Helen Dillon opinions

With Helen Dillon, whether you read her books (the latest is called Down to Earth with Helen Dillon) or hear her speak you know right away that she only tells the absolute truth – particularly when she’s talking about her own garden. If you’re not already a fan, Helen Dillon is a gardener and garden writer from Dublin, Ireland (originally from Scotland). She reminded us that Ireland falls along the same latitude as New Foundland and although the climate is much milder, the sun is just as low. She mentioned taking Graham Stuart Thomas around her garden on an “ugly August day”. Thomas she said, was not a fan of strong yellows and it wasn’t until she met Christopher Lloyd that she realized there can be more than one opinion on the matter. Now she knows that “yellow is so luminous. It lights the place up.” But she’s “gone off” dark purple.

Aren’t we all fickle? Over her 70 years as a gardener (how can that be?), Helen has formed plenty of her own decided opinions. And is as unapologetic about changing her mind as we should all be. She has taken out swaths of lawn and replaced “80’s looking” gardens (bit of this, bit of that; one of everything) with a gravel mulch garden full of self-sowers in the front of the house, and a limestone (bluestone) surrounded pool between her famous borders. She planted a grove of birches in her front garden because, says Helen, “I never don’t love birches.” And she has added blues (among other colors) to the red border and reds to the blue border because they were becoming like overworked paintings. She lately wrapped a “smug” cherub sculpture in barbed wire before deciding to remove it altogether. There’s no reason to be overly sentimental about anything in our garden that we don’t still love like we used to.

Her advice on plants was just as much fun. Try arranging teasels after they’re dead – simply cut them down and replant the stalk in a deep hole. – Because why not create an allay of teasel for the winter wind to whisk through? Put sun loving plants like agapanthus, Casablanca lilies, and tall alstromeria – not the squiffy short ones –  in pots (she uses “dustbins” and big black plastic containers with handles) and move them in an out of the garden as they bloom and fade. She may have “gone off” boxwood balls but says that if you want to topiary a holly tree (hers is mushroom shaped) it’s very quick and “you could have a go this afternoon.” She only allows beautiful plants in her garden and considers Sisyrinchium striatum ‘Aunt May’ to be the ultimate of all plants not to grow because most of the time it looks neither alive nor dead. On the other hand, she’s keen on ubiquitous candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) because you only ever need to buy one packet of seeds and after blooming the green seedheads are just as pretty. I’m sold. But then anyone who thinks that the rudest thing to say about a garden is that it looks “manicured” has me at hello.

Have you met Helen Dillon yet in person or through her books and articles? Do you let yourself be as opinionated?

7 thoughts on “Helen Dillon opinions

  1. Oh, Kris! That was a perfect re-cap of a wonderful lecture. She was wonderful, funny and so very talented. What a coup for Blithewold to have such a world renown gardener give such a lecture. I was so very privileged to be there and thanks for that picture of me with my new best friend. I hope Beth Chatto doesn’t hear about this! LOL

    Thanks, Layanee, I think you do have a new best friend – she kept look at your card and teaching us how to pronounce your name correctly after you had left! I’m so glad you could join us for the walk-around. -kris

  2. That was delightful, Kris, to see and hear about the opinionated and influencial Ms. Dillon. I have her Down To Earth book and was inspired by it to make many changes to my own garden. Thanks for the details on color preferences and the Teasel Idea. Wish I could have heard seen her in person. Love the hand under the chin!

    Frances, I think the best thing was how easy she made changing her mind look. I’m inspired to not get stuck-in-the-mud. And to be less afraid of doing the “wrong thing”. Might be the right thing after all so long as we do it like we mean it! -kris

  3. So nice for you to share since we couldn’t all be there. I love Helen Dillon and have read many of her books. I still love dark purple, but I can see someone going off on it.

    The smug cherub made me smile.~~Dee

    Dee, If only you could have seen the picture of the cherub all wrapped up. She said that visitors thought the barbed wire was intended as theft deterrent. Too funny. -kris

  4. She sounds like a hoot and a half! It’s good that gardens and gardeners get goosed now and again, idn’t it?

    Lynn, She talked a mile a minute and had me at the edge of my seat when I wasn’t falling off it it. Goosed is right! -kris

  5. She blew through Blithewold like a well-behaved Irene on ether. Fresh air. So amusing, a real gardener to her roots. A memory to be hugged when the going gets tough. Wouldn’t we all love go to Dublin?

    Ginny, Dublin is high on the list – Let’s go! -kris

  6. “But then anyone who thinks that the rudest thing to say about a garden is that it looks “manicured” has me at hello.” YES! 🙂

    By the way, the comment about Graham Thomas not liking strong yellows kind of cracks me up. “His” David Austin rose is a fairly strong (although nuanced, not bold) yellow!

    Kim, I had totally forgotten that about GST’s yellow rose! – But you’re right. “Nuanced” is a perfect way to describe it. -kris

  7. Bravo! Best garden talk I’ve been to in a long time. Helen’s humorous chiding of doing away with the 80’s garden made me think it’s time for a major renovation at my place. Hats off to Marcia and Patrick Mattingly for luring her to our neck of the woods, and to the Blithewold crew for hosting such a wonderful event. And thank you Helen! So glad you popped by our little nursery later.

    Kathy, I’m all kinds of inspired too to let go of all of the things that just don’t work no matter how much I think they will. And don’t Marcia and Patrick know the best people?! Last year they brought us Fergus Garrett, this year Helen – I wonder who’s next! -kris

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