driveby agave garden

I have the Long Beach Marathon to thank for finding this garden.
No, I didn’t run the marathon, more like actively avoided it. The marathon barricades cut off much of my end of Long Beach on October 6, so trying to get a few errands done was a circuitous challenge. I ended up in neighborhoods I don’t often see, such as the one where this front garden fills a corner lot. I vowed to return. Last night, 13 days later, I found it again, even though I had misremembered the street name. Who needs street names with a garden like this? I bet locals use it for reference: “Hang a right at Little Lotusland…”



I parked along this sidewalk which borders the long white wall to the owner’s back garden. Agave americana, Acacia pravissima, aloes, aeonium, opuntia in narrow borders…all clear signs that a serious desire for architectural plants has been let loose here.


Turning the corner, the view was overpowering. And, surprisingly, so was the fragrance. But where was it coming from? Other than a small aloe and a bloom from a mangave, I could see very little else in bloom. Took me a few minutes to localize the scent, but all the while the unexpected answer was literally under my nose. All that delicious scent was pouring out of this unlikely candidate for sweetness and delicacy.


The formidable Anchor Plant from South America, Colletia paradoxa


Up to this time, I had discreetly kept to the sidewalks, but a gentleman drove up and parked in front of the garden. I wasn’t ready to leave yet, so instead of skulking around, it seemed a good idea to fess up and take my chances with getting permission to stay. But it wasn’t his garden. He shouted at the front gates, and the owner stepped out to address the interloper with the camera.


I think the first thing I said was, “Your Anchor Plant…” to which he immediately replied, “I know. Can you smell it?” and then we were fine, and I was allowed to stay and take photos and granted deeper access off the sidewalk. I was told this entire garden is no more than four years old.



Here was a garden after my own heart, where the axiom more is more reigns and minimalism is kicked to the curb.


Packed in, spike to spike, gardens like this aren’t serene and restful. From the street, it manages to make an impact at 25 mph. Up close, it completely disorders the senses. I’ll take that over serene any day.




Some agaves I knew, like this A. guiengola ‘Creme Brulee.’ Cowhorn agave, A. bovicornuta, almost out of frame upper right.


Obviously, for a four-year-old garden, many of the plants have been brought in at specimen sizes.
Agave ferdinandi-regis


Not sure about this one on the right, and still haven’t located my Irish book on agaves. Maybe Agave colorata. Past time to clean the office.


Agave salmiana? havardiana?


Aloes, barrel cactus, Agave lophantha.
Though the agaves relentlessly led my eye through the plantings, there was much more.


Euphorbia ammak and Euphorbia tirucalli flanking the gate. Bloom spike belongs to a mangave.


Smaller succulents, lavendar, grasses. (But what are those gorgeous powder blue agaves at the back? Not potatorum, but what?)


Yuccas, ponytail palms, the Bismarckia nobilis palm.


Agave potatorum


Agave titanota


Like so many agave lovers, collector mania has gripped the owner, who said the “gaps” were due to agave losses as mature specimens bloomed this summer. I hadn’t noticed any gaps. Do you?


After sundown when I left, that scent from the Anchor Plant seemed even stronger, following me back to the car.

I noticed one agave he doesn’t seem to have is Agave gentryi ‘Jaws,’ and I’ve got a couple offsets potted up. I think I’ll drop one off at his gate to help fill up one of those “gaps.”

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32 Responses to driveby agave garden

  1. veratrine says:

    Lovely post and a lovely garden.

  2. hoov says:

    Good, really good! Yes, more is more. What luck you got to meet the owner. I’m thinking horrida, salmiana, and…potatoum is extremely variable…could be a variant.

  3. Les says:

    No matter the climate nor the plant palette, I love it when gardeners jump in with both feet, and then some. However, I would not want to trip in that garden.

  4. Sue says:

    What a find! And a fabulous idea to bestow gifts upon the talented gardener. I love drifts of one when they are so well executed.

    My Agave collection (all four of them) will soon be brought indoors where it will spend the next six months under lights.

  5. Scott says:

    Wowsers…that is fabulous…but I admit, as clutzy as I am…I’m getting a little secondary anxiety looking at those paths! I love the “more is more” mentality…is there any other way, really 😉

  6. OMG!!! You know I am just almost trying to climb into the computer screen…SO BEAUTIFUL! What a find. I’m going back now to look at the photos again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so,many different agaves in one garden before!

  7. Chris says:

    Amazing garden.

  8. Mark says:

    The Agave you think is colorata is parrasana. Those powder blue Agaves like potatorum are Agave isthmensis.
    That garden is stunning… with envy 🙂

  9. kathy says:

    Hotcha ! I love it! and that gate , oh god to have an entry like that those fabulous Socal stucco -tile roof pre-war jobs. I imagine the original landscaping was lawn, junipers and a maybe a few jade plants. This is just beautifully done.

  10. David says:

    Wow! So are you friends enough to set up a lawn chair in the front and just stare? This is a work of love and a gardener who deeply cares about their little piece of Earth. And what I like is that it proves once and for all that xeriscaping does not have to be boring!!!
    Great find. Thanks for getting such nice photos for us.

