Select Page

A few years ago, at a party for “plant people,” I was introduced to a friend’s new beau. His first question, “favorite genus?” I didn’t hesitate, not even for a second, before answering…agave!

As I may have written here previously, my being a part of this plant lust endeavor can be traced back to a love for agaves and my personal blog, danger garden. My business partner Megan and I met because we read each other’s blogs, and we wrote about our passion for agaves, a lot. Of course being two introverts it took our third partner, Patricia, to actually get us talking, in “real-life.”

Recently we enjoyed lunch with friend-of-plant-lust Derek Powazek. Having escaped the big city (San Francisco), Derek seems to be adjusting to life in Oregon just fine. I won’t share too many details but he’s only been here a few months and has already bought a home, built raised beds and started a vegetable garden.  There’s talk of chickens. He did admit there’s one thing he’s missing…

Strybing Arboretum

In his previous life Derek volunteered at Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park (pictured above). If you haven’t been, there are lots big, beautiful, agaves. In fact all around the Bay Area you’ll see them punctuating home gardens and gracing public plantings. Derek asked for a list of species which can be expected to grow well here, in the Portland area. If he’s wondering there must be others, right? I’m always ready to help spread the agave love!

Since these particular agaves grow well in my USDA Zone 8, winter wet, summer dry, garden I figure chances are they might be successful in other places as well. Places where one doesn’t see agaves typically growing. Here’s the thing, this is only my experience, and yours may vary. At planting I build up the soil (using small rocks and chicken grit, mixed with native soil) so the agave sits higher than the surrounding area, improving the drainage and encouraging rain water to run freely away. The agave is also tilted slightly, to keep water from pooling in the crown. So, without further ado, here’s my list of success stories…

Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’
Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue'

Current count in my garden stands at five, four in the ground and one in a container. This graceful agave can eventually reach 6-8 feet tall and wide, I doubt that will happen here though, which is fine. They powered through last winter with it’s low of 12F and a period with both day and night time temperatures below freezing. Then again it’s not the cold so much as winter-wet that dooms ill-planted agaves to death.

Agave bracteosa
Agave bracteosa

Sorry, that photo is a little confusing. There are a three Agave bracteosa shown, one at the very front/bottom and another at the back, just in front of the orange blooming Anigozanthos (Kangaroo Paw). Just for good measure there’s another in the photo below.

Agave ‘Mateo’
Agave 'Mateo' at KS

That’s Agave ‘Mateo’ with the faint lighter-green stripe down the middle of the leaf. A. ‘Mateo’ was discovered as a seedling in a patch of Agave bracteosa, it’s suspected that the other parent might be Agave lophantha. I bought a large plant that came with a few small pups, which I put in the ground. My feeling was I had nothing to lose and since Agave bracteosa has proven hardy here maybe…? Indeed they’re doing fine. Now I’m considering planting the mama plant in the ground too (it has been in a container).

Agave gracilipes
Agave gracilipes

This one is a fairly new experiment and has only been in the ground just a year. I think it has great potential though as the plants are fairly small and showing absolutely no winter damage (the larger the plant, the better the success rate, in my experience). Typically after winter most of my agaves have a few soggy lower leaves or leaves with blemishes which I cut away, summer growth quickly pushes out new leaves and the plant looks fabulous again in no time.

Agave parryi ‘J.C. Raulston’
Agave parryi 'J.C. Raulston'

Most Agave parryi do pretty well here but ‘J.C. Raulston’ is special, in that it rarely has any damage at all. I’ve managed to accumulate five of them (plus pups) and wouldn’t hesitate to add another (or twelve).

Agave neomexicana
Agave neomexicana

It’s the blue agave on the far right (above). I’ve got several of this no-nonsense agave, Cistus Nursery describes it best: “A tough-as-nails species, closely related to A. parryi but with narrower, deep blue leaves held upright and out and adorned with gray marginal spines and long, terminal brownish red spines”

Honorable mention: Agave ‘Silver Surfer’
Agave 'Silver Surfer'

Honorable mention simply because I haven’t grown it in my garden but have watched it in the garden above (2014 tour here and here) and it’s done fabulously.

So that’s my list, I’m sure others would add (or subtract) a few. Please join the conversation and share your experience. Also it’s worth noting that I am a mere mortal and didn’t hit the jackpot of agave growing conditions, the tall rock wall. If you’ve got one of those you can have plants of epic proportions, like the one I shared in this post. And because I never really know when to stop here are a few other complementary plant suggestions to complete the Oregon “desert” garden…