Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Farewell to The Dillon Garden

A summer of gallivanting has taken its toll on my borders. Deadheading (that delightful gardening task undertaken while enjoying a drink of choice) has been neglected in favour of inspiring trips to other gardeners’ gardens. I have returned filled with remorse and overflowing with ideas. 
One of the gardens I visited was at Helen Dillon’s house in Dublin. Famed for her ever-shifting seasonal containers and no-nonsense advice, Helen Dillon’s garden was one of the most inspiring town gardens I have ever had the pleasure to spend time in. I say was, because the garden has closed. For good. 
We all have to leave our gardens eventually. Sometimes the garden continues to open to the public, as is the case at Great Dixter. In other instances the gardener moves on complete with plants and embraces the creation of a new garden, as is Helen Dillon in Ireland, and fellow garden blogger Helene at Graphicality-UK* in London.
A relationship between visitors and much-loved gardens deepens over time, and with it something akin to a sense of ownership develops. As I wandered around admiring the fruits of Helen's labours on that cloudy Sunday, other visitors were keen to express their views on the garden and its future. One local lady had been a regular visitor over the years and was there to say goodbye to it. Another was outraged, claiming that in the UK we would have preserved this gem for posterity. I disagree. One of the many wonderful things about this garden was Helen’s use of containers. Plants in pots are perfectly capable of travelling a few miles down the road to add value in the creation of a new garden.
Gardeners are a generous bunch. I have yet to meet one who refuses to share knowledge. Helen Dillon is a natural teacher. On the afternoon I visited she was in her garden, endlessly answering questions as if they had never been asked before, even though she must surely have answered those same questions thousands of times. Since I am not a natural born staker I need plants to hold themselves well, so I was keen to pick Helen's brains on a particularly strong pink Phlox with sturdy upstanding stems. Realising what a good plant it was, she arranged for a piece of it to be dug up so that she could take some of it with her to her new garden. She also made sure that I had a little to take back with me to England. The plant had come to her from someone else’s garden and she didn’t know the cultivar. Unable to give me the name, she gave me something better. 
Helen Dillon & I with the glorious pink Phlox
Now a little piece of Helen Dillon's extraordinary garden is settling into my shabby borders. Next year my garden will not look so sorry for itself. There will be pots aplenty and more than a few dustbins like the one behind Helen in the photo above. 
It seems a tad strange to be writing about a garden that is unlikely to exist ever again in the form we see in these photographs, but gardens don't stay the same. Great gardens move on, and in this case a great gardener is moving on. Here's to the future of all our gardens.

All photos were taken in The Dillon Garden, Dublin.

*Helene, who moved hundreds of plants to her new garden in London, blogs here: