blue-green evergreen leaves with beautiful silver markings on the back of the leaf, reminiscent of crystal etching. Perfect for desert rock gardens, it grows 24-36” tall by 24-36” wide. Zone 7

Agave parryi - Striking blue-green, sword-like succulent evergreen leaves have long spines. This classic desert garden plant is perfect as a dramatic focal point in the garden, growing 30” tall by 40” wide. Zone 7

Thank you to Blooming Nursery for the photos and information on agaves. Check out their Reference Guide listing 1,800 plants with photos and plant characteristics at It is a useful tool for home gardeners. Blooming Nursery plants are easily recognized by their burgundy pots.

1 comment:

  1. Ya'll are calling my name. It makes me SO HAPPY to see more attention being paid to these fabulous plants. Can't wait to see the Agave americana var. protoamericana in a nursery "near me"