“What looks good when the garden is just starting to stir in April? In my garden, in one word, phlomis. Unscathed, fully clothed, holding it together all winter. I didn’t expect phlomis could deal with this much rain, hail and snow, but see for yourself.” I wrote that in April this year, and I haven’t changed my mind yet about phlomis, especially now that I’ve seen not only how they handle all that winter rain, but the summer dry season too. I counted maybe three spots where phlomis would be an improvement over the current residents: A large clump of the big-leaved, non-flowering lamb’s ears could be halved, Lychnis coronaria struggling in the dry soil under the neighbor’s overhanging fruit tree could be moved, and a Japanese holly fern Cyrtomium falcatum in too much sun needed more shade. Time to go shopping! But where? What nursery has a great phlomis list?
Turns out that the owners of Windcliff appreciate phlomis’ many virtues too. (If you need an introduction to Windcliff, Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones, start here.) Scanning their offerings under Plants To Go, I earmarked Phlomis x margaritae and Phlomis ‘Le Sud’ (the latter sourced from Oliver Filippi’s nursery in the South of France), but there were so many other tempting kinds too. The trick is that Windcliff does not offer mail order; plants must be picked up on site, after e-mail arrangements are made for an appointment. Maps declared this to be a four and half hour trip. Hey, that’s a quick jaunt!
But…Friday afternoon Seattle/Tacoma traffic was awful. Accidents, delays, sluggish progress up the 5 north made it closer to 6 hours. Not a day trip! Good thing we opted for an overnight in the town of Edmonds, where you catch the car ferry for a half-hour ride across Puget Sound to Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula. Windcliff/Indianola is maybe 10 minutes away from Kingston. (Heronswood is approximately 7 miles away from Indianola.)
Finally out of the damn car, settling in for cervezas and Mexican food in the walkable town of Edmonds Friday night, with a Billie-friendly room booked, at that point the trip took on a glow it never lost. Our appointment was set for Saturday at 12 noon.
Detailed instructions from Robert take you from Indianola to the Windcliff gate, where he meets you with advice to see the garden before shopping the nursery and to take photos of any plants about which you have questions. Dan and Robert were both manning the nursery sales table. A few cars were at the gate when we arrived, but very few people are admitted in at one time (I believe maximum is five per two-hour visit — it’s all on the website). I had the garden entirely to myself — Marty and Billie stayed in the car.
Pretty much any month is a safe bet for visiting Windcliff, though Dan says he doesn’t have as much going on in winter as he’d like. The last two winters have been especially brutal. The zone 8b garden sits on a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound, where the ferry system still thrives — which thrilled Marty, an alumnus of the Catalina Island ferry boats. Drainage at Windcliff is excellent, and the name is no empty poetic turn of phrase. Previous owners named it Windcliff for a reason, and the name was kept by Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones. The fierce winds off the Sound keep the crowns of plants dry all winter…which isn’t as rainy as you’d assume for the PNW. Annual rainfall is under 30 inches.
The noon visit was hotter than warm. Only mid 80s, but that bluff soaks up and radiates every bit of that sunshine.
Famous for Dan’s own collections of rare araliaceae, the hardy scheffleras, and all the plants ending in the suffix “panax,” nevertheless Windcliff in summer is brilliant with agapanthus. Dan says Agapanthus praecox was on the property when they bought it, along with the huge expanse of sunny, south-facing lawn which is now the bluff garden. Intrigued by the possibilities suggested by that original surviving agapanthus, the plant list has now grown to over 50 varieties of agapanthus on offer, many of them Windcliff-bred exclusives.
Agapanthus at Windcliff are given center-stage treatment, rather than sidelined in narrow utilitarian plantings as they are in Southern Calif. Fully appreciated, they strut and swagger like I’ve never seen them do in zone 10.
Gardens can be many things, calming, dreamy, an attempt at an imposition of order that either attracts or repels. Windcliff is an incredibly stimulating garden to visit, and I confess to a partiality for beautiful gardens that provoke discovery and wonder. Windcliff is a meandering, closely planted garden, almost as if Dan is recreating the experience of discovery he felt when first becoming acquainted with many of these plants in the wild.
All the phlomis I coveted were available and made the trip home, including an additional highly recommended Phlomis ‘Whirling Dervish.’ Disappointingly, the last pot of Dahlia ‘Forncett’s Furnace’ was snapped up by a shopper ahead of me. Dan brought this bright orange single dahlia back from Hadspen House during Nori and Sandra Pope’s tenure, and it’s not easily found elsewhere. One of the hardiest acacias also made the trip home, Acacia pravissima, and a few other odds and ends. I spent Sunday settling the plants into the garden, and now rain has been forecast for the coming week…bliss!