Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.


New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


Plant Profiles

Variegated Spanish Dagger



October's the month for this spiny beauty: Unlike the usual yuccas, Spanish Dagger doesn't bloom until Fall.  What a performance it is, too, with ramrod-straight spikes of voluptuous ivory bells with pink-into-burgundy tips to the downward-pointing petals. 


The flowers hang out during the day, opening more at night to welcome nocturnal pollinators like moths and bats.




Only by lifting up one of the few bells that was open that day did I finally get to see the pristine interior.




I keep a quartet of Spanish daggers, each in a big terra-cotta bell pot.  They "corner" the reflecting pool.  It's fun to call attention to a water feature by pots of a plant that's surpremely drought-tolerant.  And when the yuccas finally flower, each is a showy exclamation point. 


See the blooming yucca at the far corner of the pool?




There it is: bright and prominent even when it's so far away everything's a blur.




Here's how crisp and showy these pots of Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata' look well in the Fall, when the leaves of the adjacent clumps of dwarf arctic willow, Salix purpurea 'Nana', have fallen. Without their zillion tiny leaves, the dense willow mounds look even more twiggy.  


Here's how to grow this fiercely beautiful yucca:


Latin Name

Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata'

Common Name

Variegated Spanish Dagger


Asparagaceae, the Asparagus family.

What kind of plant is it?

Broad-leaved evergreen shrub.


Zones 7 - 10


When young, a single rosette of rigid leaves, needle-sharp at the tip.  With maturity, a clump of short trunks of various heights, each topped by a foliage rosette.  Large spikes of flowers erupt upward from the center of the rosettes in late Summer. 

Rate of Growth


Size in ten years

In favored climates, to eight feet tall or more, and six wide.  Potentially to fifteen feet tall.


Dramatic and sculptural.  Unlike the narrow-leaved yuccas, e.g., Yucca rostrata, Y. gloriosa is a dense, heavy, and rigid presence. 

Grown for

the striped spiky evergreen foliage, in spherical rosettes at the top of short trunks.


the late-Summer flowers that dangle by the score from stiff vertical multi-tiered candelabras.  Ivory and bell-shaped, the flowers open up a bit at night but during the day are closed and "mute."  Day-time pollinators—wasps and bees—are attracted by the fragrance, but give up after they fail to find any opening.  Yucca are pollinated nocturnally by bats and moths.


the uncompromising and stark geometry of the plants, especially as they get old enough to develop trunks.


being deer-proof. 


its self-reliant nature.  After it's established, it doesn't need watering, although it will grow faster with it.

Flowering season

Late Summer into early Fall: October in Rhode Island.


Any soil as long as it's well-drained, especially in Winter.  Full sun.  Great drainage is essential for hardiness at the cold end of its range. 

How to handle it

Yuccas are native to dry climates of the New World: North and South America as well as the Caribbean.  Think Mexico, Texas, Dry Tortuga:  Hot, sunny, lean.  If the soil's alkaline, that's OK too. 


Some species  are remarkably cold-hardy—there's a yucca native to Alberta, Canada, for heaven's sake—but only provided that they are kept dry in Winter, both above and below ground.  The really hardy yuccas do better in Winters that are dry as well as cold, just like their native Winters in, say, the Colorado Rockies, or at high altitudes in Northern New Mexico.  Mild, wet Winters in regular soil would often be fatal.


Spanish Dagger is native to sandy areas of the American Southeast, from North Carolina to Northern Florida, so it's well-suited to the East Coast swelter.  With reasonably well-drained soil, it can handle the soaking rains and moldy humidity that would rot desert-native yuccas in a week. 


Yucca gloriosa is hardy only down to Zone 7, so here in New England I grow my quartet in large tubs that overwinter, tightly grouped with other potted Zone 7's, 6's, and 5's in a sunny but unheated hoop house. The pots move outside in May, and get watered and fertilized during the Summer:  With such a naturally-late bloom already, it's best to give the plant all possible encouragement this far North lest it sit out the year entirely.


Other than painful grooming to remove old leaves and flower stalks, for which I wear leather gloves and thick shirts that, even so, don't fully protect me from the bayonet leaves, these yuccas just need sun and time. 


The leaves are ferociously-tipped—really painful to encounter—so moving a containered plant is a matter of heavy clothing, leather gloves, and no-fast-moves concentration.  Yuccas are happy in surprisingly small pots, though, so even large specimens don't have anything like the weight of a similarly-sized palm, citrus, or ficus.  They are somewhat slow-growing this far North, though, and the long dormant Winter doesn't do them any favors, either.


The straight species is unvariegated, and there are more interesting trunk-forming Yuccas to grow instead, such as those with particularly narrow foliage.  See Yucca rostrata.  There are other variegated Y. gloriosa for those who have enough room for a herd of these needle-tipped monsters.


On-line and at retailers.


By division in the Spring.  The thick roots send up sprouts that are easy to chop away from the mother.

Native habitat

The American Southeast.

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