American dream

Certain plants are associated with certain places '“ who would dream of trying to grow a tender, tropical succulent, outdoors, in a garden on the North Yorkshire Moors?

HARD CORE: Agave Americana can be surprisingly tough when the temperature tumbles.

Someone has probably tried – and failed – but good for them; Robert the Bruce never let failure put him off.

But Agave americana? The very name conjures up pictures of hot deserts but, surprisingly, it is the most widely cultivated agave in the UK, and as long as it has a well-draining soil incorporating plenty of grit, and as much sunshine as Britain can offer, it’s quite a hardy beast.

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When young it should be given extra care, helping it through its first few years by keeping it either in a very protected position or, ideally, indoors over the winter until it has found its roots and is a decent size.

When it’s bigger, it can be either planted in its permanent position or potted, ideally in a terracotta container. Because it has a small root structure it’s possible to keep it in the same pot for several years before moving it up a size. In summer, pop it in a warm, sunny spot; come winter, it will need a bit more protection but a happy, healthy agave should be able to withstand several degrees of frost.

If it’s going to live outdoors all year round, it should be transplanted in mid to late spring or early summer. Over the growing season it will toughen up in readiness for winter.

Agave americana will need plenty 
of room as it will eventually grow very 
big. It will do well on a slope or a raised 
bed; planted out like this it is likely to get 
all the watering it needs from the rain and the drier it can be kept over winter the better.

With its blue-grey foliage reflecting a whitish bloom and its large upright habit, Agave americana is an extremely handsome plant, and if the colour isn’t to your taste, there is always Agave americana ‘Marginata’ whose foliage is a variegated green and yellow.

It too needs perfect drainage and plenty of space to allow it to develop those massive, barb-edged leaves. And, of course, the more sun, the better.

Another choice variety is Agave Montana which is considered to be one of the best for outdoor cultivation in the UK.