A month ago I posted in this space about Daniel Hinkley, about his noted collector’s garden in Indianola, Washington, and his new book about it, Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens. I admired the book – it’s beautiful and well-written – but I didn’t, and don’t, understand the plant collecting impulse that motivates Hinkley. In the interest of fairness, however, I called Dan Hinkley a couple of weeks ago to get his side of the story.
When I asked him why, with all the plants available to American gardeners, he had to go out into the wild seeking more, he replied with his own question. Would I ask a chef why with all the recipes now current, we need new flavors? Fair enough.
Hinkley also noted that his collecting isn’t random. “I’m not a wholesale collector,” Dan stressed. “I’m not skipping through the woods merrily picking up seeds of anything I see.” A plant has to strike him as having garden merit, the ability to fill a horticultural niche, for him to collect it.
He’s interested, too, in the role the plant plays in the local environment. He has, he says, reams of notes documenting the plants he has seen on expeditions, with information about what they were growing with, where and at what altitude (remote mountain ranges have been his favorite collecting grounds). These notes present snapshots of a time and a place, and sadly may provide the only insights now, as so many natural areas Dan has visited over the last 35 years have been destroyed.
He partially allayed my fears that such importations may introduce invasive plants. Dan said that he works with botanists at the University of Washington to identify species with invasive tendencies and scrupulously avoids such introductions.
He asserted that transforming six acres of mowed turf, what his property was when he purchased it, into a dense complex of foliage and flower, has benefited local pollinators and wildlife.
This is where I still part company with Dan and other plant collectors. For them, such ecological benefits are a by-product. For me, they are increasingly the point of gardening, and I know that they can be much greater if you focus on the cultivation of locally indigenous species. Windcliff is picturesque, but from the perspective of an ecologist or an environmentally oriented gardener, not particularly functional.
Click here to listen. to the rest of my conversation with Dan Hinkley.