The Village Orchard

The Village Orchard, established last year by the Dulwich Estate to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the Foundation in 1619 has become a treasured oasis during the present pandemic. It has been very used by all ages as a place to find peace and respite. In the late afternoon at weekends a small folk group quietly plays in one corner. A few of the  trees  are having some difficulty in becoming established, no doubt caused by the dry conditions of spring and summer.

Images of Dulwich Calendar

This popular calendar, containing twelve monthly views of Dulwich scenes with space to write below, is in A4 spiral bound style and is available from The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village. The calendar makes an ideal and inexpensive gift to send by post. Price £10.95 each.

Re-thinking why we do gardening - Bell House

"I couldn't possibly help with gardening at Bell House because I've so much of my own garden to look after" a nameless volunteer told me.  But she decided to come along anyway - "just once, mind you" - to show support.  That was three years ago and now she comes along every week, loving the feeling that she's doing something bigger than just tending her own patch but also because she picks up tips from experienced gardeners like Sarah, Shelagh, John, Reg and Andrew.  It's also a chance to meet new people who often live outside Dulwich and come from different backgrounds, and all the gardeners like getting exercise and drinking coffee together.  Another volunteer says that he lives alone and during the Covid-19 restrictions Bell House was one of the few places he's actually been able to see people - it's given him a lifeline to the outside world.

The garden is meaningfully productive: the Bell House gardeners used the walled garden and greenhouse this year to grow tomatoes, beans and marrows which have been donated to two different local food-banks and also used for cookery courses at the house.  At the edge of the garden are five beehives which have provided dozens of jars of honey for volunteers and visiting speakers (often visiting via Zoom) and the bees also have a valuable role in pollinating the plants of Dulwich and South London - it is said that honeybees fly several miles to get pollen though surely they don't need to go that far in Dulwich.  The bees and the garden have also been part of our Schools Enrichment Programme where children from Camberwell and Tulse Hill visit for a day and have experiences beyond their narrow school curriculum. To help with this a wildlife pond is planned for 2021 and several Dulwich residents have already made pledges to help fund it through the 'Big Give' appeal.

It's worth thinking about why people do gardening at all - the bumblebee expert Prof Dave Goulson suggests that if you want to make weeding easier you can just think of "weeds" as wild flowers which you haven't yet become familiar with, and he also believes that most of us cut our lawns too often and too short.  At Bell House the chief gardeners have followed his advice and created a wildflower meadow where the grass is only cut to make pathways.  As part of that conservation focus experts have come to talk to the gardening group about how to make your garden more friendly for birds and how to encourage butterflies and how to grow vines - and these talks are recorded and widely available through the website.   One of our guest lecturers donated some vines which are flourishing, although Bell House wine may be a few years away. According to another of our speakers, butterfly expert Simon Saville, London gardens are an important contributor to biodiversity and it turns out that over the last 30 years the variety of butterflies in South and South West London has actually increased.  As to birds, we have installed some hidden nest boxes on a north-facing wall in the hope of attracting swifts when they fly over from Africa next year.  Not surprisingly they eat on the wing but eyebrow-raisingly they also occasionally mate in flight - though these are quick and discrete manoeuvres.

Gardening at home probably still needs doing but Bell House gardeners say they go back to their gardens (or window-boxes) with more enthusiasm and knowledge - and they discover that some tasks don't really even need doing - more of the garden can be managed for wildlife.  Several of our younger volunteers have joined in for good career reasons - some want to show potential employees that they can work as part of a team, some are exploring careers in horticulture, and half a dozen others have done gardening as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Awards. Whatever your motivation, do come and have some fun, even if only for one week to get to know us and have a nosey around.  We prefer social gardening with coffee-breaks to solitary pleasure.  Don't you?  If so, do join us!