Six on Saturday: 17.10.20 Derek Jarman

I have recently read a number of books that have mentioned Derek Jarman and his garden at Dungeness. I had a vague knowledge of the seaside garden he created. The garden plants faced tough conditions needing to survive salt conditions. I picked up his garden book wanting to know why so many people held this book in such high regards. I devoured it very quickly. It features images of the garden and Derek, poems and descriptions of the garden and plants that thrived. He may be better known for his films and sexuality but this is a wonderful garden book. While my garden doesn’t face as harsh seaside conditions as his, my garden is also by the sea and I took early to collecting items from the beach. The ideas in his garden have influenced others who I think have probably influenced my garden before I was even aware of his. I probably have lusher conditions but we have some commonalities that I thought I’d explore.

1. Lawns

Lawns, it seems to me, are against nature, barren and often threadbare – the enemy of a good garden. For the same trouble as mowing, you could have a year’s vegetables: runner beans, cauliflowers and cabbages, mixed with pinks and peonies, shirley poppies and delphiniums; wouldn’t that beautify the land and save us from the garden terrorism that prevails.

This is a passage early on in the book that brought me right on side. I would happily cut down the lawn. While there is sometimes a need for negative space there are other ways of achieving this. However, I have been told we need a lawn while Alice is little to play on. I’m sure she’d have more fun in a jungle of plants. Hide and seek is boring with a standard lawn in the middle. Derek’s conditions would have made a lawn pretty much impossible to make it look good. Our lawn is overgrown as I’ve left it while the builders are working. I did claim a bit of the lawn when I built a raised bed to grow a few bits during the first lockdown. We have a few sprouts forming and then I will probably dismantle. The lawn is going to need a bit of care after that to get it back in order. Far too much effort for something I don’t really like.

2. Driftwood

Derek’s garden made use of many pieces of driftwood found along his stretch. They stand around the Dungeness garden like standing stones and as pieces of sculpture. We have a number of large pieces we have brought back from the beach and many smaller pieces. A few are dug into the border with the plants surrounding.

3. Found objects

The garden at Dungeness was filled with lots of found objects from walks. Our garden has been filled with many odds and ends from the beach. Amongst my favourite are the brick spires that I created to stop the seagulls landing and digging up plants. The metal bars threaded through are reinforcing bars for concrete. They are gradually gaining a layer of rust which I think adds to the look.

4. Seeds

I have got a number of seeds that are about to be started that would have graced the Dungeness garden. I am trying a number of types of sea holly. These formed part of our wedding flowers. I have a few in the border but they are not very exciting forms. I’m hopeful Miss Wilmott’s Ghost will take. It’s a white form that is very pretty. The story goes that Miss Wilmott used to carry around the seed and scatter it in peoples gardens if she thought the borders needed a bit of livening up. The other Dunganess staple I’m going to attempt is Crambe Maritima-sea kale. I want this for the dry raised beds I’m planting up at work. These are supposedly erratic in germinating and can take a long time so I don’t know if I’ll have success but I like to try new plants.

5. Metal

Derek Jarman’s garden had many twisty pieces of metal found on his walks. I have a few but have to be careful with a small child around. We do have some rusty metal around.. This decoration was made with a charity shop purchase and a rusty pole we had around.

6.Crowded borders

Other paradises: Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter up the road, Gardens that deny paradise: Hidcote Manor, known to us as Hideouscote, which is so manicured that not one plant seems to touch its neighbour. The National Trust must have a central nursery as all their gardens look like that.

You won’t find this in Great Dixter; It’s shaggy. If a garden isn’t shaggy, forget it.

I certainly couldn’t be accused of over tidiness and like many people with small gardens, I have filled every inch with plants. I’ve moved a few plants around in the front garden. I had two patches of Hakonechloa macra that had been buried by other growth. I’ve moved them to edge of the path to contrast with the Ophiopogon. Then I’ve bulked them out with some I bought from Wassand Hall’s plant bench.

The scaffolding came down this week so I have started the process of tidying the patio up and getting the garden back in order. It is looking nice. I’m rearranging the log stores, Alice’s mud kitchen and the mini-greenhouse. We have a seating area bench being delivered in a few weeks. So I’m aiming to have an area of practical stores and a seating area on the edge of the patio to look out onto the garden. I’d mentioned last week that I was looking to make a living wall off the wood store. So a few projects to get on with. I am looking to plant up a large pot with an autumn display this weekend with Alice. We could do with a good bright heuchera to finish it off. I’ll probably feature the results next week. Unless it looks terrible. Enjoy your weekends.

