Tag Archives: Agave bovicornuta

chasing agaves


Last Saturday, while millions marched their way into the history books, I was driving south to San Diego to meet agave expert Greg Starr.
I had been looking forward to this 2-hour road trip for some time, as a beacon in an otherwise fairly bleak January. Family medical issues against the chaotic national backdrop were starting to take a toll.
My guilt was somewhat lessened by the knowledge that our family would be represented by a marcher. Definitely count me in for the next one and the one after that.
NPR covered the march for the drive south, and the recent back-to-back storms cleared to offer up a gorgeous, cloud-scudded and dry Saturday. Pardon my nativism, but California is so beautiful.

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My destination was this private home where the San Diego Horticultural Society was hosting the talk by Greg Starr and a plant sale. Greg was bringing agaves!

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The front garden was a life-affirming explosion of agaves and aloes.
A blooming cowhorn agave, A. bovicornuta, is still a commanding presence, even among show-stealing flowering aloes.

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Tree in the background is Euphorbia cotinifolia.

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A narrow footpath runs a few feet in front of the house for access.
I’d be guessing at aloe names, since the owner has access to some amazing hybrids.
The bright orange in the left foreground looks a lot like my Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’

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Agave ‘Jaws’ fronted by a marlothii-hybrid aloe in bud.

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Incredibly tight tapestry of succulents, with some self-sowing alyssum and California poppies managing to find a root-hold.

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Unfortunately, Mr. Starr was unable to attend, probably due to the recent spate of severe weather and heavy rain.
But the owner’s private collection of aloes and agaves was more than enough compensation. That’s Agave ‘Streaker’ above in one of his raised beds in the backyard.

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Agave pumila, at a size I didn’t know they achieved.

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Selection of Agave utahensis

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Aloe longistyla, touchy about drainage, prone to mites, but so beautiful, flaunting some of the largest flowers of any aloe in relation to clump size.

The San Diego Hort. Society members provided lots of interesting plants for sale, including a variegated agave I can’t find a reference for (‘Northern Lights’ — anyone?)
With the Mini already nearly full to capacity, I stopped at Solana Succulents on the way home, detouring west to its location directly on Highway 1 in sight of the Pacific.
Owner Jeff Moore manages to tuck in a stellar selection of rarities in a relatively small-size nursery. Here is where I finally found the long-coveted Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ in a gallon.

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A nice shipment from B&B Cactus Farm was on the shelves, like this Astrophytum ornatum. I also brought home a Parodia magnifica.

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And another cowhorn agave.

I don’t think I’ve had Jeff’s self-published book out of arm’s reach since I bought it last Saturday.
“Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation” is everything you’d expect from someone who knows all the growers, hybridizers, and designers in San Diego County.
He’ll be speaking closer to home, at South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes, this March.
And February’s speaker doesn’t look bad either (Panayoti Kelaidis!)

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.


backdrops for plants

Some interesting backdrops I found around town, some intentional, some borrowed, some just sheer serendipity.

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I’m wondering what came first here, the choice of color for the house and then the Lion’s Tail?
Or did the Leonotis leonurus start the ball rolling?

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This is a borrowed backdrop. From the angle where I was standing, I picked up the color of the house next-door.

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This is the house where the agave lives, beige in color, not persimmon.

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The parkway picking up that same persimmon-colored house next-door. Mattress vine, restios, helichrysum, small grasses.

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I’m thinking there’s a lot of clip, clip, clipping to keep the muehlenbeckia off those lovely low-lying rocks.

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Agave vilmoriniana without a backdrop. Well, I suppose asphalt could be considered a backdrop, the default urban kind.
I wish I had the space for this one to let those tentacles unfurl (also called the Octopus Agave).

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The Cow Horn Agave against a stone backdrop. Agave bovicornuta. Oh, I do miss mine.
There’ll be more photos of these terraces to come, just because one can never have too many photos of the Cow Horn Agave.
With aeoniums and Kalanchoe tomentosa.

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A missed opportunity to add a colored backdrop? Hard to say. The entire Spanish house/villa is white. I’ll be posting some more photos of this one too.
I need to track down the name of the grass in the foreground, most likely a sesleria. Amazing with the bulbinella.


better know an agave

A rogue’s gallery of agaves from Jud’s garden. Some of these I know, some I’m guessing at, and some have really stumped me.
If you have an idea, I’m all ears.

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Agave potatorum?

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With Agave macroacantha in the background

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Agave macroacantha

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Agave macroacantha, possibly a selection of Agave titanota in the foreground (Agave horrida?)

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This looks more like the Agave titanota I know.

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Agave ferdinandi-regis

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Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’

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And Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’ with the anchor plant, Colletia paradoxa

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Agave lophantha

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with Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’

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Agave shawii?

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with Agave havardiana in the background.

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Definitely Agave havardiana (see comments for ID discussion)

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Agave americana var. medio-picta ‘Alba’

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Mark commented on the first post back in 2012 identifying this agave as A. isthmensis

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Agave parrasana, the Cabbage Head Agave, also ID’d by Mark in the 2012 post

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Agave victoriae-reginae

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Agave celsii ‘Nova’? Or plain old Agave parryi minus the truncata?

