Tuesday, July 2, 2019

My second visit to the Hillside Desert Botanical Gardens

My first visit to Ron McKitrick's Hillside Desert Botanical Gardens was on a rainy June day in 2012 (here). Seven years later I made my second pilgrimage, on a sunny, warm, day in May...

For those of you who aren't familiar with this gem of a garden it's in Yakima, Washington, in Ron's backyard.

Yes you read that right. Yakima, Washington. Yakima is in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountain range, as a result wait, I'll let Ron and his website take it from here: “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.

Here's where that hobby got legs, in the small greenhouse in the right. The larger greenhouse, on the left, followed and only when they were both full did the in-ground planting begin.

Ron brings many of his greenhouse potted collection outside to vacation for the summer.

Cephalocereus senilis, the old man cactus

A variegated Agave 'Felipe Otero', I believe.

I forgot this cutie's name. Just prior to this photo she'd been half buried in my handbag, which I'd just dropped in the lawn when I arrived. I later remembered there was an energy bar in there, but she left it untouched.

This cylindropuntia next to the larger greenhouse is a spiky thing of beauty.

As are the tall Yucca brevifolia.

This green patch which is blooming with sort of white/yellow flowers is Maihuenia poeppigii.


There were many different Echinocereus blooming their beautiful red blooms when I was there.

Ron's crested cactus are meticulously maintained.

He's sure to cut out any bits that revert and don't display a crested form.

And as a result is left with only the best of the best.

Driving through a large swath of residential Yakima to get here, as I did, illustrates just how unusual this garden is. This is not the norm here; Ron is pushing the envelope and experimenting, it's paying off and he's sharing what he's learned.

There's the Hillside, in the Hillside Desert Botanical Gardens.


I wish I would have gotten the name of the thin cactus on the left.

Or maybe even begged for a piece of it.

More lewisia...

If you only saw how many photos I took of this blooming Agave utahensis v.nevadensis. My camera was drawn to it.

Ron says: "It is obviously from Utah and Nevada primarily (utahensis v.nevadensis). It is VERY winter-hardy" He also reports that it's now in full bloom.

Ron also shared the fact that he knows by the end of April/beginning of May each year if an agave is going to bloom. They begin to send up their spikes on a very predictable schedule. Thinking about the three agaves I know are blooming in the Portland area (I discovered another via Instagram) that's about when they started sending up their spikes too.

To my eye the pink Echinocereus blooms will never be as lovely as the red, but it was nice to see something a little different.

Here's where I admit Ron told me a tale about this yucca, but I can't remember it. Ugh.

Another yucca bloom...

Backlit cactus are so dramatic.

Here I've started to walk into back into the corner of the property where things are for sale, but turned to take one last shot across the bottom of the garden.

Before I start to admire the plants I could conceivably take home with me.

Oh ya, this one wins.

Here it is at home. Oh and it wasn't until I took this photo and saw the tiny—blurry—buds on the right that I realized it's gonna bloom! That's exciting.

I'll have more from Ron's garden on Wednesday and Thursday, so be sure to check back!

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Weather Diary, July 1: Hi 81, Low 60/ Precip .54" a new record rainfall for the day, and it all fell about an hour and 20 minutes. We also had a tornado,which traveled about a mile, touch down 10 blocks from us. It damaged trees, cars and houses but no humans.

All material © 2009-2019 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. Some day I really need to make the trek to Yakima for the gardens that are open for the NPA, one of them is Ron's. Maybe next year!

    1. Yes you do! Did you already miss this year's opportunity?

    2. Yes, it was back in May.

  2. For me, any cat encounter is a guarantee to be fully distracted from my purpose at a garden or nursery. Still, I managed to admire the red blooming cactus at the foot of the agave; they are fantastic.

    1. Congratulations, and you'll get another chance on Thursday!

    2. We called the kitty "Black Toed Kitty" when he first appeared in our neighborhood. Then Ron and Jean adopted him and he became "Ernie."

    3. Thanks for the name of the kitty. He was so far into my handbag at one time I thought I might be taking him home with me!

  3. I'm very impressed. Building something this inspired and maintaining it beautifully under those conditions borders on the miraculous. The crested cactus is magnificent.

  4. Whoa! Your purchase is hard-core Danger.

    Amazed anything in Western Washington could get only 6" of rain a year, but rain shadow--there it is. Very well grown plants in such a climate. Impressive.

    1. Yakima is pretty squarely in central Washington, not Western. By the time you move out to the east the rain (in Spokane for example) moves up to 16.5"...interesting eh?

  5. What an amazing garden! That Yucca brevifolia is fantastic, as are so many other lovelies whose names have already eluded me. You have to promise to post picture of your purchase when it flowers!

  6. Never realized Yakima is so desert-like. We live in the rain shadow of the Rockies too (further north) but we get 3x as much rain especially this year. Ron has developed a truly unique landscape well suited to his climate. For me any cactus that blooms is special.

    1. I find most people are surprised to learn all of Washington state isn't a green rain forest. Life on the central and eastern side of the state is very different.

  7. Great shots, Loree! Lots more bloomage than when we visited two years ago... timing is everything. I simply love those red and orange flowered hedgehogs too! Thanks for the update.

  8. A special garden built by an amazing gardener. I was lucky enough to see Ron and his garden last summer and got a piece of "that thin cactus on the left" but have no idea what it's called. Remind me to give it to you next time we see each other.

  9. A terrific garden, a tribute to Ron's love and determination. I love the red-flowering cacti - such a knockout. The cactus you were wondering about I remember seeing in Joshua Tree NP last winter. Cylindropuntia perhaps?


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