First Timber Press, now Heronswood Nursery

Lee Poulsen
Wed, 07 Jun 2006 16:07:38 PDT
I'm as big a fan of capitalism as anyone else, but when I read what 
happened to Timber Press (even though we've been promised that things 
will continue as before--this is the same promise we were made about 
Heronswood Nursery 6 years ago), and now this, I don't much like what 
it sometimes does to things that were functioning perfectly well as 
they were. In fact, it irks me a lot.

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena, California, USDA Zone 10a


World-famous Heronswood Nursery closes

Owners plan to relocate it, but new site may be online only

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


It was barely 2 o'clock Tuesday and the news had yet to sink in, but 
Dan Hinkley was already on his second beer.

Heronswood, the world-renowned Kingston plant nursery founded by 
Hinkley, and a place treasured across the Northwest and around the 
world for its collection of exotic plants, had just been closed by the 
Philadelphia-based Burpee seed company.
The famed Heronswood Nursery is home to a number of exotic plants. 
These Helleborus are from the Baltic states.

After hearing of the closure, Hinkley was not without words although he 
was, he said, "still in shock."

"Yeah, obviously, it's very sad for me," he said. "They didn't even 
afford me the opportunity to see the news release."

The organization had bought Heronswood Nursery from Hinkley, a 
world-class plant hunter, and his partner, Robert Jones, six years ago 
with a promise to keep things as they were, with Hinkley still hunting 
down rare plants for the nursery's collection while Jones ran the 
business end.

Well, things change, said George Ball, president of the W. Atlee Burpee 
& Co., the nation's oldest and arguably most successful home-gardening 

"But we're not closing it, we're just moving it," he said.

Turns out the move may be to online only.

Hans Miller, Burpee's vice president, said Tuesday that the company has 
no immediate plan to open a Heronswood nursery in Pennsylvania, where 
the company has a 50-acre nursery at Willow Hill and a similar-size 
test and display garden at Fordhook Farm in Doylestown.

Burpee will test the market for a Heronswood facility at an event 
dubbed the Heronswood Hydrangea Open at Fordhook Farm, July 14-15.

If it doesn't test well, Miller said, "Heronswood will just be a Web 
mail-order site."

As Ball spoke into the business end of his cell phone from Kingston on 
Tuesday, the Burpee president said he was helping with the packing.

"When we purchased this six years ago," he said, "we were anxious to 
make it a profitable company that would be fulfilling our ambition to 
serve a national audience of gardeners, which is predominantly on the 
East Coast. For six years we worked away at it. But finally we decided 
the best thing would be that we relocate."

Among Hinkley's associates hard hit by Tuesday's news was Sarah 
Reichard, a specialist in the biology of invasive organisms at the UW's 
College of Forest Resources.

"This is not a good thing for Heronswood," she said. "I'm a major 
customer, but I guess I won't be anymore."

In recent years Hinkley leaned heavily on Reichard to determine which 
of the plant species he had been gathering might threaten the 
Northwest's native species.

"He has been very responsible," she said. "Going through his catalog -- 
what, now, seven or eight years? -- I've identified 15 or so species I 
was concerned about, and he took them out of his collection and marked 
another 200 as potentially a problem. At no time was there any 
pushback. He simply said, 'It's up to you, if that's what you think.' "

Hinkley said he won't be wanting for things to do, even though his 
contract with Burpee included a five-year non-compete clause that will 
keep him from creating another nursery during that period. His lecture 
schedule and two more books will fill the bill for a while.

Less is known about the future of Heronswood's famed display gardens. 
Burpee's president was circumspect.

"Oh," he said, "we're not digging things up to ship back East. No. I'm 
hoping to keep this as long as we can, hoping to find ... let's say ... 
someone who wants to buy one of the few first-class private botanic 
gardens certainly in America if not the world.

"But I haven't figured all that out yet."

Heronswood was founded on little more than a leaf and a prayer in 1987 
while Hinkley taught horticulture classes at Edmonds Community College, 
and Jones, a University of Washington-trained architect, kept his 
pencils sharp at a Seattle architecture firm.

In dribs and drabs, one species at a time, the nursery's catalog was 
built and its display garden took shape. Then, almost before either 
knew it, their knowledge and expertise earned them recognition 
throughout the plant world.

The photoless catalogs Hinkley produced annually had become collector's 
items. And through essays, books and his Heronswood Web site, Hinkley 
has kept the public abreast of his Indiana Jones-like hunt for fine but 
little-known plants.

China, Nepal and South Africa are just some of the places Hinkley and 
his trowel traveled after he graduated with a master's degree from the 
University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture.

 From China, for example, came this communique:

Truly, there is no excuse. I should have been more mentally prepared 
for what they meant. "Road Bad," we were told. "Road Bad" embraces a 
great deal of plasticity across this planet. I knew this. "Road Bad" in 
China translates to 180 miles of barely passable terrain, all of which 
is under construction, though no one seems to be working on it. Then 
add three days of torrential rains."

Did he get his plant? He goes on:

Our minds drifted from the moment, fast-forwarding to the most 
aggravating part of the process. Phytosanitary certificates, 
inspections, lost packages, changed rules at the USDA. Our bellies hurt 
down deep with anxiety. We know these hurdles possess the potential to 
mar the polish of the days we have experienced in Sichuan. Yet, this 
time at least, the buff and shine of this most incredible journey has 
remained intact. The seeds are now safely to Heronswood and sown.

But now there is no longer a Heronswood where they can set roots and 
produce offspring for the rest of the world to enjoy.


The reaction to the closure Tuesday of Kingston's world-famous 
Heronswood Nursery:

Sarah Reichard, UW professor and invasive-plant specialist: "Dan 
Hinkley is a hero in American horticulture. He's made an enormous 
contribution. I've seen the impact. So this is a shocking way to treat 
a hero."

Marty Wingate, P-I garden writer: "Dan Hinkley expanded the number of 
plants available to gardeners. This has been our showcase nursery for 
new and unusual plants, plants few had seen before Dan introduced 

Duane Kelly, founder and owner, Northwest Flower & Garden Show: "It's 
hard to see their business logic."

Ciscoe Morris, P-I garden columnist: "It's a bummer."

Jens Molbak, CEO of Molbak's garden center in Woodinville: "We feel 

P-I reporter Gordy Holt can be reached at 206-448-8356 or

© 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Here's what Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens has to say about this:

"On May 24, Bob Conklin of Timber Press announced that he had sold his 
company to Workman Publishing. Over the past three decades, Bob and 
Timber Press have earned the gratitude of gardeners across the country 
by publishing a wonderfully wide array of books that are beautiful, 
useful, and above all expert. Although Workman owns Storey Books and is 
a fine publisher in its own right, it’s hard to imagine anyone else 
filling the colossal garden boots Timber Press has left behind...
         Almost as jarring was the news that Burpee and Co. which bought 
the renowned Heronswood Nursery outside Seattle in 2000 has decided to 
close the nursery there, sell the property, and somehow consolidate 
Heronswood into its operations in Pennsylvania. Founded by Dan Hinkley 
and Robert Jones 20 years ago, Heronswood became an internationally 
celebrated source for new, rare, and extraordinary plants and helped to 
inspire American gardening to new heights. As mail-order plantspeople 
ourselves, we’ve long admired Heronswood as a model of excellence, 
creativity, and passion."

And here's what Tony Avent had to say about the Heronswood Nursery 

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