Tom Karwin, On Gardening | Book Assessment: Windcliff by Dan Hinkley – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Expand your gardening knowledge

In a recent webinar hosted by the Garden Conservancy, Dan Hinkley described his latest book, Windcliff: A History of People, Plants and Gardens. In this column we will consider his book as a seasonal gift to a gardening friend or to yourself.


Hinkley has a solid reputation as a plant hunter and gardener. He devoted decades to developing Heronswood, his first large garden on the edge of Puget Sound in Washington state. His new book focuses on creating his second major garden, Windcliff, which is about seven miles from Heronswood.

In addition to being an exceptional plant hunter and gardener, Hinkley is a good author of three previous books, all of which are available on Amazon:

“The Explorer’s Garden: Rare and Unusual Perennials” (2009).
“The Explorer’s Garden: Shrubs and Vines from the Four Corners of the World”.
“Winter Ornamentals: For the Northwest Maritime Gardener” (1993).

He frequently writes articles in gardening magazines and is a popular speaker at gardening associations. In March 2000 he spoke at the UCSC Arboretum and Botanical Garden, invited to the Ray Collett Rare and Extraordinary Plants Lecture Series.

With this in mind, Hinkley is an effective communicator about plants and gardening. His new book builds on this experience. The writing is informal, graceful, often humorous, and is consistently based on his deep experience with a variety of plants.

The images in the book are satisfactory both as aesthetic works and as accurate representations of plants and landscapes. Most of the excellent photography comes from Claire Takacs, with additional “plant portraits” from Hinkley.

The organization of the book is roughly chronological and follows the 20 year development of the gardens in Windcliff and its various components: the cliff overlooking the Puget Sound, house and terrace, potager, kindergarten and meadow. Hinkley also dedicates a brief closing section to his Guardians of Memory, which includes significant plants, statues, and Buddhist prayer flags about which he says, “Celebrate the mentors, parents, and siblings who went before us.”

While the book has logically discrete sections, it resonates with spontaneity. The reader is often turned around with a new focus on a preferred plant, a design concept, stories of world travel, or companions in plant-hunting explorations.

Hinkley presents an impressive selection of plants, many of which will be unknown to even experienced gardeners. He never hesitates to mention disappointing experiences with some plants, but his signature message is about his fascination and love for biodiversity.

It expresses particular joy in selected genres. For example, I was impressed by his enthusiasm for the South African agapanthus, which is rather common. However, it turns out that A. africanus and A. orientalis, which California gardeners encounter most often, are evergreen species that do not grow well in Hinkley’s garden region. He likes deciduous species, e.g. BA campanulatus and A. inapertus which are successful in his garden and have desirable traits.

Another of his favorites are the wall flowers (Dierama spp.), Which move with a breeze. He writes: “Sitting in a field of moving pendulum bells was nothing short of magic.”

Even after reading his appreciation for certain plants, his affection for a great many varieties becomes apparent. His book contains an index of an astonishing number of plants contained in his garden at Windcliff.

This beautiful book is inspiring read about creating a unique garden, and also a stroll through familiar and unusual members of the plant kingdom. Few gardeners are faced with developing a 6.5 acre garden like Windcliff, but all gardeners can benefit from the insightful comments of an expert gardener and his loving notes about the many plants in his world.

Windcliff is one of the best gardening books of 2020.

Enrich your garden days

The Cactus & Succulent Society recently hosted a webinar on the Huntington Botanical Garden’s 12-acre Desert Garden, one of 16 themed gardens within the 120-acre area in Southern California that are open to visitors.

The extraordinary collection of cacti and succulents in the desert garden is one of the world’s most important collections of these fascinating plants. You can find an overview of this garden at

This webinar was divided into three sections. The first presenter was James Folsom, the longtime director of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, who was about to retire. He gave a brief overview of the evolution of the desert garden, starting in 1907 in a rocky area well suited for growing these plants. Following Folsom’s lecture, the CSSA presented him with a Service Award in recognition of his 33 years of leadership in the gardens.

The second moderator was Seth Baker, the main designer of the gardens, who set out the current goals and plans to (a) improve access to the desert garden, (b) expand accessibility according to universal design principles, (c) make it immersive and cohesive improve visitor experiences and their learning opportunities, (d) improve the horticultural conditions of the desert garden and (e) renovate the existing winter garden. He presented numerous photos to illustrate the ongoing work.

The final moderator was the curator of the desert collections, John Trager, who provided a number of photos of notable plants in the desert garden. “What’s in Bloom” presentations are popular features of public gardens, but Trager’s virtual tour of the amazing desert garden took that concept to a new level, enhanced by his deep knowledge of the plants.

This webinar has been well designed and expertly supported by the heads of this extraordinary botanical resource. It was an example of the rising quality of the emerging virtual gardening practice and inspired plans to visit the Huntington Botanical Gardens as soon as travel becomes a good idea again.

In the meantime, I’ve asked if this webinar might be available online for those interested. It may be available on the HD website (, which already has many HD video programs. This column will contain a link if the Desert Garden webinar becomes available.

Care for your garden

For the next week, this column returns to the list of seasonal gardening priorities.

Keep your emotions positive and your viruses negative and enjoy your garden.

Tom Karwin is a past president of the Friends of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, and a lifelong UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). Today he is a board member and garden trainer of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. At you can view daily photos from his garden. Visit to search an archive of previous On Gardening columns.

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