Dan Hinkley is one of the great NW nurserymen. He started Heronswood, located in Kingston, WA, nearly 20 years ago and has made it into one of the great nurseries in the U.S., if not the world. His plant and seed collecting trips throughout the remotest parts of the world are legend. Heronswood became so successful that Burpee, one of Martha Stewart’s companies bought it and wisely left him in place to continue working his magic.
Dan, as is true of many self-taught professionals, is a stickler and perfectionist. Don’t expect much help when you visit the nursery from plant labels. You’ll only find Latin names (if that). If you don’t know them, you basically have to shop by look. What pleases your eye is what you buy. Before this year, Dan’s catalogues were voluminous compendiums of prose descriptions of the 2,000 plants inside. But this year Dan entered the modern visual age with a color supplement featuring photos of some of the stupendous plants Heronswood offers.
Dan Hinkley leading a Heronswood nursery tour (credit: Jacqueline Koch/Seattle Times)
Dan is such a brillant plantsman that I would run to read anything he writes. Though if truth be told, as with many self-taught writers, his style can be a bit belabored and and high-flown. But these are minor peccadillos compared to the gifts he bears us. Dan published True Confessions: Ruminations of a World-Wise Plantsman in the Pacific Northwest Magazine, January 11, 2004 issue. It is a tender, yet sad litany of the endless litany of regrets that we gardeners have about plants lost, plants wasted, plants not bought or not planted. Gardeners, like all collectors, not only take joy in their collection, but they feel deep regret for the ones that got away. Here is Dan’s take on creating a new garden. He describes a phenomenon that I learned about the hard way when I first planted my garden here in my Seattle home. I put in almost every plant I wanted to grow and it looked great for a year. But I completely ignored their growth habits so that after two years, half the plants in my garden were crowding out the other half. I had to do a major reworking to reduce the number of plants so that the ones remaining could grow big and happy.
AND FINALLY, I REGRET that for as many years as I have been making gardens, I remain incapable of spacing my prepubescent plants in the garden with their ultimate size at maturity in mind. These are big regrets and add many lumps to my pockets. It is not as if I forget to have a conversation with myself as I’m placing the pots before digging the holes. We generally have a pretty good row with one another. I lose.
So why is it that we wish away the youngness of our gardens? In a wink, the seedlings we coddle are already trees, and the perennials fill the void and puerile vines mature and secure the arbor. There is no revisiting the childlike garden, short of moving and starting it once again — itself unthinkable as we, too, are no longer youthful but bloated with years and many regrets.
Yet it is exactly this that I will do, once again, as I strive to make another garden and make it the most beautiful garden in the world. I will again scribble my passion upon a canvas of open ground and stand with a dazed expression on my face, a gallon pot under my arm, burdened with indecision.
As I do, I will reflect on those nascent days of my first garden and the guilt that would blossom in me for having done just that, retreating indoors at dark, mentally exhausted and feeling as if I had accomplished nothing at all.
In retrospect, those were my most productive moments. My garden was, in fact, planted through the moments I’d believed I had lost.
So I will not regret these moments again, ever, as I attempt, in my mind, to create the most precise of color combinations, with plants too tender, too aggressive, planted too close together from friends too generous while listening to the Mariners play on my headset.
And with each pot I place in the earth, I will extract a few regrets from my pockets stuffed here and there and gently scatter them in the bottom of each hole for future harvest.
That is some fine writing. And here are a few lovely images (mostly) from the Heronswood.com website:
Paeonia delavayi var. ludlowii
Oriental poppy ‘Patty’s Plum’
7530 NE 288th Street
Kingston, WA 98346
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