Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hillside Desert Botanical Gardens

In Tuesday’s post when I mentioned spending a night in Yakima, WA, did you think to yourself why? Well so I could visit Hillside Desert Botanical Gardens of course!

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about HDBG but I know it was on Ian’s blog The Desert Northwest. Preparing to visit I’ll admit, I was a little apprehensive. After all this garden with the big name is in someone’s backyard, all sorts of worst-case scenarios played out in my head. Mostly I feared I was walking into sad little attempt at garden making and I was going to have to pretend to be interested just long enough to be polite…and then get the hell out of there. But does this look like a sad attempt? No…

It was wonderful. And it was raining, HARD. Dripping off my hood, afraid for my camera hard. I think that’s why I didn’t snap any pictures of the plant names. Looking though these images I can see there are several nice plant labels throughout the garden but I didn’t pay any attention at the time.

This garden is the creation of Ronald McKitrick, and as you might guess he’s been at it for years (over 30), from his website: “HDBG is the product of…years of testing and experimenting with certain species to find which will be the most reliable in tolerating the growing conditions here in the Pacific Northwest. Many varieties have been tried and through trial and error, a surprisingly large number have been successful. What started as a hobby in 1981, has expanded to cover 1/2 acre with more than 20 gardens developed into a magnificent showplace. We are located in central Washington state in the low desert area in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountain range. Annual precipitation seldom exceeds 6" per year. Summertime highs are in the 90-100 degree range. While wintertime lows can reach 0 degrees and occasionally lower. These conditions have proven to be an excellent opportunity to test for hardiness and optimum growth.”

Naturally the part about annual precipitation jumps out at me…seldom exceeds 6” per year! In Portland we can get that in a month! (January of 2012 = 6.82”)

I was unprepared for how much I would love the cactus flowers, they were beautiful and in shades of red and orange!

I do believe this is a patch of Maihuenia poeppigii, I wonder if mine will ever get this big?

That’s Ron in the blue jacket with the two ladies who happened to be touring the garden at the same time I was.

Did the snake make you jump? I’ll admit I was startled.

Every desert garden needs a jaw bone and a few skulls right?

That’s a rain-drop on my lens…not a ghost. I had to include this picture though…what with the blooming Agave!

As you may have noticed in some of the pictures there is a large greenhouse next to the garden. We got to go inside!

So many wonderful things, the ones that aren’t cold hardy. Some come outside for the summer to vacation in the garden.

As we were about to leave Ron mentioned that he’d be willing to sell some of these treasures (danger!)…but I’d forgotten about this one. I wish I would have asked it he’d part with it.

Look an almost albino Agave!

Back outside I made my purchase choices from this wonderful selection.

I knew I wanted a couple of Cylindropuntia to plant in my front garden. I chose these…


Then I asked Ron if he had any recommendations of a mounding type (my description) of Cactus that I could try in Portland. He dug up this seedling which he said was a hybrid form of Echinocereus triglochidiatus v. gonacanthus, resulting from a natural cross of two different Echinos in his garden. I hope I haven’t cursed this plant to certain death, bringing it to wet Oregon.

Finally here is one last look at the garden (Ron let me climb up on his deck to take a shot looking down on things)…

And a photo of a photo in a magazine that Ron shared with me…


Yes only true plantsmen allow themselves to be photographed vacuuming their plants! If you’re interested in visiting Hillside Desert Botanical Gardens I highly recommend it, Ron is a engaging and knowledgeable fellow who has created something magical. Click over to his website for information on visiting!

23 comments:

  1. Okay, I feel a lot better about the fact that I was contemplating shop-vacing my agaves the other day. Great tour, as usual!

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    1. I hope you'll let Greg snap a photo of you in action.

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  2. I love your posts on visiting gardens and nurseries. It's a treat to get to experience these places through you lens. Cheers, Jenni

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    1. Thank you Jenni, I enjoy taking you all along.

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  3. An amazing collection in a surprising location. Even during drought years we get more rain. His work on hardiness is helpful because we get very low temps here, not that low but close.

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    1. I was really surprised to learn it was that dry up there, of course I think a good inch fell while I was visiting.

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  4. Dang! that is amazing! It is so wonderful to see pictures of a blooming agave in WA. And your Cylindropuntia and Echinocereus triglochidiatus v. gonacanthus look really cool. Those spikes scream DANGER!!!!!

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    1. We also brought home a couple of Colocasia picked up at a plant sale in Spokane. I had to be sure to segregate the big leafed plants from the spiky ones in the back seat, otherwise the big leaves would have been shredded!

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  5. I just saw a vision of myself in an alternate universe that is called Central Washington :-).

    I can't tell you how much I love this garden (and of course your post), especially since this is not a public facility with a full-time staff of gardeners, but the labor of love of one man. Just phenomenal. It's the kind of garden I'd hope to have if I had some acreage in the country. The cactus flowers are just insane! Ron's garden is like a book on cold hardy succulents come to life.

    BTW, I also think that that mat-forming cactus is a Maihuenia poeppigii. Awesome to see one so large. I had no idea it was this hardy!

    If your Echinocereus triglochidiatus v. gonacanthus ever has offspring, can I have one?

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    1. Great point Gerhard, the garden was immaculate and to think just one guy is responsible! Have you seen the new book out from Timber Press "Cacti and Succulents for Cold Climates: 274 Outstanding Species for Challenging Conditions"...this garden wasn't included but it certainly could have been.

      Oh and of course, if I get baby Cactus you are welcome to one!

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  6. The garden looks wonderful! Shame the rain got in the way in taking more photos but it didn't 'dampen' the beauty of the garden, still very evident despite getting drenched.

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    1. Cloudy days produce better photos than blaring sun right? At least that's what I was telling myself over and over...

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  7. What an amazing garden. Love the raised beds all of different sizes, heights and shapes.

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    1. I should have asked if he designed all the beds at the same time and then has filled them up over the years or if he creates a new bed as the older ones fill up...

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  8. I never would have guessed there could be this type of garden in what I assumed would be a really rainy climate...just shows what a Georgia Peach knows. What an amazing and beautiful work of love.

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    1. I know a lot of people assume the entire states of Washington and Oregon are rainy but it just isn't true. Once you get over the Cascade mountain range and to the east side of the state it's a desert out there!

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  9. What a great adventure and an incredible garden too! Amazing to have such a healthy patch of cacti this far north. As for vacuuming the garden ... Gardener's are a strange bunch indeed.

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  10. Even fake snakes change my heart rate.

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    1. I grew up watching for rattlesnakes every where I walked. Hence I'm a very good snake spotter...but yes my heart still pounds!

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  11. Thanks for this info on this garden--I wasn't aware of it, but it looks fascinating. I'll have to get over there!

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    1. Oh you should...a great day trip! Hopefully the weather will be nicer for your visit.

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  12. Beautiful garden — beautiful cloudy, moist day — I'm jealous!

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