I am writing these words with tears in my eyes—feeling like I was just punched in the gut—and yet I have a smile on my face because I'm thinking of Ron, my "cactus buddy". That's how Ron identified himself whenever he returned a phone call, and he returned a few while I was working on my book.
My friend Bryon Jones (horticulturist at the Pt. Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA) called on Sunday afternoon to let me know that Ron McKitrick had passed away. Bryon had visited Ron and purchased several plants from him over the years, many of which are growing at the zoo. You may remember Ron as the man behind the Hillside Desert Botanical Gardens in Yakima, Washington. I am so glad I took the above photo of him when I visited in May of 2019.
Bryon was researching one of those plants from Ron, when he found the online obituary, Ron passed away last January. Of course he had a full and rich life beyond plants, and those of us that knew him through his garden—but didn't know his family—had no way of knowing that the plant world lost one of its local greats.
Ron was a talented and generous man, I was just thinking of him a few days ago while working on a post for Fearless Gardening on Instagram. I interviewed Ron and profiled his garden in my book, I was highlighting one of the several wonderful quotes he gave me to work with...I was excited for Ron to receive his contributor copy of the book in the mail soon. He freely shared his passion for plants and I was honored to share his story and the work he was doing there in Yakima. It makes me sad to think those who read about him in the book won't get the chance to visit the garden and talk with Ron in person.
When I started to outline which gardens I wanted to include in the book, Hillside Desert Botanical Gardens was a must, who expects to see a 10ft tall Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) along with countless agaves, cactus and other exotic yuccas growing in Yakima, Washington? Ron's "how do you know it won't grow here unless you try it?" way of doing things was a perfect fit, and I'm thankful he was willing to be a part of the project from the beginning—although I'm not certain he really understood what I was putting together. It didn't matter, he trusted me to do right by him, I can only hope that I did.
Please take a moment and click over to read the first post I did on Ron's garden when I visited—on a rare rainy day in Yakima—in 2012 here, and then the post on my 2019 visit, here. Below (in no particular order) are a few of my favorite photos from my last visit to his unforgettable garden. Thank you Ron, for being a gardening trailblazer, believing in me, and being so giving of your time and knowledge.
Weather Diary, Oct 26: Hi 59, Low 32/ Precip 0
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