A growing team of over fifty volunteers is working to create a beautiful space which demonstrates a range of ways to garden while supporting wildlife and encouraging bio-diversity.

Ways to garden

Any compost used is organic, chemical and peat free. It’s a ‘low dig’ approach, good for the soil and good for gardeners’ backs! As much green waste as possible is re-cycled in the compost bins and three leaf bins are filled on rotation in the Autumn and left to decompose. By adding a top layer of compost, the texture of the soil is improved, organisms in the soil take material from the surface where bacteria and fungi break it down. No power tools, such as leaf blowers, are used to avoid disturbing wildlife and gardeners. The lawn is chemical free, and areas are being left unmown to encourage wildflowers to support a range of pollinators.

The volunteers grow what they can from seeds, cuttings, plug plants and root cuttings. An impressive amount of fruit and vegetables were grown for the volunteers and wider community last year. The Medlar tree fruit has been used to produce medlar jelly and the Quince arch, quince jam. Around 20 vines were donated and planted, and these are doing well on a South Facing wall so there may be a Bell House wine in future years!

Supporting wildlife

A native hedge has been planted to provide a thorny habitat for wildlife, including birds and insects. Work has started on a ‘dead hedge’ about half a metre high from small branches woven through chestnut uprights, which flows around the garden and is already 47m long. The dead hedges become a habitat for insects, small mammals and birds, full of decaying material and provide protection from predators.

Log piles and leaf-fall are left undisturbed through the garden to support a multitude of different insects, provide a refuge and hunting ground for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and shelter for over-wintering and hibernating wildlife. A bug hotel is being built to help demonstrate habitats to visiting school groups.

There are a number of bird feeders, to provide supplementary food for birds and allow visitors to see bird activity in the garden and about a dozen bird boxes donated and built by volunteers. Grasses and sunflowers are being planted to provide seed for birds. Seed-heads are left on plants through winter and shrubs with berries are left unpruned. During renovation work seven swift bricks were added to the north west wall of the house and a swift caller sounds in early morning and evenings to encourage young swifts to nest when they arrive in Dulwich in late Spring.

The beehives in the walled garden now produce delicious Bell House honey and bee friendly plants will continue to be planted. One volunteer built a Mason bee house which sits in a large willow tree. (The Mason bee is a common bee that takes its name from nesting in cavities between brickwork.) In the front garden a new meadow area has been created and cowslip and Snakes-head fritillary are appearing in a meadow planted by the previous owners.

Volunteers built and installed a hedgehog house to encourage hedgehogs to settle and holes have been cut at the bottom of the fences to allow them to roam. In the long term, it is hoped a natural green corridor between Dulwich Park and neighbouring gardens can be developed to support hedgehogs who need a large area to forage and whose numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years.

Under construction are two ponds, funded by public donations with support from the Big Give which raised around £6,000. One will be used for children who visit as part of Bell House’s Schools’ enrichment programme. The other pond will include a bog garden with reeds and rushes to increase biodiversity.

Ground Source Heat Pump

Over the winter a ground source heat pump system has been installed in the walled garden to provide heating for the house and reduce CO2 emissions. Pipes 1.75m deep were installed and linked together to capture heat below the ground surface which warms the house through a heat transfer pump in the renovated boiler house. After a major project and a very wet winter vegetable beds, grass and meadow areas are re-emerging and volunteers are sowing for the growing season ahead.

An opportunity to see the garden

On Sunday 25th July from 6.30-8.30pm, Bell House and Link Age Southwark will be hosting a ‘sunset soirée’ in the garden - a chance to support both charities and enjoy the sounds of a live band, canapés and a glass of fizz.

Please go to https://www.bellhouse.co.uk/allevents for more details.