Falling in love, with aloes

Falling in love, with aloes

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…

  • I love Aloes too, I need more of them. I really need to find an Aloe dorotheae this year. That orange color is fabulous.

    • Are you coming down for the Rare Plant Research open house in May? If so you should be able to get one there. It’s where all of mine came from.

  • I have much better luck with Aloes than with Agaves and they all seem to bloom pretty reliably. None quite as spectacularly as the ones you show, however. In on the ground floor of a hot new trend? That sounds like fun!

    • Interesting, I wonder why? (better luck than agaves) And you get blooms too!? What is your secret? Someone told me I was giving them too much light, since the basement fixtures stay on until we go to sleep. Evidently their internal clocks are messed up, or so he says. The ones outside in the SP greenhouse aren’t exactly pushing out blooms either so I’m not sure I agree.

      • No secrets, I guess they just feel the love. They get treated like house plants all winter then get a summer vacation somewhere where the rain won’t waterloo them.

  • The freely (even exuberantly) blooming style of the big aloes greatly endears them to me. They are such performers, especially in the massive California landscape installations, that I can see why you might actually start to yawn a little this time of year. But I’m looking forward to a dose of central CA aloes in late January. I promise to store up enough of their warmth and energy to tide me over until our Portland aloes go outdoors for summer.

    • Late January will be a wonderful time to visit California. I’m feel quite lucky to have spend so much time there recently but that doesn’t stop me from wishing I were going with you!