I have spent the last couple of days loafing around the south coast and have decided to use this little mini break to write not one but two blogs for you good people. So this is part one – I promise that it will not all be about “Things I did on my holidays” but will have some slight garden reference if you stick with me….
Sunday was lunch in Hastings – a complete Curate’s egg of a town where parts of it are horrible and parts completely charming – which was jolly although the fish to batter ratio was skewed which is always a bit off putting. We then walked the beach looking at interesting bits of dead fish. This was followed by a night in Rye – very picturesque as anybody who has read/watched Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson will know – in a fine hotel called The George.
The next day, after a very handsome breakfast, we wandered off to look at Camber Sands. Camber has an enormous sky hovering over a muddy grey sea and vast beach. It is, I suspect, best visited in January while the Bavarian Barbecue joint, the trampoline stall, the Pontins bookmaker and the slot machine arcade is closed for the winter.
Eventually we arrived at the vast openness of Dungeness and that is really the point of this little diptych of blogs as it is known for three things. The enormous nuclear power station, the vast expanses of desolate shingle beach and the garden which Derek Jarman made at Prospect Cottage. Let us start with the last point as that forms the basis of blog one….
Derek Jarman, as I am sure you know, was a film director (Jubilee, Caravaggio, Sebastian, a raft of music videos etc), artist, set designer and gardener. He moved to a small timber shack on the beach at Dungeness in the late 1980s and lived there until he died in 1994. While there he created a garden from washed up salvage – lumps of driftwood, old ropes, chains, fishing detritus etc – arranged into monoliths and circles. He then planted it with indigenous plants which could cope with the serious winds and complete lack of anything resembling soil. There was a film made about it in 1990 and a very fine book with photographs by Howard Sooley.
A grey day in January is possibly not the best time to see a garden but you take your chances when you can. It is quite extraordinary in a very bleak way. If it was anywhere else it would not really work but here it fits perfectly into its surroundings. The gorse seems to flow from the shingle and it must be very beautiful in the summer. The place is obviously empty and there are no paths and no boundaries and one is not sure whether we should be looking or whether it is okay to wander through the garden. We are very English and tiptoe round the edge.
Bits of the structure are not in the best of health – some of the sleeper walls have tumbled and the windows of the shack need sorting out but there is a definite magic about the place. Alys Fowler wrote a nice piece about weeding the garden in the Guardian, here.
You should go if you get the chance.