Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Jeremy Spath's Hidden Agave Ranch: the grounds

On my recent trip to Southern California, I finally had the opportunity to visit a place at the very top of my plant-related bucket list: Hidden Agave Ranch in North San Diego County. This is where agave guru Jeremy Spath lives with his family, and it's where he performs his plant breeding magic. 

Jeremy may look like the quintessential surfer—and surfing is one of his passions—but his focus is on plants, above all agaves. He travels to study them in habitat, he cultivates and propagates them at home, and he creates completely novel hybrids, some of which are for sale on his website Hidden Agave. Soon he'll be able to add “author” to his résumé as he's working on a new agave book with Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents.

Horticulture wasn't Jeremy's original career, but after he'd been bitten by the plant bug, he jumped into it with both feet. His first stint was at San Diego Botanic Garden where he accumulated extensive plant knowledge. This was followed by time at Rancho Soledad Nurseries where he was able to do more field work and hybridizing. In 2018 he bought his current property and started Hidden Agave Ranch. Jeremy also owns his own landscape design company, Water's Path. You can find photos of his landscape installations on Water's Path's Instagram.

Hidden Agave Ranch is a 7½ acre hillside property north of Escondido. With nothing but open land on two sides, it seems even bigger. Jeremy is the definitely the king of the hill in his corner of San Diego County! 

Beyond sweeping views, the hilltop location has other benefits that are particular important for a plant person: Cold air flows down the hill, leaving Jeremy's property frost-free. If everything else hadn't already made me envious, this last bit would have done it!

Jeremy and his family have only lived here for two years, yet the gardens around and above the house look far more mature: vivid proof that in this Goldilocks climate, plants grow quickly. Seriously, with no cold winters to arrest their progress, there's nothing much to slow them down.


As Jeremy was showing me around, it soon became clear to me that this is no ordinary agave garden—not like anything of this size and in this location could ever be ordinary. While there are straight agave species, many of the plants are hybrids. Some are by other plantsmen like Kelly Griffin, but most are by Jeremy himself. I was completely bowled over by the sheer extent of Jeremy's hybridization work. You'll see many of his hybrids in the photos below, but there are plenty of others I didn't get a chance to photograph individually.


I crisscrossed the planted areas several times, first with Jeremy in the lead and then by myself. I hope I've managed to present my photos as cohesively as I could and to convey how spectacular this place is!

While there are agaves all over the sprawling property, the area right above the house has the highest concentration. Studded with rocks, this is agave wonderland. I can't imagine it looking better than it did when I was there three weeks ago, with golden dogweed (Thymophylla pentachaeta) and magenta bougainvilleas in full bloom.

A phenomenal hybrid between Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue' and Agave titanota

Agave victoria-reginae 'White Rhino'

Variegated Agave attenuata

Agave titanota

Agave parryi var. truncata 'Orizaba'

Agave titanota × colorata

Agave impressa

Agave schidigera

Agave xylonacantha × potatorum


Agave gypsophila × isthmensis

LEFT TO RIGHT: Agave parrasana × isthmensis, Agave 'Blue Glow' × margaritae, Agave titanota 'FO-76' × isthmensis, Agave 'Blue Glow' × titanota

Agave shawii

Agave shawii

Looking down towards the house


Agave seemaniana

Agave seemaniana (close-up of the same plant)

Time for a shoutout to that magenta bougainvillea!

Agave potatorum 'Spawn' × isthmensis

Agave parrasana × isthmensis

Agave xylonacantha × potatorum

Agave titanota × 'Blue Glow'

Agave titanota × 'Blue Glow' (same plant, different angle)

Variegated Agave parrasana 'Globe'

Agave chazaroi (left)

Agave titanota

Agave vilmoriniana × guiengola (and Dudleya pulverulenta or brittonii)

Now we're at the top of this area (the “real” hills continue beyond). The building you see in the upper right of the photo below is the greenhouse (separate post here).



Panoramic view


As I mentioned, the property is 7½ acres. That's 30,350 m² or 3 hectares for the metric folks. Or, from my perspective, 40 times the size of our suburban lot. In fact, it's so large that there are hiking trails and hidden places to camp! And alpacas in a pen so far away I could barely make them out in the distance.


What an adventure playground for Jeremy's kids!



I loved these massive boulders, with native jimsonweed (Datura sp.) at the base

Next photo: Now we're higher still, looking down at the shade structure and above-ground pool, and the house below. The greenhouse is just outside the frame on the left.

Baja California hill with juvenile cardons (Pachycereus pringlei). The cardón is to Baja California what the saguaro is to the Sonoran Desert. Young cardons and saguaros look very similar although they're not closely related. Cardons grow much faster than saguaros and are more tolerant of cultivation outside their habitat.

