The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Forgiving Helen Dillon

My 1997 photograph of the Emerald Lawn at 45 Sanford Road, Ranelagh, Dublin

The Canal Today
(photo credit

Dear Helen,

I forgive you. It has taken almost a decade but I have finally come to peace with the loss, at first I felt desecration, of the emerald lawn. Of course, I had seen the central lawn between the red and blue borders in pictures for years before I finally saw in it in person on June 19, 1997. I had never seen such a beautiful or more perfect lawn. It was drizzling that afternoon and I think that made the green greener and the lawn more lush than I could imagine. I was heaven, I thought, with the magnificent borders and the most interesting and unusual trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals imaginable flanking and complimented by the lawn. I will never forget that day.

Then it happened. I opened up a glossy gardening magazine and it was gone. I was devastated. I thought it looked horrific. I wondered how you could do such a thing. I could understand how difficult it must have been to maintain the lawn and how politically incorrect a lawn like that had become but to me it was iconic.

After several years, I got used to seeing the canal with its Irish limestone pavement. Several more years later I started to even like it. Now, I can't imagine your garden without it. I think you are right that it is so "completely static...that the planting in the borders at the sides can be more informal." What it taught me is to never hold anything in my garden as too sacred to change. I need to be more open to change and continue to experiment. Although I like my garden to look good, it should never be "finished." It is the process of gardening that I love.

I'm sure you must be relieved to have this awkward and difficult period behind us now. I know I am. I look forward to seeing what you do next. I promise to be open to any changes you make.

Sincerely, Michael


  1. I think this is a very clever & well-written post. I heard Helen Dillon speak once in Seattle. She was very entertaining. She said that one day she would remove all of her plants, lay down a bed of gravel, place a small fountain at the center, & then people would say, 'What exquisite taste Helen Dillon has!'

  2. Jordan,
    I have seen Helen Dillon speak several times. Very informative and always entertaining. Your quote is exactly how I remember her. I would love to go back again to see all the changes she made.Thanks for the kind comment.

    Glad you liked the post.

  3. I agree. A great post. This raises the question, "What if I don't like a change?" Can I still respect the gardener and their process even though I may not like their solution? Helen Dillon (with her reputation notwithstanding) is an easier rapprochement than say, a neighbor's yard filled with new marigolds and day lilies. Can I see THAT with softer, less critical eyes?

    If there is one thing that gardening has taught me it is that detachment and humility are more important tools than a spade or wheel barrel.

    This post makes me realize that as gardens eventually change, so inevitably do most gardeners. What I used to love may no longer draw my eye. It is inevitably humbling when I superimpose my "values" on others artistic efforts. Time, growth, death and change of taste make sure of this.

    Thank you Helen. Thank you Mike!

  4. David,

    Thanks for your comment. It does make one wonder what Sissinghurst would look like if Vita and Harold were gardening today and it will be exciting to see what changes Fergus Garrett and company will make at Great Dixter. On the other hand, the great Italian villas seem timeless.



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