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.
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 😉
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.
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?
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.