Book of the Month for Apr 2024

Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants and Gardens
Carlo A. Balistrieri

Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens             

By Dan Hinkley and Claire Takacs                                                   

Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, 2020 , 279 pp. $35.00 list price


Getting to Know the Man…

Every gardener should read Dan Hinkley’s book, Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens. Although nominally a book about a garden, it is really about a gardener. It is all Hinkley—raw, unvarnished, and as personal as anything he’s written. It’s as much a memoir as anything else.

Hinkley, best known as the creator of the legendary Heronswood, and now Windcliff, is one of the preeminent plant explorers of the 20th and now 21st century. He has traveled the world, returning with plants that have been introduced into our garden lexicon and now grace horticultural efforts from coast-to-coast and beyond.

Windcliff takes us on his journey, from earliest plant memories as a boy, through the development of not one, but two world class gardens. That evolution is peppered with his trips to every corner of the world with other luminaries of the garden world.

Anyone whos heard him speak or read one of his other books knows his penchant for storytelling. Here he reaches new heights.

The emphasis, of course, is on the book’s namesake garden, Windcliff. “Gardens,” he writes, “absorb the passions of their makers and evoke like emotions in those who visit them.” Hinkley gives as intimate a look at the process of making such a place as any book you’ll read. He describes the design, formation, and maintenance of the garden with trademark humor and great aplomb. It’s not all orchids and primulas. He spares few details of the trials and tribulations that we know every gardener and garden writer face, but seldom share. Hinkley does, forsaking his place in the pantheon of great plantsmen  to show a real, “every-gardener” side —always there for him, but not so visibly. “I have to come clean and break it to you as gently and kindly as I can,” he writes. “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.” And don’t we all know that scenario. Windcliff is as close as a reader can get to sitting down with him to have a coffee or a glass of wine.

Chapters in the middle of the book take the reader around and through the garden with great detail paid to plants, plant combinations, and how those plants came to be there in the first place. This is the part of the book that’s the most like other garden books…except that it’s Windcliff, and it’s Hinkley. At countless points along the way bells will sound, marking ideas for every gardener regardless of scale.

One is also left with a taste for plant exploration, but with the understanding that plenty of stories from these trips remain untold. The man knows everyone, and you’re sure to recognize a few of these names as well. (The biggest surprise was author Jamaica Kincaid, who wound up writing about their Himalayan adventures—another book, another time.).

Hinkley has a bit of fun as well. Keep a dictionary handy. His garden of words, like his garden of plants, is liberally sprinkled with rarities that demand further inspection. (My favorite: nimiety”—a quantity much larger than is needed. All seed-sowers need to know this word….).

If there is another chapter to the story, we’ll look forward to it. If not, heed his advice:   “Take the time to waste a moment observing what you have made and dreaming of what you will strive to create.”

No waste here. No waste at all.


Carlo A. Balistrieri is a botanical garden professional and former Curator of the Rock Garden at NYBG. He spreads the gospel of gardening via his photographs and writing. He posts daily on Instagram at carlobalistrieriphotography. His pjotography website can be found at