Nestled in North Kitsap, is Heronswood, a botanical paradise. Originally brought to life in 1987 by Horticulturalist Dan Hinkley and his husband, architect Robert L. Jones, the garden has grown to more than 15 acres of fantastic flora from all around the world. Heronswood is an internationally recognized treasure in the Pacific Northwest, even garnering the attention of Martha Stewart.
Hinkley’s dream of starting a small nursery, where he could introduce rare and hardy plants to the community, has become a de facto landmark in Kitsap County. He spent the next 20 years developing the estate and traveling worldwide on plant-hunting trips to expand the garden. In 2000, Hinkley and Jones sold the business to W. Atlee Burpee Company. But in 2006 the company filed for bankruptcy. The estate laid dormant until 2012 when it was sold to the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
Together with Hinkley, the S’Klallam Tribe has breathed new life into the garden through a series of tremendous restoration efforts. The Heronswood Garden has become a place for special events, plant sales, and educational programs that speak to the heritage of the garden and the S’Klallam Tribe.
For centuries, the S’Klallam Tribe occupied the shores of Strait Juan de Fuca, Admiralty Inlet, and Puget Sound. S’Klallam means “strong people”. Although their culture was almost lost after European contact, the S’Klallam have maintained agency over their heritage and traditions.
Over the past few decades, tribal leaders have made significant efforts to strengthen their community through economic development, establishing an Economic Development Authority to support local businesses through the administration of federal grants.
The acquisition of Heronswood Garden has provided an opportunity for all community members to work together to maintain this local treasure. Since 2012, members of Heronswood staff, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Heronswood Garden Steering Committee, and dozens of very skilled, dedicated volunteers have teamed up to shape the future of Heronswood.
Heronswood sign and the S’Klallam Orca Crest. Photos by Leo Phillips.
Legacy and Future
After 35 years and two ownership changes, Heronswood continues to thrive and flourish. It offers an abundance of resources and events for community members to learn more about horticulture. Hinkley, now Director Emeritus, creates and leads many of these events himself. Field Notes is the official blog of Heronswood, where Hinkley and Assistant Director Dr. Ross Bayton write educational blog posts about their experiences foraging around the world. They also have Nature Notes, a video series that features new Garden Director, Dr. Patrick Mcmillan. In this series, you can learn fascinating information about Pacific Northwest shrubs, trees, and more.
Lunchbreak Lectures is an online series of classes that take place virtually over Zoom. Hinkley and Bayton teach these classes. Heronswood also offers pre-scheduled tours lead by experienced garden professionals.
In adherence to current COVID-19 guidelines, masks and facial covers are mandatory. Tourists will be able to use a whisper headset system to listen to the tour guide while maintaining six feet from one another.
Next spring, Heronswood will be dedicating a stumpery, an artistic display of tree stumps, that recounts the history of the S’Klallam Tribe with the local timber industry. Additionally, they will be adding plant species used in traditional dyeing and weaving for tribal artists to access. The S’Klallam Tribe and Hinkley are ushering in a new chapter for Heronswood, bringing people from all over Kitsap County and beyond to experience the unparalleled beauty of the botanical garden and S’Klallam Tribe.