Monday, January 28, 2019

Agave hunter Ron Parker's personal collection

I recently reviewed Chasing Centuries: The Search for Ancient Agave Cultivars Across the Desert Southwest, Ron Parker's groundbreaking book about agave species cultivated and refined by the pre-Columbian cultures of Arizona. It's a book unlike any other, and I highly recommend it if you have even a passing interesting in the prehistoric peoples of Arizona and, of course, agaves.

On my after-Christmas Arizona trip, I had the opportunity to visit Ron on his home turf in Fountain Hills, northeast of Phoenix. To say that where he lives is pretty is like saying the Grand Canyon is alright. This is the view west from his street:


And this is his front yard:


Ron has lived here for 15 years and he has quite a bit of space for his agave collection. 


A variety of cactus large and small create a counterpoint to the dozens of agaves planted here.


I loved how Ron spaced the agaves. Some are close together, forming a friendly huddle...

Agave salmiana and friends

...while other keep a respectful distance from their neighbors:


The variety of agaves is amazing. You may not realize it instantly, but just start looking at each plant and try to figure out what it is.



Some agaves are iconic, meaning you know right away what they are, like Agave salmiana, the friendly green giant you saw above (and below). But many others were not so obvious to me, ranging from "I know the name" to "I've never heard of it before." 

Agave flexispina (left), Agave salmiana (back), Agave potatorum (right)

Agave flexispina is in the "I know the name" category, but would I have been able to identify it off the bat? No, I wouldn't have.

Agave potatorum (front), Agave salmiana (back)

Cylindropuntia ×campii and Agave temacapulinensis. That one was new to me. It's a recently described species native to Temacapulín in the central Mexican State of Jalisco. It's a beauty, and I was able to get one from Greg Starr

Agave kerchovei (left), Agave horrida (right)

Agave horrida

Agave salmiana var. crassispina

Agave sobria

Agave deserti ssp. simplex

Another wider view of the front yard

Agave durangensis (left), Agave sobria (right)

Agave wercklei from Costa Rica

Agave glomeruliflora (yes, it pups like crazy)

Agave triangularis

Agave 'Sawtooth' (possibly a form of Agave lurida)

Agave zebra

Agave asperrima ssp. zarcensis

Agave asperrima ssp. zarcensis—look at how THICK those leaves are!

Agave murphyi 'Engard' flowering; this one forms bulbils, live plantlets on the flower stalk

Agave chiapensis (in front, flowering), Agave tequilana 'Tequila Sunrise (behind it)

Agave tequilana 'Tequila Sunrise' (left), Agave obscura (middle), Agave shawii ssp. goldmanii (right)

Now we're in the backyard. It's a seamless transition from the front to the back. A couple of palo verde trees create light shade without taking away from the airiness I associate with the Arizona desert.

Striated Agave weberi

Unlike our garden where plants are crammed together and continually elbow each other for space, Ron's agaves don't need to jostle for position.

Agave havardiana

Agave ovatifolia at the base of Yucca rostrata

Agave kerchovei

Agave kerchovei (above) isn't exactly a household name, even among agavephiles, but Agave congesta (below) is even more obscure although it's not a newly described species. I find it as attractive, or more so, than many commonly available species.

Agave congesta

Pretty much the same can be said about Agave pachycentra:

Agave pachycentra

Especially blue form of Agave xylonacantha

Agave utahensis ssp. utahensis (front), Agave zebra (back)

Agave colorata in the early stages of flowering

Another Agave havardiana

Agave shrevei

Agave decipiens (front), Agave americana var. protoamericana (back)

Agave mckelveyana

Agave utahensis var. eborispina, a perennial favorite among agave fans because of its looooong terminal spines

Agave utahensis var. eborispina

Agave multifilifera

This rack contains offsets and larger seedlings. Smaller seedlings and tender plants are inside the house. Ron generously gifted me a small Agave zebra grown from seed he collected off one of his flowering adults.




Here's a wider view of Ron's backyard:


The white fence in the photo above isn't the property boundary. Instead, it separates the landscaped portion of Ron's property from the "wilderness" beyond. Ron told me that ⅓ of each lot has to be left in its natural state. This not only preserves the native vegetation, it also creates a buffer between neighboring properties.

The lots in this part of Fountain Hills are large; Ron's is 0.4 acres, and from I could see, his neighbors have at least that much or more. 

Ron's neighbors to the west

View from the living room:



A few final photos of the agaves on the little patio outside the front door:

From left to right: Agave guiengola, Agave chazaroi, Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light'

Agave guiengola seems to make a nice snack

And one last look at the phenomenal view, this time looking east:


It wasn't easy to leave!

Ron Parker is the founder and administrator of Agaveville, a popular forum for xeric plant enthusiasts. While agaves are the main focus, there are sections for other plant families as well, including aloes, cactus, bromeliads, euphorbias and cycads. The level of knowledge on Agaveville is very high, making it my go-to place on the Internet for expert information. 



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13 comments:

  1. My kerchovei came named as "Huajuapan Red' -- nice to see a few more! That striated weberi is heart-poundingly cool. And no leaf sunburn noticeable -- great collection.

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    1. Wow, 'Huajuapan Red' looks stunning! Where did you get yours?

      Yes, the striated weberi is a looker. I haven't gotten it off my mind since I first saw it!

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    2. I found the kerchovei at a San Diego Hort. Sale last March, the first and last time I've seen it for sale...

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  2. What a collection! I think I should save a link to this post just to help me with plant identification. Thanks for sharing all those photos.

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    1. Ron's help with the IDs was invaluable. Without him, I would never have gotten everything straight.

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  3. The delicate shade of the palos verdes, and their reassuring but unobtrusive canopy, really makes this garden for me. That's reinforced by the clearly not-placed-by-nature but natural-seeming arrangement of the Agaves and supporting plants. It reads as a garden, not a collection, which is hard to pull off regardless of genus. The achievement must seem even more impressive to people who know enough to realize quickly how rare many of the plants are.

    I could look at the shade patterns on Agave asperrima ssp. zarcensis all day. But it's an important part of the beauty of many of your excellent shots. This was some trip!

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    1. I love what you said about collection vs. garden. I couldn't agree more. It's something I struggle with all the time!!

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  4. Is Ron S. related to Greg Starr, or is it just coincidence that two experts in the field have the same name?

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  5. What a fantastic connection. Ron's home and garden are stunning! Your photographs are wonderful.

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  6. It makes me giddy to think there are so many Agaves out there that I’ve never seen or heard of! I know your good at names, but how did you keep them all straight?

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  7. Ron spoke to our Sun Lakes Garden Club in Chandler, Arizona area. He is just a terrific speaker as well and knows so much it is scary!!! My club also went to visit has garden in the fall of 2017 but I was unable to attend. So disappointed. I have actually known Ron from the Internet for longer than I want to remember. His advice is precious!

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    1. Oops, our garden club went to Ron's in 2018, NOT 2017!

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  8. Agaveville! Of course. He's created a lovely garden out of a collection--not a common feat!

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