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The Ratzeputz Gang & Friends, Death Valley, 2014

Kurt Bluemel died quite unexpectedly last Wednesday, June 4th. Known widely as the “King of Grasses”, Kurt will be best remembered for popularizing the use of ornamental grasses in the American landscape. Many of the grasses used throughout the U.S. were first introduced or bred by him. He also had a vast knowledge of plant material and, with relatively little formal training in horticulture or design, was a great plantsman and a phenomenal landscape artist.

Kurt was my travel buddy and founder of a small group of fellow plantsmen known whimsically as the “Ratzeputz Gang”. Ratzeputz is an evil tasting concoction for which we named ourselves, with no better reason than we liked the name. For the past 30 years, we’ve traveled to dozens of countries in at least four continents, in search of new and unique plants with a curiosity for what grows where and why. The photo to the right was taken on a trip to Death Valley in April of this year. Shown in the photo are Front (L-R): Kurt Bluemel, George, Uebelhart, Shannon Still  Back (L-R): Kirk Alexander, Dave Schultz, Steve Still, Allen Bush and Pierre Bennerup. 

Kurt appeared to be in good health and spirits. His sudden death has hit everyone hard. How does one prepare for such events?

Kurt BluemelIt’s nearly impossible to adequately summarize a man’s life in a few words. Born in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, in 1933, Kurt was just 12 when he and his entire family were exiled from their homeland by the Russians. Kurt was fortunate enough to be sent to work for an uncle in Switzerland who taught him the nursery and landscape business. Eventually he emigrated to the U.S. and after some intervening work experiences formed his own company in Maryland, Kurt Bluemel, Inc.

In his own right, Kurt was a great man. He had enormous energy and seemingly endless vitality. His kinky sense of humor was legendary among his friends. Do I dare mention his occasional temper flare-ups? Or mine? Kurt and I had verbal altercations on a number of occasions but then we’d laugh it off and become friends again over a vodka tonic. Despite these brief encounters, I have nothing but the greatest respect for him and most of all will remember him as a good and trusted friend.

He is survived by his lovely wife, Hannah, his sister, Monica, his daughter, Kathy and three grandchildren. My sincere condolences to all of them. His extended family, his extensive friends and the Ratzeputz Gang will all miss him dearly.  

-Pierre Bennerup