terraced gardens and the Cow Horn agave

I love terraced gardens, with their multiple shifting perspectives from up, down, side to side. I can probably trace this appreciation to an aunt’s hilltop home in the harbor town of San Pedro, Calif. My dad’s sister had a house that overlooked Los Angeles Harbor, bought with fishing money, when there were still big local schools of sardine and albacore. The hill was buttressed by multiple terraces. The plantings were nondescript, but the idea intrigued me even as a kid, this modest example of domestic-scale geoengineering, with the land falling away beneath you, yet there always being level ground underfoot provided by the terracing. Visiting the terraced villages of the Cinque Terre in Italy many years later was a continuation of this childhood fascination. Terraced gardens still pull me in to this day, as this local one did featuring a favorite agave from western Mexico, the Cow Horn agave.

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Agave bovicornuta here being harassed by a bougainvillea. Yucca rostrata on the topmost terrace.

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Aeoniums and lavender, Kalanchoe tomentosa, Aloe striata, with an attempt to tame and train bougainvillea against a retaining wall.
A Dragon Tree holds a corner of the upper terrace.

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Another feature of terrace gardens: incredibly satisfied-looking plants in the free drainage and warmth from the stone in this eastern exposure. This house and garden is just a couple blocks from the ocean.

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Deep green and blue again, this time the green provided by the Pencil Cactus, Euphorbia tirucalli. The blue agave looks like possibly Agave celsii ‘Nova’ (now going by A. mitis.) except that solitary agave is not known for pupping so many offsets. It also looks a lot like my ‘Dragon Toes,’ which does offset freely.

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Seems like I gravitate for a while to the powder blue agaves or variegated agaves, but there will always be room for the deep emerald green of the Cowhorn Agave. Mine succumbed to overwatering in the back garden a couple years ago, and I haven’t seen it on offer locally since. The back garden is becoming almost as dry as the front gravel garden, so I’ve started planting agaves in the ground in the back again. We’ll see how they fare.

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With rosemary and Echeveria agavoides.

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What the bougainvillea really wants is the terraces all to itself. I’d never unleash it in this situation, where keeping it in bounds will require frequent trimming, putting the succulents in danger of being trampled if not smothered first. I do admire the horizontal line of its dark green leaves snaking across the retaining walls in the upper photos, but the amount of labor and leaf litter…All that clipping sacrifices the flowers anyway, turning what’s normally a study in scarlet to a minor meditation on magenta.

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A glimpse of the sloping front lawn of the house next-door, which shows how the Cow Horn agave matches the depth of color of green grass.

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With the paddle plant, Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fascination.’

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Another bonus of terraces is the fact that agaves are not at shin level, which is where I frequently engaged with my Cow Horn agave — but always in cowboy jeans, of course.

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10 Responses to terraced gardens and the Cow Horn agave

  1. Wow, you keep finding the most beautiful gardens. Of course your coastal climate is paradise for most plants, including succulents :-).

    These are the most perfect examples of Agave bovicornuta I’ve ever seen. They clearly love the eastern exposure with a bit of protection from the afternoon sun. And add to that Yucca rostrata, Dracaena draco… Oh my!

    By the way, my Agave mitis ‘Nova’ does pup. I think your ID is spot on.

  2. rusty duck says:

    Terraced gardens are difficult to pull off, but they look absolutely stunning when it is done right as here.
    Mine still has a way to go (current post). The most difficult thing is getting the relative heights right, I’m always finding either plants on the lower terraces obscure those above, or they stop short so those on the upper terraces show too much leg. It is trial and error, and a lot of moving about and fine tuning!

  3. Mark and Gaz says:

    Wonderful Denise! There’s something about terraced gardens that makes them extra special and when well planted, spectacular. It can be hard work but so worth it.

    Loving this contemporary take of a terraced garden. I think the bougainvillea is unnecessary. The Agave bovicornuta looks like it’s got some variegation going on it too.

  4. Kris P says:

    That’s one beautiful agave. I can’t say I’ve ever come across it locally either. I share your enjoyment of terraced gardens and dream of the possibility of terracing my back slope but, absent a lottery win, that’s probably not going to happen – the task exceeds my own physical capabilities.

  5. hoov says:

    Those are gorgeous examples. Terraces have but one drawback: cost.

    I’ve been looking for bovicornuta also–what’s the deal? Haven’t seen it anywhere.

  6. I am filled with lust, oh what sexy shots. Those A. bovicornuta are simply perfect. The subtle variegation takes it up a notch too.

  7. David Feix says:

    Gorgeous shots of gorgeous plants, and Bougainvillea is better on a wall than filling a terrace, and grown hard isn’t that much pruning, at least here in Berkeley. The A. bovicornuta does well up here, and gets big, the leaf imprints are the bomb.

    Terraced gardens, or just a good slope present so many possibilities, and I get to play with lots of gardens with slopes. That K. luciae ‘Fascination’ is wonderful too, it struggles a bit with my wet, shaded winters. Just can’t grow every succulent as well up here, so it’s fun to see them thriving there.

  8. Denise says:

    @Gerhard, my varieg. mitis doesn’t pup, and from what I read Nova doesn’t either. Good to know it does, thanks.
    @RD, yes, so much fiddling with the heights (sounds like fun!)
    @M&G, maybe the boug was included for fear of lack of color? I don’t think it needs it either.
    @Kris, yes, very high dollar project, but judging from the house that didn’t seem to be an issue. Nice when the landscape gets some $ love too.
    @Hoov, it was around constantly for a few years then not at all — another reason I scoop up agaves when they make the rounds.
    @Loree, M&G commented on the varieg too — I’m not sure what’s going on there. Possibly sunburn?
    @David, the Cow Horn does get big. And for a reputed slow grower, I remember mine bulking up very fast.

  9. Pam/Digging says:

    ‘Jaws’, which I grow in lieu of the cow’s horn, has that lovely deep green coloring also. Terracing sure makes growing these dry-loving plants easier.

  10. How I love a beautiful agave! Our two, or three! I terraced a new front yard project recently. The different levels definitely makes the eye wander.

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