Back in September, an avid gardener friend of mine visited the Dillon Garden in Ranelagh in Dublin for the last time. This stunning and beautiful space, which has made its creator Helen Dillon famous, is about to close. Helen Dillon and her husband Val have sold their home on Sandford Road in Ranelagh and the famous town garden is closing to the public.

Gardening enthusiasts all over the world have found such inspiration and delight in her world-famous half-acre town garden, with its colourful herbaceous borders, delightful foliage and the attractive 28-metre canal and limestone paving at its centre. So it is sad to see it go, but it was inevitable as Helen and her husband, antiques dealer Val Dillon, knew they needed to downsize from their beautiful residence.

In an article in The Irish Times Property supplement last April, Helen Dillon bade farewell to the garden, as she described how her garden was like “a picture I have been playing with and it keeps changing”.

But the elderly couple knew it was time to move on, and they are moving – with some of their plants – to a new home and garden in Monkstown before the end of the year.

So, this blog is written for the amateur gardeners of this world who, like the inspiring Helen Dillon, have to bid farewell to their own gardening work of art, as they realize that it’s time to let go and scale down to a more manageable and less time-consuming garden and home.

Just like preparing the house for sale, gardeners have to not only prepare the garden to look its best when selling the property, but also have to make more advanced plans throughout the gardening year.

So if you are planning to downsize from a home with a large-ish suburban garden, and you are a garden enthusiast with your own lifetime’s work of art outside the back door, these tips are for you.

  1. BUY A NOTEBOOK AND KEEP IT WITH YOUAs we head into the winter, now is the time to do that plant inventory. Get out to the garden before all the leaves have disappeared, and do a stocktake. Draw up a rough map of the different parts of the garden – front and back – and write down what you would really like to take with you and why.
  1. BE REALISTICIt’s not going to be possible to take everything.  Even if you don’t know where you are moving to, be realistic as well as decisive. Write down 3 reasons why you want to bring a shrub or plant with you. Then review this list in a month’s time. If it is very long, you’ll need to edit it.
  1. PLAN TO TAKE SOFTWOOD CUTTINGS If there is a plant that has a lot of meaning for you but too big to move, think about cuttings. Softwood cuttings are generally taken in early to mid summer, but there’s no harm beginning a plan now. What pots will you need? Where will you keep them?  How many do you want to take? Do you have gardening friends who could help out? Hydrangeas and fuschias for example, are easy to take cuttings from, but once again, choose your cuttings for a reason.
  1. MOVE BIGGER SHRUBS. Is there really a really important shrub you want to bring with you?  Autumn is a good time to move shrubs, particularly if they are not too big. You can pot up a shrub now, and keep it watered. It might look sad for a while but it will come back to you.
  1. THINK OF THE NEXT OWNERIt is more than likely that you are selling your home to a young family – and what’s the most important thing they will need?  Playing space and a low maintenance garden.  So to make that garden more attractive for that potential buyer, now is the time to remove the high-maintenance raised beds for your vegetable or herb garden. Plant grass instead. While germination may be much slower in the late autumn, you can get the grass seed planted and protected from birds now and by spring, that area will be green and grassed up in the following months.
  1. TIDY UP UNDER TREES. Trees you planted 20 or 30 years ago are now much more mature and likely to be casting much more shade than you originally thought. Trees can look wonderful but now is the time to look at them dispassionately. Could you trim back the lower branches to bring in more light and space below them?  Is there a lot of ivy underneath that needs clearing?  Soil is now soft and after a dry autumn is not too waterlogged to get a good clearout done under trees. It’ll look so much better in the spring.
  1. CUT BACK THE HEDGES AND ENSURE WEDGE-SHAPED TRIMMING. Hedges can look terrific if they are well maintained, and awful if they are not. If there is a hedge that needs some TLC, now is the time to get the electric trimmer out. The experts rightly advise that hedges that are lighter on top are healthier than ones that have been allowed to get too big. So a major cutback now will give time for the hedge to recover in the spring.
  1. TAKE OUT A FEW SHRUBS IF IT LOOKS A BIT OVER-CROWDEDGardeners love to try out new shrubs and plants, and this can leave a garden looking a bit overcrowded, so now is the time to be ruthless and take out that sad shrub at the back of the border and let more light in. Gaps will fill out well in the spring and give more space to the shrubs that do the garden justice.
  1. COLOUR AT THE FRONT DOOR A well-shaped evergreen shrub in a nice pot can look wonderfully welcome at your front door, even in the depths of winter. And every garden centre has an array of brightly coloured plants that can lift any front entrance – so think about a nice display at the front door. Cyclamens in winter, geraniums in the summer. Low maintenance and high impact.
  1. CLEAN THE PATIO FRONT AND BACK. Time to get the man with the powerwasher back to clear the weeds that inevitably gather on your patio, and clear the inevitable dirt and dust that gathers there. A good wash brightens any patio and worth the effort.
  1. THINK ABOUT THE GRASSIn point 5, we recommended you give the owner more grass for a growing family. And now is the time to look at the patches that need attending in your existing lawn front and back. Add a spring fertiliser to the list and ensure you rake up the leaves landing on your existing lawn in the meantime. A good lawn really makes a garden, but as you know, it takes TLC to get it that way.

So, there’s lots to plan, and the earlier you start the better. Moving home is a huge undertaking for anyone, and as Helen Dillon and her husband Val will tell you, the sooner you start the better. Her last visitors in September noticed large pots of her signature blue Agapanthus plants labelled “new garden” set amongst the patio and herbaceous borders. Decisiveness is key.

Good luck with the move! 

If you would like a free estimate, or some advice on selling your home, do get in touch with us. You can phone us at 01 247 8851.  We are a small team with a bespoke, personalised service, specialising in property sales in south Dublin and north Wicklow.

For more information on garden maintenance the www.garden.ie website is very useful, as is this one.

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