Big agave flower and upcoming plant sale: catching up with Justin Thiel

I recently caught up with my Bay Area friend Justin and want to show you what his garden looks like in early June 2022 (for comparison, here’s a post from June 2021). Justin grows many different varieties of cacti, and I missed the peak of the cactus flowering season by a few weeks. Because this was such a banner year, Justin and I are working on a post that will show some of the most spectacular flowers in his garden; check back next week for that.

Right now, the biggest attraction in Justin’s garden is the asparagus-like flower stalk of his Agave parrasana:

The entire plant looks like a Dr. Seuss creation. We estimated the height to be about 10 ft.—3 ft. for the rosette and 7 ft. for the inflorescence. If anything, the stalk on Justin’s Agave parrasana is even heftier than on mine, which flowered last year.

When I arrived, Justin was working in the front yard. He has a good crop of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) every year and lets them do their thing. They’ve just about finished flowering and will be thinned before they go to seed.

Justin waters as needed, which varies from once a week to once a month depending on the heat. Hand-watering allows him to precisely control which plant gets how much; some obviously want more than others. In contrast, in my garden where in-ground plants are on drip irrigation, all the plants in one zone get the same amount: convenient for me, but maybe not so ideal for the plants.

Justin’s garden is about 2 miles from San Pablo Bay, the northern extension of San Francisco Bay. As a result, his climate is noticeably more temperate than mine: a good 5 degrees cooler in the summer and 3-5 degrees warmer in the winter. This may not sound like much, but it does make a difference. Plants just seem to grow better at his place than mine. Just look at his Agave shawii below! I’ve never been successful getting Agave shawii to survive for even a year!

Agave shawii

Agave horrida

Agave horrida

Mangave ‘Silver Fox’ & co.

Agave applanata (left), the non-variegated sibling of ‘Cream Spike’

Agave applanata (upper left), recently planted crevice garden (front)

Justin has slowly been adding more rock mounds to his front yard. This makes it easier to install gopher cages around the roots of valuable plants and improve the drainage. In addition, the rocks create visual interest and showcase the plants. In a sense, Justin is building his own variation of a crevice garden!

Parodia schlosseri

Justin feels like he has enough large anchor plants in the front yard and is focusing on creating mounds that help highlight smaller cacti and other succulents. By raising them up off the ground, Justin is making it easier for them to play a starring role. I’m trying to do something similar in the bed next to our front door; maybe this is the start of a new trend where more diminutive succulents finally get their due.

Aloe (humilis × pratensis) × (humilis × hemingii), a Nick Deinhart hybrid

Agave utahensis var. eborispina, ethically grown from seed, not poached in the wild

Ever expanding thimble cactus colony ( Mammillaria vetula subsp. gracilis)

Tiger jaws (Faucaria tigrina)

Pleiospilos nellii (top), Lithops sp. (bottom); Justin is the only California gardener I know who is trying to grow Lithops in the ground

More Lithops in the ground

Agave nickelsiae

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ at the base of Agave parrasana

Mangave ‘Tooth Fairy’

Aloe microstigma and a variety of Sempervivum

More Sempervivum and Echinopsis subdenudata

Ferocactus latispinus (left) with particularly wide lower radials

Parodia microsperma var. rubellihamata

This is one of the first rock mounds Justin created. Groundcover succulents knit everything together.

Agave ovatifolia is one of the large anchor plants

Agave ovatifolia, Delosperma ‘Hot Pink Wonder’, and Asiatic lilies

The back yard is very different. It has a play area for Justin’s kids, a gazebo for sitting, a small greenhouse, and raised beds for propagation and display. Justin is making a concerted effort to grow a larger variety of uncommon cacti and succulents from seeds, both for his own garden and for future plant sales.

Variegated Aloe maculata × striata, Aloe suzannae (back)

Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’

Aloe peglerae

Aloe aculeata

Potted aloes, agaves, and cacti

Agave horrida

Justin has built several tiered planter boxes that provide ideal growing conditions for xeric plants. Here’s a photo I took last year:

Here are some of my favorites in the tiered planters, noticeably larger this year than last:

Agave utahensis var. eborispina

Echinocereus rigidissimus var. rubrispinus

Mammillaria pringlei

Parodia schlosseri

Parodia herteri ssp. roseolutea

Mammillaria fitkaui

Mammillaria fitkaui

Parodia tabularis

Aloe peckii hybrid, brownish-yellow flowers with stripes

A peek inside Justin’s small greenhouse. It’s half empty because most plants are outside for the summer.

Justin wanted to see how difficult it is to start lithops from seed. Not very, it seems, at least not for him.

Justin will be one of the vendors at the upcoming 2022 San Francisco Succulent Show & Plant Sale to be held on June 17-19, 2022 at the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park. He’ll be selling a variety of succulents, including some of his aloe hybrids. For hours and more details, visit the San Francisco Succulent & Cactus Society (SFSCS) website.

Here are just a few of the plants Justin will be selling (the photos below are Justin's):

Mangave 'Bloodspot'× Agave titanota hybrid

Variegated Aloe maculata × striata

Be sure not to miss the 2022 SFSCS Show!



  1. Big wow to Justin's garden and the variety of plants that he grows! Wish we had his microclimate...

  2. Very impressive! I SO need more rock...I love the multi-tiered raised planters for succulents - that's a great idea and maybe something I should ask my husband to replicate for me ;) I was surprised to see lilies mixed in with succulents but it works. Justin's collection of plants for sale looks massive - I only wish San Francisco wasn't so far away. I keep waiting for that bullet train but I expect I'll be 100 (or dead) before that's available to facilitate trips from SoCal to NorCal..

  3. Love the rock mounds in the front yard - they're natural looking, unlike some others I've seen with brighter coloured gravel/pebbles. I much prefer Justin's look. He has some choice specimens, especially that Aloe peglerae doing its plant origami thing. The variegated Aloe maculata × striata is striking too. The plant sale shoppers are going to score some good finds.

  4. Yeah, I wish I had his climate and microclimate too! Yikes, love his gardens! I was given Parodia schlosseri and Parodia microsperma var. rubellihamata. They bloom great here for weeks and weeks as long as they are in afternoon shade. Mine are in pots. So many beautiful plants going to the sale too!

  5. What a collection! I like how natural the front area looks. The Parodia looks like a giant hairy spider. Kind of cool. I hope you are going to the show and can post on it.

  6. Impressive collection. Hand watering for these types of plants seems like a good way to go.

  7. Impressive collection. Hand watering for these types of plants seems like a good way. Not devastating if they go a little longer without.

  8. No, I haven't met Jen. Thank you so much for letting me know about her and her website. I'll check it out!


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