The greenhouse (featured in a separate post)

Agave parryi var. truncata 'Mayahuel'

Agave guiengola

Soehrensia formosa

Soehrensia formosa

Walking down the hill towards the lower level of the property where the house is:

Guest house with open land beyond

Aloe sabaea

Agave ovatifolia (nice specimen for sure, but my eyes immediately went to the skid steer—a great tool to have on a property this large)

OK, let's look at that Agave ovatifolia again without the skid steer. Jeremy's been adding plants on the left. I expect this area will look quite different in just a few years.

Water tank, cycad, and succulents

Agave bovicornuta × parrasana

Aloe suzannae, a rare and challenging-to-grow tree aloe from Madagascar

Macrozamia macdonnellii, arguably the most beautiful Australian cycad, and Furcraea macdougallii from Mexico

Macrozamia macdonnellii

There was more to see and photograph, but frankly, I was running out of time since I had made arrangements to meet my friend Ryan Penn, plant guru at large at Rancho Soledad Nurseries. I'll have a post or two about that visit, of course.

RELATED POST:
      Hidden Agave e-commerce site (in case you want to place an order)
      Hidden Agave Instagram page (fantastic photos!)
      A place to call home (2014 article about Jeremy from The Coast News)


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14 comments:

  1. Wow. I'm overwhelmed just by the photos. I can't imagine how you felt seeing all those hybrids up close.

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    1. It was wonderful. You rarely get to see so many plants that exist almost nowhere else.

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  2. What fun you must have had with this visit! Did you buy anything?

    Oh and here's where I admit that I have absolutely no love for Agave victoria-reginae 'White Rhino'. I keep seeing photos of them and they just look so blah, kind of fake. Dunno. Obviously it's my issue alone since everyone else seems to love them.

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    1. I know what you mean about 'White Rhino'. While I like 'White Rhino' a lot, there are other variegated plants I can't get excited about. Often they just look off to me--sick or sickly somehow. Agave attenuata 'Kara's Stripe' is an example. Or Fatsia 'Spider Web'.

      I didn't buy anything because I already have way too many plants.

      Just kidding. Yes, I walked away with a bunch of goodies. They shall be revealed in part 2.

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  3. Impressive collection. In the photo with the skid steer was looking at all of the irrigation hose in the background. With the size of the gardens can't imagine how much of that he has to run. Hybridizing agaves must be a challenge as they flower so infrequently.

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    1. Jeremy's property has its own well so he doesn't have to pay for municipal water. That's a huge benefit in a state where water is such a precious resource.

      As for hybridizing, I think he gets pollen from other agave growers as well. There are various ways to preserve pollen.

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  4. So interesting to trace the genetic contribution, e.g. vilmoriniana/guiengola, gypsophila/isthmensis! When you think how long it takes agaves to bloom, talk about a labor of love for the extremely patient! Next time one of our agaves blooms, we should just send the seed to Jeremy. Very cool post, Gerhard. There's a parrasana or colorata blooming in a parkway a few streets down...

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    1. Patience, that's the reason why I'm completed unsuited for that kind of work. I don't mind waiting a little bit--like a few months--but years? That's why I'm so happy there are dedicated folks like Jeremy!

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  5. Really enjoyed seeing so many gorgeous Agaves.

    I like the little golden dogweed and ordered some seeds. It looks great with the Agaves.

    Healthiest Aloe sabea I have seen--what is his secret? Beautiful suzannae--a bit puzzled why mine has survived in the conditions it has.

    The striated Agave parrasana and parryi truncata are particularly awesome.

    Great post!

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    1. Funny that you ordered seeds for golden dogweed. I just did the same thing!!! The seeds are supposed to arrive this week. In time for the fall rains. Which fall rains, you might ask....

      I think the "secret" with A. sabaea is patience. It's not a fast grower.

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  6. Spent a very nice afternoon at Hidden Agave a few months ago, and came home with some wonderful agave, including a really gorgeous Shawpot hybrid. The hilltop location is truly amazing as is his garden! Looking forward to seeing Part 2 and what you came home with you.

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    1. Awesome! So my post makes even more sense to you, in terms of how the property is laid out.

      I've been meaning to pick up a ShawPot (shawii × potatorum) but I forgot. It's a stunner. Next time!

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  7. Wonderful post Gerhard. Although I have a very large AZ property (as you know having seen it once already) I could only dream of growing many of these agaves, since there are so many from tropical zones that would die on occasionally nippy winter nights or on torrid summer days. Not that I can't grow a lot of great agaves of course, but Jeremy's taken it to beyond the next level.

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    1. Your property and now Jeremy's are the places that have left the biggest impression on me. Each of you is living your dream, and you put all your passion into your respective properties. And it shows!

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