The last time I went to the Courts Garden it was my birthday, high summer and sunny. This time, six months later, the weather was grey and freezing, and we could only manage a few minutes in the garden before taking refuge in the tea room.
There was still plenty to enjoy, though – this little known National Trust garden deserves to be better known. The display of hellebores and snowdrops along the approach to the house at this time of year is a real sight for sore eyes. And I loved the little square of cyclamen in gravel.
The moment I saw this garden gate in East Dulwich, south east London, I knew something pretty special would be behind it. But I couldn’t really see what, apart from the edge of a mosaic path and some spiky plants sticking out over the top of the fence. What to do?
I went to my friend’s house, lingered over a coffee and set back out again, camera in hand. I didn’t really have a plan as to what I’d do when I got to the house – knock and hope that someone answered, try to take a pic from the garden next door…? – but just as I approached a man came out. So I took a deep breath and asked if he lived there.
He told me that the house and garden are the work of his partner, the artist Stephen Wright. And off he went to fetch him, leaving me to look at the garden. And what a garden it is. The walls, painted Frieda Kahlo-blue, are adorned with colourful mosaics and the garden is filled with sculptures made from broken dolls, crockery, ornaments and curios.
And then Stephen Wright himself came out, gave me a kiss on the cheek and said I was welcome to take some pics. He explained that the House of Dreams is a life project which is supported by the National Trust. Eventually it will be bestowed to the nation. It’s open by appointment only (0208 299 3164; £10, children free) but there’s an open day on 19 Feb from 10.30am to 4.30pm.
Visitors will be able to go into the back garden too – and if the front one is anything to go by, it promises to be extraordinary.