agaves take Los Angeles

About a year ago I was told by a nurseryman that aloes have replaced agaves in popularity, because people have gotten wise to the approximate 8-year death spiral of agaves, the bloom-and-doom cycle, which isn’t the case with aloes, reliably flowering as they do year after year. That may be true of private plant-buying habits, but no doubt as a consequence of the drought, agaves are proliferating across commercial landscapes like rabbits.

Here’s just one example of the many I see driving around town, this one found in West Los Angeles last week, near Sawtelle and Olympic.

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mass planting of Agave ‘Cornelius’

The Victorians would be proud of the carpet-bedding effects we’re achieving with this king of succulents.
(Remember William Robinson’s naturalism rebellion against the gawdy, tic-tac-toe patterns of the Victorian bedding-out era, floral clocks and such? Of course you do.)

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But William Robinson never had to contend with the dreary, narrow, commercial planting spaces fronting buildings all over town, and in a drought no less.
In these contexts, the strong personality, pattern, and clean symmetry of agaves animates the planes of buildings and walkways.

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And ‘Cornelius’ adds his own unique twist of variegated sparkle. Seen here with Senecio mandraliscae.

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Agaves own this town.

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What a great time to be an agave grower.
Kidding, of course. These are slow-growing plants, and tissue culture is expensive.
My ‘Cornelius’ at home needs maybe another year to look this good.

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This unidentified beauty was found at The Jungle nursery on Sawtelle, which is having a moving sale, everything 20-40 percent off.
That pink tag sadly indicates “sold,” and there were none other available. Alas, even with the sale, the prices were out of my budget.
(Lots of big succulent specimens and bamboo still left for sale.)
More and more, nursery prices rightfully reflect increases in the cost of living, unlike my pay rate, which has been stagnant for over 10 years.

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Maybe it’s a good time to invest in agave stock…

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12 Responses to agaves take Los Angeles

  1. David Feix says:

    Some great photos Denise, and I totally agree that Agaves are very useful in drought tolerant garden designs, but they aren’t fool proof. In less urban applications, they are favorite food for gophers, and should always be protected with wire baskets if you think you might have gophers.

    Aloes can have their downside issues as well; the Aloe mite is problematic with many species, and easily spread by hummingbirds from plant to plant. Definitely all too common even on new nursery plants, and very difficult to treat once you’ve got it in your garden collection of aloes. Mass plantings of popular plants can inadvertently create conditions for mass spread of pests and diseases, something to be aware of. I’ve bought a few Aloes that came from southern California growers that were already infected with Aloe mite, but fortunately caught it early enough before it potentially spread to my other aloes. As Aloes aren’t quite ubiquitous here in the SF Bay Area, the potential for spreading the mite isn’t as great as it is/was with the Fuchsia mite or Eucalyptus psyllids. Fuchsias were once seen in almost every local Bay Area garden, but rather rare these days due to the mite.

  2. Denise says:

    David, I don’t think I’ve got the aloe mite yet, knock wood. And then there’s that snout-nosed agave pest moving in too. The eugenia psyllid came through and wiped out hundreds of feet of old hedges in Long Beach, but then I don’t think anyone is really mourning that loss. Good thing I’m a generalist in most things, including gardens!

  3. Alison says:

    Wow! That plant with the pink “Sold” tag is perfection. I only have a couple of Aloes, but I would like a few more. I’m pretty sure none of them are hardy in the ground here though. Fortunately, a handful of Agaves are. They are so sculptural, I think they lend themselves to a more structured design.

  4. Kris P says:

    It would be quite something to see all those agaves in bloom (not that they’re not wonderful in their current state). The prices – ouch! – are something else again. I’ve been thinking I need to start my own little succulent nursery – it’d be like putting money in the bank.

  5. Let’s pool own resources and start our own aloe and agave nursery, LOL.

    ‘Cornelius’ is a beauty. The commercial landscaping here in the Sacramento Valley is nowhere near as attractive!

  6. Denise says:

    @Alison, I wish I knew its name! It may be a form of gyspophila? Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’ was also for sale, but the pink-tagged agave has medial variegation, not marginal.
    @Kris, I know lots of people do, but I have a hard time celebrating agave blooms. Yes, please do start a little succulent nursery!
    @Gerhard, up in West LA it’s really getting agave-centric, but there are still plenty of run-of-the-mill landscapes around.

  7. hoov says:

    It’s salmiana var. ferox ‘Medio-Picta’. I’ve seen it around several places lately, and it’s very tempting. Both the yellow and the green color are very intense, which adds to the beauty.


    fab photos, as always, Denise!

  8. Denise says:

    thank you, Hoov! I really, really need this agave.

  9. Dreamy photos every one. I need a winter home in L.A….

  10. Denise says:

    @Loree, too bad we can’t swap, since what I need is a summer home in the PNW!

  11. Wow! The colors are eye popping. Sure would love to get my hand on some of these! Great photos.

  12. Pam/Digging says:

    Agaves own Austin as well, although we can’t grow as many varieties as you because we freeze each winter. But since aloes are even less cold hardy, they’ll never be as popular here. I don’t know — agaves are just sexier too, don’t you think?

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