Call Me Mr. Agave

(Also answers to “Big Blue”)


Note the congestion of pups destroying his fine lines. The vigor of an Agave americana is an awesome thing to behold and has been known to rupture any pot that dares contain it. Said vigor is the principal reason why he’s not planted in the ground, where he’d grow far too large. This one had already had a thorough de-pupping session in the last year, not long after he was brought home, a cast-off from a landscaping project at a local museum. Brutal as it sounds, A. americana is the trash species of agaves, at least here in zone 10. There’s loads of small, slow-growing agaves to choose from. The day I brought him home he portended instability for the garden, and I knew it.

Mr. Agave needed sorting out.



This level of foolhardiness has its origins in the mid-winter fidgets: No digging, no heavy garden work for three months and, consequently, I’m looking for trouble. Whoever said gardening was some genteel endeavor performed with an English trug on one’s arm and straw hat rakishly atop one’s head has someone else doing the heavy work. I live for the heavy work and miss it terribly in winter.

Mr. Agave is the centerpiece of the main back garden bed. Getting him in position in the first place was a long, hard slog. But once in place, all was forgiven as he seamlessly assumed his role in the garden, holding court, regal and impassive, from the first Dutch iris and self-sown poppies to the last dahlias.


Unseen in the photo, looking out from under the pergola, Mr. Agave is flanked on four sides by evergreen shrubs: two Kohuhu Golfball pittosporums to the south and two Coprosma repens ‘Cappuccino’ opposite, at the patio’s edge. It’s a barely perceptible nod to formality, especially in summer, but during winter this slight gesture adds welcome structural heft.

Training the Golfball pitts into the desired rotund shape was increasingly hampered by Big Blue’s rapid growth. Removing the pathway round the south side didn’t help. Where the Kohuhus once edged the pathway, now they’re adrift mid-meadow, so to speak, after the brick path was removed.

Short version is, access is increasingly difficult for garden tasks, a consequence of the unreasonable demands for more planting space I inflict on such a small garden. And as we all know, you just don’t tread on soil, especially clay soil. Ever. With the path gone, there was no easy access to the center of the garden border. The self-sown plants and grasses I wanted needed more room, and the access problem would sort itself out somehow…

The coprosmas were also problematic. Planted at the patio’s edge, they were growing tall and obscuring the view behind. Tall, sheer, and windswept was the original goal, which they were fulfilling, but I confess the day I read of the loathing Val Easton felt for them in her blog Plant Talk, their days were numbered.


For a good long while, I resisted her opinion. I love brown plants. I tried some judicious pruning. But I ultimately had to admit their brown leaf was dull, with no red tints or glimmer, and their shape was appearing more wayward and rangy by the day. Out they would have to go too.

And fickle, plant-lust driven creature that I am, I just happened to have two ‘Red Dragon’ lophomyrtus waiting in the wings, chafing in their pots, and here was a dark-leaved plant I could heartily defend. Slow-growing, lots of complexity to the brown coloring, clippable or not. A done deal.

In a few weeks, there’d be too much spring growth to contemplate moving the beast, so the time to act was now.

Or the kraken, as he increasingly appeared to me to be 30 minutes into the move, the sea monster/thorn in Perseus’ side and now piercing mine.

I’m still not quite sure how it was all done. The coprosmas were sadly easy to dispatch. It’s always a shock how easy it all is to undo. Once the coprosmas were gone, there was an opening maybe 2 to 3 feet wide to slide the potted agave from mid bed to the bricked pergola. At some point, there was a board for a ramp, then a tarp, then a towel-lasso thingy, but mostly lots of dragging, head bent down under his armored tentacles. Inches took a quarter of an hour. Blue glass mulch glittered a comet’s trail in his wake. I was gripped by numbing fatigue but also the stubborn refusal to have my garden upended. There would be resolution. The kraken would be either tamed or destroyed.


Madness! Folly! Why? Why? Whyeee? I was hoisted on the same petard as Werner Herzog’s feckless Fitzcarraldo dragging his steamship through the jungle.

A chance recruit stumbled on this abysmal scene, took pity and pitched in, and with the extra pair of hands we moved him the last few feet to a temporary resting spot. Unimaginable relief. Let’s just tip him to remove the tarp — the pot leaned, gravity claimed its due, and the pot was on its side and smashed. And it really did seem like slow motion.


Still I cleaned him up, removed the pups, severely root-pruned him.


And then had no idea what to do next. There was no place to plant him — he’d be too large in six months. The pot was smashed and there was no other pot large enough. Work deadlines intervened, and he sat for a day in a muddy heap.


At some point, it occurred to me that the shiny silver trash can I keep potting soil in could be recruited for a pot. I dragged Mr. Agave to a possible site for him in his new trash can, but lifting him up and into the can was the first serious impasse with no clear solution.

I had a stray thought before falling asleep that night about possibly rigging some block and tackles. The next day, still in Fitzcarraldo mode, I jokingly mentioned it to my husband, sneakily testing his potential for being dragooned into an extremely hare-brained scheme. He never disappoints. Within minutes he emerged from the garage with, yes, a marine-quality block and tackle and a large chain. Lever, fulcrum, and with Archimedes’ blessing (“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”), we were back in action.


A happy ending was not to be. Even the trash can was no match for Big Blue’s girth, and he sits too high, no longer looking regal, just foolish. Maybe the coming rain will help settle him in. For now he’s just outside the office door, eye level instead of knee level, absurdly large for his surroundings. There’s talk of possibly more blocks and tackles and chains to swing him elsewhere. Just exactly where that might be is the open-ended question. Oh, for just 1/4 acre more of garden.

Callous as it seems, I can still manage to find the bright side to all this garden mayhem. Now that he’s been moved, it’s much easier to see the Orlaya grandiflora just coming into bloom.


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1 Response to Call Me Mr. Agave

  1. Alex says:


    I have an Agave in my backyard. About 7 weeks ago a growth started to grow. It looks like a lot of buds. It is now at least 2 metres tall. Can i send you a photo of it? I would like to know what it is.


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