|View of Mount Rainier and Seattle skyline from Windcliff|
With a view like this, who could consider living anywhere else? This is what you see when you visit Dan Hinkley's magical garden overlooking Mount Rainier in Washington. On a clear day, the volcano appears to be suspended in the sky and when you first see it, you wonder whether it's an optical illusion. Combine this with the astounding blue sea of the Puget Sound on a summer's day and you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd gone to heaven.
|The house at Windcliff, designed by Hinkley's architect partner, Robert Jones|
Hinkley is well known in horticultural circles as an intrepid plant hunter, public speaker, author and creator of one of America's greatest woodland gardens just a few miles away in Washington state - Heronswood - which I was also lucky enough to visit on my recent trip to the US. But Windcliff could not possibly be more different. This is a personal odyssey for Dan and his architect partner and they have spent the last seven years creating a house that fits unobtrusively into the surrounding landscape and a garden that takes full advantage of its unique setting.
|Windcliff sits on an exposed hilltop overlooking the Puget Sound|
It would be hard to imagine a landscape so different to Heronswood, where shade-loving plants thrive under a forest canopy. Windcliff sits on a hilltop and is exposed to the elements and Hinkley has spent time considering what plants will compliment both climate and location. The result is a magical combination of trees, shrubs and grasses interspersed with drifts of perennials that flower throughout the summer months. The evergreen element here is vital to the winter landscape, when the sun can remain behind clouds for months on end.
|Eastern prayer flags add to the intensely sensory experience at Windcliff, providing colour and sound|
As you enter the five-acre garden, you will be struck by the huge number of unusual shrubs, but it is the area overlooking the sea and Mount Rainier beyond that unfolds in front of the house that will imprint itself in your memory. It unfolds like an Impressionist painting,with bold brush strokes of colour, drawing you into its midst and on to the seascape beyond. In high summer, there are great swathes of agapanthus and gladioli, adding bright colour to the grassy palette.
|A strategically-placed firepit at Windcliff, designed by mosaic artist Jeff Bale|
The house, designed by Dan Hinkley's long-standing partner - architect, Robert Jones - blends into this landscape perfectly and is designed to give the best views of the garden and ocean beyond. There are terraces facing Mount Rainier and I can't think of anywhere better to enjoy the view in the company of this fascinating couple, who have spent the last eight years creating Windcliff as a private sanctuary.
Hinkley still spends time at Heronswood, in his capacity as director and advisor to the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe who acquired the property in 2012, but Windcliff is so different that it's hard to believe both gardens were created by the same man. This is a garden for sun-loving plants, whereas Heronswood is famous for its shady palette. But if you're lucky enough to see both properties, you'll realise that Dan is a talented plantsman, who not only travels the world in search of plants but who also knows what to plant and where.
Windcliff is occasionally open to the public, as is Heronswood and details can be found on Dan Hinkley's website. For me, this visit was the zenith of a wonderful trip to the Pacific Northwest earlier this summer and this garden, in particular, will always stick in my memory as one of my favourites. It is a combination of skilful planting and incredible views that I shall never forget.