Windcliff – Review

Dan Hinkley is known as one of the foremost plant collectors of our time and it is no surprise that his latest book ‘Windcliff – A Story of People, Plants and Gardens’ is such a welcome addition to our horticultural bookshelves.

Dan has created two outstanding private gardens – Heronswood and Windcliff – and both gardens, and the story of how one begat the other, are beautifully celebrated in this new and deeply personal book.

Here is a man with a totally infectious passion for plants and as Anna Pavord comments: “.. .. a rare man, generous, inspired, and gifted with an eye for beauty that is given to few people.” That eye for beauty is certainly evident throughout the text of this captivating book.

In the Preface, Dan points out that he was in a tent in Northern India when he happened to look at his hands. At that point in time he felt they looked like the hands of an older man and this set him to thinking about memory. He has always had a good memory, as did his mother until she was in her eighth decade, and he realised that this too could happen to him in older life, hence his desire to start writing down notes to himself as to how his gardens came to be. Those notes were to lead to this book and we and all those who love gardening are richer for it.

Reading through the book is rather like an adventure story – the recounting of the creation of Windcliff and the plants that fill its space. His sage gardening advice and his deeper thoughts on the importance of garden-making and the plants that we cultivate run through every page.

We are also taken on a social story, charting his life and experiences in the most delightful and thought-provoking way. With respect to the creation of Windcliff, he confesses that the, ‘ ..ability to visualise in three dimensions, or the capacity to communicate any idea on paper or canvas, I would be found to be in the lowest possible percentile, in fact at the level of anaerobic silt.”  Here he pays tribute to his husband, Robert Jones, a trained architect with remarkable intuition, who would grab inchoate thoughts from thin air and help him shape them into a garden.

Windcliff sits on a south facing bluff overlooking Puget Sound near Indianola, Washington. Twenty years on, after purchasing what was mostly a lifeless high bluff, the garden at Windcliff approaches the ever-moving end point of what Dan and Robert hoped it might be – a place of rediscovery and a personal journey for guests and gardeners alike. The garden is noted for its audacious design as well as its deft use or rare, fascinating plants.

Chapters start logically with the finding of a new garden and then follows on to design principles. Each part of the garden is then covered in a chapter – The Bluff, The House and Terrace, The Potager, The Nursery, The Meadow and finally Guardians of Memory.

Above I comment that this is a deeply personal book and I think that is one of the reasons that many gardeners will relate to it so easily. In Dan’s thoughts are the thoughts of all of us who have created one or more gardens in our life time. It is full of advice, planting ideas and the importance of observing what we grow.

Claire Takacs’s superb photography is outstanding and perfectly illustrates the beauty of the garden and the quality of the information the text contains.

Daniel J Hinkley has been awarded many accolades including the RHS Veitch Memorial Medal, the Arthur Hoyt Scott Medal from the Scott Arboretum and the Liberty Hyde Baily award from the American Horticultural Society. In 2019, the Daniel J. Hinkley Asian Maple Collection, was named in his honour by the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. His lectures are legendary.

Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants and Gardens’ by Daniel J Hinkley with photography by Claire Takacs is published in hardback by Timber Press at £26.99.

All images are strictly © of Daniel J Hinkley/Claire Takacs and the publishers.