‘Paradise haunts gardens, and some gardens are paradises. Mine is one of them’ . Others are like bad children – spoilt by their parents, over-watered and covered with noxious chemicals’. Derek Jarman.
Dungeness is a bleak, but strangely haunting landscape. The area looks like a wilderness but it is rich in bird and plant life.
It is the one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe and is classified as the only desert in Britain. It comes out into a point in the sea and behind it lies Romney Marsh. For years it was considered as a wasteland and people much preferred the large sandy beaches and dunes down the road at Camber near Rye.
The isolation of Dungeness was probably the reason that Dungeness Nuclear Power Station was built here. Apart from a few fishermens’ huts there was not much here.
I think Derek Jarman was one of the first to fall for the charm of the place whilst out for a pub lunch with the actress Tilda Swinton in 1986. He had ventured into Kent in search of a bluebell wood and on a whim decided to drive on to Dungeness. Prospect Cottage, an old fishernman’s hut was for sale for £700 and the rest is history. At the end of 1986 he was diagnosed with HIV, and he seems to have found great peace and comfort in his strange new home. He wrote that for him, the bleakness was part of its charm.
Many of the huts have been done up now, but it is still a wild, open landscape because hedges or fences are not allowed. Apparently Derek had always been interested in gardening so he set about creating one in the shingle. The area is rich in flora; there are over 600 species of plants here. He tried as far as possible to use the one ones that are indigenous to the area such as this Sea Pea Lathyrus
and the beautiful Horned Sea Poppy, Glaucium flavum.
In the picture you see it with Viper’s Bugloss, Echium vulgare which grows everywhere here and is wonderful for insects.
Another ubiquitous plant is Sea Kale, Crambe maritima which has beautiful curly leaves. It is edible, but Derek said that because it is a long-lived plant, it absorbs radiation here so close to the power station.
The proximity of the power station and the pylons radiating out from it strike me as really sinister, specially as there seems to be a low hum coming from the wires. Combined with the loneliness of the place it gives me the shivers. Derek said it reminded him of a liner on the horizon and he seemed to enjoy its twinkling lights as evening fell.
The picture above is the view of the power station as you stand with your back to the side of the house. Along this south wall Derek had the John Donne poem ‘Busy Old Fool, Unruly Sun‘ in raised wood.
Because Dungeness is an SSSI( Site of Specific Scientific Interest) there were restrictions on the plants that could be grown. To create windbreaks he used plants such as native Elder, Broom, Gorse, and prostrate Quickthorn. White leaved plants such as Santolina and Helichrysum italicum will withstand the salt-laden winds.
What makes the garden so original is the use of found objects as art. The whole garden reminds me a bit of a film set, which is appropriate as Derek Jarman was a film director as well as an artist .He loved the wonderful flints which you find on the beach here and he placed them in circles like dolmens. He made a circular bed surrounded by pointed flints which he called dragons’ teeth. He used stones, wood and old rusty iron and anything he found, as he loved beach combing.
In one of those moments of serendipity, shortly after my visit, I was browsing in an second-hand bookshop when I found the book that Derek Jarman wrote about his garden.
derek jarman’s garden with photographs by howard sooley. This is a beautiful book that I thoroughly recommend. The photos are superb and Derek wrote so lyrically about his beloved garden and how he created it. There are poems he wrote too. A beautiful book about a beautiful garden.
Although Derek died in 1994 his garden remains as a monument to him.