A ONCE-in-a-lifetime experience is blooming lovely for a keen gardener.
The towering century plant, which is said to flower just once every hundred years, is showing off its bright yellow blooms to visitors at Durham Botanic Gardens.
Green-fingered pensioner Shirley Reay gave it to gardening experts in the city exactly a year ago, fearing it could sprout to about eight metres high and outgrow her Sunderland home.
The pensioner handed over the agave, which she received as a gift more than 35 years ago, after watching her tropical friend shoot up about four inches a day as it prepared for its one-off show of colour.
Now she is delighted to see it is finally showing off its petals, which are attracting interest from horticultural experts across the country.
She said: “Other botanic gardens are very interested, as no-one has one and what they are saying is they don’t know what is going to happen to it after it has flowered.
“They don’t know whether it is going to die, whether it is going to push out shoots or seeds.”
Gardeners in Durham plan to pollinate the plant using a broomstick and will pass on some of the seeds to Shirley, who admits even her 16-year-old grandson may not be around to see any new ones flower.
The century plant was just one of a rainforest of plants growing at her home in Grangetown.
The former hospital worker cultivates the plants from cuttings and loves succulents and cacti, which usually only thrive in hot temperatures.
And she hopes to pass on another creation to the Botanic Garden – a cactus which has sprouted to about six foot.
“It is a great big, ugly, hairy thing,” she said, “but the one they have is only 16 inches.”
Mrs Reay credits her gardening skills to her father, who worked in Sunderland Council Parks Department and gained qualifications from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Agaves are originally from Mexico, but have been cultivated worldwide. Once grown for their tough fibres, they are now mostly ornamental.
They bloom only once in their lifetimes and flower stalks can reach up to 26ft (8m) high.
The plant dies after flowering but produces suckers which continue its growth.