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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Gardens in the Spirit of Place: A Book Review

Some gardening books happen to be on my shelves, and some are there because I tracked them down.

Books by gardener and garden writer Page Dickey are worth tracking down.

I found a used copy of Gardens in the Spirit of Place online because I was intrigued by the title and because I had grown to appreciate Dickey’s writing in other works.

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Gardens cannot exist apart from the particular qualities of particular places, and yet it is far too easy to forget about place when we first begin to design and grow a garden.

Whether we garden in a place already full of character or are looking to inject a bit of character into an otherwise ordinary space, the gardens featured in this photographic book will inform and inspire (even if they might also make us wish for a larger budget of time and money to spend on our gardens!).

Dickey writes about American gardens on farmland, woodland, seaside, and desert from Maine to Texas and on to California. What unites the gardens showcased in this book is that, in Dickey’s words, they “are in harmony with their landscape and celebrate their regionality.”

Here are three things I love about this book:

  1. It’s inspiring! The writing and photography celebrate such very different gardens that I am reminded to appreciate the unique qualities of my garden rather than wish I had a different kind of climate or soil.
  2. It’s personal. Dickey has listened to these gardeners and shares their unique perspectives as well as her own. These gardens may have been designed with professional help, but each one is also a very personal expression.
  3. It celebrates limits. Not everything will grow well in our gardens, but that’s not a bad thing. Rather, it’s a big part of why our own garden will be special.

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Who is this book for?

This book will be enjoyed by anyone who loves visiting gardens, but it will probably feel most useful to those who are gardening on a bit of space. It will especially interest those gardeners who are struggling to celebrate the limits of their particular climate or topography.

I was especially encouraged by the words of a Virginia gardener who “welcomes the challenge of gardening in the South, coming to grips with its heat and humidity.” I’m afraid I generally DO NOT welcome the challenge of summer heat and humidity, but I will remember this garden portrait come July.

Is this a book to buy or borrow?

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

I re-read these books year after year. However, if you are not a collector of gardening books, you might prefer to look for this one at your library.

My favorite garden portraits from this book:

  • I loved reading about a rural garden set in the dry, stony landscape of the Texas Hill Country. It’s a landscape I know and love, but it was also incredibly helpful to read about how this garden designer relished the limitations of extreme heat and drought.
  • I was inspired by a woodland garden in Delaware that prominently features moss, but I appreciated the gardener’s admission that his garden is high maintenance. It’s helpful to know that I can’t achieve the same look unless I am willing to spend time with sprinkler and hose.
  • The portrait of a Wisconsin farm garden is one I know I will return to because it seems so simple and attainable. When I am feeling overwhelmed by ambitious garden plans that I may never be able to achieve, I will be encouraged by this reminder that simple terra cotta pots, filled with pelargoniums, and lined up along a path are utterly enchanting and hold up well even against the fanciest, most professional garden designs.

Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.

 

Christie’s Favorites: Mail-Order Plants

My favorite winter garden “chore” is to curl up in an armchair with a good plant catalog.

I shared some of my favorite online garden sources in this previous library post.

Consider the following an expanded “Part Two.” Part Three (my favorite sources for mail-order seeds) coming soon!

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Trees and shrubs:

  • Hands-down my favorite is Bower&Branch. Their quality, convenience, and selection is incredible. Although they are working to expand their service area, I still recommend their website even for those of you who don’t live in the eastern or midwestern U.S. The descriptions of trees and perennials offered on their website are very helpful.
  • Rare Find is just what it promises! A great source for unusual or hard-to-find trees and shrubs. They are an especially good source for rhododendron.

Perennials:

  • White Flower Farm: This mail-order source is pricier than some, but I have found the quality and selection to be very good.
  • Brent and Becky’s is my favorite source for flowering bulbs, but they also have a small selection of perennials at good prices.
  • I love the small, quick-to-establish plugs offered by Prairie Nursery.

Fruit Trees and Shrubs:

Bulbs and Tubers:

  • I love Swan Island Dahlias for very high quality dahlia tubers
  • These are linked above, but White Flower Farm and Brent&Beckys sell great bulbs and tubers.
  • I have found wonderful antique varieties from Old House Gardens

Roses:

  • For the most part, I order bare root roses in winter. I love to buy my David Austin “English Roses” straight from the source here.
  • An excellent source for heirloom or antique roses is the Antique Rose Emporium located in Texas.
  • Jung Seed offers a wide variety of low cost plants. I have had great success with their bare root roses.

Houseplants:

  • I have loved the hard-to-find scented geraniums and other herbs sold by Renee’s Garden Seeds. They do well indoors on a south-facing windowsill.

 

Do you have a favorite source you would add to this list? Please let us know in the comments!

Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.

Merry Hall: A Book Review

Some books make us better gardeners by giving us knowledge.

Some books make us better gardeners by showing us love.

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols is a favorite of mine for the latter reason.

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What in the world do I mean by “showing us love”?

What I mean is this: gardening is an act of love. It is love–love for flowers, for fresh food, for the look of a path or the feel of dirt under our nails–that pushes us out the door.

But in the hurry and press of life, it can be easy to forget our own loves. It can be easy–especially when the weather is awful or the pests are merciless–to ask ourselves why do I bother?

Those are the days when we need writers like Nichols. Those are the days we need to step into some other gardener’s shoes and be reminded that, yes, we may be crazy to work as hard as we do, but it’s a good kind of crazy because it comes from love.

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Merry Hall is a farcical, funny, exaggerated romp of a memoir from 1951.

In it, Nichols describes the restoration of an English Georgian house and garden. This is a book with a wicked sense of humor and a golden heart.

I read it regularly.

Merry Hall is the first in a trilogy. The recent hardcover editions by Timber Press of Nichols’ vintage books are worth seeking out. I have found all of mine at second-hand shops.

 

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A Dreamy Plant Book

 

We garden in soil, and we garden in our dreams.

I am often unsure which gardening I prefer. Certainly, I am thankful for both.

Here is a book from my collection that is helpful for the real, dirty work of gardening as well as the imaginative play of garden dreaming.

1001 Plants To Dream of Growing edited by Liz Dobbs is exactly what it sounds like: a sourcebook for garden dreams. With beautiful photographs and sections on everything from “Annuals” and “Perennials” to “Bulbs, corms, and tubers” to “Indoor and patio,” this is an incredibly comprehensive catalog.

What I especially love about it though is that it doesn’t dabble in generalities.

For instance, it doesn’t recommend Brunnera (bugloss) or Hemerocallis (daylilies) generally, rather it recommends very specific varieties to dream of growing. Anyone who has ever gone to a garden center looking for a daylily only to be confronted by two dozen varieties with very different descriptions on their labels will appreciate this approach.

So, 1001 Plants to Dream of Growing doesn’t simply recommend camellia but gives descriptions of two very desirable varieties: ‘Donation’ and ‘Bob Hope,’ along with a few other alternatives if you’d like a different color or your climate is slightly different.

1001 Plants to Dream of Growing doesn’t suggest you dream of herbs in general or even thyme in general but specifically recommends thyme of the Coccineus group for a flowering carpet effect or Thymus vulgaris for good looks and good flavor.

This book is specific, and that’s exactly what we need to turn our general, hazy dreams into reality.

“Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.

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