“Fearless Gardening” and Growing Spiky Plants


The sweetest spring just might be this one. Breaking out of the covid bubble just as the South Sound undergoes its annual color explosion makes Spring 2021 doubly appreciated.

     If there was ever any doubt about the importance of gardening in the South Sound…it has been put to rest. Nurseries were considered “essential”and therefore so was gardening. A record number of vegetable gardens were started and a record number of seeds were sown.

     Amid all of the frenzied vegetable growing there has been an undercurrent of interest in the plants usually reserved for the southern most part of North America…plants like…

 Agaves, Aeonium and Aloe

      Agaves are native to the Southwest. You wouldn’t think they would grow in the South Sound but Agave parryi will survive and thrive in our winters. The slow growing gray green succulent leaves initially grow to 2 feet tall and wide. In their native habitat, they can grow to 20 feet. They need to be protected from cold and rain so, if you like a challenge…most require Zone 10

     Aeonium resemble a smooth, fleshy petaled daisy and are a few zones hardier than Agave. They are also a little easier to find. They are collected for their maroon, green and yellow colored fleshy leaves. You might find more Aeonium in a houseplant section… Zone 9

    Aloe is the hardiest of the three. Everyone knows about the fleshy Aloe vera used as a handy burn remedy. Many more Aloe varieties can make it outside through our winters. Aloe aristata is a dark green, compact, aloe that has made it through the last 3 winters in my yard in a terra cotta pot. As with most of the succulent like plants, it’s our rain that does them in, not our temperature…Zone 8

     These trendy plants, by nature, are harder to find and more challenging to grow. They are trendy experiments. If the “look” of these desert plants is something you like, you can ease into growing “like” plants by substituting…

Yucca, Soft Succulents and Sempervivums

     Yucca filamentosa (Adam’s Needle) have spiky, treacherous leaves like Agave with the added benefit of 6 foot flowers. They do not come in the beautiful blue gray of some of the most striking Agave but they are easy to find and easy to grow…Zone 7

     Soft Succulents are the gentle, un-spiky succulents that come in all of the same colors as Aeonium, They have similar texture, similar colors and unless they’re waterlogged, most will make it through any of our winters. Zone 5

     Semperivivums are “hens and chicks”. They are an easy to grow substitute for the harder to find Aloe species. They can handle our cold as long as they have good drainage.  Our rain doesn’t bother them. 

 Whichever way you go…trendy or traditional…Break a few rules and succumb to some…

“Fearless Gardening” by Loree Bohl

     You may recognize Loree from, Plantlust.com, “a seriously simple search for plants”, her popular blog, “Danger Garden” or her social media presence featuring her unusual desert garden in the middle of Portland, OR.  She grows plants fearlessly.

     “Fearless Gardening” is written to motivate and encourage gardeners to break some rules about plant material. Her “ten commandments of gardening” list combines truths with humorous myths. Number 2 is “thou shalt not purchase plants on impulse”. Yeah, right.

      A major takeaway from Loree’s “Fearless Gardening” is to dive right in and try anything…even a desert garden in the Pacific Northwest.

   To see a local version of what you can do with a desert look; take a trip to the ever-expanding horticultural wonderland at the Point Defiance Zoo. You won’t be disappointed.

Timber Press, Jan, 2021, 256 p., $24.95,