Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Rich Dufresne: Sultan of Salvia and provincial naturalist...

Rich Dufresne, November 2017

In Paradise

My soul, beyond distant death
your image I see like this:
a provincial naturalist,
an eccentric lost in paradise.

There, in a glade, a wild angel slumbers,
a semi-pavonian creature.
Poke at it curiously
with your green umbrella,

speculating how, first of all,
you will write a paper on it
then — But there are no learned journals,
nor any readers in paradise!

And there you stand, not yet believing
your wordless woe.
About that blue somnolent animal
whom will you tell, whom?

Where is the world and the labeled roses,
the museum and the stuffed birds?
And you look and look through your tears
at those unnamable wings.

– Vladimir Nabokov, from Collected Poems (2012), translated by Dmitri Nabokov, published by Penguin Classics, London.

When I read on Facebook that Rich had died, this poem, which isn't altogether apropos, came nevertheless to mind. If there is indeed a Heaven, Rich is one of the few people I know who'd be guaranteed rapid entry: I have known few kinder, gentler, more intelligent or caring people. He would, however, have walked right past the shimmering angel seeking mints instead. And if he were to find a new Salvia in Heaven, he would be even more frustrated than the provincial naturalist: he'd want to call us all up and tell us about it, propagate it and share it with all the great Nurseries of the world.

When I took the picture above of Rich Dufesne at the Annual General Meeting of the North American Rock Garden Society in Raleigh, North Carolina, little did I suspect it would be the last time I'd see my friend and mentor in Lamiaceae, and that that would be the last picture I'd ever take of him.

For many decades Rich and I would talk every month or so (I confess, he was usually the one who called, sometimes at inconvenient times). But once I'd heard the familiar litany of his breakdowns and frustrations, the conversation would wander to more salubrious subjects--the vast world of Salvia, Agastache and all the treasures he'd dedicated his life to studying, sharing and promoting.

He was so successful in what he achieved that many had no suspicion that he was the one who triggered the avalanche of interest and enthusiasm for these now enormously popular plants.

He was the one who prompted me to beg Sallie Walker to collect Agastache rupestris in the early 1990's: this opened the floodgates of interest in this genus. All this may have eventually occurred anyway, and if it had, Rich again would have been the instigator.

Tony Avent, proprietor Plant Delights gave a wonderful synopsis of Rich on his website:


And Tovah Martin's wonderful piece:

I imagine Rich is already urging that more Labiates be planted beyond the Heavenly gates. This Sultan of Salvia and Aga of Agastache has left us. I can't begin to imagine how many millions of salvias and agastaches grace the planet thanks to his efforts this last half century. What greater legacy could one have?


  1. Another great loss to horticulture and to those that met or knew him. Such knowledge is not replaceable but his legacy lives on in the many species of Lamiaceae, mainly salvias but not only salvias, that he introduced to cultivation. Well written tribute to one of the greats.

  2. Such a sweet and knowledgeable man. He will be missed. Such sad news!

  3. I removed that statement: I'd been told so but don't have confirmation. I'll find out for sure, Mike, I hope not!

  4. Mike: I made some inquiries: Sally Walker is very much alive and well.

  5. Thanks for writing and providing links. I corresponded with Rick half a dozen times and even drummed up the nerve to ask if he'd answer some questions for the blog in 2012, and tho he agreed, somehow it never happened. Such pathos in knowing more about his circumstances, but what an amazing and impactful life he created. Wonderful to know how the hort. community rallied around and protected him. I know there are Juilliard graduates among Los Angeles' homeless population -- capitalism does have its casualties among those who for varying reasons can't comply with its demands. Wished I'd gone to the Salvia Summit at the Huntington in 2013 to put a face to his name and thank him for his generosity with plants & info.


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