shopping for phlomis at Windcliff

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?

noID phlomis with dark-leaved pittosporum at Windcliff August 26, 2023

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!

Dichroa febrifuga along the front driveway

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.

Cortaderia fulvida owning the bluff.

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.

private home of Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones

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.

distant ceramic towers by Dustin Gimbel entitled….”Phlomis”! — and I think that’s a phlomis to the right of the eucomis

The noon visit was hotter than warm. Only mid 80s, but that bluff soaks up and radiates every bit of that sunshine.

What’s so interesting about the summer focus on agapanthus is how despite all the varieties and differences in heights and variations in colors on the blue/purple spectrum, with some white, the overall effect is to unify the garden, like a scene from a South African grassland

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.

Agapanthus, eucomis, kniphofia and plumes of the dramatic New Zealand toetoe Cortaderia fulvida
A selection of Agapanthus inapertus
Wonderful clump of Acanthus sennii on the left, but then it’s all simply wonderful
Because it stood taller than me, I’m guessing that this may be Eucomis pallidiflora subsp. pole-evansii, the giant among pineapple lilies.
native madrone distant left, yellow poppy flowers look like Hunnemania fumariifolia. Every plant shown here would also grow in zone 10, though I doubt eucomis would grow as well
stunning hypericum from Nepal, possibly H. uralum. Not available currently at the nursery, but Plant World has seeds
Mathiasella bupleuroides flourishes at Windcliff, named in honor of Mildred Mathias, Director of the UCLA Botanic Garden

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.

Sinopanax formosanus, an evergreen endemic to Taiwan, aka Formosa. If my little one survives it may have to be moved!
Salvia with rusty spent blooms of an olearia in background, possibly Olearia cheesemanii
pitcher plants at the man-made pond just off the house, bluff-side
Caesalpinia gilliesii is marginally hardy so has been tucked in close to the house under the eaves, warmer and drier, where it stands the best odds over the winter
looks like Agave gentryi, maybe ‘Jaws’

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!

Distant orange flowers are Dahlia ‘Forncett’s Furnace,’ umbellifer on the right is Selinum wallichianum
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13 Responses to shopping for phlomis at Windcliff

  1. Steve Blackwell says:

    Okay, I’m not one for drama, but I’m obsessed with your photographs of this garden! Thanks for sharing. I may actually have to revisit this post… just because. So many plants that I love but wouldn’t do well in my cold winter, wet, zone 7a NJ garden.

  2. Kris P says:

    Now that’s a proper garden adventure. I’m VERY envious, Denise. Given one after another vibrant photograph of the Windcliff gardens, it seems you timed your visit perfectly too. Your photos are drool worthy. I look forward to seeing your latest plant haul in your Oregon garden.

  3. Lori says:

    OMG, I am SO STOKED that you visited Windcliff & blogged about it! I was there two weeks ago (got my luggage searched by TSA yet again with all the plants stuffed in there) and was so disappointed that my photography didn’t remotely live up to capturing the experience of the garden. Your photography is always excellent and I am really enjoying revisiting the garden here. And you captured some spots I missed!

    I’d just come from Heronswood when I visited Windcliff, so it was really interesting to compare the experience of the two gardens. I really feel like he’s having fun and letting loose with the bluff planting scheme at Windcliff and the drama of the plants really enhances the drama of the site, and it’s just glorious to experience. And all those blues of the agapanthus drifts are just stunning. I made off with a few of his deep blue ‘Vivian Clara’ hybrids. Really curious to see how your plant haul does. I’m not familiar with a lot of what he was growing, but it did make me laugh to see all of the salvia greggii hybrids he was propagating— now THAT is common plant for me and unexpected to see!

  4. Gerhard Bock says:

    OMG, to think phlomis led to all of this! Your photos are magnificent. I’ve never been there, but it’s clear that this is a world-class destination for garden lovers.

    Now I have to look up photos of the phlomis varieties you bought! We have a large Phlomis fruticosa in our garden, and it thumbs its nose at our Central Valley heat. 105°? No big deal!

    BTW, Caesalpinia gilliesii is now Erythrostemon gilliesii. I’m only mentioning it because it’s something I learned recently.

  5. Looks like you had a marvelous time, I am so glad the trip was successful and Marty and Billie were along as well. I’ve only been once, but your suburb photos brough back great memories.

  6. hb says:

    How cool you got to visit Windcliff and buy some plants. Looks like you made it there when lots of Agapanthus were in flower. I must say they do splendidly well here also–there are many gardens in the neighborhood with fabulous massive plantings that started out maybe 30 or 40 years ago as a single clump. All the other original plantings have since perished but the Agapanthus thrived and spread.

