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Mangave 'Red Wing'
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Plant Expert Tony Avent on Mangaves

According to plant expert Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, “the world of mangaves is exploding. The colors and forms continue to break new barriers of previously inconceivable foliage.”  Founded in 1988, Tony’s nursery is a premier source of rarities and natives, and offers more than 1,400 kinds of perennials via mail-order.

Plant Delights’ Spring ’19 catalog includes two dozen recently introduced Mangave cultivars. “The parade of amazing new mangaves hasn’t slowed,” Tony says. “Once people see and grow mangaves, they realize how fantastic they are.”

Here’s more from Tony Avent on these intriguing ManfredaAgave crosses:

Breeding Mangave

“It started back in the ’90s on a visit to Yucca-Do Nursery in Texas. They’d collected seeds from a manfreda in Mexico, and two of the seedlings were five times as big as they should be. They had spots like manfreda but were enormous, and their structure was agave-like. The blooms were just not right. Agave celsii had been growing in the next valley, and we realized, OMG, we have a Mangave!

Agave celsii

Agave celsii

“We started breeding them at Plant Delights, and after five years of crossing, we could see the potential. It’s like when Dan Heims got started with Heuchera.

We do a lot of trials, but taking on mangaves was just too much. We gave all our breeding stock to Hans Hansen, an incredible plantsman and hybridizer at Walters Gardens in Michigan. The mangaves sat unnoticed in the back of a greenhouse until the cover came off the building. When exposed to ultraviolet light, they turned all these incredible colors.

Hybridizer Hans Hansen is Director of Plant Development at Walters Gardens, Zeeland, MI.

“We send pollen off of every agave that flowers to Hans. What he’s done is create agaves with purple and red spots. They’re fast growers with hybrid vigor. A mangave plug grown from tissue culture takes 12 to 16 weeks to fill out a quart container, then another two weeks to fill a gallon. Agaves, in comparison, take 63 weeks. Hans grows a thousand seedlings, selects 100, then 50, then 25. Then he picks one or two to keep and sends us a few discards to trial. That way we have the advantage of knowing what the crosses will do.

“I’ve never felt the need to second-guess Hans. He’s very keen on what he’s created and understands what’s cool and how to use the plants—their garden value. It’s been challenging for him. He’s in Michigan breeding for the West Coast, but he realizes how good these plants are, and he’s persevered.

Mangave characteristics

Mangave 'Bloodspot'

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

“So far we haven’t seen any mangaves that are monocarpic like their agave parents. ‘Bloodspot’ flowered and produced 50 offsets. We’ve never lost a mangave to flowering. Manfredas, if it’s too cold—upper 30s, low 40s—become deciduous. They also may go summer-dormant where temperatures are high.

“Mangave roots tend to conform to the pot size, like agaves. They may be screaming, but they’ll stay small in a small container. Leaf fragility…some are more brittle than others. Early ones were incredibly brittle. The way we solve the breakage problem when shipping them is to let them dry down. Leaves that become flaccid don’t break.

Manfreda virginica

Manfreda virginica is insanely hardy.” — Tony Avent

“Mangave cultivars are not necessarily winter hardy. It depends on their parentage. Manfredas are found in Zones 4 through 8, from the Midwest to southern Illinois, central North Carolina, Florida, central Texas and central Mexico. They’re dry-land plants, but are more tolerant of overwatering than agaves. Even in a hurricane, a mangave will keep on going. As for extreme drought, mangaves are probably not as tolerant as agaves, but again, it depends on the parent. You can’t say of any genus, ‘They’ll all do this.’

“Mangaves are fantastic in containers. They’re not great indoors—they lose their color without UV light. If need be, overwinter them inside, then take them outside in the spring.

Mangave 'Blue Mammoth'

Mangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ is among the most hardy.

“Mangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ has been the most hardy in our trials, to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s an Agave ovatifolia hybid that forms a 2-foot-tall by 4-feet-wide rosette of jagged blue leaves with olive spots. Other mangaves that go to Zone 7 are ‘Falling Waters’ and ‘Bad Hair Day’.

Another new genus: Hansara

“We offer Hansara ‘Jumping Jacks,’ the first tri-generic hybrid, which we named after Hans. Agave, Manfreda, Polyanthes and Hosta are all closely related. So Hans started making tri-generic crosses, aiming for highly fragrant flowers, Mexican color, and hardiness. Crosses of Hosta and Agave are the most difficult to make.

Hansara 'Jumping Jacks'

Hansara ‘Jumping Jacks’ combines the genes of Agave gypsophila ssp. pablocarrilloi, Agave macroacantha, Manfreda maculosa, Polyanthus tuberosa, and Polyanthus howardii.

“‘Jumping Jacks’ forms a 14-inch-tall by 27-inch wide clump of narrow, succulent, gray-green foliage, sparsely spotted purple. When mature in 2 to 3 years, it produces a 6 foot-tall, highly branched flower spike of lovely yellow flowers but with an insignificant fragrance.

Mangaves in the stratosphere

Mangave 'Red Wing'

Mangave ‘Red Wing’

“Mangaves like ‘Red Wing’ have foliage colors that don’t look real. Variegated manfredas as parents will launch mangaves into the stratosphere. What’s been done so far is maybe 2 percent of what can and will be done. In California and Mediterranean climates this is an opportunity to rewrite what people do with their landscapes.

“Every day there’s something new and exciting with plant hybridization. It’s a great time to be alive.”

