If you have been lucky enough to visit the delightful half-acre garden of 105 Dulwich Village on one of the dates it is open for charity, you would be forgiven for thinking that the garden has been carefully preserved ever since the house, and its neighbour, 103 Dulwich Village, were originally built in 1759. However, this is very far from the truth. When Andrew and Ann Rutherford moved into the house in 1983 the garden looked quite different, and lacked the splendour it now has, particularly in the summer. The most striking feature that has disappeared since 1983 was a 10 metre swimming pool at the far end of the garden, with a modernist white wall beyond it. This has since been replaced by a waterfall and pond complete with newts and frogs, and naturalistic planting of shade tolerant plants including hostas, ferns, astilbes and conifers.
There is an ancient mulberry tree towards the end of the garden, and a shrubbery with some quite tall trees, bought some years ago at Columbia Road Market when they were small enough to fit in the car! Various new flowerbeds were also created and there are lots of pots. The latest addition to the garden is the Westmoreland slate spherical sculpture created in situ from recycled roofing tiles by James Parker. The formal fish pond, closer to the house, certainly looks as if an 18th century gardener would have approved it. However, in the late 1970s, the area closest to the house was lawn, with two rectangular rose beds.
When the Rutherfords moved in, they felt that the rose beds did not suit the shape of the garden so they were replaced with the circular pond and associated landscaping, dug roughly 25 years ago. The 5” thick York stone flags surrounding the pond were originally flooring in a factory in the north of England. When they arrived in Dulwich, the whole family spent hours scrubbing the industrial grime from them. They were originally laid flat round the pond but in July 2007 a massive hailstorm which flooded the cellars in local streets, washed away the sandy base from some of the flags, making them slightly uneven but enhancing the impression that the pond and surroundings are contemporary with the house. The first summer saw instant colour with nicotiana all round the pond but the plan was always that it should be surrounded by blue and white flowers, as now, with delphiniums, geraniums, roses, agapanthus, valerian, salvias and annuals for the bees.
The results of the care and work of the Rutherfords are manifest in many ways. Not only have they given hundreds of visitors great pleasure by sharing their beautiful garden every year, but they have also raised thousands of pounds for the National Garden Scheme and St. Christopher’s Hospice with their annual garden openings, in conjunction with their next door neighbours at 103 Dulwich Village, Noel and Caroline Annesley. A less obvious beneficiary has been the wildlife that has been attracted to the garden. Not only are there the aforementioned newts and frogs, a variety of wild birds – including woodpeckers, herons and on two occasions, a kingfisher, over 300 species of moth, bees, dragonflies and of course, squirrels and foxes, have been attracted by the wildlife friendly gardening practices of planting many nectar producing flowers, and leaving some areas undisturbed. There is a log pile for stag beetles and a patch of nettles for breeding butterflies. On open garden days you can see lists of birds and moths that have visited. This wildlife role call would be impressive for any garden but doubly so when it is considered that this garden is so close to central London.
This is the 20th year that the garden has been open to the public, and it really is worth visiting in the future if you are able. It is a rare opportunity to see a lovely flower-lover’s haven, for inspiration for your own gardening or simply to enjoy the owners’ hard work.
Please see the Dulwich Gardens Open for Charity leaflet for next year’s visiting information – this is due to be published in spring 2018.