Review: Helen Dillon’s Garden Book


Being a readaholic I often get gardening books out of my local libary as I couldnt afford to finance my habit!  I am getting to the point where I have read most of them and may need to find another library but recently I have come across a couple of gems.

The first is Helen Dillon’s Garden Book.  I have only recently discovered the author through her monthly articles for The English Garden and have found her writing style very refreshing, so I was curious to see what her book was like.  Helen Dillon is an author, broadcaster and garden consultant and lectures in the US and New Zealand.  She lives in Dublin, Ireland where she has been opening her garden to the public for the last 20 years.

I would liken her style to that of Christopher Lloyd – very chatty and familiar whilst imparting lots of information.  It is also humourous “‘I’ve got shade,’ said this woman, in a low voice, as if she was announcing an attack of diarrhoea”and occasionally slightly forthright.

This book is divided into three sections: Beginners Stuff, The Middle Ground and Fancy Stuff.  Within each section there are what I suppose you would call essays on a variety of subjects.  At first I thought they might be articles that Helen had written for a newspaper etc compiled into one book as they have that feel about them but this doesnt appear to be the case.  The ‘essays’ range in length and subject.  Whilst plants are referred to by their latin names it is not in a style that would put off a new gardener. There is a lovely ‘essay’ extolling the virtues of the builders bucket and another about losing tools.

But you do learn things from advice on growing plants from seeds, to suggestions for trees for small gardens to growing hardy orchids.  There is definately something for everyone.  The book is also full of gorgeous photos and I understand that many of these are Helen’s own. I suppose to sum up the book I would discribe it as having a friend/relative who is a very good gardener talking to you – you not only learn about gardening but about the author as well.  Jane Powers of The Irish Times says that “it’s not just about plants and gardening but also about human nature, acquisitiveness, vanity, impatience and patience, despair and hope” and I think this is a very apt description.

The second book I am enjoying at the moment is Virgins, Weeders and Queens by Twigs Way – it is all about the history of women in the garden and is truely fascinating.  More to come in a later post.

11 Comments on “Review: Helen Dillon’s Garden Book

  1. Hi Helen – hope you had a good Christmas!

    You shouldn’t need to find another library as they should provide an inter library loan service. So you could compile a list of the books you’d like to read and order them up through that – they’ll probably take a few weeks to come through, but they should get there in the end.

    I’m also using a lot of second hand bookshops to feed my ever demanding garden book habit!

  2. How spooky as I have the same book out of my local library at the moment along with ‘Late Summer Flowers by Marina Christopher. I am enjoying the Helen Dillon book which is great for dipping in and out of. Over Christmas the library has an extended loan period which is great. I already have a copy of her book ‘ On Gardening’ which I think you would enjoy as well. I am trying to resist book buying too which is hard 🙂 Our library is a good source and like VP I also reccie second hand
    bookshops. Look forward to hearing about your second book.

  3. I must look out for that in my local library. I love Helen Dillon’s column in The English Garden, though I think ‘slightly forthright’ is a bit of an understatement. She sounds as if she could be quite scary if crossed! I saw Virgins, Weeders and Queens in the Wisley bookshop yesterday, and it looked very interesting. I look forward to hearing what you thought of it.

  4. Thanks for the review, sounds like a refreshing look at gardening. I will have to see if they have her book at my local library. I’m very passionate about reading too & can devour a book in no time.

  5. VP – yes I forgot they do inter-library loan. However, I’m not that organised and forget to mke a list of books I fancy reading

    Anna – I will have a look out for the ‘On Gardening’ – maybe I could order it through the library

    Victoria – ‘slight forthright’ was chosen after much consideration. I have had other authors leave comments on here after reading reviews and I wouldnt want to upset anyone!!

    Racquel – I do recommend this book – good bed time reading

  6. Helen, these are two of the many books on my wish list! I also have ‘Helen Dillon On Gardening’ it is a very enjoyable book, I know you would enjoy it. I do like authors which write in a very opinionated personal style, though I don’t always agree with them, the usually make me laugh. Christopher Lloyd and Vita Sackville-West come to mind, I would like to hear of any others you come across. Look forward to the next review.

    Best wishes and Happy New Year Sylvia

  7. Very sensible, Helen 😀 I’m currently reading Dear Friend and Gardener, and Christo Lloyd tells a story in one of his letters about how an Australian friend of his approached Helen Dillon after a lecture in Sydney and she bit his head off.

  8. Hello Helen, No I’m sorry to say I haven’t heard of Helen Dillon before but it sounds interesting. The book I’m reading now is a book of roses, it is called ‘Roses for sense and sensibility’ by Franziska Kröll.
    I wish you and your family a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2009. Isn’t it just exciting…a brand new garden year! Lots of Love Tyra

    ps Helen where can I find the beautiful snowflakes?

  9. Thanks for the review. My library doesn’t have this book yet. The head of adult services is an avid gardener, so I’ll suggest it to her. I read Helen Dillon’s last book, which I really enjoyed. This one sounds like a winner too.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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