Superb agave-centric commercial landscaping in Irvine

Located 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the master-planned city of Irvine is, by all accounts, a desirable place to live: very safe, with excellent schools and a world-class university, and great job opportunities. On the flip side, it doesn’t rank high on the general excitement meter. In fact, Irvine and boring are often mentioned in the same breath.

Me, I actually like Irvine. Not only for the usual urban desirability aspects, but because more money seems to be spent here on commercial landscaping than in most other cities. Irvine has countless office parks and apartment complexes, and while many are as dull as dishwater, others have done everything right when it comes to beautifying the public spaces around their buildings.

Driving along in Irvine, I’ve seen quite a few commercial plantings that made me turn my head, but it’s often difficult to stop. But the landscaping featured in this post is so outstanding that I did pull into the parking lot and haul out the big camera.

I have no information on this project: who the building owner is, what their brief was for the landscaping, and which company did the design. But that doesn’t matter because the results speak for themselves. This is the kind of bold low-water design I’ve been longing to see in our parched cities. The plant palette is limited, but the mass plantings of agaves and Yucca rostrata, combined with chunky desert rocks, have high impact. This is not a job done on the cheap: Thoughtful discussions were held regarding the choice of materials and smart decisions were made. And for once, cost was not the overriding criterion. That makes me happy.

Let’s take a look:

Yucca rostrata, golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii), and a top-dressing of chunky desert rock

These towering lemon-scented gums (Corymbia citriodora) were planted decades ago, long before the current landscaping was installed. They complement the water-wise planting scheme beautifully.

White bark of lemon-scented gum (Corymbia citriodora) surrounded by muhly grass (Muhlenbergia lindheimerii)

Agave ‘Blue Flame’ entering the mix

Agave ‘Blue Flame’

Agave ‘Blue Flame’ and Yucca rostrata

Agave ‘Blue Flame’ and Agave americana ‘Mediopicta alba’

Yucca rostrata, Agave ‘Blue Flame’ and Agave americana ‘Mediopicta alba’

Yucca rostrata and floss silk tree (Ceiba speciosa)

Yucca rostrata and floss silk tree (Ceiba speciosa)

Yucca rostrata

One of several palo verde trees, the sterile and thornless ‘Desert Museum’ hybrid by the looks of it (Parkinsonsia ‘Desert Museum’) and—even more surprisingly—pincushion bushes (Leucospermum hybrids)

Even an Agave americana that looks reasonably good. I hope they’ll remove the pups soon before they become too large.

Agave americana (left) and Agave americana ‘Mediopicta alba’

Agave ‘Blue Flame’ and Agave americana

Agave ‘Blue Flame’, Yucca rostrata, and a small Leucospermum!

Agave ‘Blue Flame’, Agave americana, and Leucospermum

Yucca rostrata

Agave titanota ‘Black and Blue’

Agave titanota ‘Black and Blue’, Leucospermum hybrids, and Agave americana

A strip of Agave titanota ‘Black and Blue’ plantings leading to a section planted with Ferocactus...

...most likely Ferocactus cylindraceus, the California fire barrel

Crown of thorns (Euphorbia millii) and Agave parryi

Agave parryi, crown of thorns (Euphorbia millii), and a mass planting of reddish cordylines in a raised planter

Crown of thorns (Euphorbia millii) and Agave parryi

Agave parryi

For small and medium-sized office parks in California, Agave ‘Blue Glow’ still seems to be the #1 choice. It’s no doubt an attractive agave and, thanks to the miracle of tissue culture, can be churned out by the tens of thousands. Unfortunately, it turns out that Agave ‘Blue Glow’ flowers an at early age, around 7 or 8. That makes it necessary to remove and replace scores of plants much sooner than designers originally thought. The agaves used in this project live much longer before flowering. In the case of Agave parryi, it may be as long as 15 or 20 years.

The biggest surprise of this project was the inclusion of pincushion bushes (Leucospermum). They’re still fairly small, but in a few years, they’ll produce quite a show when in flower. I’ll be sure to check the progress of these plantings on future visits.

UPDATE: If found a before image on Google Maps from May 2018. What a shocking difference!

May 2018


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  1. I worked in Irvine for several years and this landscaping is certainly a departure from the norm, at least when I spent my weekdays there a decade ago. Hopefully, this represents a shift. I appreciate the room given to the agaves, especially 'Blue Flame' - I wish I'd given my own that much space!

    1. 'Blue Flame' can be squeezed into a tighter space if you keep removing the pups. But it looks pretty grand when it can spread out a bit, doesn't it?

  2. Removal and replacement of sod with appropriate low water plants is happening in other western states. There is really no choice in the matter. Kudos to any company or city management that takes the lead on this issue.
    I find that adding mass planting of grasses together with the agave is quite fetching.

    1. I agree, there *is* no choice. But there is so much resistance, even in the supposedly englighted city in which I live. Our neighbor still hoses down his driveway occasionally....

  3. Yes, I've seen that. It's right on my way to Roger's Gardens. They did a nice job. Another place to look at is not far from there---the northwest corner of Von Karman and Main. It's been there a while, and although it doesn't look as good as it used to, they did a very fine job initially.

    Irvine still has a massive amount of lawn-landscaping. Interesting story: Irvine has plenty of treated, non-potable water for most commercial, HOA, and city landscaping to use, from a water district reclamation plant :

    Apparently they have so much, the lawns can remain. The water district just received $12 million for expansion of a local reservoir to store more of this reclaimed, non-potable water, because at the moment they dump the excess into the ocean. California water supply is a complicated situation.

    1. Oopsie, it's Hoov's comment. Didn't realize I commented as Anon. Here's the article on the $12 million they got and some details on where the recycled water is used.

    2. That's so interesting about the non-potable water. I'm still in favor of lawn removal--why waste even non-potable water? And I continue to hope that we're at the beginning of a greater shift towards water-aware landscaping...

      Will check out the landscaping at Von Karman and Main next time. I must have drive right by there (our hotel was near Main).


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