Garden Artistry: Secrets

Reviewed by Brenda Korchinski for the Saskatchewan Gardener, Summer 1996

Garden Artistry: Secrets of Designing and Planting A Small Garden by Helen Dillon, Macmillan, New York, 1996.

This is the story of the development of the author's garden in Dublin, Ireland. Located in Zone 8, Dublin's climate is rather like that of Seattle, Washington, but with cooler summers and 75 cm (30 in.) of rain per year. Saskatchewan's precipitation is about half that amount. A 'stinker of a winter' occurs

in Dublin when the temperature drops as low as -12 degrees C (10 degrees F). I was reading this when our own January low was -42 degreesC (-44 degreesF). Yet almost all of the bulbs pictured in the spring flower border - snowdrop, crocus, Pushkinia, Chionodoxa, Scilla, Muscari, dog tooth violet, Fritillaria, daffodil, tulip, and allium - grow in my own garden. 'Small' is also a relative term - in this case less than an acre.

The book has four sections: habitat, color, plants, and practical matters. Finding the right habitat focuses on trying to approximate the plant's wild conditions in the garden. Thoughts about color deal with blue and red borders. Although the plant section is arranged alphabetically, it is not a standard plant dictionary, but rather a personal selection by the author ranging from daisies to green flowers to 'other people's weeds'. Even the groundcover goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum') grows in Helen Dillon's garden. She warns readers of its aggressive behavior but says she has seen it 'used brilliantly in a Canadian garden'. Practical matters include pruning, weeding, deadheading, and the annual evaluation of the garden, where 'euthanasia is always acceptable in a well run garden'.

Zones are indicated for the plants discussed in the text, many of which are indeed hardy on the Canadian prairies. Others are worth trying. As Ms Dillon says, 'Most gardeners are opportunists to the last. Whatever the local climate, they insist on experimenting with plants on just the other side of the hardiness and suitability line.'

The book is illustrated with gorgeous color photographs.