Woodcliff:  A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens, Daniel J. Hinkley  2020

Dan Hinkley is a renowned plant collector and the creator of two famous and fabulous gardens on islands in Puget Sound.  I visited his first one, Heronswood on Bainbridge Island many years ago before he sold it in 2000 to Burpee.  The commercial grower eventually closed it and then sold it to a Native American tribe which then turned around and hired Hinkley to manage it. The same year he sold Heronswood he bought Windcliff with his long time partner and husband.  Windcliff sits on an imposing bluff on the Kipsat Peninsula surrounded by the water of Puget Sound and looking west to the Olympic Range and east to the Seattle skyline and Mt. Ranier beyond.  On those 6.5 acres, he has created a beautiful garden to accommodate the scores of plants, trees, and shrubs whose seeds he has gathered on his visits to some of the great English gardens as well as on his annual outings to Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Nepal, Taiwan, and China.  His approach is best summarized in his words:  “Gesamtkunstwerk, is the work complete, an art form that amalgamates and stimulates all of our senses simultaneously.”  He also states that ‘every garden space has a unique element, an inimitable driver.”  The book is informative and beautiful in fulfillment of his philosophy.  The photographs while excellent are often too busy for my taste, as is his garden.  In contrast to Bill Noble’s recent book, I found this one to be good, but not superb.  Partly this is because I can grow so few of his zone 7+ plants in my zone 4/5 garden in VT, so the details of the plants were less compelling and his gardening style is so different than mine. In addition, his writing style was a bit too jokey, and the personal details and asides were distracting and finally annoying. (Hinkley seems to anticipate this reaction in the preface where he states: “As with my gardening style, my writing is not to everyone’s taste, nor will it ever be.  I don’t care”) I’d recommend the book for any Pacific Northwest gardener, but not as enthusiastically to those of us toiling in the stoney ice fields of northern Vermont.

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