Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Surprising agave sightings at Home Depot

More often than not I rag about the big box garden centers—Home Depot, Lowes and their ilk—either because their plant selection is outdated (too many thirsty annuals, not enough climate-appropriate perennials or succulents) or their plants are not well cared for (typically overwatered).

However, in recent years things have improved. It was a slow process at first, but the worse the drought in California got, the more water-wise plants I began to see. Now both Home Depot and Lowes have their own line of landscape succulents, often displayed in a prominent spot at the garden center entrance. Quality control is still an issue (read this post on a recent aloe mite sighting at the Home Depot in Morgan Hill, CA), but with proper employee education, this could be solved fairly expediently.

Aside from the small 2” and 3” succulents from Altman Plants, typically found in their own display inside the garden center, Home Depot and Lowes don’t carry a large selection of landscape succulents. Usually there are fewer than a dozen different varieties in #1 cans and up. Out out those, two or three might be agaves. So you’d think that they carry the most popular kinds—the likes of ‘Blue Glow’, ‘Blue Flame’, ‘Cornelius’ etc. But for reasons I cannot fathom, the agaves I’ve seen for sale at Home Depot lately have been anything but predictable. Here are two cases in point.*

Home Depot branch #6200, 8000 Folsom Blvd, Sacramento (near California State University Sacramento)

A selection of agaves in #5 cans was displayed right outside the garden center entrance. They were priced at $22.98, which is great for plants that size.

Agave geminiflora (right) is a good choice for the Sacramento area. With its dozens of flexible spaghetti-strap leaves adorned with curly white hairs, it’s not only a very ornamental species, it’s also quite friendly to humans.

Agave striata (left) is just as common and ornamental but much more pokey.

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Now it gets strange. The third species they carried was Agave garcia-mendozae.

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If you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel bad. In the agave parthenon, it’s definitely one of the lesser known species. While many of the common agave species have been in cultivation for 200 years or more, Agave garcia-mendozae wasn’t even formally described until 2002. Named in honor of Mexican botanist Abisaí García-Mendoza, it’s closely related to Agave horrida and Agave kerchovei (not exactly household names either). Personally, I don’t think it’s all that attractive, but it’s good to 15°F. That make it suitable for locations where less hardy species would fail.

I should say kudos to Home Depot for offering an agave so rare, but I’m of two minds about it. Since the space they dedicate to agaves is so small, I think it would make more sense to offer a cultivar that would appeal to more people, like the aforementioned ‘Blue Glow’ or ‘Blue Flame’.

Home Depot branch #1846, 690 Riverpoint Ct, West Sacramento (near IKEA)

A selection of agaves right at the garden center entrance was a welcome sight. #1 cans were priced at $5.98—a steal. Unfortunately, the labels were generic. All they said was “Agave species.” I recognized Agave parrasana, on the left in the next photo, but I have no idea what the species on the right is. At this size, it could anything from the über common Agave americana to something quite a bit more exciting like Agave zebra (a very long shot).

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The Agave parrasana were perfection, though. If I didn’t already have four of them, I would have gotten a few more. In my book, Agave parrasana is one of the most beautiful agaves (check out this photo I took last week at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek) and eminently suited for smaller gardens.

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In the #5 size (nominally 5 gallons, but actually a tad under 4 gallons), there were two species to choose from: Agave stricta (right in the next) photo, a close but less user-friendly relative of the Agave striata you saw above, and Agave cupreata (left), a more compact relative of the cow-horn agave (Agave bovicornuta).

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Just like Agave garcia-mendozae, Agave cupreata is not commonly seen in nurseries. I think it’s aesthetically striking but its teeth are ferocious so I wouldn’t plant it near a walkway. Again, why carry such a specialty plant that appeals to only a very small number of customers?

Having said that, I thought the Agave cupreata you see on top in the photo above was so perfect, I couldn’t resist. This might be the first agave I’ve ever bought at Home Depot. I’ll have a separate post about it later this week.

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While Home Depot will never be my go-to nursery for anything, let alone agaves (my heart belongs to the Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery), I can’t totally count it out either. As it proved today, it’s good for an occasional surprise.

