Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Agaves, Living sculptures for landscapes and containers, by Greg Starr


“Why do you like agaves?”… a question posed by “fellow plant geek” Scott Calhoun. Mr. Starr replies, “If asked a dozen times, I will have a dozen different answers. Each species has a distinctive feature that draws me in repeatedly like a moth to a flickering flame, letting go briefly as my interest flashes to a different species before pulling me back in time and time again.”

And so begins this 342 page book on the plant genus nearest and dearest to my gardening heart, Agaves, Living sculptures for landscapes and containers, by Greg Starr. Since I've been asked that very same question at least a dozen times I was very curious what his answer would be. Somehow responding “Because they are so cool, and dangerous! Just look at those spikes!” wasn't really communicating what I wanted to say.
Agave ocahui, photo by Gregg Starr

The book starts off with a thorough introduction to, and information on, growing agaves. Then follows a 270 page “Encyclopedia of Agaves”...each listing includes several photos, field notes, a plant description and information on culture and landscape value. I have to admit I really geeked out on this section. Reading in depth information like this on so many different kinds of agaves, well...that's my definition of a good time.

Next up is a section comparing look-alike agaves along with lots of photos, particularly helpful if you are trying to identify exactly which agave you've got. Finally there is a chart listing plants by size, for those readers lucky enough to be landscaping with agaves. Those of us growing our agaves in containers will never see most of their plants come close to their potential size.
Young Agave stricta (left), Agave striata (right. Photo by Gregg Starr


Mr. Starr mentions a couple of other books in my personal library, Howard Scott Gentry’s Agaves of Continental North America (1982) and Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants by Mary Irish and Gary Irish (2000). There was a time when I devoured both of those books and returned to them whenever I wanted more information on a particular plant. Lately however I find myself turning to the internet , without thinking about it I had dismissed those books as being out of date, and besides, the internet is fast! Well since receiving this book from Timber Press last May (yes I received a complimentary review copy) I've headed there first. The in-depth information listed for each species just can’t be easily matched on the internet and let’s face it…depending your source, the internet sometimes lies (I know, don’t tell anyone I said that).
Agave bracteosa, cliff-side. Photo by Gregg Starr

In addition to the species focused information found in the book there are also great nuggets of knowledge that you can only pick up when you’re reading an expert. For example I compared a list of the ten most mesic (characterized by, or adapted to a moderately moist habitat) species with the ten hardiest species and cultivars and learned I should have luck growing Agave gentryi and Agave montana…yay! I have them both, although my ‘gentryi’ is the ‘Jaws’ cultivar.
Agave montanta in flower, it doesn't look real does it? Photo by Gregg Starr

I also picked up two new extremely useful terms… Agavologist and Agaveophile. Finally I will have an answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”… “Well if I ever find the time to go back to school I hope to be an Agavologist…however in the mean time I find that being an Agavephile suits me just fine.”
Agave bovicornuta, it's teeth resemble the horns of a cow. Photo by Gregg Starr

Seriously though I find this book to be an extremely useful addition to my library, but even more than that it manages, on every page, to increase the excitement I feel about these wonderful plants (bet you didn't think that was possible did you?). The photos are marvelous and you can tell Mr. Starr is writing on a subject that he feels passionately about. I love this book!

37 comments:

  1. stunning and no it doesnt look real!!

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  2. I still have barely read into his book...maybe this winter? You would think after sitting next to him a a party at Scott C's house last month, then getting his autograph on my book, would have kick-started me to dig in and finish it. Nope...

    No, the agave in bloom almost doesn't look real!

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    1. I'm sure you can guess how much I would have loved to be at that party! When Pam posted about it I savored every last word and photo.

      Perhaps over this holiday weekend would be a good time to snuggle in with a beverage and the book?

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  3. Thanks for the well-written review. I just added it to my Amazon wish list. I'm not sure I can really put my finger on why these plants appeal to me either. They're so different from all the usual flowery cottage garden plants, and I think I'm just ready for a change, and to learn something new. Gardeners need to keep broadening their horizons.

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    1. So true! (about broadening our horizons) On tomorrows Kew post I'm sharing a couple of new to me plants I discovered there. So many plants...so little garden.

