Derek Jarman (1942-1994) was an English film director who made a famous garden on the shingle shore near Dungeness nuclear power station. Jarman believed that the Pilot Inn, nearby, provides “Simply the finest fish and chips in all England". The garden design style is postmodern and highly context-sensitive - a complete rejection of modernist design theory. He disliked the sterility of modernism; he despised its lack of interest in poetry, allusion and stories; he deplored the techno-cruelty exemplified in Dr. D. G. Hessayon's 'How to be an expert' series of garden books. Jarman's small circles of flint reminded him of standing stones and dolmens. He remarked that '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.' The poem on the black timber wall of Derek Jarman's cottage is from John Donne's poem The Sun Rising and reads:
Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
In that the world's contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere
On a raw Good Friday I made a trip to the tip of Kent to see Derek Jarman’s garden. Last time I was here it was high summer and the appeal of wild flowers amidst the shingle was pretty immediate. This time the absence of flowers and most greenery invited a closer look at the collected jetsam that makes up the hard landscaping.
I had always wondered why the windows and doors were painted bright yellow and the one thing in flower at this time of year, the gorse, provides the answer.
Derek Jarman said the garden started accidentally. A piece of driftwood was used to stake a rose. As the years passed more pieces were retrieved from the beach to protect and support the increasing numbers of plants that Jarman collected.
These pieces form the backbone of the garden and this is most apparent in winter. Smaller pieces appear as still-life compsitions, like groups of pebbles and chains, displayed on short stumps of woods buried in the shingle.
It would be hard to describe the setting as romantic or bucolic, particularly with a nuclear power station in the background. But the harshness of the landscape, particularly in a biting easterly wind, is mirrored in the garden. The electricity pylons and driftwood monoliths cut a sway through the shingle and scrubby plants, punctuating the horizontals of the beach and Romney Marsh.
This is a long way out of London but well worth the trip. The shingle beach is wild and littered with old fishing boats and small sheds selling locally caught fish.
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