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Agave schidigera

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Agave celsii ‘Multicolor’

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Agave bovicornuta in the foreground

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…”


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Continue reading driveby agave garden

Friday clippings 6/29/12

Lobelia tupa from Chile is blooming for the first time in my garden, thereby making everything right again with the world. Long time coming, Ms. Tupa. The color on the lobelia is deeper than salmon but slightly less intense than tomato red. Pure and unmuddied. Don’t crowd her and give her lots of compost. 4 feet tall now but still a young plant. Seems to be a late-summer bloomer everywhere else in her favored digs of zone 8 and warmer.


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I had an enormous Agave bovicornuta growing here last year. Big mistake, for both me and the agave, whose leaves were spotting brown from the relatively higher levels of irrigation in the back garden, while my forearms were spotting red from the frequent piercings from its formidable spines. Never should have been planted in a part of the garden I change up so often. Its rapid speed of growth did catch me off guard. For old time’s sake, a photo of the agave from last year. Was that cowhorn agave purdy.

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Petunia integrifolia axillaris (“Wild White Petunia”) has started to reseed about, which is always the game plan. Tough and fragrant.
The mother-ship plant came from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.

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Shrubby Teucrium betonicum, also from Annie’s, looks promising but would probably appreciate being moved out of the tough-love gravel garden.

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The rolling tool cart is serving as a summer conservatory, changed out frequently with the potted plant du jour.

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Moving the Lepismium cruciforme here into full sun will deepen its reddish coloration. I’m waiting for this trailing, epiphytic cactus from Argentina and Brazil to gain some heft and length before moving it to a hanging container. All those tiles I seem to accumulate make great pot trivets, and the glass interrupters are useful for holding down tablecloths in a breeze. Finding sensible purposes for irrational magpie acquisitions is so satisfying. Still haven’t identified the sedum in the foreground on the right.

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The stacked-leaf succulent is Portulaca molokiniensis from Hawaii, which shatters my childishly cliche notions about Hawaii’s plant life as one vast Rousseau’s jungle. I may need to take up my brother’s invitation for a visit one of these days.

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Our early morning marine layer, aka the June Gloom, which I find anything but gloomy, is almost over. Dahlias just beginning.
In addition to ‘Chat Noir,’ I planted a couple other dahlias, for a grand total of three this year. They’re a tricky plant to fit into a tiny garden along with the other plants I enjoy growing, so three is really pushing it. Keeping them in pots in the garden border makes it easy to dial in their water and compost needs. Even with these maneuvers, I may end up moving them to my community vegetable plot since their needs are so similar to vegetables.

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I mentioned my infatuation with expanded steel in a recent post, seen here in a little table I’ve had for some years.
If you can’t stop yourself from placing potted plants on outdoor tables, even to the point of ruining them, this is the way to go.
Containers drain right through the fretwork.

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Southern California is a graveyard of machine shop detritus like these mysterious former agents of industry.

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Time for another good prowl through the salvage yards. And the CSSA Annual Show & Sale at Huntington Botanical Gardens this weekend. All on just two days, cheated out of a long weekend by the 4th orphaned in the middle of next week.

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Another entry from the Agaves I Have Loved and Lost department, this one taken in June last year of my now-departed Agave guadalajarana. Maybe I’ll find another one at the CSSA sale.

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blue/yellow/green

Where were we? I’ve been working at the day job like a navvy, trying to clear some time for spring garden visits, shows and whatnot. But the garden in March initiates a measured sequence of distractions, which can really mess with the most resolute work ethic. (I think “resolute” was a one-word self-description used by one of the Republican primary candidates but now can’t remember which. Romney? Strange how none of them used the one-word descriptors that are always at the tip of my tongue for them.)

Back to the much more important business of gardens. I’ve recently discovered that a good part of the front gravel garden has been planted almost exclusively in blues, greys, and yellows. Yes, at one time I apparently mustered some self-restraint.


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It’s mostly succulents, grasses, and small evergreen shrubs, very few perennials except the self-sowing Spanish poppies. The orange blooms will get a fantastic backdrop here.
I don’t remember consciously planning this blue/yellow-only business. I’ll have to search the back pages of the blog.

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March’s Garden Design features an interview with landscape architect Andrea Cochran.
The interview was emphatically not plant-driven, since landscape architecture, not horticulture, was under discussion, but this quote was a compadre thrill:
I’m a sucker for anything in the blue-gray family…If you go blue-gray with chartreuse: home run.”
To have anything in common with Ms. Cochran’s taste I count as a personal home run.

More chartreuse from Agave attenuata ‘Kara’s Stripes.’

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The gravel garden now has some of the nicest looking agaves, including ‘Blue Glow’ in the first photo and a powder-blue A. potatorum below.
The attenuatas can really look beat up, but ‘Kara’s Stripes’ has if anything improved over the winter.

