Last spring, after hauling several awkward (and heavy) containers up from the basement, my husband Andrew proclaimed: “you really need to stop buying agaves and buy more aloes, they’re nicer.” I have to admit he’s right, aloes have considerably less-lethal spikes than agaves, and they can be just as dramatic in the landscape, even in containers – as I’m forced to grow them in my winter-wet USDA Zone 8 garden. They can however be fairly difficult to find in these parts (Portland, Oregon), something once true of the now, relatively, easy to find agaves that I love.

Aloe erinacea at the Huntington Gardens

Aloe erinacea at the Huntington Gardens, yes there are spikes but this one stays small and thus easily managed

My fellow agave lover, Denise, author of the blog A Growing Obsession, has quoted a California nurseryman as saying “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.” So maybe there is hope that aloes will become more readily available, even up here in the PNW?

Aloe mutabilis at the Huntington Gardens

Aloe mutabilis at the Huntington Gardens

Anyway it’s those blooms that have me super-swooning over the aloes right now…

Aloe marlothii at the Huntington Gardens

Aloe marlothii at the Huntington Gardens

Aloe 'David Verity' at the Huntington Gardens

Aloe ‘David Verity’ at the Huntington Gardens

We spent the last half of December in Southern California where I was wowed by the winter-blooming aloes almost to the point of boredom. No, seriously!

Aloe bloom (NOID) at Balboa Park

Aloe bloom (NOID) at Balboa Park

Aloe NOID at Balboa Park

Aloe (NOID) at Balboa Park

Aloe tree (NOID) at Balboa Park

Aloe tree (I think? NOID) at Balboa Park

There were so many, and they were so beautiful, but after 4 or 5 days even my eyes started to gloss over. I wouldn’t have thought it possible but I have to admit it happened.

Back home I’m currently growing approximately 21 different aloes (compared to over 60 agaves) and find them easy to overwinter in a container (indoors for the tender ones, outdoors, but undercover, for the hardy). Unfortunately it’s rare that one of them blooms, but I do claim to be a foliage, rather than flower, gardener. A few of my aloes…

A shot of some of my indoor-overwintering containers. Can you spot the four aloes?

A shot of some of my indoor-overwintering containers, there are four aloes included in that mess

Wait, what was I saying about no spikes? Aloe marlothii is one spiky plant!

Wait, what was I saying about no spikes? Aloe marlothii has spikes in spades

Aloe dorotheae

Aloe dorotheae is a great small aloe, it colors up beautifully and has produced several summertime blooms

Aloe vaotsanda x divaricata ('Fire Ranch')

Aloe vaotsanda x divaricata (‘Fire Ranch’), photo taken during the warmer months

Aloe striatula, I have multiples of this plant and several blooms, in the summertime.

Aloe striatula, I have multiples of this plant and have had several blooms – always in the summertime

Aloe saponaria is a prolific "pupper" even in a container.

Aloe saponaria was purchased in bloom but has never repeated the performance – it is a prolific “pupper” even in a container

Of course I have to go and throw a wrench into this otherwise positive post. Those people responsible for plant naming? Well they’ve gone and messed with the aloes, so some of them, well, they’re not even aloes anymore. Gerhard at the blog Succulents and More does an excellent job of covering the name game in this post, I strive for such mental acuity.

Other aloes I’m loving…