A Tribute to Stella Benwell, 1921 – 2014
Stella was on the Dulwich Park Friends’ Committee for over 15 years and even after she retired (aged 90 of course!) we would still seek her advice. She had a lifelong interest in wildlife initially encouraged by her parents who were keen birders.
One of Stella’s great achievements was the copse planted in 2007 after a donation from the Dulwich Village Preservation Society – in less than 7 years we have a shady native woodland at the edge of the park instead of the ‘green desert’.
A joint collaboration with Professor Isaac Marks led to the winter garden in 2002 – as you look across the park from the café you can see the winter flowering shrubs – a splash of colour in the drab winter landscape.
During the Heritage Lottery Fund works in 2006, Stella was instrumental in saving trees – the designers were keen to create open vistas across the lake without too much thought for wildlife or habitat – but with Stella’s invaluable knowledge on trees key specimens were retained. It was Stella’s idea to make a map of Dulwich’s important trees and she was delighted with its success.
Stella came to nearly all our ‘dig the park’ sessions and planted literally thousands of bulbs over the years – and we could proudly proclaim that our oldest member was over 90 when applying for the grant too!
Stella first came to Dulwich in 1951. She took a teaching certificate and taught at Rosendale Junior School until her retirement in 1980. She remained interested in education both at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and in the Park. The Park nature trail, that Stella raised funds for and organised, is still being handed out to schools and groups of children can often be seen identifying a swamp cypress or a turkey oak.
When we had a dry spell you would often see Stella with two watering cans saving newly planted trees or specimen rhododendrons. When the thistles started choking the new copse, she would be there pulling them out. If the winter garden had gaps, she and Isaac would plant new shrubs. Stella just kept going with her projects, with no fuss and with no thanks required.
Stella died in January aged 93, so perhaps a lovely way to remember Stella will be a quiet walk around Dulwich Park taking in the copse, the winter garden, the trees by the lake and the bulbs in spring and to reflect what a huge difference Stella has made to the Park.
If you would like to make a contribution to the tree we plan to plant in the Park in her memory, please send it to Dulwich Park Friends, PO Box 16860, London SE21 7ZQ.