13 August 2010

The Agave

Back in 83 or 84 when a bunch of us went to Corfu on holiday, I was amazed to see a plant springing up everywhere. It was quite exotic looking and I took a few small specimens back to the UK where I planted them in a corner of the garden. Amazingly they grew but then the winter frost got them – all that was left in spring were some soggy, rotten stumps.
Each year, when we returned to Corfu I’d pack a few of these cacti, bring them home and each year they died. Not knowing their proper name, we called them Corfu Cactii.
Then when I moved to France, they were everywhere and they were so big that even the few days of frost we get couldn’t kill them. I found out that they are called Agave, they are not related to the cactus family despite their horrible sharp spines and they are a native of Mexico and are used for two main purposes: the making of tequila and something called Agave Nectar which is rapidly becoming a healthy sugar alternative.
For me however, they were something to plant in the steep slope which was built to support the pool we had built next door. I envisaged a thunderstorm washing away the bank of earth and waking up one morning to see the pool at the bottom of the hill, so I popped into next door’s garden where they, or rather their gardeners, had used Agaves to do the same job and took some of the ‘baby’ plants which spring up from the root.
I took both varieties: the Blue Agave and the Varigated (green and yellow) Agave, planted them all over the slope and just sat back and waited. They don’t need any water, the roots grow at an incredible rate and within a couple of years the slope was a ‘jungle’ of thorny, spiky Agave plants with hundreds of small ‘seedlings’ growing all over the place.
Then the new house was built and when I was landscaping the garden (sorry – I’m just amazed that I’ve stupidly used the words ‘landscaping’ and ‘garden’), I took those little seedlings and planted them for garden architectural purposes (I’ve done it again!). This time however, I shaped them and cut off the spines and they don’t half look good.
But there’s a sad story about the Agave and I’d read this somewhere, that after twenty years, the plant sends up an enormous trunk like shoot, some twenty or thirty feet into the air which branches out into clusters of yellow flowers – and then it dies. Its last act as a living thing is to produce the most spectacular flower. Aaaah.
The Agave in the picture is one of the original plants used by the gardeners when the first three houses were built – and do you know when that was? 1990! Exactly twenty years ago.

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