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: http://graphicality-uk.blogspot.co.uk/

32 comments:

  1. Hi Sarah, your post is such a beautiful tribute to Helen Dillon's garden! I have read about her garden in garden magazines and was always full of admiration for her keen eye to design with colors and textures. Other than you I can't help but feel a little bit sad that the garden will disappear from the face of earth forever and not been taken over by a trust to keep it alive for the future. But it is what it is. I only can hope that Helen will surprise us with her new garden and allow us to participate in its creation.
    I think it is so absolutely wonderful that you got a piece of pink phlox from Helen to plant in your own garden! I love it when gardeners are so generous, famous or not :-)!
    Warm regards,
    Christina

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    1. Like you, I hope that the new garden is shared as this one was. I was delighted by the Phlox - I really didn't expect it. I got back home at about three in the morning and needless to say, I planted it immediately.

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  2. I loved to read this tribute to Helen Dillon. I've one of her books on gardening and saw at Gardener's World that she is leaving her garden to start a smaller one. She was on my longlist for gardens to visit, too late.... That pink phlox from Helen is a wonderful memory to her superb garden.
    Regards, Janneke

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    1. I haven't seen this Gardeners' World - I will see if I can track it down. We are very fortunate that it has been filmed and photographed over many years. I'm sorry that you didn't get to see the garden. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all gardeners were given a gap year and a bursary to immerse themselves in visiting gardens?

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  3. I was surprised - and saddened - when I heard that Helen Dillon was closing up in Dublin and moving on. Even though I've never visited her garden in person, I've enjoyed it in broadcasts and books. I was heartened by her positive outlook on the future garden she planned to create, however. Gardens are endlessly evolving and, yes, they and their stewards periodically move on. Thanks for your post!

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    1. Her work - both practical and written - is significant to gardeners across the globe. This is apparent from your comments here and from speaking to a horticulture lecturer from Canada I met at her garden. I am very sad that the garden has closed - I learnt a lot from it during my visit, but along with the Phlox, I also left there with optimism and excitement for the future.

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  4. I saw Helen on Gardeners' World recently and was very impressed with the profusion of flowers in her garden and her enthusiasm too. Lucky you with that phlox Sarah! Hope it thrives for you. Lovely post!

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    1. It had better thrive! I shall be mortified if it doesn't! I honestly felt so ashamed of my borders after wandering through Helen's garden. It challenged me to be a better steward so doubtless my plants will thank me for this particular garden visit. I am sorry that I missed that episode of Gardeners' World. If it continues to rain tonight, I shall try to find it and immerse myself back in Dublin.

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  5. Hi Sarah, thanks for linking to my blog – and for mentioning me in the same sentence as Helene Dillon, I feel honoured – I too saw her on Gardeners’ World. Moving house and garden need not be a sad thing if you still are able to create a new garden and that’s why I moved last year, while I am still physically able to move on to a new and exciting project. I have moved to a bigger garden though, but easier for me to garden in – and although I took with me around 700 pots and containers I still have over 500 left to plant so I won’t run out of things to do for a while!

    Good luck with your little piece of Dillon garden, may it settle in well :-)

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    1. You are an inspiration, Helene! I am enjoying watching your garden develop. Here's hoping that one day the pink Phlox will be big enough to divide so that I can share it with fellow gardeners.

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    2. Fabulous borders - it must be a wrench to leave that garden behind.
      By the way I tried to comment several times from my iPad yesterday but couldn't.

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    3. Can a garden created by an inspired gardener retain its special qualities after the creator departs? It's possible, but it's not easy. Some of the people who maintain Great Dixter, I believe, have worked directly with Christopher Lloyd, so they likely have a unique understanding of his approach. On the other hand, Giverny was restored many years after falling into disrepair. Even so, nothing is permanent, especially not gardens. I enjoyed your photos, and I'm sorry this is one garden I will never see for myself. Looks like you are making good use of Helen Dillon's inspiration in your own garden, though.

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    4. Hi Sue, thank you for letting me know about the glitch. I have had a mooch around, but can't see what caused it. Please let me know if it happens again.

      Hi Jason, I guess there comes a point when the word 'pastiche' might be applied. That said, many gardens (Great Dixter is one of them) have a history of previous gardeners and so subsequent custodians (and Christopher Lloyd was once a subsequent custodian) put their own mark on the site. It is a continuation and it makes me wonder how Helen Dillon's garden will develop under its new ownership. Wouldn't it be amazing if a new, very different and equally wonderful garden emerged?

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  6. The colors in the shots of the Dillon garden are just gorgeous! Gardens are always in transition, aren't they? Even if the Dillon garden as such does not continue, perhaps the space will simply enter a new phase in its life. Meantime, parts of the Dillon garden will live on in your space. How wonderful!

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    1. It is wonderful, Dorothy. I am thrilled to have the Phlox in my garden. The Dillon Garden will enter a new phase, and while the house and garden are beautiful, I don't envy the new owners taking on a garden which is loved by so many people.

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  7. This is one garden on my wish list that I haven't got too. Visitors always sing its praise. I have a unknown pink phlox from my late great aunt's garden, it is a good garden plant that never needs staking.

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    1. Sounds like we might have the same Phlox!

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  8. How amazing that she just dug up her plant and gave it to you! So kind! What a treasure! :)

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    1. It is! I was astonished and delighted!

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  9. Very nice piece on Helen. Loved the look of the multi stemmed silver birch. ( probably three planted in the same hole)
    Steve

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  10. This looks such a beautiful garden and it's lovely that you now have a tiny piece of it. There is a sadness that Helen's ownership has now come to an end but as you and others have said gardens are ever-changing and hopefully the new steward or stewards will care for it as wonderfully as she did.

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    1. It was beautiful. More than anything, I hope that the new owners enjoy their garden.

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  11. Hello Sarah, that is a stunning garden and such a shame its doors are now closed. It's a sobering thought that in the scheme of things, gardens are only temporary and only very few endure, that's why I focus on enjoying the garden in "the now". Helen's garden will have inspired everyone who's visited (and even those who haven't) and that can have its own enduring legacy.

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    1. Hi Sunil, gardens are extremely temporary. I have had a number of homes over the years and if I am in the area of one of my past homes, I pay the garden a visit, park my car and have a good look at any changes the new owners might have made. I also check on how the plants are fairing. I even do this at a house I lived at when I was a young child... I am surprised that no one has ever called the police!

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  12. Are those large vibrant blue flowers a new variety of Agapanthus?

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    1. They are Agapanthus and I now wish I had asked about them!

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  13. Hi Sarah, I clicked on your pictures for a better look, so glad I did, just gorgeous. We did feel disappointed on leaving our Aberdeen garden. Gardeners world came along a few weeks before we left and we had a slot on the programme, mind you it was early November and therefore not very impressive.

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    1. I didn't know your garden was on Gardeners' World! How fab! I guess with a move on the cards, you'll be embracing another new garden. Wishing you well.

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  14. thanks for sharing photos of a gorgeous garden. I am glad you have a piece of the Dillon garden at your own place now. Gardens in memory are always beautiful and never subject to weeds. Best wishes to Helen's new garden and to your own!

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    1. Thank you. I like the idea of gardens in memory never being subjected to weeds. I love my new garden, but being new, it is at the mercy of far too many weeds!

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