Peter Dowdall goes on pilgrimage to one of Ireland’s greatest gardens —now on the market at €4.6 million.
What’s in a number? If the number refers to age then what does it matter, merely a measurement of passing time.
I had the privilege recently of visiting Helen Dillon’s garden at No 45, Sandford Terrace, Ranelagh and as she readily told me, she is now 76 and her husband Val, 80.
I hadn’t asked for this information, rather I had asked her how she felt about leaving this special place and downsizing.
She feels ready.
Ready to leave this garden behind, to leave it while she still loves it and while it is still a place of great beauty and joy, ready too to take on the challenge of creating a new, albeit smaller garden.
She referred to her age I think more as a way of justifying the move to herself than anything else — more like ‘I’m 76 and I should be moving to a smaller home’.
I can totally understand her reasoning as, even though a garden is never done, there are times in your life when you know it is the right time to do something, to move on — the trick is to listen to those signs.
So many of us don’t and so many of us, as a result, miss out on life’s new chapter because it does take guts to move at this age, to pack up and start again and to say goodbye to such a beautiful garden.
I haven’t once mentioned the house, “one of Dublin’s most beautiful and unique residences and one of the finest family homes to come on the market in many years” to quote the Sherry FitzGerald brochure, I can only imagine how tough it must be pack up after 44 years, to put your life in boxes and move on.
No feeling of that, however, talking to Helen.
I’m not sure what I expected, did I expect her to break down in tears at the thought of leaving this garden?
Or did I expect her to uproot it and hope to take all of it with her or did I expect her to want to stay on as a garden curator for the new owners?
Whatever I expected what I got was logic and common sense:
“I want to leave the garden before it becomes a chore, we both agree and we both feel that the time is right to move now.”
However, I would say that behind that statement there has to be some sadness, not regret —no not at all, but some sadness at leaving this creation.
This is one of Ireland’s most well-known and loved urban gardens, Helen herself is one of Ireland’s most loved gardening personalities and what a personality she is.
Bubbly and full of energy, you couldn’t but like Helen, her enthusiasm is contagious, I would say she could personify perpetual motion, I actually think she never stops.
This is a property that is as much about the house as it is about the garden as it is about the people in it.
On entering the hallway you are immediately met with the beautiful vista of the formal pond flanked on both sides by paved areas which hold back two herbaceous beds which run the length of it down to the ivy-covered arches and this is where the water is replaced by a straight line path to finish at a simple but stately urn.
Everything is right with this, the symmetry, the design, the transition between the different areas, the planting and of course the focal point of the urn in the distance.
Stepping out into the garden onto an elevated deck the first thing to demand your attention is a Prunus ‘Kojo no Mai’ growing out of an upcycled dustbin.
In full bloom on the day of my visit it is a truly stunning variety offering superb blossom at the moment, which will be replaced by fantastic autumn colour later, which will then fall allowing you to admire the intricate zig-zag stem structure during the winter.
However, I suspect that Helen won’t let it in this position all year, rather, I imagine she will replace it next month with something more showy for the summer — such is the beauty of gardening with pots and containers, even if that container is a disused dustbin.
The next specimen to catch the eye is probably the biggest tree in the garden and it is a beautiful Acer griseum specimen, its peeling bark still stealing the show now as it would have done all winter.
This elevated deck is the ideal place to enter the garden as it allows you to stop and admire the different areas, bit by bit.
Moving the eye down onto the patio area more bins, this time filled with tulips, giving such great spring colour.
“I’ll get five weeks of colour from these Tulip bins,” says Helen, “by planting five different varieties in each bin and at five different levels, and by cutting five drainage holes in the base and a good layer of grit at the bottom.”
As she is quick to point out, she had no formal training but gardening was in her blood — all before her had the bug and as a result this is a real gardener’s garden.
Plant varieties don’t have to be exclusive or the most sought after as she has simple Darwin Hybrid Tulips mixed with some of the most unusual varieties from Avon Bulbs, each one chosen because she likes it and it works in its assigned position, not because it is rare or special.
To illustrate the point, in the front garden underneath a dramatic stand of Birch trees lies a wildflower area and a lovely mauve coloured wood anemone and the palest of yellow daffodils.
Neither she nor I knew the variety name of either and nor does it matter, because it’s not all about the name it’s about the fact that she likes them and they work.
This garden has been created with love and as a result of a lifetime’s passion and learning, created by someone with the confidence to do their own thing, it is certainly not simply a collection of unusual species.
The unusual are here too however, and as I wandered and admired I came across some of my true favourites, such as Trillium grandiflorum, a plant that I have never had success with, but which is thriving here and a particularly strong flowering, baby pink Erythronium.
Again, Helen’s generosity takes over when I admired it, as not only is she flowing with information and stories she really felt strongly
about giving some of these treasures to me.
