Friday, 28 October 2011

Common does that matter?

Agave americana is probably the most common agave world wide.  In many parts of the world it is almost a weed, with the prolific offsets. Even in the UK as one of the hardy agaves it is the one you will see in peoples gardens, and the odd news paper when they flower.  The different varieties of this plant can pretty much represent the changes many succulent collections go through.

The plain plant is often the first agave you own, I know it was mine, and I remember how excited I was to get a given a few of them.  This pretty much sealed my fate, and I was soon searching more varieties of agave.  It was not long before I realised that there were far more interesting plants out there and unless you have a huge amount of space to fill, as new plants come in this one goes out.

Once you have a few agaves many people start to look at variegated plants, only slightly less common is the marginata form.  Again my first variegated agave, and it was given pride of place in the garden for a while.

The problem with obsessions though is that you are never happy with what you have,  there is always something better out there.   So having gone through the common plants, you start to look for slightly more unusual plants.  The medio picta alba plant fits perfectly into that category.  It is not so common that you see them every day , but when you start looking it is easy to find.  So out with the marginata form in with the medio-picta albas.

Where next, you have the plants that are easy to find,  so onto those that are harder to find.  Now you are slipping into obsession status; it's no longer just about seeing plants and buying them,  it changing to searching for that elusive variety that few people have.  Yet again agave americana pops up, this time in the striata (stripy variegation) and the medio-picta aurea (yellow stripe) forms. 

By now, you are probably getting fussy and each plant is worthy of a place.  This means that it is more difficult to decide what to do when space runs out.  Medio-picta alba is a lovely, too good to just bin, so it gets shifted into a less prominent place and this is the dance that happens with each new plant.

You may feel that agave americana is too common, so lets change to the plants that have come out recently.  Starting with agave blue glow,  soon you're moving on to the variegates snow glow and sun glow.  What's that a new one just about to be released! The plants may have changed but the story is always the same. I wonder what we would think if agave americana wasn't on every street, if it was a hybrid just coming onto the market?


  1. Very interesting & very true, but over here in Western Australia your more likely to see Agave attentuata, its huge with all the professional landscapers & loves our climate. I can relate to always wanting what you have got, Im starting to feel quited obsessed myself!

  2. Fun post! While I find myself mildly obsessed with my latest agave crush (always changing) I still love the plain old Agave Americana, so much so that I recently knocked on the door of my in-laws next door neighbor (in New Mexico) to ask permission to dig a pup. They are actually fairly rare around Portland, meaning not often found In the nurseries. Unlike the yellow variegated which is quite common.

  3. Becc, I would love to see more attenuatas around here but they can't cope with the winters. Have the variegated forms started to appear yet?

    DG: maybe nurseries go through the same pattern of replacing the old stables with the new variety. I am pleased I am not the only one who is shameless enough to approach strangers and ask them if I can dig up plants from their garden.

  4. Very true! We all constantly long for the newest plants, don't we?

    Yet there are certain select plants that are horribly common, but so undeniably useful that even the most sophisticated gardener uses them. Here it is Agave attenuata and Rosa 'Iceberg', soon to be joined by Geranium 'Rozanne'. They look so reliably beautiful year in and year out, even in poor conditions, that no one can deny them a place.

  5. Those are really great looking agave's. And the color variations are awesome. This is a great post you made me laugh. I am obsessed too. With all succulents. Aaah!

  6. HB: I think in planted beds, things tend to be more stable and the new varieties don't get used so the work horses stay put. I would love agave attenuata to be usable here.

    Candy: Thank you.