On a clear sunny day at the end of summer I finally made it to Prospect Cottage, in Dungeness. I’ve known about Prospect Cottage for so many years that I can’t remember how I first found out about it. A Southbank Show about Derek Jarman perhaps?

I‘d been planning a visit to the cottage for some time for research and possible inspiration, for a planting scheme project on the Dorset Coast. Coastal gardens have a very challenging microclimate. They are less inclined to frost but face the wind and those winds are salty, something many plants can’t cope with.

Coastal Plants

Prospect Cottage is situated on the Dungeness shingle spit, one of the largest areas of shingle in Europe, a coastal headland, in Kent at the most south westerly tip of the county. For anyone who knows anything about geomorphology, it’s an interesting area as it’s created by the action of long-shore drift which shelters the low lying Romney Marsh. The headland and marsh are a nature reserve (SSSI), I am such a nerd 😉

Prospect Cottage
John Donne poem "The Sun Rising"

Painted in tar, it’s simply a black wood shack by the sea however it is indeed charming. One side is decorated with lines from the John Donne poem “The Sun Rising“. Jarman created the garden as therapy after being diagnosed with HIV.

On researching this blog I discovered that Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd visited this garden in 1990 (it’s not far from Great Dixter), and the Prospect Cottage Garden is said to be the inspiration for Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden, in Essex, covered in a previous blog…so there you go, every days a school day!

The garden is basically a salty builder’s yard with virtually no soil, definitely a hostile environment. Jarman made the most of this challenge by sticking with local natives and hardy Mediterranean planting.

Builders yard
The garden has a number of natives; crambe aritima, sea thrift, daucus carota, echium vulgare, valerian, gorse, yellow rattle, rosa rogusa, fennel and teasel.
Rosa
Sedum
As well as Meconopsis camerica poppies, sedum, heathers, Santolina, vinca and pots of iris and agapanthus, which were probably introduced by Jarman, although it’s hard to say for sure.
Santolina
Valerian
He did add manure from the local farm to help support the planting which is probably how he managed to grow the fig in a sheltered spot at the back of the cottage.
Fig
It’s more an artful arrangement of found objects than a garden, driftwood and flotsom from beach combing. Rather than a show of planting and there’s a sense that the plants were left to self-seed in places. Anyone that knows me knows I love a beachcombing, so I felt very at home.
Flotsam

The cottage and garden have been saved for the nation by an ArtFund fundraising campaign in early 2020 and its definitely more art than garden but none the less I loved it. My friend and I spent a tranquil hour just contemplating the space and enjoying views to the horizon juxtaposed with the power station.

It made me realise how great the eye of a film director needs to be, its wonderful in its decrepitude as it slowly rusts away, and nothing erodes faster than in coastal air! I wonder if the fund will just let it rust to dust or will they try to preserve it?

Artful

In case you don’t know, Derek Jarman was a 1980’s film maker, artist and gay rights activist, famous for openly discussing his battle with HIV and AIDS. He died in 1994 of an AIDS related illness. He made a film and wrote a book about the garden spanning the time from his diagnosis to death, giving it a cultural significance which is truly poignant.