Helen Dillon has gardened in a small Dublin garden for over thirty years. Short essays paired with photos of her garden detail her likes, her dislikes, even her bold uprooting of garden elements she installed in previous decades. Many of her plants come with a story about who gave them to her or where she first saw them, and big names like Graham Stuart Thomas pepper the text. She says not a word about native plants, cheerfully installing plants from around the world. She even includes Americans like tree of heaven that are highly invasive here but apparently behave well in Dublin.
As she discusses her gardens from the 1960s to now, she compares gardening styles to hair styles. Both change over time but if we’re not careful, we end up with “a 1960s Cilla Black look – that’s if I don’t get the softly curly Nancy Reagan, or the ubiquitous à la grandmère, with every curl betraying its roller-friendly origins.”
Her garden is open to the public, and I hope to visit this summer. But I’ll be on my best behavior: she has some sharp words for garden visitors who try to hide their theft of plants and cuttings in their capacious handbags, or those who loudly criticize the garden and the gardener in her hearing. Can’t say I blame her.
Although much of what she says is specific to her climate and conditions, I still found much to think about and admire. (Why again don’t I have a water element in my garden, I ask myself.) Like the best garden books (Green Thoughts comes to mind), this is one to keep on the bedside table. You could pick it up and read randomly from time to time and always learn or re-learn something good.