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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In the Garden: Banquet features talk by globe-trotting plant collector

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to travel all over the world in search of exotic and amazing plants?

While that’s not necessarily on everyone’s bucket list, having the opportunity to hear about a plantsman’s adventures is the next best thing. On Oct. 27, the Spokane County Master Gardener Foundation will bring in world-renowned plant collector Dan Hinkley to deliver the keynote address at its annual fall banquet. This is an event you won’t want to miss.

The topic of his presentation is “The Explorer’s Garden: Plants from the Four Corners of the World” and will include photographs from his plant-collecting expeditions.

Each fall, the Master Gardeners bring in top-notch speakers to inspire and entertain banquet attendees. The event will include a no-host bar, catered dinner, silent auction and raffles. The doors will open at 4 p.m. for a meet-and-greet book signing by Hinkley. Dinner will be served at 6 p.m., followed by the keynote presentation at 7 p.m.

Many gardeners might know of Hinkley through his legendary Heronswood Nursery and Garden in Kingston, Washington. He and co-founder Robert Jones started the garden in 1987 to display and sell rare plants and those the plantsman had brought back from expeditions. They sold Heronswood to W. Atlee Burpee in 2000, unaware Burpee would go bankrupt just six months later and finally close Heronswood in 2006.

As a result, the garden fell into a state of neglect until the Port Gamble S’Klallum Tribe purchased it in 2012. A community of volunteers has been painstakingly working to restore Heronswood as a display garden for all to visit and enjoy.

I recently had the opportunity to connect with Hinkley before he headed off on a trip to northeast India. I was curious to know where his travels have taken him.

“I have concentrated primarily on Asia. However, my curiosity has taken me to Mexico, Central and South America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia,” he said. “But I do not discriminate against my own backyard and enjoy very much looking at our native flora as well. With that said, I have spent several weeks in North Vietnam during the past 15 years and taken numerous trips to China.”

While searching for plants, Hinkley’s criteria have evolved over time:

“First, what was not in general cultivation that should be? What should be conserved for possible reintroduction? And what would help piece together a better understanding of life on this planet?” he explained.

“As time has gone on, I look to good foliage. Forget flowers; it is all about what foliage brings to the garden,” Hinkley said. “Whether evergreen or deciduous, woody or perennial, good foliage carries the day.”

When asked what he’s learned from plant-collecting and propagation, he had wise – and unexpected – advice for all gardeners:

“Believe nothing you have read,” Hinkley said. “I have bypassed so many good plants in my day, believing them to be non-hardy because that is what I have learned. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to understand all plants by growing, and often killing them. Also, knowing where a plant puts itself in a natural setting is paramount in understanding its needs under cultivation.”

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at