Ornate: A WC to Behold


In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Ornate” I am sharing with you the indulgence that is Helen Dillon’s downstairs WC as I think it fits well with the definition of ornate as “breathtakingly extravagant”.  For the non-obsessive gardeners amongst my readers I should explain that Helen is a well-known garden writer who lives in the suburbs of Dublin.  I blogged about a visit to her garden back in July which I visited as part of a garden tour to Ireland.


Being an older property, I am guessing Georgian, the downstairs WC is shoe-horned in under the stairs so is a tiny space with a sloping ceiling which means that I had to take close-ups rather than take a photo of the glorious whole.  I should say that Helen was very keen for us all to visit and see this space, in fact we were almost ordered to do so and I know from friends who have visited with other groups that this was not peculiar to our group.  If you can imagine a small downstairs WC with the basic facilities of toilet and small sink and then every bit of the wall and ceiling is covered in shells all in intricate designs then you are half way to imagine this extraordinary creation.  I have to admit that I found it a little intimidating and a little frightening as some of those shells are quite large and sharp-looking!


The whole creation had been commissioned some years previously and what was even more extraordinary was that one of my fellow tourers recognised the artist who it turned out was a friend of hers – small world.


Irish Garden Odyssey: The Dillon Garden


Helen Dillon’s garden in Dublin left me feeling very perplexed.  It was one of the two gardens I had been really looking forward to visiting on my tour and I was surprised not to feel thrilled at the visit.


The garden is well-known for its much photographed central pool/rill flanked with herbaceous borders.  You enter the garden via the house and find yourself looking down on the garden with the rill and borders filling the view.  This area of the garden is obviously designed to be seen from the drawing-room above and I have to agree that it looks wonderful from the window (sorry I didn’t take a photo from the window!)



However, when you get down to the garden you notice that the effect is achieved by the placing of pots of plants along the front edge of the borders.  This approach really jarred with me and has left me wondering why.  There were gaps in the borders where the pots could be placed so you couldn’t see the black plastic so why were they placed in such clear view.  Is this me making too much of the sight of black plastic?  I don’t think so as others commented on it too.  I also found my response to the borders confusing.


I prefer this view of the garden to the views of the borders above.  I am finding that I like the feeling of enclosure; of being amongst the plants as opposed to standing viewing an arrangement.  It is something I felt quite strongly at Great Dixter in my response to the long border and the stock beds and I was interested to read James Golden’s recent blog post on Bury Court where he experienced something similar.  I have noticed that I like to push through the plants, to run my hand through the flowers as I walk past. I think I chose the top photo as the introductory photo for this blog post as I liked the feel of this seating area, totally enclosed by plants.


At the far end of the rill you come to a more private area of the garden, an area that I don’t think is featured in books and magazines so much and which was much more to my liking.  I enjoyed the combination of foliage; the textures of green in the woodland area.  I also like the arches which are being clothed with ivy – an idea I am pondering and wondering if I can reproduce somewhere in my own space.


Another view of the woodland area, which I kept going back to so it obviously appealed to something in my psyche. I really liked the Astelias as I have only seen them grown in full sun but here they provide a nice contrast to the other foliage and the silver leaves bring a special glow.


Adjacent to the woodland is a dry garden with a succulents such as the agaves with dieramas and low growing drought tolerant plants.  This, and the woodland area, are more a plantsman’s garden than, to my mind, the big borders by the house.  Here there are all sorts of treasures acquired by Helen on her travels and from friends.


A beautiful Lobelia tupa was shown of very well against the pale end wall of the greenhouse (I think) – a good lesson in placing a plant as the wall shows off the plant but also provides additional heat for this exotic looking creature.  My Lobelia tupa has decided it is just too mild to bother this year so I am really missing its fiery red plumes.


My last photo is of the front garden planting.  It was a hard space to photograph partly because it was full of our group and secondly because I kept finding the neighbour’s ‘for sale’ sign creeping into the shot.  Here again the planting, under a group of birch trees, is much more to my taste than the famed borders.  It is relaxed, informal, naturalistic and just as the dry and woodland gardens show Helen’s plantsmanship, this area shows her skill at combining and planting plants.  I think this style of planting is harder to do well than the traditional border planting. I am left wondering why then is all the focus on the big borders and rill – but then again it’s probably a matter of taste.

I’m glad I have finally written this post as it has led to me looking back through my photographs of Helen’s garden and realising that there is a lot to learn once I move my mind on from the black plastic pots!

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.