Southern belle: Anna Pavord is bowled over by an ultra-modern, ingeniously landscaped plot

Helen Marsden is opening her garden in Dulwich Village tomorrow - and its quite the best thing of its kind our gardening correspondent has seen

I suppose if you do it every day, the ride out from London Bridge station to Dulwich loses its appeal. But the line, perched high on its embankment, gives you a terrific bird's-eye view down into the high streets and back yards of South Bermondsey and Peckham Rye, the buildings in late spring fudged by a frothy foreground of elderflower blossom and wild pink roses growing either side of the line.

Stepping out at North Dulwich station, enclosed in its cutting, with small hart's tongue ferns and ivy-leaved toadflax growing out of its high brick walls, you find a plant and pot nursery balanced, it seems, almost on the roof of the opposite platform.

But the greater surprise lies a little further away in Dulwich Village, where Helen Marsden is opening her garden tomorrow. Don't miss it. It is spectacular, superbly designed, uncompromisingly modern, quite the best thing of its kind that I have seen.

The house itself gives nothing away: a late Edwardian façade, red brick, set back from the road. But a grid of box balls in the corner of the front garden, set in gravel round a fine multi-stemmed katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), gives a hint of what is to come.

I came into the garden from the house, the ideal way to appreciate how cleverly the one has been integrated with the other. Tomorrow, visitors will come in round the side of the house. Be firm. Turn immediately left and start your journey by the sliding doors of the glass extension that unites inside and out. Then you understand that, having been so radically modern in her treatment of the inside of the property, Helen had no alternative but to continue in the same mode outside.

For London, this is an unusually wide and generous plot – almost an acre – and the width is exaggerated by the handsome slate-lined pool set across the back of the glass extension. But you'll be looking at the two walls behind the pool, the lower one painted in brilliant fuchsia pink, the higher one behind in a slightly paler shade. If you are an admirer of the Mexican landscape architect, Luis Barragán, you'll know where that idea came from. Under our softer light and in the leafy setting of suburban London, you might not expect the translation to work. But it does – spectacularly well.

The walls, the pool, the terrace immediately outside the glass extension, are the work of the architect Helen used to transform the house. For a while, the rest of the garden remained untouched, as she tried to get planning permission to build another house in the grounds. That didn't happen, and now she is glad it didn't. The garden has become the most important part of the whole place.

For the design, she called in the landscape architect, Christopher Bradley-Hole. It was a brilliant choice. He has cleverly carved the sloping site into a series of wide, generous landings, each linked by an equally wide wooden step. A broad path of Breedon gravel leads up the centre, with raised wooden beds on either side, four pairs of them, handsomely constructed, one entirely devoted to asparagus, another to strawberries, others growing cabbages and sprouting broccoli, raspberries and herbs. "It's the greatest luxury," says Helen. "Just coming out here and picking stuff for supper."

The grid of box balls in the corner of the front garden The grid of box balls in the corner of the front garden (Richard Mildenhall)
The garden is dominated by a huge oak tree, with branches so wide it touches the boundaries on either side. It's just slightly off-centre, but Bradley-Hole turns this into a benefit rather than a problem, as his design leads your eye cleanly past the tree up to the leafy screen at the top of the garden. It doesn't block the long view and he uses it as a reason to reduce the width of the path for the rest of the journey up the garden. To the left, the area under the tree is gravelled and planted with a grid of box balls, nine by seven, harmonious, pleasing, and a clever way to deal with a potentially difficult area.

On the right are big square blocks of yew, the flat tops in the process of being sculpted. On the left, after the tree, are a parallel pair of borders, glowing quietly now in muted shades of purple and cream: alliums of course, Geranium phaeum, thistle-headed knautia, elegant stands of the tall grass, Stipa gigantea, all set among explosions of bronze fennel.

It's a wonderfully exciting garden, but calm too, part of the calmness coming from the quietly homogenous way the boundaries have been treated. Hornbeam hedges are used on both sides, taking over from slatted wooden panels, the slats rather narrow and running horizontally rather than vertically. On the right, between the boundary and the blocks of yew, a line of carefully-trimmed limes marches up the side of the garden, making a series of fine tall cones.

By the time you get to the top of the slope, you've had plenty of opportunity to take in all this. But nothing prepares you for the fact that at this point, the plot turns left in a sharp dogleg, revealing a new area as big as the one you've just moved through. Ahead is a beautifully tended lawn, bounded on both sides by hornbeam. At the end is a raised wooden deck, backed by the same horizontally-slatted panels that are used on the side boundaries. It is cool, calm and elegant. It has also, in the past, been a place for Helen's five children to play football.

Narrow paths lead through the hedges, giving glimpses of a grassy orchard squeezed in on the left-hand bank. On the far side, the hedges conceal another surprise, a path that winds through a little wood, bluebells, teasels and wild garlic under hawthorn and sloes. At the end is a hidden area, remarkably pleasing, with garden shed and compost bins. "Is there anything you would have done differently," I asked Helen, who has now lived with the garden for four years. "Not a thing," she replied. Nor would I.

Fairfield, 9 Dulwich Village, London SE21 7BU, is open tomorrow (2-5pm), £3.50, children free

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little