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  4. wonderful! I shall add it to the christmas list!! I was flipping through it at the book store the other day and drooling over it.

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    1. To bad I can't share my copy with you for the plane ride!

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  5. I love this book but it does have shortcomings, such as the baffling omission of many popular agaves. None of the many forms of Agave americana are included, and neither are Agave attenuata and Agave desmettiana. Greg does say that what he included is a very personal selection but it's still surprising that the most popular agaves were left out.

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    1. What does it say about me that I didn't even notice that? Great observation Gerhard. I wonder why? Maybe he felt they were too common and had been covered thoroughly already?

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    2. I'm sure that's exactly why. But I still think they should have been included to make the book more complete--I think most people would prefer to refer to ONE book instead of several to find the info they need.

      Having said that, Greg's book includes some species I had never even heard of, such as the incredible Agave albopilosa (still virtually impossible to source at the moment). And the photos are outstanding across the board.

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  6. You are a discerning consumer of agave information, Loree, so when you say you love a specific book, that that is indeed high praise. (And now I finally know how Agave bovicornuta got its name...It's puzzled me ever since I first heard it!)

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    1. I don't know about the discerning part, a consumer though for sure. Glad to share an "aha!" moment with you over the Bovicornuta! It was the same for me, that photo nailed it perfectly!

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  7. So you're saying that like agaves this book has some good points? Loree Bohl agavephile, agave rescuer, and evangelist.

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  8. Strange that he missed the term "Agavemaniac", which is probably more appropriate in this case. (Not meant in a bad way)

    I'll have to see how I'm feeling about Agaves once spring comes around. If my new-this-year babies do okay, I may need to pick this book up. :-)

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    1. Yes, I would happy claim to be an Agavemaniac! I'm hoping you experience lots of success. I'm already worried about my in-ground plants. We've had near 3" of rain in the last few days. Can you say saturated?

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  9. Great review Loree! I remember when this book was first announced I got myself into the waiting list and bought it the day it was released. I suppose I'm an 'agavephile' myself but there are still some agaves that don't appeal to me, majority does though. The architectural merits of these plants are obvious and undeniable.

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    1. Oh pray tell...which agaves don't you care for?

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  10. Love your blog.
    Maybe you can help me identify this plant I found in a city park in Lisbon. looks like Agave, but i'm not sure.
    http://www.cheirar.blogspot.pt/2012/11/no-parque.html
    Thank you

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    1. Thank you Rosa, I looked at your blog but the photo you linked to appears to be a tree. Am I missing something?

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    2. Rosa -

      I see the stalk of the plant here?
      http://www.cheirar.blogspot.pt/2012/11/com-os-patos.html

      Which does look 'agave like' - I think we'd need to see the leaves to get a better idea. I don't know a lot about the many varieties of agave, but I'm not familiar with that flower form ...

      Sorry. Do you have more photos? (I love these challenges!)

      Jenn

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  11. Replies
    1. Indeed. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if it included a ticket to Arizona to visit Mr. Starr's nursery.

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  12. Your excellent review made me turn my office upside down this morning to locate the Irish book -- and I did! So thanks for that. I always get stricta confused with geminiflora, so the look-alike discussion is a great idea. Yes, agavephilic to the max here too ;)

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    1. Glad to spur a little office clean-up. You did clean-up while hunting right?

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    1. It is...and quite the cute little Aloes on your blog today!

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  14. Sounds like an amazing book I will need to add to my collection! I need to tell my Sweetstuff page likes about this book! Thanks!

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    1. Yes I do think you would like having this one in your collection Candy.

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  15. Like you it is my favourite book now. One of the things I find most helpful about it are the photos of both young and old plants and plants in habitat. So often young plants different from old ones or from those grown in the wild.

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    1. The habitat photos are quite the eye opener. For instance that one above with the A. bracteosa cliff-side...WOW! If only I could replicate that in my garden!

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  16. You forgot Agavohalic.......I'm claiming that one about myself!

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    1. I like it. Spikohalic has a nice ring to it too!

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    2. agavohalic -- how perfect for the genus that includes the plant from which tequila comes!

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  17. Oh. My.

    One to put on the wish list!

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