The Agave Addict, Part Three: In the Temple with the Goddess
by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden
I have met the Goddess and she approves… of my Agave addiction that is. The Goddess in question is author, Mary Irish, whose book, Agaves, Yuccas and Related Plants: A Gardener's Guide is the bible of the prickly prone. Meeting Mary confirmed all of my beliefs in the inherent rightness of my cause / habit. Now when I make my daily ablutions to Tepoztécal, the Aztec god of Agave by-product induced euphoria (aka tequila, mezcal, and pulque) I don’t worry about the doubting Thomas on my shoulder who is always nagging me about my devotion to the Agave aggregate.
Mary was in town recently to be a guest on Central Texas Gardener, the program I host for KLRU-TV. When she approached the studio doors my heart was beating faster than Elvis’s after one of his fried peanut butter & amphetamine sandwiches. Would she recognize my loyalty? Would I be accepted into the brotherhood? I shouldn’t have worried. Mary immediately sensed that I was a true believer and our interview was a great success.
We laughed as we recounted our favorite Agave stories and nodded approvingly as we shared our admiration for the sculptural forms, strong colors, diverse sizes, and rugged durability of the Agave clan. When I told Mary that I had nearly thirty species of Agave in my garden she gasped at the depth of my commitment. I smiled inwardly, out of many, I had found the one (plant family that is.)
Since my last installment in the Agave Addiction series, I have added another six or eight species to my collection. Of these, the one with the coolest story is Agave desmettiana. There is no common name for this beautiful plant, but I’d like to dub it “Agave of the Ancients” because, according to Carl Schoenfeld of Yucca-do Nursery, it is only found growing in association with pre-Columbian archeological sites. Apparently, the Aztecs and their predecessors used this plant as a garden centerpiece! I am using a variegated form of Agave desmettiana with graceful, arching green leaves that are edged with thin gold stripes. I grow mine in a container since it may need to be protected in a cold winter. It grows to about three or four feet tall with an equal spread.
Agave celsii is another of my new acquisitions. This is a compact plant that grows only two feet tall and performs well in the shade, bringing the strong architecture that Agaves are noted for to the darker corners of our gardens. There are several forms of Agave celsii, including some with pale silver foliage. Mine comes from Yucca-do Nursery and is a bright apple-green. Schoenfeld, a nationally respected plant collector and purveyor, calls this one his favorite Agave of them all.
Agave bracteosa is, perhaps, the most unusual looking of all my Agaves. Some people have started to call it “squid Agave” because of its tentacle like foliage. This species has no spines whatsoever and its leaves curl up at the end in a very charming, and I guess “squidy” kind of way. Agave bracteosa comes from the mountains of Northern Mexico and is well adapted here in Central Texas. I would recommend a well-drained bed that has some protection from the hottest afternoon sun. This plant would also make a perfect container specimen since it grows only about eighteen inches tall.
Agave colorata is another compact variety of Agave that has become quite easy to find in local nurseries. Colorata has more of what ‘non-believers’ consider to be the traditional Agave look – it is a well-armed plant with cool silver gray foliage and a tight ‘rosette’ form. This plant also prefers a more traditional setting: a well drained bed with full sun or light shade. For those who prefer Agaves that don’t produce ‘pups’ or runners this is a good choice and it only grows two feet tall.
Agave americana “Baby Blue” is a variety that I found locally at Barton Springs Nursery. Agave americana is the “Century Plant” that everyone thinks about when you talk about Agaves, it is a monster that can grow up to eight feet tall. “Baby Blue” is a compact form of americana, that I am hoping will grow no more than four feet tall. The folks at Barton Springs apparently collected this plant from an area garden and have been propagating them. What sold me on “Baby Blue” is its color; it is as bright a blue as I have ever seen on any foliage. Like an ornery old Century Plant, this is one well-armed baby - plan on wearing your gloves while weeding around it (or changing its diapers!)
During my conversation with Mary Irish, I had to tell her about the sexiest addition to my Agave collection. She leaned forward listening while I described Agave lophantha caerula, in hushed tones. This Agave was given to me by another member of the brotherhood and is a variant of a plant that I already have growing in my garden – Thorn Crested Agave (Agave lophantha.) Like my original lophantha, caerula has grey-green foliage with a slight variegation. What sets the caerula variant apart is the sinuous shape of the foliage – the leaves perform gentle serpentine curves as they grow. Be still my heart! Mary was duly impressed.
There are many excellent local sources for those interested in joining the cult of the Agave… Gardens, The Great Outdoors, Big Red Sun, The Natural Gardener, Barton Springs Nursery, and Yucca-do are well equipped to enable your addiction. All the cool kids are growing them, why not you?
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