Favorite agaves

Almost two years ago we began installing mounded succulent beds to replace plantings that weren’t thriving due to heavy clay soil and poor drainage. The effect was instantaneous and dramatic. The gardener in me was born, or at least re-awakened, by this experience. Before, gardening had mostly been a chore; since then, it’s been a passion.

We’ve gotten more positive comments on our succulent beds than on any other feature in our yard, including our bamboos. The conclusion I draw from this is that everybody loves succulents, while bamboos—like exotic foods—are an acquired taste.

Inspiration for our succulent garden came from many sources. The University of California Davis Arboretum has been an incredible resource. Just a few miles from our house, it comprises a variety of plant collections in realistic environments. Most influential on our design was the Valley-Wise Garden dedicated to drought-tolerant plants appropriate for the Sacramento Valley. This is a beautiful destination at any time of year, but especially in April and May when the garden erupts in a riot of colors.

Inspiration also came from books, especially Designing with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin and Sharp Gardening by Christopher Holliday. Both books are lavishly illustrated, and I can highly recommend them. If you’re into container gardening, Debra Lee Baldwin published a new book this spring called Succulent Container Gardens.

(For people interested in more in-depth information about agaves, the two best reference books are Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants by Mary and Gary Irish, and Agaves of Continental North America by Howard Gentry. The latter is a 670-page scientific reference work with extensive taxonomic and ethnobotanical information and overkill for anybody but the most serious collector.)

When it came to sourcing plants, I was hugely disappointed by what is offered in local nurseries. The nurseries here in Davis only carry small succulents, mostly cacti, and even the premium nurseries in Sacramento, like Capitol Nursery, have a very limited selection of larger agaves, yuccas and aloes.

My best purchases initially were from Wal-Mart. I bought a couple of 15” succulent bowls which I disassembled. They yielded 20+ smaller plants each, especially useful groundcovers like blue chalk fingers (Senecio mandraliscae) and various sedums but also smaller beauties like string of buttons (Crassula perforata). All have thrived.

Then I came across a post on San Francisco Craigslist by the Landscape Cacti and Succulent Nursery of the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. What a wonderful find that turned out to be! They carry a huge selection of agaves, aloes and other succulents in 1- to 5-gallon sizes at incredibly reasonable prices, especially for the quality you’re getting. Practically all our larger succulents came from there. If you live in Northern California, I cannot recommend them highly enough. Plants have to be picked up in person; they’re not set up to ship.

Other sources for smaller plants were Peacock Horticultural Nursery in Sebastopol (large selection of tissue-cultured agaves in 4” containers) and Cottage Gardens of Petaluma (in my opinion one of the most beautiful nurseries in Northern California). It pays to look around because you never know what you might find!

So, without further ado, here are my favorite agaves from our garden.


Succulent bed next to front door
Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’
Agave lophanta ‘Quadricolor’
Agave attenuata x ocahui ‘Blue Glow’
Agave ‘Blue Flame’ (Agave attenuata x shawii)
Agave celsii
Agave potatorum
Agave 'Kissho Kan'  (potentially Agave potatorum 'Variegata')
Agave ‘Cornelius’
Agave geminiflora
Agave dasyliroides
Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ (cross between an agave and a manfreda)

I’ll write a separate post about aloes because many of them are winter bloomers and will flower soon.

For a complete list of agaves in my collection, please click here.

For an agave update (June 2012), please click here.


  1. Me too. We're pretty much agave-challenged here in St. Louis, although there are a few that are cold-hardy enough for us I think.

  2. Some agaves are cold hardy to zone 6: Agave harvardiana, Agave neomexicana, Agave utahensis and some forms of Agave parryi. These are truly beautiful species. http://www.highcountrygardens.com/ carries most of them.

  3. Very beautiful collection. I hope my little one gets to grow as nice

  4. Man, what a great garden of succulents! How's it going now?

  5. Your favorite Agaves are my favorite Agaves. You need A. 'Joe Hoak', too.

  6. Hoover Boo, what coincidence you mention 'Joe Hoak.' I just saw it in Plant Delights' Fall 2011 catalog and decided I need one :-).


Post a Comment