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The Native Flora of Chile in The Traveler’s Garden at Heronswood

Articles: The Native Flora of Chile in The Traveler’s Garden at Heronswood

Spring 2024 

The native flora of Chile has long enthralled gardeners all along North America’s Pacific coast. This South American sliver of land is practically our mirror image in the Southern Hemisphere, with climatic zones that match ours, and therefore numerous plants that ought to thrive in our gardens. At Heronswood, our connection with this magical country is the result of several collecting trips made by our staff, beginning in 1998. We still care for over 20 different species originally collected on that first trip, and in the last few years, we have brought our Chilean collections to the fore in our new Traveler’s Garden.

Heronswood, one of Washington State’s most famous gardens, has changed owners several times since its inception in 1987. Originally the creation of plant collector and horticulturist Dan Hinkley and his partner Robert Jones, the garden is now owned and operated by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the only botanical garden in tribal ownership anywhere in the US.

Today, Heronswood has two parallel priorities. We protect and maintain the horticultural legacy left to us by Dan and Robert, both in terms of their legendary landscape and the impressive collection of over 8,000 plant species, many collected in the wild. No less important, we strive to reconnect S’Klallam tribal members with their botanical heritage, using native names for our plants, hosting tribal art and culture, and revisiting traditional uses of plants and the cultural ties that result from the connections between people and plants.

Heronswood will always be about plants, but to protect those plants in future, it is essential to situate them within the context of the human environment around them and respect the varying cultures that exist in wild places around the world. The Traveler’s Garden is our attempt to bring those important strands together.

Situated within a fragment of disturbed native forest just to the west of our existing Woodland Garden, we began work in 2020 to remove invasive weeds and thin the tree canopy, ready to develop a new garden. COVID-19 and a change of leadership at the garden affected progress, but also provided an opportunity to develop a plan for how to use this new space.

Read Next: Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park, by Amelia Zvaleuskas, Dania Dehne, and David McBridge

Across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington, the Kitsap Peninsula is separated from the Olympic Mountains by a deep fjord, providing for a unique environment.  After a long history of commercial timber production, the Kitsap community has come together to conserve a large area of this landscape to restore an ecosystem damaged by logging, so future generations can learn about and enjoy this wonderful environment.

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We have since converted the southernmost section into the S’Klallam Connections Garden, fulfilling a long-term ambition to improve the visibility of the tribe here at Heronswood. The Traveler’s Garden completes this extension and takes as its inspiration the far-flung travels of plant hunters, Dan in particular.

Heronswood is home to many exotic plants, but the path these plants take to get here from their native lands is both intriguing and poorly understood. The Traveler’s Garden will explore the process of plant collection and its evolution, from colonial times through to the modern day, using three countries’ native plants as inspiration: Vietnam, the USA (specifically, the California—Oregon border), and of course, Chile.

Once we cleared the land and laid out paths and borders, we began planting in earnest. Most of our original plantings come from moving existing plants from other parts of Heronswood into the Traveler’s Garden—no small project, considering over 250 specimens now reside there. We moved trees, shrubs, and perennials. Nurseries provided additional plant material and we hope to continue our collecting endeavors to fill the rest.

The garden has a central plaza, and all trails lead there, with no interconnection between the different countries. Not only did we wish each country to feel immersive, as if you were there in person, but this central focal point begins the journey through each garden with signage highlighting the botanically and culturally significant plants in each nation.

'Nicche' (Eucryphia glutinosa) at the Heronswood Garden, Kingston, WA. Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton
Tineo (Weinmannia trichosperma), an evergreen tree in the family of Cunoniaceae. Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton

As the Traveler’s Garden, this is a place where journeys begin. Gardens are never done, and it will take many years for this garden to reach its potential.

The native flora of Chile includes many familiar garden plants. From fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica) to butterfly bush (Buddleja globosa), barberry (Berberis darwinii) to bamboo (Chusquea culeou), Embothrium, Escallonia, and Eucryphia—our gardens are filled with cherished Chilean treasures.