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* Typically I don’t go to Home Depot or Lowes for months at a time but because of a painting project I’ve been to two different Home Depot locations in the Sacramento area within the last four days.

Disclaimer: What I said in this post refers to big box garden centers in Northern California. Elsewhere the situation might be completely different.

18 comments:

  1. Now that you mention it, I do see a lot of offbeat agaves at the BBs. And I think you've just ID'd one of my agaves I suspected was a dwarf cowhorn. I've been meaning to research it, but I think cupreata fits, so thanks!

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    1. I'd love to know how these relatively rare agaves end up at the Home Depot...

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  2. I think their suppliers have odds and ends and a big-boxer is a good place to dispose of them. I think it is also Altmans that is the supplier on those. My local had some beautiful titanotas, and it was a great temptation. Mostly they have parryi truncatas.

    Isn't that the thing with those stores, I don't go for months, then I go several times over the course of a week for a home project. The stores must know that...

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    1. Yes, these were Altman plants. Altman does have some unusual stuff in addition to the super common succulents that must make up 90% of their sales.

      We've finished painting my younger daughter's room so I probably won't go to the Home Depot again until next year. But who knows? Maybe this seemingly random pattern that you also observed will drive me there sooner than that...

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  3. Even our Home Depot has started to carry their own line of succulents. Of course none of them are hardy here (doesn't even look like they tried to go that route) but it was certainly fun to see them mixed in with the commoners this summer.

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    1. Even here some of the succulents they sell will never survive a typical winter. Examples are Agave attenuata, Dracaena draco and Furcraea foetida. Beautiful, yes, but not the least hardy.

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  4. Altman Plants sells succulents online to retail customers.
    I am so tempted to buy so many of them!

    This is a page with aloes for sale
    https://altmanplants.com/plant-shop/page/2/

    This is a page about a specific aloe called Pickled Pink that is an original hybrid created by O'Connell and introduced by Altman's.
    https://altmanplants.com/plant-shop/aloe-pickled-pink/

    Aren't they gorgeous?

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    1. Gorgeous indeed! Altman has so many interesting plants. I'd love to visit their growing grounds. Can you imagine the smorgasbord of succulents there?!?

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  5. Some of us would be floored if our Home Depots carried *any* agaves. Actually, I think I may have seen a couple in the indoor "cactus" section (where the spray-painted succulents are). I like that Agave geminiflora!

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    1. I was blown away by what Lowes in Phoenix had in their garden center compared to here!

      Agave geminiflora is great. If you ever see one, buy it. I has a beautiful fountain shape.

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  6. How fun to find such rarities of all places! Wish our big box retailers will surprise us with such every so often.

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    1. I love being surprised, especially if it's a good surprise :-).

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  7. The local Lowes (Redlands, Store #0759 -- there's a new-ish one in Highland I need to check out) has just been killing it with their succulents, and Australian plants, and even some CA natives. The Beaumont Home Despot has carried some neat cactus (because they're closer to the desert? Who knows) and I have cactus club buddies who make trips out there periodically to check for interesting stuff. This post makes me want to run by the local BBs tomorrow...

    That's a stunning cupreata. What a find!

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    1. Wow, your Redlands Lowes sounds awesome. I still haven't seen any Australian natives at Lowes except for Callistemon 'Little John' (that one seems to be everywhere).

      Will have to plan on stopping at the Redlands Lowes on my next desert trip. Maybe at the end of December although it's still up in the air.

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  8. I'm going to have to make a point of swinging by to check out my local stores - I usually only go in when my husband is dragging me along on an errand run (i.e. very seldom).

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    1. It seems there's a Home Depot or Lowes every 10 blocks. I'd love to know if you find anything worthwhile in your area.

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  9. I don't know if he's still there, but Kelly Griffin left RSN for Altman's, and the idea was that his breeding lines would start coming from Altman's. I have noticed some of this, and what you are seeing in the big box stores may reflect the increasing demand for these plants under water restrictions along with Kelly's influence on what makes it to market.

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    1. Daniel, as far as I know Kelly is still with Altman. I bet you're right about him having something to do with these more unusual succulents making it into the big box market. I hope we'll get to see more of his wonderful hybrids.

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