  11. Denise says:

    I’m glad you all liked the garden. And thanks, Mark, for help with the ID. That A. isthmensis is really something, so thanks for making that ID especially. I did go back to the garden today and left Agave ‘Jaws’ with a little note of thanks. I hope the owner gets to read these nice comments. As to comments about wrongfooting it in a garden with so many spikes, we have that discussion around here daily, in fact had one this morning about Mr. Ripple 😉

  12. Wolf says:

    Gaps? There’s gaps in that gorgeously chaotic garden?

  13. Jud says:

    Denise, you did a great job with my garden and it even left me wowed. Actually many of the plants were not specimens but after 2 years really took off.
    I hope the smell of the anchor plant continues to linger in your nose.

  14. Chris/PVH says:

    Sometimes I worry about taking my agaves out of their pots and putting them into the ground. I thought it might be too chaotic to have so many different agaves planted next to each other, but if it could look like this…

  15. Denise says:

    @Wolf, isn’t it glorious?
    @Jud, thanks again for being such a good sport about sharing your beautiful garden. I’m so glad you read the glowing comments. That is amazing how fast it all grows. Still can’t get over how fragrant that Anchor Plant is. And I’ve read they use it for hedging in Uruguay!
    @Chris, I do too. Some seem too delicate for open ground, others too cumbersome and large to keep in pots for very long. It’s a case-by-case judgment for me. I thought the effect Jud achieved with his selection of agaves is stunning.

  16. Robert says:

    Thanks, Jud, for sending these pictures and great comments. Been two years since I visited you at your home, guess it is time to check it out again. Will be by to see you around New Year’s.

    Hey, Denise, Thanks so much!! Grew up in New Orleans with Jud 50 yrs ago. This gives me a reason to get out and see him again!!
    Thanks for really superb photography, Robert

  17. Denise says:

    Hi Robert — so glad you stopped by. Sounds like you and Jud go back a ways! I’ll bet some of the aloes will be in bloom when you visit Jud in January.

  18. Michael 'Cactusmike' says:

    What a great garden. I wish we could see more of this in frontyards, people become so afraid to do anything as exciting as this.

  19. That Spanish-style architecture is the perfect backdrop. What a gorgeous garden! So many good photos. May I download and share a couple of them? And if so, how would you like to be credited? Regardless, thanks for a terrific post!

  20. Jud, your garden is right up my street – at least I wish it was! It is completely stunning. Am trying to work out where you are – Florida? California? A lot of the plant material you use I wouldn’t be able to over Winter outside in the UK. But in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly which are in the Gulf Stream we would be able to use some of it. In southern Spain I’ve down very well with Agaves and Aloes and some of the cacti.

    It’s wonderful that you share your garden by planting it up on the street-side. Front gardens are for sharing. Denise is very lucky to have met you and been invited inside to view the rest of the garden.

    Well done!

  21. So much to love about this garden and your post Denise (which I found via Pinterest, incidentally) – fabulous photography as well as a stunning garden. What I really love is how much Jud has shared with his neighbourhood – it’s not all hidden from view behind walls and gates. Good streetscapes are hard to find. And I would have thought like Chris, that so many different agaves would have looked chaotic but those slightly varying shapes and colours really work well together. Here in Oz we’re just discovering the beauty of barrel cactus and aloes and now, seeing that combo, it’s going to happen in my garden too!

  22. WOW WOW WOW. This is the garden of my dreams. It has everything I love in the plant world and more. I wonder if the owner will trade houses??

    The “gorgeous powder blue agaves at the back,” could they be Agave guadalajarana? Compare to this labeled specimen at Ruth Bancroft Garden.

  23. Kate Sandman says:

    Very inspiring for my dirt patch in the desert. We cleared out tons of gravel and now have a semi-clean slate to make it beautiful. THANK YOU and thanks to the gardener.

  24. alice says:

    Love the garden. Will be using some of these in the desert garden I am planning

  25. Jennifer says:

    This is my dream garden, one day, oh yes, one day, thank you for taking such beautiful pictures they truley capture the artists view of the landscape, even from afar. I wonder if the owner did this themselves, or hire a landscaper? I will be using your pictures as reference for my own garden.

  26. Denise says:

    Jennifer, this garden was designed by the very talented owner and is constantly revised as plants age, bloom, etc. Best of luck with your garden!

  27. Amy says:

    I love this garden so much! Thank you so much for taking the time to capture and share it.

  28. Dee Transue says:

    Disordered the senses…what a wonderful phrase—what I am looking for…

  29. Rose says:

    What an inspiration to my plans to to xeriscape the back of my non functioning pool, using desert plants. But so scared of thorns! What’s the technique to avoid getting poked?

  30. Denise says:

    Rose, grouping the thorniest and not planting too densely helps make weeding possible. Also, paths if you have the space behind your pool, even small access paths for planting and weeding — and admiring! Thorny roses have been grown in gardens for millenia despite the injuries — it’s a matter of being vigilant until your spiky radar (love for the plants) really kicks in!

  31. Elizabeth says:

    Wow! And I don’t even like the current agave / mangave / cactus thing going on lately (I feel like I’m confessing a sin here). Most people seem to think that xerescaping means to rip out their lawn, dump a few truckloads of gravel, plunk in a few agaves, and call it a day. Its just so UGLY. But this? This is beautiful! Beautifully designed, beautifully executed, and beautifully maintained — with soul. And the house ain’t bad either. Bravo!!

  32. Cissy Floyd says:

    Most beautiful! If only we could have this in Louisiana.

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