Butterfly bush (Buddleja globosa). Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton
Darwin’s barberry (Berberis darwinii). Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton

Not every Chilean plant will feel at home in the cool and damp of the Pacific Northwest. Chile stretches over 2,700 miles and has an extremely varied climate, from arid deserts in the north to a rain-swept forest in the south that is also a famous embarkation point for Antarctic cruises.

Heronswood sits at a latitude of around 48°N and we are therefore particularly interested in plants from around 48°S (on a map, look for the tiny hamlet of Puerto Alegre), where wet Valdivian rainforest transitions to hardier Magellanic and Patagonian rainforests. For an in-depth review of Chile’s plant communities, read Kathy Musial’s excellent introduction.

Heronswood’s Chilean garden centers on a bog filled with nalca (Gunnera tinctoria), whose gargantuan leaves will create a bold, dramatic statement.

Cordilleran cypress (Austrocedrus chilensis) at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, UK. Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton
Chilean Glory Flower (Eccremocarpus scaber) in the author's garden, Wildcat Lake, WA. Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton

Surrounding the bog, Chilean conifers such as Cordilleran cypress (Austrocedrus chilensis), willow-leaf podocarp (Podocarpus salignus), and mañío hembra (Saxegothaea conspicua) rub shoulders with arching bamboos (several Chusquea species) and evergreen trees such as boxleaf azara (Azara microphylla), Chilean myrtle (Luma apiculate), and ulmo (Eucryphia cordifolia). Vines including chameleon vine (Boquila trifoliolata), Chilean glory flower (Eccremocarpus scaber), and voqui naranjo (Hydrangea serratifolia) scramble up the trunks of the existing tree canopy.

Farther north, several southern beeches (Nothofagus antarctica, N. pumilio, N. dombeyi) will eventually form a canopy, providing shade where Chilean ferns (Austroblechnum, Rumohra, Lophosoria) and gesneriads (Asteranthera ovata, Mitraria coccinea) can amble. A newly installed monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana) guards the entrance to Chile.

Boxleaf azara (Azara microphylla). Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton
Mañío hembra (Saxegothea conspicua). Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton

The herbaceous selection is more limited, though wild-collected Chilean cardinal flower (Lobelia tupa), crimson bromeliad (Fascicularia bicolor), and chupalla (Eryngium paniculatum) provide dramatic bullet points. Maiden’s wreath (Francoa appendiculata) and snowy mermaid (Libertia chilensis) make excellent gap fillers.

While many Chilean plants perform well in our climate, few nurseries are actively producing them, and our handful of rare shrubs—such as soapbark (Quillaja saponiaria), meli (Amomyrtus meli), and tineo (Weinmannia trichosperma)were hard to come by.

Maiden’s wreath (Francoa appendiculata) at the Heronswood Garden, Kingston, WA. Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton
Chilean cardinal flower (Lobelia tupa) at the Heronswood Garden, Kingston, WA. Credit: Dr. Ross Bayton

Washington’s extreme cold in January 2024 (12.7°F, or -10.7°C, was the low point for us)—following a mild November and December—will have undoubtedly thinned our Chilean collection. A collecting trip in Chile looms on the horizon.

You can beat us to it by joining Dan Hinkley for a Pacific Horticulture guided tour of Chile. The richness of its flora ensures that Chile will long be a sought-after destination amongst gardeners and plant lovers. The culture of its Indigenous Mapuche peoples in some ways parallels that of the S’Klallam here in Washington, with similarities we hope to explore in the Traveler’s Garden.

Should you be unable to travel to South America, come to Heronswood and let our Traveler’s Garden take you there, with no need for a passport.

This article is sponsored by:

Travel with Pacific Horticulture: Chile | Gardens, Parks, Glaciers, and the Sea, Dates: Feb. 1 – 13, 2025

Discover beautiful Chile and its native and endemic flora as you visit botanical gardens, national parks, and private reserves during this 13-day garden tour with Dan Hinkley of Pacific Horticulture. Begin in seaside Viña del Mar, Chile’s “Garden City,” to explore the impressive collections of the National Botanical Garden. >> JOIN TOUR


Read Dan Hinkley’s article, Chilean Flora for Pacific Region Gardeners and Botanical Travelershere.




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