“You simply must have it. If you like it that much I’d love you to have it, for I do not know what will become of these when the place is sold’.”
I also admired the mauve wood anemone and as result I left with bags crammed full of bits of roots, bulbs and cuttings.
I simply had to stop commenting on any more plants for fear that the spade would come out once more and the garden would be bare.
I do understand what she meant though, as it is important to a gardener that the plant should go to a good home and that somebody else should get to enjoy it — for it may indeed be paved over by the new owners here — and what a stroke of luck that I should be the benefactor on that day.
The plants are already establishing nicely in my Cork garden and the cuttings are hopefully on their way to producing root systems of their own and forever more when I admire them, I will think of Helen, her generosity and this wonderful garden.
I understand too, she and Val’s decision to leave now.
They have had 44 years here creating and living in such a beautiful place.
Hard and all as it will be to leave, I imagine it would be much harder, near impossible to continue to live there as the garden became a chore and watch it be reclaimed by nature once more.
I had never met Helen before my visit, I had heard of her of course, I had watched her on television and read about her garden and still I did not know what to expect.
I took to her straight away, her no-nonsense and perhaps slightly eccentric attitude put me immediately at ease.
On arriving at her home and admiring the planting in the front of the beautiful Georgian property I immediately knew I was somewhere special, the thought given to the planting and how it worked with the colour and style of the house is just perfect.
Some pigeons were playing around the front door as we waited and the first words from Helen were: “They’re not just any pigeons you know, they’re fancy pigeons.”
They’d have to be I thought, look where we are, one of Ireland’s best gardens in one of South County Dublin’s finest addresses how could the pigeons be anything else but ‘fancy’.
Whats in a number? Well if the number is 45 Sandford Terrace, quite a lot actually.
Helen and Val’s garden will be open until the end of August, for a last chance to visit, do see www.dillongarden.com
Gardening Lessons 2016
Dates for March, April, May 2016
All lessons take place 10.00-12.30 – charge is €20 paid on the day, refreshments around 11.00 at 45 Sandford Road, The Dillon Garden
Saturday 4th June - Fully Booked
Saturday 11th June - Fully Booked
Saturday 25th June - Fully Booked
Saturday 2nd July
Saturday 30th July
Saturday 6th August
Saturday 20th August
Saturday 27th August
Please book by telephone 01-4971308 or email - email@example.com
Please telephone 01-4971308 if you need directions or need to cancel
Dates for later in summer will be announced soon.
Notice: The garden will be closed permanently at the end of September. But we will be open as normal until the end of September.
Garden open every day of the week 2-6pm during July and August.
Sundays only during April, May, June and September.
Admission €5 (children must be supervised at all times please)
If you’ve got plant queries, ask for Helen when you’re in the garden.
Sublime in Sandford Terrace
As you turn down the laneway that is Sandford Terrace you are immediately transported a million miles away from central Dublin, as this laneway feels like it could be in a quiet suburb or even the countryside.
Much of this is because of the public gardens referred to locally as ‘the Plantation’ which shields this terrace from Sandford Road.
When you arrive at the entrance gate of number 45 you know you are somewhere special.
This property has received much attention and publicity because of its famous garden, but if the outdoor space was merely a grass patch and three concrete walls, this house would still deserve the fanfare, for it is that most rare of things, an impeccably kept country house in the capital.
It’s a large residence, 397 sq m/ 2473 sq ft, but despite its size, it is warm and welcoming. A stylish double-fronted, two-storey over garden level family home.
It has elegantly proportioned rooms which are perfect for entertaining, yet they also feel cosy and suited to family living.
On almost an half acre of divine gardens and dating from c 1830, you could be forgiven for thinking you have gone back in time to a much more relaxed period.
Stepping through the front door you enter the ground floor which contains a hall, kitchen/breakfast room, utility room, double drawing room, dining room, butler’s pantry, side hall and cloak rooms.
From here it’s downstairs to the garden level, which contains three elegantly-appointed bedrooms and a living room.
The master bedroom is on the first floor, along with two more bedrooms, an ensuite bathroom and a family bathroom.
Whilst the house is totally secluded and private, its superb location means it’s within easy reach of the city centre and a small stroll to the villages of Ranelagh and Donnybrook.
The Luas and bus are both nearby and there is a choice of excellent schools and universities all within the area.
Original features are present throughout this home, like sash windows, shutters and window seats, an Adams fireplace, wide board original flooring, Georgian fanlight in the hall and a superb carved staircase to the first floor.
The house has been kept up to date and meticulously maintained over the years to ensure that what is presented to the market now is a high quality, genuine article in ‘ready to move in’ condition.
Viewings can be arranged through Geralyn Byrne of Sherry FitzGerald, the selling agents for No 45 Sandford Terrace, Ranelagh, D6. The guide price for this singular house and its gardens is €4.6 million.
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