Agave love at Austin’s Wildflower Center


The rain stopped, so after meeting a client this morning I grabbed my camera and drove to the inspirational native-plant gardens of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for a leisurely stroll and photography exercise.


I’m still sorting through all my photos, but I had to put up some pics of the beautiful agaves growing there. This is Agave neomexicana, and I am smitten by its black, needle-like spines and regal, erect bearing.


Against the softness of the Lindheimer muhly grasses, its stiff form really stands out. What a wonderful deer-resistant combo for sun. Texas bluebonnets will be blooming in front in a month or so. I saw hundreds of rosettes.



I do, Mrs. Johnson. I do.


Agave lophantha glistening with raindrops



A soulful combination of Agave americana, Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), and Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana)


This Agave americana stands at least as tall as I am (5 ft 10 in).


Agave americana and sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri)


Her special cause has provided me with many quiet joys and satisfactions as well. I’m grateful for her vision.

For my next post about my Friday visit to the Wildflower Center, click here.

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

21 Responses

  1. Jen Butel says:

    Gorgeous photos Pam. Your blog is always such a source of inspiration. Before moving here several years ago, I would check out your blog just to make sure that I could garden in Austin. There has definitely been a learning curve for me. You make it look so easy. Your passion is contagious.

    Thank you, Jen! Your sweet comment made my day. I’m glad to have the opportunity to share my love for gardening in Austin. It isn’t always easy with our weather extremes, is it? But we’re so lucky to have a passionate gardening community here. —Pam

  2. Les says:

    If I ever make it to Texas, this will be on my must see list. I have used their great website when trying to ID natives and it is a very helpful resource. Lady Bird was visionary, and I am dating myself to say she was the first, First Lady and Pres. Johnson the first President that I have a memory of.

    You’d love it, Les. The Wildflower Center has such a sense of place thanks to the native plants and local hardscape materials. It taught me to love the Texas landscape when I first moved here. But the really great thing is the resources it offers to other regions too. It’s not just for Texans.

    Carter was the first president I have a memory of. I can even remember his election night, so I should be able to remember President Johnson. But I don’t. —Pam

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Yes, Mrs Johnson did the country a favor by bringing to the fore her love of native plants. She made people in every state conscious of their beautiful wildflowers.

    She was ahead of her time, wasn’t she? She also worked to keep billboards from cluttering the landscape. I wish that effort had been even more successful. —Pam

  4. Gail says:

    It’s a wonderful garden Pam….and I love seeing it through your eyes and lens. gail

    Thanks for commenting, Gail. But shouldn’t you be resting your hands instead of typing? ;-) —Pam

  5. Hank says:

    Very nice post, Pam. I particularly like the message in the cut-out lettered sign and how well it articulates Mrs Johnson’s inspiration.

    The signs with her quotes were a nice touch, I thought. I took photos of three of them for this post. —Pam

  6. Layanee says:

    Your photography session shows great results. Those agaves really shine at this time of year don’t they. Mine are doing well in their cast iron urns on the bookcase. I actually think they are growing. They do have one drawback, literally, as I drawback quickly from the sharp spines on their tips! Every time I water them, which is infrequently, I seem to draw blood.

    Sharp, sharp. You’ve got to watch those spines, Layanee. Or water with thick gloves on. —Pam

  7. It’s such a special place and I thank you for taking us there again. I really like how the shape of the grass echoes the shape of the Agave, but the texture and color makes such a contrast.

    They do echo each other’s shape but with different textures. It’s very nice. —Pam

  8. Having visited, I am also grateful for her vision. It really was extraordinary when you consider her time period. Natives were not valued at the time. I so enjoy your pictures, and although my agave is mush because of our worse than normal temperatures, I enjoyed it so much, and I will have another. Then, I will tote it inside I guess. You’ve been in my thoughts. It’s the depth of winter here. I must want an Austin escape.~~Dee

    Your poor agave! I have a couple of mushy ones too, Dee. We’re both pushing our zone for certain plants. I’m glad to know you haven’t given up on them and will take necessary measures to grow another. Some plants are worth it. And whenever you want an Austin escape, come on down. —Pam

  9. Thank you Pam! What a fabulous Saturday morning feast for my eyes!

    I thought you might enjoy these agaves, Loree. —Pam

  10. Jenny says:

    Isn’t it great to see so much looking good after our cold winter? The agaves in question- are they out on the trail? I was thinking that there were A.harvardii planted near the offices – 3 of them but one flowered this fall. Whatever they are they are gorgeous- and it is nice to see the grasses in their pale winter coats- I imagine they will be cutting them back soon, or burning them as they did last year. I need to get out there myself as I have yet to see the new display cases in the visitor center. The tour requests are starting to come in and I think it is going to be a spectacular wildflower season. Thanks for the visit.

