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agave - Any of numerous plants of the genus Agave, native to hot, dry regions of the New World and having basal rosettes of tough, sword-shaped, often spiny-margined leaves. Agaves are grown for ornament, fiber, and food. Also called century plant.
As a photographer, I have always been drawn to the unique forms and textures of the Agave clan. For example, the image above, taken in the Arizona desert just outside of Sedona, has long been a personal favorite of mine. I am not sure which form of Agave is pictured, but the bold architecture and beautiful color of the plant set against the glowing sandstone made this simple picture a major source of personal inspiration. Sometimes nature plants an idea in a gardener that, once rooted, can't be shaken. The photograph above was taken in the mid-ninties, but it wasn't until I moved to my current garden in the year 2000 that I had the opportunity to act on my interest in the Agave family. When we moved to our new home, I was intent on creating low maintenance garden spaces that required very little in the way of water. Our front yard offered a large sunny area to experiment with, and thanks to the addition of tremendous amounts of decomposed granite, we were able to convert our heavy clay soil into a setting that was appropriate for desert species.
The photographs below, are largely a pictoral
record of our circular "Agave beds." We also grow Agaves in containers and in
our backyard and you will find photographs of those as well. I wish to thank the
folks at Yucca-do Nursery for the help and
inspiration that they have provided me as I have trekked "the way of the Woody
Lily." I would also like to personally endorse Mary and Gary Irish's book
Yuccas, and Related Plants an excellent resource for the prickly prone. The
following links take you to articles that I have written about my
My Agave Addiction
The Agave Addict, Part 2
The Agave Addict, Part 3
This photo, from the Spring of 2004, shows the largest of our Agave beds. Since this time we have removed the Bulbine (with the orangey flowers) to open up the view of the Agaves and Hesperaloes. Agave schidigera is planted into some holes in the large rock in the foreground.
This is another view of the same bed just a few months later. (This photo was taken from our roof.) The Giant Hesperaloe and Yellor Hespraloes are in full bloom.
This is Agave bovicornuta, 'Cow's Horn Agave.' One of my favorites, but borderline cold-hardy in our climate (Zone 8b. ) It is the largest Agave in the bed pictured above. I have seen older specimens of this plant get nearly five feet tall. Two winters ago it sustained some freeze damage after an ice storm that dipped temperatures in the low twenties (-5 Centigrade) and stayed below freezing for nearly two days.
A close-up of Agave bovicornuta showing the fearsome teeth and beautiful leaf imprints.
The same plant in late summer of 2004.
This is Agave parryii, a very cold-hardy and compact plant that grows to be about two feet tall. I love the tight form of this one. This plant is in the same bed pictured above. Behind it you see Agave schidigera, frequently sold as Agave 'Durango Delight.'
A close-up of the same Agave parryii under different lighting conditions.
This is yet another plant from the same bed, Agave victoria reginae, one of the most compact and cold-hardy of the Agaves. This plant is only about six to eight inches tall. There are now several of these in our large circular bed. I have seen pictues of these used in mass plantings and the effect is very striking.
This shot was taken in early 2003 and shows the newly planted 'second circle' of Agaves. The larger first circle is in the foreground. (There are now four circular beds in this area all planted with Agaves and related plants, see picture below.)
In June of 2003 we completed all four of our circular Agave beds.
This is a close-up of the second circle showing Agave lophantha in the upper left, Agave weberi in the upper right, and three Yucca pallida in the foreground. The flower is Angelita Daisy, Hymenoxys acaulis. This picture is from late 2003.
The same bed seen from our roof in the Spring of 2004.
Late summer 2004. I now call this my "blue bed." All of the plants have grown dramatically and theAgave weberi is now the largest in our collection.
Agave lophantha (2003. )This is a particularly glaucous, or blue, version of this plant. Here in Austin, most of the lophanthas that you see are much greener.
A close-up of Agave lophantha. I love the colors in this shot! These close-up views are one of the reasons I am so crazy about Agaves, from a distance they have striking architecure, up-close they look like works of art.
The third circle bed that we created features a very simple planting with Agave bracteosa on the left, a gray leafed version of Agave webberi in the center and Agave americana 'Baby Blue' on the right. This image is of the just completed bed in June of 2003.
Less than one year later and the same plants have grown significantly.
