Windcliff: A Book Review

Here is a book that surprised me.

I did not think that Daniel J. Hinkley’s book about his Seattle-area garden would be for me, but Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens is a special and often surprising book.

Hinkley is a global plant collector, nurseryman, and home gardener. His garden Windcliff sits on a windy bluff above Puget Sound with views of Tahoma, or Mount Rainier. I did not think this book was for me because in my zone 6 garden I cannot grow most of the plants Hinkley mentions, and I am much more interested in native plants than specimens from Asia and South Africa.

Or, so I thought before I read this book.


A few quick things:

  • It’s beautiful! The photography by Claire Takacs is stunning. I also love that Hinkley admits that Takacs captures the garden in its most beautiful moments, but that these are only moments. Hinkley is eager for us to know that his garden does not always look this good.


  • It’s personal. Hinkley’s writing style is unique (he relishes big words and imaginative metaphors), and he is not afraid to offend. He speaks his opinions boldly, but he is also humble and spends as much time dissecting his mistakes and failures as his successes.


  • It celebrates a global abundance of beautiful plants. I love native plants and tend to read mostly about local flora and fauna. Hinkley’s descriptions of plant collecting trips around the globe helped me better appreciate this work which, at its best, is about conservation and education.


Who is this book for?

I assumed this book was not for me because I have never heard of most of the plants Hinkley rhapsodizes over, and I cannot grow them outdoors in Pennsylvania anyhow. But I was wrong.

This book is for anyone fascinated by the process of making a new garden from scratch. This book is for anyone who thinks “plant collectors” only lived during Queen Victoria’s day. And this book is for anyone who appreciates personal garden writing and gorgeous garden photography.


Is this a book to buy or borrow?

I love collecting gardening books with beautiful photography and slightly out-of-reach inspirational gardens.

I bought my own copy of Windcliff because I was so curious to read it, and my library doesn’t carry it, but many of you will likely prefer to borrow a copy. Inter-library loan might be helpful here.

Some of my favorite quotations from this book:


“I have to come clean and break it to you as gently and kindly as I can. My garden is not the one captured in these extraordinary photographs at just the right moment, in the precise light, by a talented artist. It is an improv performance with more days dead in a ditch than anyone could imagine.”


Beginning a section titled “Garden as Play,” Hinkley immediately writes,

“Note to self: It is still a lot of work.”


“The downside of any deliberate rehash in the garden is, of course, that you are left with the embarrassment of a new beginning.”


“If shown any plant with even the most sensational leaf form or pattern, [the audience members] ask me the same question: ‘What does it do?’ I am often moved to reply, ‘Well, what do you do?'”


“There is no sacrifice to any season if thought is given to foliage, silhouette, flower, fruit, and bark. Nor is there a magic ratio of plants performing in spring or autumn, summer or winter. It is simply a matter of visiting gardens–and nurseries–in all four seasons and rationing your plant budget.”


Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.


Posted on

March 8, 2021

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