Willie Pilkington and John Dilley have been together for 30 years. Their love for each other has been cemented with their mutual love of their garden, a product of 30 years of traveling and collecting.
On Aug. 14, 2008, 7 a.m., the couple and their “Hobbit Garden” will be featured on HGTV’s “Gardener’s Diary.” In 2005, their garden was featured in The New York Times in an article that was eventually reprinted in The Charlotte Observer.

Situated on a plot of less than two acres, Pilkington and Dilley’s garden is a collection of mostly naturally occurring miniature and dwarf plants. Deciduous (or seasonal) plants mix in with the mostly evergreen garden. Don’t be fooled though — as stated in their Times piece, “‘dwarf’ is a relative term: these are compact, slow-growing versions of normal size trees.”

“[The garden] is one of the most rewarding projects we have ever been associated with,” says Pilkington. “Just like the work I have done within Raleigh’s and North Carolina’s gay community since the late 1970’s, this is an opportunity to help positively affect people and help change lives for the better and know that we as knowledgeable people and as gay people helped and shared broadly and effectively with others.”

In 1980s LGBT advocacy and organizing, Pilkington was instrumental in the passage of Raleigh’s anti-discrimination policies including sexual orientation.

Pilkington says his garden provides another way to work for the betterment of the world. “We practice and teach a new style of home gardening, gardening that is based on natural eco-systems, forest and meadows, and how we can turn our personal properties back into positive contributors to improving the Earth’s environment,” he says. “People come to see our rare plant collection and learn how we have designed this garden and how it functions. We encourage them to take these practices we use and go back to their outdoor spaces and use these practices we have shared.”

As their garden has grown and matured, so too has Pilkington and Dilley’s life-long love for each other. In 1978, they first met at a roller-skating party for gays and lesbians. “We have been together since that night,” Pilkington says.

“I thought he was the most handsome, intelligent person I had ever laid eyes on,” he says. “Fortunately for me, he was a terrible skater and needed some assistance to get around the rink, which gave me a reason to meet him and also get to know and trust him.”

Their traveling and collecting for The Hobbit Garden started later that year.

As for marriage in California, Pilkington says they’ll just wait. “We have talked briefly about it as a novelty idea, but we want to wait and consider that legally binding contractual arrangement and public ceremony when North Carolina recognizes our marriage rights under the State and U.S. Constitutions.”

info: The Hobbit Garden plays host to an average of two tours per week, by appointment only. Group sizes can range from 5 to 100. Appointments to tour the garden can be made 72 hours prior. There is a small fee for the tour. For more information about The Hobbit Garden visit home.att.net/~hobbitgarden or hobbitgarden@att.net.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.