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Male Order

Men are from Mars when it comes to their approach to gardening, reckons Helen Dillon
by Helen Dillon
by Helen Dillon


'Like some of her beloved plants, Helen Dillon blossomed late in life. Now her cut-glass tones and impish face are familiar to garden lovers all over the country But the journey to her present oasis of serenity has not been without its difficulties'...Patricia Deevy

Helen's garden is wonderful and a stop on our garden tours to Ireland when we are in the Dublin area. Visit her site at

and see why it is so popular!

July 9, 2006

I don't know what it is about about men, but they don't seem to garden in the same way I do. For a start, they think different things are important. I love drifting around the garden in a daze, enjoying the lovely bits. I don't think about slugs, weeds or the infelicities of planting - my eyes conveniently bypass anything ugly.

But if I take a trip around the garden with my husband on a warm damp evening, in a wink he notices a slug. 'Slime ball,' he says 'l'll put out more saucers of lager.' As I think what a glorious blue a delphinium is; he's thinking that the stems need staking yet again. I remark that a plant is looking a bit off colour; he announces that it is just plain dead. I like soft billowing clouds of flowers; he likes nothing better than in-your-face colour.

Take grass. There's something about it that men find totally addictive. I suppose it begins with the immaculate confection that is a golf green - all those exquisite bright green blades, not a clover leaf in sight. If the newly married man doesn't start creating a perfect lawn right away, then middle age, combined with a trip to the golf course, will probably bring on a sudden passion.

It's only as he realises that the grass must be fed - every ten days, in our case - watered once a day, with a sneaky extra go after supper; edged; mowed three times a week in high summer; aerated and scarified (chopped up grass and mud - just what you want in winter) and generally fussed over, that he learns what a socking great bully the lawn is.

Much time is also spent gazing at it, admiring the perfection of the grass, worrying over the bare bits. Remarks like 'such pretty little toadstools', over a fairy ring does not go down too well.

When I'm looking at a shrub, I admire the quality of its foliage. A man is thinking how much that shrub needs a good seeing to with the shears. Have you noticed the style of clipping peculiar to town squares? Every plant in the group gets turned into a uniform blob as if it was some poor relation of the country house clipped box ball.

It's far less strain to clip some poor shrub into a nice even shape, than to work out which of the group should be dug up and removed to give the remainder space to grow. Where would Britain's men be without the privet hedge? Down the pub, probably. Perhaps more gravel and bamboo is the answer - imagine all the time they'd save with a garden that keeps itself neat and orderly.

Romantic versus practical; it was ever thus in the history of gardening. Feminine, pretty little daisies and primroses, versus thrusting great manly gunneras and agaves. Certain plants have always been the domain of men - sweet peas, chrysanthemums, dahlias and prize leeks.

Remember the typical front garden of the last century? That epitome of intensive gardening, the rosebed of undiluted hybrid teas and floribundas? Banning any plants from frolicking around the bare rose stems must have been a man's idea.

Men are especially good at that ultimate in plant restraint, the bonsai. No surprise there. Trim the branches, prune the roots and twist the branches round a piece of wire. Control with a capital C.

Control versus giving in I know it was a man who invented topiary. It can only have been a man who decreed that cabbages should be grown in straight lines. And surely it was a man who invented the first bra.

Mars & Venus mow the lawn, signed numbered edition print by Annie Tempest © at The O'Shea Gallery, London. For a copy of print, or Tottering-by-Gently catalogue, e-mail: or see

This article first appeared in The English Garden in May 2005
(permission graciously given to reprint on our site by H. Dillon)


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