The Coastal Gardener: Renowned plant man to speak in Newport

May 22, 2010

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on their storied exploration of the uncharted western United States in May 1804. Although they didn't really know what they were looking for or what they might find, they set out on their ambitious pursuit with an equal mix of enthusiasm and determination. The results were historic.

Dan Hinkley reminds me of a modern-day Lewis and Clark. His enthusiasm and determination is of a similar nature. But Hinkley knows exactly what he is looking for — plants. Specifically, plants for gardens.

For those who do not know who Hinkley is, which is probably most, he is a rock star among plant fanatics. To the gardening world, he is the Beatles and Bob Dylan combined.

A world-renowned plant collector, propagator and author, Hinkley spends most of his time split among a mountainside in Nepal, some other far-off place and his own 5-acre garden outside of Seattle.


As a former owner of the well-known Heronswood Nursery, Hinkley created a woodland garden considered one of the most stunning in America. Many referred to it as the greatest private botanical garden in the country. In Heronswood, he deposited a massive collection of exotic and seldom-seen plants gathered during his worldwide plant expeditions; he explored places like China, South America, Central America, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Nepal, Vietnam, Taiwan, Sikkim, Bhutan and Tasmania.

Heronswood was magical, a Mecca of sorts for plant lovers. A visit was nearly a religious experience. Two of my greatest gardening memories will forever be of stepping foot in Heronswood, especially on one occasion when I had the rare privilege of speaking briefly with Hinkley while we walked this amazing garden.

After 19 years, Heronswood was closed in 2006. Gardeners, myself included, greeted the closure as a calamity. The Seattle Times referred to it with the headline "Paradise Lost" (June 1, 2006).

But all was not lost. Hinkley has built a new garden, this one called Windcliff for its isolated position overlooking Puget Sound. Windcliff serves as Hinkley's new playground and as a repository of many of the plant treasures he continues to bring back from the four corners of the planet.

Local gardeners will have a very rare opportunity to meet and hear Hinkley, one of the most sought-after speakers in the plant world.

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