Hartley Magazine

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On the Hunt for Rare and Unusual Plants


Dan Hinkley’s suggestions turn gardeners into plant hunters 

Any plant Dan Hinkley likes, I want. And I’m not alone. When this world-class plant explorer spoke at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show on “Dan Hinkley’s Favorite 25 Plants,” the room was packed. As he reeled off the names of his choices, Dan never outlined cultivation specifics or where to buy the plants—he just wanted to share as many as he could. He admitted he was having trouble paring the list. “Until six o’clock last night I had my favorite 25,000.”

Dan’s love of plants turns me into a plant hunter. Although I will never follow his tall frame along slippery vertiginous pathways in the back of the beyond, his choices carry more than just exotic cachet. I know they will be garden worthy.  Then it’s up to me, and the rest of the audience, to hunt down the sources—some of his introductions are sold through Monrovia—and research their requirements. If they don’t grow outdoors, many are greenhouse candidates.

Dan started off with a Northwest native, Erythronium revolutum, the trout lily. “Yes, its bloom is relatively short,” he said, “between 2:00 and 4:00 PM one day in May.” But, he explained through the laughter, he had turned 60 last August, and swift-flowering plants remind him celebrate the moment. “There aren’t that many springs left.”

Highlights included Davidia involucrata, the white dove tree, with its small black center flower and floppy white bracts that look like handkerchiefs draped on the branches. E.H.Wilson, the plant explorer who found it in China, went on to have his name affixed to the deciduous Magnolia wilsonii, another Dan favorite. “The flowers hang down and smell like lily of the valley.”

He raced on, flinging out names and facts—three shade-lovers—groundcover Mukdenia rossii Crimson Fans (M.r.’Karasuba’), tall Disporum longistylum ‘Green Giant’ with nodding yellow flowers, and Mahonia x media ‘Lionel Fortescue’, which has “the most stature and the longest bloom,” he said.

Dan declared, “I reserve the right to have one of my twenty-five choices be all the plants that start with ‘h.’” That included Hydrangea aspera Plum Passion,® a gorgeous felt-leaf hydrangea. He also wedged in the compact and highly scented H. augustipetala Golden Crane.® Oh, and there’s the vines, Holboellia coriacea ‘Cathedral Gem’—pink flowers—and H. brachyandra with cinnamon-scented white blooms and a tough constitution.

Whew. So many plants— so little time. For garden or greenhouse, go on the hunt. If Dan suggests them, you know they’ll be rare and extravagant beauties.