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25 thoughts on “Six on Saturday: 17.10.20 Derek Jarman”

    1. It isn’t as information heavy as say a Beth Chatto book but it’s interesting for being different. Working with winds and salt tolerance. Which is quite a common condition that doesn’t get included in things like RHS profiles.
      I’ve regretted picking some of the logs on the walk home. The largest one was a good mile down the beach from our house.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. That’s a very interesting post – thanks. I’ve been to Dungeness, but didn’t find Derek’s garden. A less likely place to be able to nurture a garden would be hard to find. The Crambe are hard to germinate. I’ve tried twice! I think soaking and maybe nicking the coat (a la sweet peas) helped a little. Good luck.

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  2. Oh I loved your post! Finding a new garden book is always exciting and there are several things I really liked in your garden as well! My favorite was the bricks on a stick! I have been to Great Dixter (and wrote a post or two about it) I thought it way overgrown! But, that is just me. I will have to look up Derek Jarman!

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    1. Derek’s garden was pretty sparse and not necesarily one anyone would think of as beautiful but interesting for the conditions faced and the ways it was coped with.
      I like the bricks. They were a practical solution to the the problem of the seagulls digging but have a scuptural aspect too.

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  3. I’m a fan of lawns……..not the manicured, perfect ones but a nice area of green is very restful – to me anyway. Your long shot shows who the garden is organised around. Just as it should be, of course. I have no interest in Grest Dexter for the same reasons, too regimented. Interesting Six-on-Saturday.

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    1. I’ve never visited Dixter, but been enjoying many of the online lectures they’ve put out recently. Fergus Garret talking about successional planting was excellent. My lawn is really just a requirement for a small child and a space for the clothes dryer. I could happily cut it down or add an island bed.


  4. A brilliant Jarman themed post. I’m intrigued by the lawn quote. He’s quite right of course and my lawn is indeed ragged but where else would my son play rugby or my daughters lie out in the sunshine? I have a notion to increase my border size and reduce the lawn but I haven’t the time to commit to it at the moment. One day…

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    1. There is a Beth Chatto quote along the lines of removing lawn for your first island bed being a right of passage for gardeners. I could happily cut mine back. More time goes into it than an other area and for no real satisfaction. I’m pretty sure Alice would enjoy hide and seek more with a jungle than the limited shrub hiding spots.


  5. I love all those garden ideas, especially the “shaggy” one! I love the look of a “messy” garden much more than formal ones. I am not familiar with Derek Jarman, so will be reading about him later. I miss beach-combing, it’s one of my favorite past-times and I haven’t done it in years, not having been to the coast in a long time. Your garden is lovely, perfectly shaggy!

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  6. Fascinating post with much to mull. (So different from mine, which was slapdash today!) The driftwood idea has been overused in coastal gardens, in my mind, but when used well is stunning, Hubby and I have been thinking more along the lines of adding fallen logs (more to suit our forest locale) near our patio waterfall to soften edges. 😉

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  7. The essence of Derek Jarman’s garden, I feel, is that he matched it perfectly with its setting – in fact, to such a degree that some would argue that it really wasn’t a garden at all. Re Great Dixter: I was a great fan of Christopher Lloyd’s writings and had read all his books before my first visit over twenty years ago. I left the garden and cursed – those around were spared as it was in another language – I cursed that he wrote fiction as I felt the garden didn’t live up to his hyperbole. The first time I walked into Beth Chatto’s garden I had that immediate feeling of loving it and it has lasted over the years. Reading Beth Chatto’s biography – she assisted hugely in its writing – was very revealing and you realise that much of what Christopher Lloyd wrote was, indeed, fiction or, at least, simply written because there was an audience for it – paper never refused ink!

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    1. I’ve never been to Dixter but interesting you describe it that way. I enjoy both Beth and Christo’s writing as they obviously had amazing knowledge of the plants they grew but I can see photos of Dixter don’t match much of what he discussed in his writing. But that was the thing a lot was written to entertain. But a lot of famous gardens seem to disappoint as people have ideas in their heads. My parents were disappointed with Sissinghurst last year as they said it was just a bit tatty. Poorly looking box hedges and in need of a good weed. So it goes.

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  8. Hooray!! So pleased to hear that the scaffolding has finally been removed! No doubt you have a lot of general gardening tasks to catch up on, as well as the new and exciting projects! I enjoyed your post, and it seems I have unwittingly incorporated some of his ideas into my garden (no lawn in the front garden, and very crowded borders are all part of my garden!). I do not have driftwood in my garden, only two old fencing posts, which create similar effects. I do love your brick spires, and the use of the metal bits to hold up the rope. Great post!

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