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The opposite end of the gravel garden by the driveway doesn’t continue the blue/yellow-only theme.
There’s lots of breakage and damage at this end, and ad hoc replacements are made on the fly.
Recent death of a large agave provided an opportunity to try out Sideritis syriaca* here.
I haven’t been this smitten with a plant since my first ballota.

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Very easy on the eyes, this blue/yellow/green.



*Reddish stems on this one makes it more likely Sideritis cypria.

Rained Out

Unlike a sporting event or outdoor concert or meal, a Southern California garden that’s rained out in early October is cause for rejoicing.

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And to really intensify the blissed-out experience of the first seasonal rains, just the day before you must have tucked in some new plants.

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Along with the Salvia farinacea ‘Texas Violet’, two Agave parryi var. truncata have also left their long-time homes in containers to manage independently in this very hot, dry strip, which they will handle beautifully. An enormous, woody ‘Waverly’ salvia needed pruning off the bricks, where it had bulged at least 3 feet outward from the garden, and then after pruning looked so misshapen it was removed entirely. (There was a small incident, a minor trip-and-fall over the plants spilling onto the brick patio outside the office, with some mild bruising. Accusations flew, and to keep the peace the only solution was a bout with the pruning shears.) Though there’s plenty of other winter salvias to bloom, I was worried about my hummingbird friends so used to having a nip from salvia flowers in this part of the garden. Amazing how their interests and mine coincide so nicely! These two salvia should keep them happy until cut to the base later in winter, that is if these Texas natives like the conditions. Read San Marcos Growers’ description of this salvia here. Some eyebrow grass (wouldn’t ‘Andy Rooney’ be a better cultivar name than ‘Blonde Ambition’?), Bouteloua gracilis, are getting a tryout here too. Drumstick alliums, A. sphaerocephalum, were interplanted among the grasses and salvia. (Tulips and alliums arrived in the mail yesterday. Exquisite timing. The tulips and other alliums requiring a chill went into the fridge until after Thanksgiving.)

I’ve noticed once agaves edge a planting with newly disturbed soil, the cats stay out.

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It’s all part of the creeping agave syndrome the back garden has been experiencing. Slowly, imperceptibly the garden is readying itself for less and less irrigation. Last year the first agave, a large Agave bovicornuta, was slipped from its pot and planted in the ground.

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And some Agave ‘Blue Flame’ were planted in the back last year too.
Although the front garden has been full of agaves for years, the agave creep in the back garden is a new phenomenon.

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But such concerns as possible diminished precipitation in the future fly out the blurry window on a rainy day, which are also the rare occasions I’m actually glad for a small garden. The back pressed against the surrounding walls only allows for tight shots, but today the shelter of the eaves is a welcome spot for keeping the camera dry. The house or garage or boundary walls are always just 3 or 4 feet away. (Hence, the disputes over plants spilling onto walkways.) The burgundy grass is the pennisetum hybrid ‘Princess Caroline,’ which looks to be a strong grower. A gallon was split into two clumps mid-summer. All the old anigozanthos bloom stalks were cut away, this sole new bloom in bright yellow pushed horizontal by the rain.

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The watering can has been handed over once again to more capable hands than mine.

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Now that the baton has been passed, the dahlias will be so pleased and may just make it to November.

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Agave bovicornuta

The Cow Horn Agave. I can’t think of another agave with this translucent quality to its leaves.
And the little “steer horns” (teeth) fire up in morning sun like burning coals heating a branding iron.


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Do I really know anything at all about such cowboy matters as branding irons?
Only what I learn from my husband constantly alluding to the old cowboy shows of his youth, like “Rawhide,” whose theme song he knows by heart. And what I learn from checking in occasionally on that modern take on cowboy life, The Pioneer Woman blog, a powerhouse of marketing which I’d never even heard of until The New Yorker did a piece on it this past May. Always got my finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, yesiree. (Not!) The Pioneer Woman’s photography is stupefyingly good.

My little cow horn agave is growing up into a big beast, and the Irish guide lists 5 to 6 and a half feet as ultimate width. He grew to most of his current size, about 2X3 feet, in a container and was carefully moved into this position in the garden last year. And like all agaves in the landscape, it’s always catching some manner of schmutz on its horns — I mean thorns. Teeth, rather.

I really need to simplify this bit of garden in the fall, since the agave’s golden halo from slanting morning sun is obviously what’s important here. Most everything else is superfluous, especially that lanky aeonium and possibly even the *solanum grown as a standard which is responsible for all the schmutz. This agave reputedly doesn’t offset, flowering after 12 to 18 years, so it keeps that pure, lotus-like form to the end. Appreciates some shade in summer. From the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Chihuahua. Frost-tender.

*Typically, once I truly acknowledge where the problem is, there’s no lag time. Thought becomes action. In garden matters, anyway. Five minutes after I typed about its possible removal, the solanum standard is gone. Truthfully, there was a 5-foot tree covered in purple flowers behind the agave and aeonium when I woke up this morning, now headed for the shredder. But the aeonium stays for now.


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