The Coastal Gardener: Renowned plant man to speak in Newport

Daily Pilot

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on their storied exploration of the uncharted western United States in May 1804. Although they didn't really know what they were looking for or what they might find, they set out on their ambitious pursuit with an equal mix of enthusiasm and determination. The results were historic.

Dan Hinkley reminds me of a modern-day Lewis and Clark. His enthusiasm and determination is of a similar nature. But Hinkley knows exactly what he is looking for — plants. Specifically, plants for gardens.

For those who do not know who Hinkley is, which is probably most, he is a rock star among plant fanatics. To the gardening world, he is the Beatles and Bob Dylan combined.

A world-renowned plant collector, propagator and author, Hinkley spends most of his time split among a mountainside in Nepal, some other far-off place and his own 5-acre garden outside of Seattle.

As a former owner of the well-known Heronswood Nursery, Hinkley created a woodland garden considered one of the most stunning in America. Many referred to it as the greatest private botanical garden in the country. In Heronswood, he deposited a massive collection of exotic and seldom-seen plants gathered during his worldwide plant expeditions; he explored places like China, South America, Central America, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Nepal, Vietnam, Taiwan, Sikkim, Bhutan and Tasmania.

Heronswood was magical, a Mecca of sorts for plant lovers. A visit was nearly a religious experience. Two of my greatest gardening memories will forever be of stepping foot in Heronswood, especially on one occasion when I had the rare privilege of speaking briefly with Hinkley while we walked this amazing garden.

After 19 years, Heronswood was closed in 2006. Gardeners, myself included, greeted the closure as a calamity. The Seattle Times referred to it with the headline "Paradise Lost" (June 1, 2006).

But all was not lost. Hinkley has built a new garden, this one called Windcliff for its isolated position overlooking Puget Sound. Windcliff serves as Hinkley's new playground and as a repository of many of the plant treasures he continues to bring back from the four corners of the planet.

Local gardeners will have a very rare opportunity to meet and hear Hinkley, one of the most sought-after speakers in the plant world.

Hinkley will present "On the Discovery of New Plants for our Gardens" at 6:30 p.m. May 29 at the Newport Coast Community Center, 6401 San Joaquin Hills Road. Tickets are $25, and reservations must be made at (949) 640-5800. All profits from the evening will be given to a charitable endowment benefiting local horticulture scholarships and research.

In all his knowledge and experiences, Hinkley is very much a humble person — he's a gardener at heart. An evening with him will leave you feeling smarter about your plants and more enthusiastic than ever about your garden. Hinkley is not only knowledgeable, funny and informative, but also approachable. It is his "ordinary gardener" persona that makes him so appealing and in demand as a speaker. It is this manner, combined with his astounding knowledge and willingness to share, that breathes renewed life into the groups he meets.

It is not often that any of us have the opportunity to meet and hear someone who is at the top of their field. Next Saturday evening, right here in Newport, local gardeners will have the chance to meet and hear one of the world's foremost plantsmen. I hope I'll see you there.

Ask Ron Question: My ceanothus is finished blooming. When should I do some pruning?ChrisNewport BeachAnswer: Ceanothus are increasingly popular in local gardens and for good reason. Most ceanothus are California native plants and local gardeners are discovering their benefits; spring flowers, drought tolerance, ease of care and habitat enhancement. Depending on the selection, ceanothus can be groundcovers, hillside stabilizers, accent plants, border shrubs, screens or even small patio trees. Because ceanothus develop next year's flowers during the summer months, they should be pruned as soon as their flowering period has finished, usually that's about now in our area. But prune ceanothus lightly, never cutting into bare wood and seldom past the prior season's new growth. Avoiding cutting stems greater than a quarter of an inch is a good rule of thumb and will encourage more flowers next year.

ASK RON your toughest gardening questions, and the expert nursery staff at Roger's Gardens will come up with an answer. Please include your name, phone number and city, and limit queries to 30 words or fewer. E-mail, or write to Plant Talk at Roger's Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar, CA 92625.

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