Perfect Plant Partners– Agave, Allium sphaerocephalon and Soft Flowing Grasses

June 9, 2022

I never get tire of this plant combo. Design trends come and go, but I’ve been inspired by this perfect plant pairing and gorgeous image for over a decade.

‘The Garden of Contrast’, was created by James Van Sweden and Sheila Brady. You can visit it yourself at Cornerstone Gardens in California.

Michelle Derviss at Derviss Design in Novato, CA took the award winning image.

This dry garden features plants that can endure low water situations. There are three main elements to this planting – Agave Americana, Allium sphaerocephalon & Nassella tenuissima. Nassella tenuissima is also known as Mexican feathergrass, and formerly known as Stipa tenuissima. It is an emerging invasive plant in some areas of California. (so, before you plant it, check locally about how it will behave where you live)

Why this plant pairing works

It’s all about contrast. Imagine this same image turned black and white. In black and white, we would not see the contrast of the blue agave and the gold of the grasses. The image would, however still be interesting because there is a strong contrast of shape and texture. The agave sits sturdily among the froth of grass like a prized sculpture. There’s a strong shape and a haze that grabs our attention in the same way a murky figure might spook us, if we see it only through a misty fog.

Even without the punctuating dots provided by the Allium flower heads this image would be strong. The allium is like the chefs kiss, giving the whole thing a playfulness and adding in great color. If you want to pack this kind of punch in your planting design, you will have to contrast more than color. You will need to also make impact with texture and shape.

Get the Look

Agave Americana – Commonly known as Century Plant is not hardy outside of USDA zones 8-11. If you can’t grow the agave, you could alternatively get the look with an equally structural plant like Yucca filamentosa ‘Excalibur’. For a twist, you might also try Yucca Bright Edge -the spires are green with a yellow edge instead of blue grey tones.

Allium sphaerocephalon – Commonly called Drumstick allium is a mid season allium. It will bloom in the summer as opposed to other allium that bloom earlier in the season. Allium, which in Latin means “garlic” are easy to grow bulbs. If you can’t or don’t want to plant this variety, you might alternatively grow Millenium Allium. More purple than pink, Millenium allium also grows into a bigger clump. It has has won numerous awards for easy growing perennials – but will give this plant pairing a little less of an airy wiry look and more of a substantial mass of purple blooms (but still with that always appealing popsicle shape).

Nassella tenuissima- Also knows as Mexican Feather Grass is a native grass that has been an increasingly popular grass, but it has shown itself to become invasive in some areas (so check before you plant!). If you need to go with an alternate, try Priarie dropseed (Sporobolus airoides), Mexican deer grass (Muhlenbergia dubia) or Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris, esp. ‘White Cloud’) instead. All of these grasses produce a mid height lightweight (feathery) look that can fill the space between the more sturctural plant and which provide a base for the allium to hover above.

If you have a combo you have created or seen, snap a photo, email it to me and I will share it here.

You might also be interested in these other Plant Partners Posts:

Plant Partners: Witch Hazel, Hellebores & Dogwood

Breathtaking Plant Partners: Inspiration from Megaherbs in New Zealand

Natural Plant Partners: Callicarpa & Verbena

REgister now!

A Free Master Class



  1. S@sha says:

    The grass looks like Nassella tenuissima (formerly called Stipa tenuissima) or thread grass. It self seeds easily and is highly drought tolerant.

    More info:

    Don’t know what the clover flower is.

  2. michelle d. says:

    S@sha nailed it correctly, the grass is Stipa tenuissima. The purple drum stick looking flower is Allium sphaerocephalon – drum stick allium .
    This combination was crafted by the fabulous design team at Oehme and van Sweden in Sonoma at the Cornerstone Festival of Gardens.

    Cornerstone is hosting a new cutting edge garden show coming up in September 18-20.

    All the regular exhibition gardens in the complex, including Oehme and van Sweden’s will be open to the public as well as 20 (+/-) new temporary designs .

    Rochelle, thanks for posting that photo. It is one of my favorite combinations.
    I look forward to your new series.


  3. Jennifer says:

    the yellow is a smallish (newly unfurled?) California Poppy.
    I posted my pics here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Does Your Garden Need a Makeover?

Learn my 7-step system to design and build a stunning garden anywhere in the world.


Join my Free Class!

Understand the 5 mistakes everyone makes when creating a garden. (Save yourself time, money, & headaches and get much better results!)

See how to work directly with me (but at a DIY price!) to
design and create your own gorgeous garden.