I must have been searching for Irish gardening books when I came across Helen Dillon, whom I’d never heard of but who is clearly a garden writer of note. I wrote about her one of her books here and hoped to visit her garden on our trip. Although Alison is not a gardener, she is game. We made our way to the garden on the public bus (see below), and it was spectacular. So much to say that I have divided this account into multiple categories.
Some plants I have and how Helen Dillon uses them
I plant woodland aster under the maple tree in front because they can take the dry shade that is a constant challenge in this garden. Helen, on the other hand, pairs them with white Japanese anemones. Now, I have tried anemones three times and they never come back, but maybe this time will be the charm. Her asters are a bit more floriferous than mine, but then I guess I could actually water them occasionally and see if that makes a difference. This is in the front garden, which she has made into a birch grove and a very quiet, serene place. Here it is from the street.
I have a love/hate relationship with my helianthus, which I sometimes call helenium (see, there are several issues). The first year, it blew over in a storm and crushed the plants beneath. Then it spread vigorously, so that I have had to root it out. Plus, it is so tall that I now give it the Chelsea chop in early summer so that it doesn’t get too big and then fall like a giant redwood.
But here it is in Helen Dillon’s garden, appearing to behave itself and consorting with the verbena in a lovely way.
Oh, how I long for a water element and how I just can’t make it happen. Well, Helen just tore everything out one day and installed this elegantly simple pond in her back garden.Here’s a bigger view.
Another water element, so simple and lovely. I imagine the birds love it, and it’s more to my scale.
Foliage becomes more important the longer you live with a garden. Flowers will come and go, but the leaves may linger through three seasons. Here are some of the most wonderful foliage plants that caught my eye.
Not sure what these are – the last filled in under a small tree.
Use of color
Apparently she started out with carefully “curated” borders of one color each, but finally just said the hell with it and went to town. See?This is the border along one side of the pool. She is also famous for gardening in pots. She no longer plants everything in the ground, just pots it up and hauls it out when it’s looking good and hauls it back when it fades. Of course, this implies lots of space and a strong back, but it’s an interesting concept. She doesn’t even use remarkable pots, just plain black ones that fade into the background. Or even garbage cans, as in these ferns that were tucked under the deck but clearly still on display.
Here are some red things. I know the dark leaf is a canna, but I’m not sure about the pinky red flowers in the pot.
Miscellaneous darling things
Beautiful dahlias – I must try them YET AGAIN.
Elegant Japanese anemones, dittoBox bushes shaped to echo a nearby potDelicate maidenhair fern in a concrete trough
Meeting the Dillons and visiting the bathroom
So you are really just coming to their house when you visit. You ring the doorbell, and Val Dillon lets you in, takes your 5 pounds, and shows you in to the drawing room that overlooks the garden.This first view is stunning, but if you can tear yourself away you will also see a table with her signed books for sale. I picked up Helen Dillon On Gardening The room is filled with beautiful paintings, furniture and doodads, evidence of their earlier careers as antique dealers.
When we came back through the house to leave, Val invited us to use the bathroom if we wished. He said it was unusual and that we might enjoy it. In fact, he said, on day an elderly friend came to visit and when he checked on her all he could see were her feet sticking out the door. Had she passed out or died? No, she was just trying to get the whole bathroom in her camera lens. I understand. Here are my attempts. I didn’t quite lie down on the floor, but you can see why she did. Asked how long it took to make, Val said drily, “About 30 seconds to write the check.”
The bus ride
The website assures you that the #11 bus stops right at the Dillon Garden. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. We got directions from the TIC near Trinity and walked down the street until we finally got to the bus stop. Once on the bus, there was no way to know when we had arrived. The brusque driver did finally point out our stop just when we had given up hope. We wandered down the street, heartened by a sign for the Dillon garden, and finally figured out that we should just walk through a small opening to the road where the house was. Not that hard after all, but confusing. Luckily it all worked easily on the way back.
The end plus a video
Here are just a few more random wonderful things, plus a video that gives you a glimpse of Helen herself as well as their drawing room.The good sport
Garden by the driveway on the way outsnails’ trailsAutumn cyclamen growing in pebbles
Short clip of a palm tree swaying in the wind
sea oats and a glimpse of Helen herself in the garden
The video is here: