Thursday, October 17, 2013

Visiting Heronswood

It's a legend, Heronswood. A nursery and botanical garden with cult-like status. Plant-nuts get a sort of wistful look in their eyes when it's mentioned, old catalogues are hoarded, and plants which were purchased there have an almost star-like quality about them.

To my mind Heronswood's heyday was the 1990's - the same decade I lived in Seattle, just a short ferry-ride away. On lazy summer days friends and I would scrape together the fare and treat a ferry ride across the Puget Sound like it was our own chartered voyage, yet I never thought to step foot in the garden. Heck I hadn't even heard of it! It wasn't until I moved to Portland in 2004 and became immersed in the plant culture here that I realized what I had missed. Oh if I could turn back time! Instead I made it a priority to visit during one of the plant sales and garden open days this last September.

The sale included some of my favorite nurseries! Right at the front corner was DIG from Vashon Island.

They had a wonderful assortment of plants and even a few other things like these Esther Pots.

So many of my favorite plants were available at the sale. Of course since I already had them that meant I didn’t need to buy them!

That’s Heidi (on the right) owner of another favorite nursery, Dragonfly Farms.

Okay I’ve perused the sale and made my purchases (a Pyrrosia sheareri and a Piptanthus nepalensis var. tomentosus from Far Reaches Farm). Time to check out the garden! (note the full grown human on the far left of the Gunnera, for scale).

During the summer of 2012 the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe purchased Heronswood from the W. Atlee Burpee Company (who had purchased it from it's founders, Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones, in 2000...there is a whole lot of back-story there which I'm choosing to leave out). The tribe, its staff and volunteers have been working to return the garden to some version of its former self.

But...I’ve heard the stories. Plants disappeared from the garden, the ones that remained suffered years of neglect. Untrained volunteers have pruned rare plants to sticks. This was a collectors garden...when the collections were gone what would remain?

Well...seeing the garden with fresh eyes, eyes with no high expectations, I loved every bit of it. It was still a magical place.

Any plant lover who wanders its paths has to feel the magic.

There were still plenty of scenes to take my breath away. Like an entire corner of these ferns...

This humongous hebe!

Although it didn't necessarily take my breath away in a good way. Having just purchased 3 of these earlier in the day (more on that tomorrow) I was frightened at its size. I now believe this to be Hebe ochracea, where as what I bought was the compact cultivar 'James Stirling'...

Daphniphyllum himalaense ssp macropodum 'Variegated' (Variegated Himalayan Daphniphyllum), on the left.

Such sexy leaves!

This kind of thing isn't really my style...but ya know, right here it just seemed to fit.

And naturally I was drooling over the huge tree ferns.

Right about here I realized what time it was and that I needed to head back to the sale area and meet up with my friends (and travel companions for the day). I rushed out of the garden knowing I would be back someday...

Oh and speaking of those friends, Anna took this picture in the garden and shared it on her blog post. I didn't see this plant during my stroll through, and it was probably a good thing too because I might not have wanted to leave it behind! Oh those wavy waxy leaves! Anna and I have been going back on forth on what it might be but I'm still not certain we've got it. I'd love to hear ideas from you!!!
*UPDATE - consensus is this is a dwarf peach tree, I'll let you know if I learn more*

All material © 2009-2013 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

37 comments:

  1. How can such incredible places exist!!! a full grown human, hehehe...

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    1. Glad you got a laugh. Since i didn't know them I tried to edit them our but kept just enough for scale.

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  2. Your mystery plant looks a lot like a tree I've seen in India, called Ashoka, or Indian Mast Tree, Polyalthia longifolia.

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    1. I can see the resemblance and thank you for commenting with the name. I haven't heard of that tree before and it was fun to learn about them. I got another suggestion that it was a dwarf peach, which immediately rang a bell of recognition.

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  3. Heronswood has achieved a cult like status amongst gardening enthusiast, and it's apparent decline when the original owners left is known too. It still looks magical based on your photos. And whatever that plant is, I want one!!

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    1. Sounds like it's a dwarf peach or nectarine. I'm in hot pursuit!