Learn more about mangaves…

Testing Mangaves in My Garden

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'

Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ in my garden

On my page, “Testing Mangaves in My Garden” you’ll learn about the Mangave cultivars I’m trialing in my Zone 9b Southern CA garden. This is a report on the first batch of 14 that arrived two years ago…[Continue reading] 

See the mangave page on the Plant Delights Nursery website.Mad About Mangave

Connect with hybridizer Hans Hansen on his Facebook page: “Mad About Mangave”.

Watch my Mangave videos:

Mangaves in my garden

Come on a mangave treasure hunt with me as I track down a dozen cultivars that have been in the ground and in pots for two years. All have done well but some better than others. I evaluate their progress and consider how to help each attain its full beauty and potential.

 

Mangave unboxing

Mangaves are succulents with agaves in their parentage. Many of these 21st-century hybrids are lilylike, with flexible leaves, and do well in gardens that get frost…even snow! Watch me unbox some freckled beauties never been seen before…including a rare Hansera.

 

How to Plant Mangaves

With 18 exciting new Mangave cultivars to find a place for in my garden, I design and plant my new “Mangave Terrace” and perform “C-sections” on potbound cultivars rarin’ to go.

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

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Are You a Plant Collector, Gardener or Both?

The Bold Dry Garden Book

As she researched her book, The Bold Dry Garden, it dawned on Sunset’s garden editor Johanna Silver that plant collectors are not necessarily gardeners, and vice-versa. The subject, Ruth Bancroft, is both gardener and collector—as is Brian Kemble, the curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA. Since 1980, Brian has helped Ruth (now age 108) orchestrate an inviting, 3.5-acre showcase of unusual succulents and low-water companion plants.

Johanna, Brian and I were having dinner when she fixed me with her level gaze and asked, “Are you a collector?” I knew from reading her book that she isn’t. “I am no closer to being a plant collector than I was when I signed up to write this book,” she admits in the Preface. Yet Johanna went on to write that she is “now more likely to research where a plant comes from and track down photos of its natural habitat in order to get a sense of what helps it thrive in the garden.”

Earlier we had been at Johanna’s and Brian’s joint presentation at the San Diego Horticultural Society, during which Brian had observed, “When you see a plant in habitat, it’s like looking into its soul.” No wonder that speakers at Cactus and Succulent Society meetings show photos of little-known genera in arid, rocky terrains accessible only by hiking or horseback. Brian, in fact, had just returned from his sixth or seventh South African plant-hunting expedition.

It makes sense that to cultivate any plant perfectly, one needs to be aware of the conditions in which it grows wild. But although I’m thrilled every time I see a succulent I haven’t seen before, I don’t necessarily want it. So I replied to Johanna’s question: “No, I’m not a collector.” She nodded. We may love plants and gardening in all their multifaceted aspects, but we lack the collector’s gene.

Johanna Silver

Johanna Silver

Ruth Bancroft, on the other hand, kept detailed handwritten notes on every plant she acquired, and also had extensive collections of sea shells, art, books, and textiles. “There is a certain flavor of obsession that comes with collecting,” Johanna writes, “an inability to stop. A collector is passionate, driven, and on a quest for knowledge. The habit only intensifies as the desired objects become more obscure.”

While he was in town, I escorted Brian to several San Diego garden destinations, and observed this gentle, quiet man come to life with an explosive “Oh, my God!” at Petra Crist’s Rare Succulents nursery when he saw some of her specimen plants. Invariably, he and Petra verbally revisited the wilds of Socotra, the Great Karoo, or Madagascar as they discussed a plant’s unique characteristics.

Petra Crist and Brian Kemble discuss a cyphostemma

Petra Crist and Brian Kemble discuss a cyphostemma, a lumpy-trunked succulent tree from Madagascar.

Johanna said she’d like to go on a plant-hunting expedition. Not me. Too dangerous. (On his recent trip, Brian sustained an injury that left him hobbling for several days.) However, I do understand the appeal. It must be similar to a photographer’s quest for the perfect shot, my genealogist friend’s desire to track down every ancestor, or the adrenaline rush I sometimes get when shopping at high-end second-hand stores.

How Ruth acquired, successfully cultivated, and combined her plant collection into a great garden—despite such setbacks as killing frosts—is described with wit and clarity by Johanna; fact-checked by Brian; and photographed brilliantly by Marion Brenner, who pursued and captured the garden’s soul.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: To enter to win a copy of The Bold Dry Garden, simply leave a comment below stating why you’d like to have it. Johanna or our mutual publisher, Timber Press, will pick the winner on Tuesday, Nov. 1. I’ll announce the winner here and contact him or her to obtain a mailing address.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNER! Many thanks to all who participated. Johanna selected Renata Muller because “I like that she recognizes Ruth for the gutsy/brave pioneer that she is!”

Renata wrote: “I am both a gardener and Succ-aholic. I have visited and purchased specimens from The Ruth Bancroft Garden. I cannot think of a more amazing garden story than that of Ruth Bancrofts. In a time when boldness and courage was not on the female virtues roster, she was a pioneer. Gutsy and brave and not content with the mainstream pansy route. She saw the beauty in the dry landscape and brought it and a lot of plant knowledge to millions thru her toils creating the incredible garden we all can visit and drool over, as well as the wisdom and experience she imparted dry scape novices and wanna be’s with the help she offered the local community with her newspaper articles. She was sustainable when sustainable wasnt cool! I would love a book about this grand lady and her creation and legacy!”

So there you have it…I’ll contact Renata and Timber Press will send her a copy of the book!