A close-up of the newly planted Agave bracteosa or 'Squid Agave.' This plant prefers light shade and pups out quite aggressively.
A close-up of the newly planted gray-leafed weberi. The foliage of the weberi looks like ultra-suede. This plant can grow as tall as six feet.
The 'Baby Blue' Agave americana. This is a compact form of the familiar 'Century Plant' that most Austin area gardeners think of when they think of Agaves. As you can see, this one has "pupped out" very nicely. I purchased this plant locally at Barton Springs Nursery which propagated and named this selection. This image is from September 2004.
This is a small bed in our backyard and was the first of our un-irrigated Agave beds. It is a small rectangular planting featuring a hybrid Agave on the left (Agave havardiana x ?) and Agave schindigera on the right. A Giant Red Yucca, Hesperaloe funifera, is at the center-rear. 2002.
The same bed at the beginning of 2003. Rosemary is partly obscuring the Agave schindigera. That is Banana Yucca, Yucca baccata, in the white container.
A close-up of the hybrid Agave and Agave schindigera. The hybrid was sold as havardiana but several Agave experts who have seen it feel certain that it is a cross between havardiana and some other species. Agaves are apparently notorious for casual inter-breeding. You can clearly see the filaments or hairs of the Agave schindigera in this shot. It reminds me that Agaves were often used by Native Americans for the fibers that could be harvested from their dried leaves. These would be woven into ropes and for other purposes.
The Agave pictured here, in our "conversation room," is another hybrid. I think this one is a cross between Agave parryii and, I believe, Agave neo-mexicana. It is shown planted with Lavender, Dianthus, Bulbine, Bluebonnets and Thyme. Our conversation room is a raised bed that surrounds a pair of benches that face one another. I consider it to be the very heart of our garden.
A close-up of the hybrid Agave with Bulbine and Lavender.
Another detail from our conversation room, picturing two grassy looking plants - Nolina texana, or "Bear Grass," on the left, and Agave stricta on the right. The Nolina is actually a relative of the Agaves. Agave stricta has round pencil-thin foliage with extremely sharp pointed tips. It is also know as "Hedgehog Agave. " This is a compact form of stricta called "La Duffa." This plant may require some protection if the temperatures go below 25 degrees fahrenheit. Last winter it had no problems with our very mild cold season. It bloomed in 2004 sending up a beautiful seven foot flower spike with orange blooms. Unlike many Agaves, which collapse after blooming, there were no adverse affects to this plant.
This is Yucca harrimaniae, or Harriman Yucca. A very compact little plant that is only six inches tall. This is a native of the desert Southwest and I fell in love with its tight form and and pronounced hairs the moment I saw it. I am clueless as to how tall it will grow, so if you know, please get in touch. It is planted at the entrance of our conversation room.
One of my favorite Agaves, and one of the most useful for Central Texas gardens, this is Agave ferdinand-regis, now often commonly referred to as "Shark Skin Agave." (Also sold as Agave fernandi-regis.) This is a very cold hardy plant with a great compact form. We have several planted in both our front and back garden, this one is in the conversation room.
This is a form of Agave lophantha that a friend gave me. Notice the slight undulation of the blades, very cool. It came from Yucca-do Nursery and is listed as Agave lophantha caerula.
This is Agave desmettiana variegata, a cold sensitive form that we move to shelter during the winter. Apparently, this is an "agricultural" Agave and was selected by Meso-Americans as a crop plant. It is only found in association with ruin sites in Mexico.
Agave americana 'medio-picta." Another tender plant here in Austin. I am crazy about the bold varigation of this form.
I love the way these plants look when set against the blue glaze of these Vietnamese pots.
This is an Agave weberi from a planting along the River Walk in San Antonio.
An amazing Agave Weberi fron the garden of Austin landscape designer, Nancy Webber (no relation!)
Agave angustifolia v. marginata on the grounds of Presidio La Bahia in Goliad, Texas.
Agave Related Links
The Agaves Pages by Jan Kolendo - from Great Britain, an excellent resource with hundreds of photographs of Agaves in garden and natural settings.
The Agave Page - Part of an extensive website by another British gardener, R.J. Hodgkiss.
Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants - A Gardener's Guide By Mary Irish and Gary Irish, an excellent book for Agave enthusiasts.
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