By Georgie Bright Kunkel
With school out and summer officially here at last the already crowded highways are teeming with cars, trucks and travel trailers heading out in all directions. On the way over to Yakima where a family reunion beckoned to us we passed up new college graduates bicycling up steep canyon roads to test their strength. I thought that there wouldn’t be anything new to experience of the landscape as I had been over the passes at least once a year for many years. But just before setting out, I tuned in to a program covering interesting places around Washington State. I was entertained by visions of a garden started by a fellow who wanted to prove that cacti could survive outdoors year round in the Yakima area. And his cacti have survived through more than twenty five years of trial and error.
Before reaching Yakima my friend and I stopped in at Ellensburg where there was a rabbit show and rabbit judge convention at the fairgrounds. Imagine seventeen-hundred rabbits waiting to be judged in the huge show barn—some with variegated fur, some as white as snow. Rabbit judges had traveled from all over the northwest and Canada to attend the judge’s conference and rabbit breeders were offering their prize rabbits to be rated.
By noon we were sampling the special recipes of those attending our family reunion and visiting with the new graduates and my great grandchildren. Soon it was time to say our goodbyes and we headed out for the Hillside Desert Botanical Garden. We could not believe the huge variety of cacti—over 200 actually--that had survived the harsh Yakima winters for so many years. It took perseverance to finally collect a sample of most every known variety of cactus plant and pamper each one until just the right soil and watering regimen was determined.
Not willing to leave out what are called succulents this dedicated gardener erected two greenhouses to house them through the harsh winter months. Yes, Ron McKitrick has decided that there isn’t anywhere he would rather be than this hillside looking down on Yakima as he spends about three hours a day tending his now well established cacti garden. Walking through his garden even at the end of the most prolific blooming time was a colorful display of gorgeous blooms of cream, yellow, and rich pink. Each specimen well established there has taken sometimes years to take hold.
One succulent Agave plant is spectacular. What excitement to realize that this plant that only blooms once in its lifetime has finally prepared to do just that--bloom. The only problem is that the usual pollinators are not present in Yakima so it is hoped that somehow some local bee will be able to do the job. If Ron tried to do it by hand, he would have to climb a very tall stepladder. Ron assured me that he would send me a picture of the special blooms by email. So I am anticipating this wonderful event and the glorious picture of a twenty-five year blooming Agave plant. And I am asking what he would charge for one of the seeds. If it actually grew, however, I would have to locate a greenhouse that could accommodate its height when full grown or cover it with plastic in the winter months like he does. Most gardens that have developed to such huge proportions have eventually been donated to a garden society or government entity. But Ron isn’t going to be giving it up any time soon. So if you are ever in the area, contact Ron for a tour appointment at HYPERLINK "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" email@example.com.
Georgie Bright Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-935-8663.