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  4. This is a reassuring report. It does remind me from your photos what a shade garden Heronswood is, compared to sunny Windcliff. So glad you visited, Loree.

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    1. Oh yes indeed! Did you pick up one of the Pacific Horticulture issues available at the Testa-Vought garden during the Fling? There was a lovely article in that issue contrasting the two.

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  5. Very impressive. Must have been mind-blowing in its heyday--that enormous Hebe...

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    1. Indeed, wish I had been more aware and visited then.

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    1. I feel like I missed a lot of it and can't wait to go back someday!

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  7. Looks mighty fine to me. Fear not...my James Sterling is still a little bit of a thing after several years.

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    1. Yay, thanks for the reassurance ricki.

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  8. Your photos prove that there is still magic at Heronswood! I was sad when the catalog ended, but that's life I guess. Great tour-by-blog.

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    1. I've never even seen one of the catalogues!

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  9. Loree, when I visited Heronswood it was still in the clutches of Burpee, and a rare occasion of inclusion on GC's open days.The areas around Dan and Roberts former residence were still maintained (to a point) and also the potager -the rest was clearly in decline, with nary an ID on anything. I look forward to the opportunity to return someday..might have to do a post fling Washington extension..

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    1. I'm sure you'll check first to make sure you can get in...I don't know that they are open except for on designated days. Of course there will be plenty of other things nearby to capture your attention if they're not.

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  10. Dan is consulting the tribe and helping them out quite a bit to restore the garden. It is well on its way to the former glory of it's heyday!

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  11. As usual, a love for foliage and form, plus design, will capture so many more people, like there. So lasting, not fleeting.

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  12. What a wonderful day that was. It's nice to hear that, having no expectations, you loved the garden. It's still a great place but the glory days were the glory days.

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    1. At first I was playing the "I wonder what it..." game and then I made myself stop and just look at what is now. Thank you again for the fabulous day!

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  13. The peach tree looks like Pink Peachy. Here is a link with photo, but I can't find a domestic source.
    http://www.havlis.cz/karta_en.php?kytkaid=722

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    1. Ah yes...it's a beauty isn't it. Good find, and I suppose it's good to have something to hunt for? Thank you for the link!

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  14. I'm swooning over those variegated comfrey in the third picture!

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    1. Me too. This was the second time I saw that plant looking gorgeous recently. I may just have to get a couple next year!

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  15. The structure in this garden is amazing. The triangular arbor and the mirroring shape of the diamond pond is wonderful. I'd love to see Heronswood one day. How I'd hoped to see Dan Hinkley's current garden during the Seattle Fling, but it was not to be (and we saw many other wonderful gardens, of course). One day, I hope!

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    1. I would love to see his current garden someday - but I hear cameras are forbidden. That could be tough!

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  16. So glad to hear the tribe rescued Heronswood from the monster George Ball. So glad he didn't destroy it as he moved what he could to PA. I use to manage the advertising for his PanAmerican Seed right out of collage. Could have told you then, he was a monster of a client. GREAT NEWS.

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    1. Happy to be the deliverer of great news!

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  17. What a great adventure! I fear that were I in your shoes, I would have purchased MANY plants. You show such discipline!

    I'm glad you made it to Heronswood. I was out there for a similar plant sale earlier this year. Enjoyed the gardens, even if they are in need of renovation. Some spaces are exactly as I remember them: Magical!

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    1. Oh no I don't! (discipline) This was just one of many stops that day. I spent A LOT of money and came home with many cool plants. We even went to Far Reaches later where I bought 3 or 4 more things.

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    2. Did you see Kelly and/or Sue?

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    3. Kelly and Sue were both at the Heronswood sale that day, but not at the nursery. In fact they were running off to give a talk right after I paid for my plants. Busy busy busy.

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  18. Given that I purchased a number of plants from Heronswood and followed the whole saga of the sale, I have seen very few pictures of the site. Thus, this was a particularly enjoyable post for me. I felt like a real gardener when I could read and understand the Heronswood catalog! Only wish I had bought more plants when I could have.

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