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Moving On: A New Home for Helen Dillon, Ireland’s ‘Undisputed Queen of Gardening’

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Moving On: A New Home for Helen Dillon, Ireland’s ‘Undisputed Queen of Gardening’

April 1, 2019

A garden is no place for sentimentality, Helen Dillon once said: “Good gardening is a constant process of editing. Really what it boils down to is not what you put in, it’s what you take out.”

Maybe it should have come as no surprise. After 45 years in a grand house on the south side of Dublin where she created Ireland’s most famous garden, Dillon woke up one morning and told her husband, Val, that it was time to move on. “The first thing Val said was ‘absolutely not.’ The next morning he said, ‘Do you know, I think you’re right,’ which is extraordinary, as normally there’s an argument over everything,” she recently told The Independent.

Within months, the couple had moved to a cottage by the sea, where Dillon set out to create a garden from scratch. “If you are a gardener, getting a new garden is the most exciting thing that can happen. It’s an empty palette,” she said.

Her new garden on a quiet lane is hidden from the street, surrounded by gray granite walls built in the 1800s when the property served as an orchard. But thanks to a lovely collection of images taken last summer by photographer Richard Johnston, we can stroll around–and see why House & Garden dubbed Dillon “the undisputed queen of Irish gardening.” (See more of Johnston’s photos: @theirishflowerfarmer.)

Photography by Richard Johnston.

Before planting, Dillon enriched the soil, digging down to a depth of  inches to add a deep layer of nutrient-rich earth .
Above: Before planting, Dillon enriched the soil, digging down to a depth of 18 inches to add a deep layer of nutrient-rich earth .
The walls of the sunny garden provide shelter from wind to climbing roses, including pink &#8
Above: The walls of the sunny garden provide shelter from wind to climbing roses, including pink ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ (at L).
Tree ferns thrive in the mild weather (the micro climate is a few degrees warmer than Dillon&#8
Above: Tree ferns thrive in the mild weather (the micro climate is a few degrees warmer than Dillon’s previous garden).
A large urn at the end of a walkway creates a visual destination. Bordering the gravel path are a mix of cottage garden favorites, including white foxgloves and purple alliums.
Above: A large urn at the end of a walkway creates a visual destination. Bordering the gravel path are a mix of cottage garden favorites, including white foxgloves and purple alliums.
Purple drumstick alliums (Allium sphaerocephalon) bloom in clusters on either side of the path. See more growing tips in Alliums: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.
Above: Purple drumstick alliums (Allium sphaerocephalon) bloom in clusters on either side of the path. See more growing tips in Alliums: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.
A classic color combination: pink climbing roses and purple Nepeta. See more growing tips at Roses: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.
Above: A classic color combination: pink climbing roses and purple Nepeta. See more growing tips at Roses: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.
Complementary colors orange and purple do an exuberant dance at the front of the flower border.
Above: Complementary colors orange and purple do an exuberant dance at the front of the flower border.
Dillon has two dachshunds, Ruby and Rosie.
Above: Dillon has two dachshunds, Ruby and Rosie.
Container plants, including silvery Senecio candicans &#8
Above: Container plants, including silvery Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’, have as much presence and visual impact as sculpture.
A glasshouse provides an extra layer of protection for tender tropical plants.
Above: A glasshouse provides an extra layer of protection for tender tropical plants.
The symmetry of two chairs flanking an urn imposes order on the colorfully chaotic flower borders.
Above: The symmetry of two chairs flanking an urn imposes order on the colorfully chaotic flower borders.

See more ideas for designing a cottage garden in our curated guides to Garden Design 101. Read more:

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