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Garden Visit: Helen Dillon’s Garden in Dublin

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Garden Visit: Helen Dillon’s Garden in Dublin

March 20, 2014

The closest thing to gardening experience that renowned plantswoman Helen Dillon had before starting her legendary garden was working as a junior staffer at Amateur Gardening magazine in England at age 22. She ran errands for famous British gardeners, “and then at the end of the day,” says Dillon, “you’d get what you were waiting for–a cutting of one of their plants.”

For the next 40 years, Dillon nurtured her backyard garden in Dublin, wrote several gardening books–including Down To Earth With Helen Dillon–and eventually became what House & Garden calls “the undisputed queen of Irish gardening.”

Today, we’re visiting her colorful Dublin garden.

Update: In 2016, Dillon and her husband, Val Dillon, sold the property for €4.5 million.

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Above: Helen Dillon’s garden in full bloom. Photograph by Wendy Cutler via Flickr.

After working at Amateur Gardening, Dillon became an antiques dealer, married, and moved to Dublin. There, behind the Georgian townhouse she shared with her husband, she began planting what would become her namesake garden.

Photograph by Wendy Cutler via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Wendy Cutler via Flickr.

Dillon does not subscribe to any one gardening style and loves that her tastes are constantly changing. “Creative things happen when you’re not thinking about something; you’re just playing,” Dillon says of her time in the garden.

Once a devotee of strict, color-themed borders, she learned to loosen up: “I remember when Christopher Lloyd came here 15 years ago,” she says, “and he said very politely, with a glint in his eye, ‘Don’t you ever feel like putting a little bit of blue in the red border, and a little red in the blue border?'” (Read about Lloyd’s garden in Garden Visit: Great Dixter.)

 Photograph by Wendy Cutler via Flickr.
Photograph by Wendy Cutler via Flickr.

The garden has undergone countless variations over the last 40 years. A previous version featured not only neatly color-themed borders, but also a pristine, high-maintenance lawn. Dillon tore out the lawn and replaced it with a pond and canal set in Irish limestone.

Helen Dillon is not sentimental about removing plants from her garden. “Good gardening is a constant process of editing,” says Dillon. “Really what it boils down to is not what you put in, it’s what you take out.”

Above: The Dillon Garden is located at 45 Sandford Terrace in Dublin. It’s open to the public from Monday to Sunday, from 2 to 6 pm, in March, July, and August. The garden is open on Sundays only during April, May, June and September. Entrance is 5€ per person. Visit the Dillon Garden for more information. 

For more from Ireland, see Architect Visit: An Irish Stone Stable on a Dramatic LandscapeSteal This Look: Irish Cottage Garden; and, on Remodelista, Guard Tillman Pollock in Ireland

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