The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and Dan Hinkley restore the world-class standing of this Northwest treasure of rare plants — and open it to the public more often.
ANYONE WHO LUSTED after rare and unusual plants in the late 1980s and ’90s likely has fond memories of the famous Heronswood Nursery. Established by Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones in 1987 on 15 acres near Kingston, it was the place to go to find spectacular, rare plants grown from seed. Many were brought to the nursery by Hinkley after one of his “hunting” expeditions to remote regions of the world.
The nursery included a world-famous botanical garden; visitors came from near and far to see extraordinary trees, shrubs, perennials and vines beautifully displayed in the spectacular woodland setting.
Then, to the consternation of many in the horticultural community, the nursery — along with the garden — was sold in 2000 and closed in 2006. The garden went through a period of neglect, and it looked as if a true Northwest treasure might be lost forever.
Open to the public: The gardens are open every Friday and every fourth Saturday of the month through October, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. (last garden entry is 2:30 p.m.). Admission is $10 adults, $5 ages 7 to 17, and free if you are a member of Heronswood or a Port Gamble S’Klallam Community member.
Plant Sale and Garden Open: It’s May 13-14, one of four seasonal events held each year at the garden. There will be free lectures from Dan Hinkley and other speakers. There is no admission charge for the plant sale, and the lectures are free, but there is a $10 fee to explore the garden.
Weed, Walk & Talk: These volunteer days are the second Wednesday and fourth Saturday of each month, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
But in 2012, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe purchased Heronswood with a commitment to restoring the garden. The Tribe appointed Hinkley director. Under his leadership and the skilled efforts of head gardener Celia Pedersen, the staff and a group of dedicated volunteers, the garden now is even more spectacular than it was in its former glory.
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Many of the original plants have been saved, and an amazing array of incredible rarities collected by Hinkley on his ongoing plant explorations to China, Vietnam, Chile, Myanmar, New Zealand, India, Tasmania and other remote locations around the globe has been added.
In the past, the garden was open to the public only on rare occasions, but now through October, the gardens are open every Friday and every fourth Saturday of the month. Staff and/or volunteers will greet and orient you before you begin your self-guided tour. A new plant-tag system is being implemented, but if you’re stumped by any of the unusual plants, take a photo, and a staff member will identify it for you. Dogs are welcome in the garden. Bring your wallet, as well. A collection of rare and unusual trees, shrubs, vines and perennials will be for sale when the garden is open.
If you’re a serious plant addict like me, don’t miss the Plant Sale and Garden Open May 13-14. Specialty nurseries will offer a great selection of uncommon plants for sale. The garden will be in its spring glory, and there will be plenty of docents on hand to identify the incredibly cool plants with unpronounceable names from far corners of the world.
Finally, if you’d like to help in the ongoing restoration efforts while learning about the unusual plants, you can volunteer. Weed, Walk & Talk events offer a chance to do hands-on work in the garden. Time and weather permitting, there is often a horticultural presentation or a walk through the garden with a member of the staff (sometimes Hinkley). And don’t worry if you can never pronounce some of the difficult botanical names. If someone asks you what something is, just say it’s a Japonica. It always works for me!