Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Helen Dillon Garden, Ireland

A few weeks ago, we were in Ireland for a wedding and family reunion. But high up on my scheming gardener's mind was, of course, visiting gardens. What self respecting gardener could possibly find herself in Dublin and not make a visit to Helen Dillon’s iconic garden?

The Dillon garden is set in a Dublin suburb, on a little street just off a main road. The front yard provides the first hint that a gardener lives here: it contains no less than 51 birches concentrated around the perimeter of the garden. That may sound like a ridiculously high number of trees for such a small space, but it actually works. I’m not sure how they will grow over the long term, but it is an example of not being too afraid to plant trees close together – they are used to growing in a community and touching each other! Our obsession with leaving miles of space around trees allows them to grow into huge specimens, but it’s not the only option.

The main garden, the one we’ve all seen in pictures, is in the back. I already knew what to expect, but it was still stunning to see it first-hand. The best view, we were informed, is from the living room window (picture below, snapped in a hurry). Not many people can say that they look out to that from their couch. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like if everyone actually decided to do something with their suburban backyard, something crazy and passionate like Dillon has. Wouldn’t our towns and neighborhoods be so much richer and more beautiful?

Our visit was in the middle of May and the borders already felt complete. Unfortunately, it was too early to have the full effect of the hot and cool borders on either side of the pond. But we could still enjoy the careful planting of every nook and corner, the many studied plant combinations and of course the drama of the central pond. I even managed to meet and ask a few questions of the very energetic and friendly lady of the house. Best of all, at the end of our visit, Dillon’s husband Val, inquired if we’re from the “gardening world”! Um, er, no, but wouldn’t it be fun to be able to say yes to that question one day.


  1. I love her garden although I have to confess I don't care for the concrete/water addition and for me, it took so much away when she did that. Especially looking for afar, all you see is the concrete.

  2. Mark - thanks for the comment. I know the pond may seem a little overwhelming in the pictures, but I didn't find it that way in real life at all. I must admit I liked the contrast between the clean lines of the stone and the exuberant plantings. By summer, the borders cover up even more of the stone, making it less prominent (I think only the steps and edging are concrete). I didn't see her garden before with the central lawn, so I'm not sure how it compares.