    I grew commonly available Phlomis fruticosa, nice plant but it outgrew its space. Sounds like you got some very interesting types.

    My nephew lives in Bellingham,

  7. Denise says:

    @Steve, so glad you found this of interest and thanks for letting me know!
    @Kris, I’m already planning a trip back in spring…
    @Lori, we were on a short leash timewise but I really should’ve stopped at Heronswood too. So glad you made it. I didn’t dare explore the agapanthus list and really don’t have room for them. Looks like the ag’s are sited so other plants don’t steal their sun/air circulation. Same for eucomis. No blooms on mine this year, but the well-spaced eucomis were blooming like mad at Windcliff — one of the many things we learn visiting gardens!
    @Gerhard, and abutilon is now callianthe! I knew phlomis handled sun and heat well but it was the winter rain I was worried about. They might be short-lived because of it but are easy from cuttings. Also, mine have not bloomed — which is okay with me too!
    @Loree, I was trying to remember when I was last at Windcliff, which was in the no-photo era, (and the year we visited you, Kathy et al) and told Robert that the Jeffrey Bale council ring was already in place. He said that didn’t help date my visit because it was built before the house and garden!
    @Hoov, the way the agapanthus are integrated with other plants and shapes is a huge revelation from Windcliff, an uncommon art of planting. Yeah, Phlomis fruticosa is a big boy. Phlomis lanata is good in zone 10, shorter but can get really wide. We did stop and see the Bellevue Bot Garden in Bellevue on the way north — wonderful area with great parks and trails.

  8. Elaine says:

    Thankfully the trip was worth all the effort of getting there. Windcliff and Heronswood are on my ‘bucket list’. Your photos are stunning and really bring forth how gorgeous the garden is. Dan always prefaces his talks with ‘the garden does not look like the photos in the book’. Hmm, I disagree. I have a couple of Phlomis plants here that are indeed incredibly tough though they do have a tendency to seed about a bit. Thanks for the peek into this gorgeous garden. Marty and Billy missed out.

  9. Chavli says:

    Another great garden I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing in person, so thanks for this colorful overview. Even without a plant haul, this visit is its own reward.
    Eucomis pallidiflora is impressive!
    Was the group of Agapanthus inapertus really this grape color? stunning.
    I’m looking forward to seeing your new phlomis placed.

  10. Denise says:

    @Elaine, such modesty from Dan, the garden is extremely photogenic even if we can’t all be Claire Takacs at magic hour! Phlomis are a nice balance with grasses w/o the size and weight of shrubs for this small garden. Your comment about Marty missing out — we’ve been doing this for decades. He loves the travel to gardens, which are usually in pretty nice locales! — but doesn’t want to walk through them for hours so he brings something to read. He loved the Kitsap Peninsula, the Sound, etc. He had been with me to Heronswood when it was still under Hinkley, driving from LA — we had a wedding to attend in Bellevue.
    @Chavli, the eucomis were incredible, no flopping, strong flowering. That color is accurate, there was such a range of different colors in the blue/purple spectrum. The only space I have for agapanthus is the front garden, and they’d take up pretty much all of it – might be worth considering for summer.

  11. Erik says:

    Denise, this post, just put a huge smile on my face! I have visited Windcliff twice but never at the height of the agapanthus bloom. The photos are stunning and confirm all the previous descriptions I have read about this event. Your description of the garden and how it is planted only confirms for me that my impression was not off the mark. I agree that Dan’s collecting trips, into to wild, fully informs his plantings, of how to best site, how much space etc… His garden keeps you fully engaged while you wander it’s paths. No two points of view are the same, always a new discovery, sometimes just a step or two away. I feel lucky that it is only a 1 hour drive from home. Next time I visit, I’m going to make sure its at the height of the agapanthus bloom! Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories of this fantastic garden. Erik

  12. Jerry says:

    Well, now that you said that Dan might be bored in winter, maybe I can convince my friends to make a weekend trip up there. It’s a beautiful garden, was there a few years ago helping out at one of the sales at Heronswood. Phlomis are winners in our garden too. Can’t wait to check out his selecton!

  13. Denise says:

    @Erik, and your comment put a smile on my face! Only an hour away, wow!
    @Jerry, haha, I wouldn’t presume to say Dan personally is bored in winter! Just that he mentioned the garden’s winter interest is not where he wants it. He really has some nice phlomis, check it out.

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