Monday 12 August 2013

Helen Dillon's Garden

Helen Dillon's garden, from her drawing room: a town garden that seems much larger than it really is, packed with good plants and good planting.
Helen Dillon is the grand dame of Irish gardening, so far as I can tell, and I've not heard of any serious rivals. She speaks as she writes; staccato, brisk, opinionated: but her opinions change, and her garden changes and the high-powered charge that results is what makes a visit to 45 Sandford Terrace, Ranelagh, such an exciting pleasure (see website here for opening information). 

The front garden is a rather formal affair, suiting the Georgian townhouse rather well, with a grove of 51 Betula 'Fascination' along the side; the fireworks begin on the other side, where in the comparatively small back garden Helen has created and re-created a series of gardens over the past forty years, each bringing a new take to her passion for good plants and their appropriate placement. But as she says in Helen Dillon's Garden Book (2007): 'My idea of heaven was (and still is) to indulge in a lavish buying spree. And the consequences? Too bad. Bugger plans.'  But this doesn't mean the garden is a random jumble; the plans may be buggered but the plants are carefully placed, creating striking combinations of colour or texture. Many big plants are in fact grown in pots (or galvanised dustbins) and much of the colour visible in the birders alongside the rill (above) is from such potted plants.

The rill, with its grand parallel borders, is the centrepiece of the garden, best seen from the drawing room. It replaces various incarnations of lawn and borders and fits the space beautifully. Behind these borders are a series of garden areas in parallel: a charming and very well-stocked greenhouse, raised beds, vegetables, an aviary with delightful Diamond Doves and Bengalese finches, a gravel garden, ferns in cool green shade... I often find it difficult to see the garden for the plants, and this was a classic case: being mesmerised by the plants I didn't take many pictures of the garden spaces, and keeping up with the conversation also needed concentration. Helen is a generous hostess and Jimi Blake and I came away with a lot of cuttings and divisions ('I won't look') - I hope I can do justice to mine. Thank you Helen!

The very tall Dahlia 'Admiral Rawlings' - a stunner for a big border.
The striped carnation 'Chomley Farran', found at an antiques fair by Helen and begged from its namesake.

I have been coveting the China Rose 'Louis XIV' since I first saw it in the Dillon garden years ago: a weak, dwarf bushlet, Helen says it needs constant applications of RoseClear, but the velvety flowers from small black buds are worthwhile. Cuttings are now in my propagator.

Helen Dillon and Jimi Blake discussing plants in the gravel garden: in front of them is Verbascum 'Frosted Gold', which Helen has kept going, almost single-handedly, since she got it in the '70s from Mrs Desmond Underwood.

Dublin, not California: Romneya coulteri revelling in the hot summer

For all the changes some things are constant: this superb clump of Veratrum album has been in situ for 40 years.

Cosmos and Verbena bonariensis.

Typha minima and the rill.


  1. Yes, it looks wonderful - I saw it in the spring one year (years ago!) when what is now a pool was a largeish lawn - I loved it all, and she was a most generous host......hostess I should say.

  2. I so enjoyed your tour of these Irish gardens. I did see the Dillon garden not long after the rill was installed. I really admire how she never loses sight of strong graphic design yet still manages to grow so many unique and interesting plants.

  3. one of the fabulous gardens open to the gardening public. Thanks John, for your comments on your visit there.

  4. An enjoyable time is always assured when visiting the Dillon Garden and its most generous owner.

  5. this is an enjoyable blog and nice collection of images you have share in you post.
    Piercing Dalby


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