I was at Fred Meyers, looking for a hose for the greenhouse. Well, of course I have to swing through the outdoor plant section, just to see what's left at this time of year. Among other things, I found a nice selection of agaves from Little Prince of Oregon still available. Both labels said the two plants below were hardy to USDA zone 7. I have a particularly hot, steeply sloped spot I've been thinking of trying agaves in. Why not?
|Agave x leopoldii|
|Agave 'Royal Spine'|
The front entrance to my parents' house has a large ramp and steps set at a wide angle from each other. The steps, ramp, and driveway form the boundaries of a narrow bed about four to six feet wide. At the end next to the steps, it's quite steep. It slowly becomes less sloped towards the end of the ramp, like a slightly twisted ribbon. Since it faces west and is surrounded by concrete and gravel, it gets very hot on a summer afternoon. This year, it's been absolutely scorching. I originally planted this bed with some of the surplus heathers from the driveway island. They do pretty well there, for the most part, but they look sad and droopy on hot afternoons. So I determined this year to find some really heat-tolerant plants for this bed. In addition to being raised and steeply sloped, much of the soil is a gritty mineral soil with little organic matter. There is a large component of clay, making it hold together, but the grit balances that out. I've also been finding some gravel, too.
|Two little agaves now share this bed with Calluna vulgaris, Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta', sempervivums. There are others, but that's what's visible in this shot.|
Of course as soon as I got home from the store, I looked up both agaves online and found one rated hardy to 8b, and the other to zone 9. I guess we'll see if Little Prince is full of...um, compost. I'd like to get a few more that are definitely hardy, like Agave parryi. One of my favorite agaves is A. bracteosa, but as it naturally grows in the light shade of pine trees, I'm not sure it would like the scorching heat of this bed. However, their native habitat is much further south than the PNW, with much more intense sunlight. Does anyone more familiar with agaves know whether A. bracteosa can handle a furnace-like exposure in the PNW?
Other plants I've tried in this bed include Penstemon rupicola, Penstemon cardwellii, Helianthemum 'Henfield's Brilliant' Euphorbia rigida, and Lavendula stoechas 'Bright Luxurios'. I started the year with three P. rupicola that I had planted a year or two ago. I'm down to two. I'm not sure if it was just the scorching heat or the fact that I watered during that heat. Our native penstemons don't generally appreciate hot, wet soil. Then again, the high elevation species like P. rupicola don't generally like lowland heat, period. The Penstemon cardwellii was a pleasant surprise, resurrecting from nothing after disappearing during the heat last summer. It seems to be handling things better this year. The three helianthemum were a bit root bound when I planted them, right before the heat kicked on this spring, and I don't think many of those poor roots have realized they have more soil to grow out into. It was a struggle to keep them watered. I finally lost one, while I think the other two, though looking tired and stressed, will survive. I also have some Sedum reflexum 'Spanish Selection' next to the steps that looks terrible right now, but that's because I chopped it to bits before I planted it. The cuttings in the greenhouse are rooted now and could be planted any time, though I'll at least wait for a few cool days in a row, or fall, whichever comes first. A Pinus mugo at the flatter end of the bed will be dug out this fall to become part of the new screen planting along the road. Nobody in this house wants to bother with pinching those sticky candles every spring to keep the pine compact enough to stay where it is.
I'm on the lookout for other super heat-tolerant plants for this bed, but the point of this post is that I have finally added agaves to my garden. You win, Loree, there's always an agave. Whether these two in particular will survive the winter remains to be seen.