A garden is, perhaps more than any other part of our homes, a reflection of ourselves. Whether going for formality, cottage-style, practicality, potager, rubbish tip, wildlife haven or simply abject neglect, it tells the world something about our inner soul.
Artist Stephen Wright’s soul is on painful, beautiful display in every inch of his living space. Most people, if they have heard at all of the House of Dreams in East Dulwich, talk about the interior spaces, where Wright has encrusted every part of his emotion, from the darkest depths to the lightest whims into a fantasy palace of womb-like caves, bejewelled with the detritus of everyday modern life.
The beautiful – fake gems, sparkling goddesses, twinkling lights – the strange – sink drainers, false teeth and the moulds that make them – and the distressing – doll-parts, masks and confessions of emotion most of us feel but hide.
Stephen Wright’s garden, however, warrants attention on is own merit. It isn’t just a spillage of the interior onto the outside. It is a considered space on its own, and, like the house, like Wright himself, a work in progress.
Wright began the House of Dreams with his partner Donald Jones after discovering the concept of Outsider Art. After the death of both Jones and his own parents, Wright descended into a spiral of loss and grief but, as his pain mellowed, he vowed to continue the project – at first alone, then with new partner Michael Vaughan.
The back garden had been one of the first areas Stephen and Donald had tackled. A rainbow mosaic, leading out into the back of the Victorian terrace, invited visitors into ‘the Garden of Delight’.
It continues to delight, albeit in different form. A large oak tree provides height, but the rest of the planting is rambling, low-lying, encouraging the viewer to get down, to seek out floral gems that, inside, might have been cracker toys or showroom dummies.
A great fan of Christopher Lloyd’s style, many of the plants are from Great Dixter. He also likes Sarah Raven’s Cuttings Garden. Some have been scavenged, like the Valerian, from Zennor in Cornwall, while the Sea Kale was grown from cuttings taken at Dungeness. He is a lover of the simplicity of plants, plants that instil memory and flowers such as the English Marigolds and Aubertine roses come from Wright’s home town, Nantwich in Cheshire.
All are studded with Wright’s own feel, from a Mediterranean-style fountain, through to sculptures created from found objects.
The front garden is the last part of the project, and is much more like a continuation of the house. A high fence discourages casual gawp. Wright is not averse to visitors, far from it. He loves to see people – but on his own terms, rather than having people just bowl up on the doorstep demanding to see his house.
Mosaic paths, hanging toys, sparkling decorations and Wright’s thoughts make a garden that cannot be more than 10′ x 10′ take a long time to wander and a longer time to ponder.
The House of Dreams is open by appointment once a month. The next opening day can be found here.