A winning garden in Dublin

Even a little pond or fountain can change a garden’s dynamics but this “central canal” left me breathless. The bordering plants seemed to dance at the thought of seeing their reflection in the water.

By Donna Dawson

For a lover of gardens, there is nothing like being in one – and especially if this is a private garden; you learn not only about the garden but about the gardener. I had first set eyes on the enchanting garden of Helen Dillon when I visited Dublin in 2000. I was excited to see how it might have changed over the years. Would Helen and Val have made major changes to the layout or were they content with what they had?

The answer was a combination of Yes and No. The bones of the garden were the same – the smaller “rooms” were as I remembered; the sun dial was still there, so were the potager style areas and so was the glass house filled with her special plants, but the biggest surprise was the water feature. This had transformed the way the whole garden looked and felt.

Water does that to a garden, even just a little pond or fountain can change the dynamics, but this “central canal” as they called it had made such an impact that it left me breathless. So simple and sleek and pale in comparison to the plants, it was perfection. The plants bordering either side of the water seemed to dance at the thought of seeing their reflection in the water now.

The contrasting colours, shapes, sizes and heights left me searching, searching to find that extra surprise that she had hidden from direct view. I loved this about her garden before and I did now. In a garden, the playfulness of the plants must entice you to find them.

Pots to add punch

Helen’s garden includes little surprises

We all know that a garden is not perfect from spring through fall. Helen’s answer to that is to have a lot of pots full of plants that are ready to be tucked into spots that could use a bit more punch when necessary. Different colour schemes continue to draw you towards the back of the garden as you want to see what is under those curving rose arches.

The pots are still there, as they were the first time I visited, and so are the nymphs…as is the little seating area with all Helen’s special plants in their containers, ready for closer inspection.

She is not afraid to try new things and frankly I think she gets a bit bored as we all do, with the same old thing. Her front garden has changed, too; it has become sultry looking with the classic planting of trees and grasses set off by the stone walkways and a simple wooden bench that sits waiting for someone to take a moment to just enjoy. Even the planted up trash cans in galvanized metal look funky and trendy.

Helen is a garden artist and artists go through periods of defeat and delight. I remember standing in her garden 10 years ago as the clouds up above were getting rather dark and thinking how incredible the colours were. But if you have not seen it since the canal was added, are you ever in for a surprise….the colours just got brighter and better.

If you are making a trip to Dublin, be sure to include this garden in your travels. Helen is part of the Dublin Garden Group, Ireland’s most distinguished private gardens in the greater Dublin area.



Donna Dawson is the owner of ICanGarden.com. She now conducts garden tours all over the world.

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