    The agaves in question are right outside the main entrance, Jenny. I know the Harvard agave grouping you’re talking about; this isn’t it. I totally forgot about the new display cases and didn’t even go inside the visitor center! —Pam

  11. Fabulous quotes and pic.’s! Those agave are fantastic.

    Thanks, DGG! —Pam

  12. Jean says:

    That last photo made me smile. It’s new since I was last there. Though it bothered me when the Wildflower Center first moved out there (controversy about being in the watershed vs. east of Austin), I’ve grown to love and appreciate all they have done. And it’s such a peaceful place. I’m sure Mrs. Johnson was very proud of it.

    I’m sure she must have been, Jean. It’s a wonderful place. —Pam

  13. Sunny says:

    Lovely photos:)

    Thanks for stopping by, Sunny. —Pam

  14. Hi Pam,

    I loved your agave photos. I like how the agave look against the ornamental grasses as a backdrop. I went to some of my agave books and I think the agave you have pictured is Agave havardiana because of the dark thorns. It is just beautiful!

    Thanks for the possible ID, Noelle. The Wildflower Center grows a number of Harvard agaves, so it’s a good guess. —Pam

  15. Denise says:

    Great mid-winter excursion. The agave in the first photo is a beaut with those tear-dropped shaped leaves. Looks like a nice mid-size one too. Have to admit I’ve got a few non-ID’d agaves too. Thanks for the field trip, Pam!

    My pleasure, Denise. Thanks for visiting. —Pam

  16. […] For more pics from my visit to the Wildflower Center last Friday, click here for Agave Love. […]

  17. Janie says:

    I love the picture of the agave with the Texas persimmon tree. I have this tree, and I value it mightily! It has the most beautiful exfoliating bark!

    So do I, Janie! Texas persimmon’s bark is its best feature, along with its Zen-like shape. —Pam

  18. I think I need to develop my appreciation for agave and the TX landscape. I haven’t fully allowed myself to understand it. I think that is probably a shame. I admit I’m still trying to understand ‘the draw’. But that is being totally honest. I’m not saying it isn’t beautiful, I just haven’t felt it, yet. But I haven’t given up. Yet. I have relatives in Austin and Dallas. So I could adjust to it, if I lived there. But I’ve been so caught up with my own garden and my own world, that I haven’t given myself a chance to really try to appreciate it. Perhaps it’s not too late…

    I think it’s natural that you prefer the landscape you are used to, Jan. Most of us do. I still have a great fondness for the lush look of the Southeast, where I grew up. But I had an easy time falling in love with Austin’s more sere look, and the Wildflower Center’s gardens made a big impression on me. —Pam

  19. David says:

    You and so many people in your area appreciate our native New Mexican flora far more than many who are locally acknowledged for being “native plant proponents”! I think everything you shot is native to central NM, with the few species that are not thriving here, anyway.

    I applaud you. Those are inspiring scenes that you captured, and I am glad our SW native plants can bring so much pleasure to your area!

    Thanks for your comment, David. It’s fun to know that many of our native Texas plants are native to your part of the U.S. as well. The Wildflower Center is a wonderful resource for helping people appreciate the natural beauty of their region. —Pam

  20. Kelley says:

    Andrea and Carrie at the Wildflower Center vote for Agave neomexicana.
    Your posts are a beautiful response to people who ask “Why visit a garden in the winter? Nothing is blooming.”

    Thanks for the ID, Kelley, Andrea, and Carrie. Neomexicana was my first guess based on those long, black spines. Love it! —Pam

  21. The wildflower center is so subtle and wonderful that I’ve been told by LBJ staff that many visitors arrive and ask, “where’s the garden?” while they are standing in the middle of it. Your agave photos illustrate why succulent plants, along with trees, and the backbone of winter gardens in hot regions.

    That’s a funny story, Scott, but sad too. What a deflating comment for the staff of this beautiful garden. —Pam

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