Derek Jarman’s Garden

September 9, 2015

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Photo: Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness photographed by Howard Sooley (The Guardian)

Derek Jarman (1942-1994) was an English film director, artist, writer, stage designer and gardener. His garden journals, design reflections and nature based artworks are profiled in his book Derek Jarman’s Garden. Written before his death the book crusades the proliferation of personality in every garden, rather than codification and regulation. Out of a shore composed of flint and shingle, and near a nuclear power station in Dungeness, Kent, Jarman created a gardening legacy that acts as a stage for not only his own personal experiences, but a catalyst for the pursuits of others who follow his example. An activist opposed to lawns, garden chemicals and the dictation of order, Jarman encouraged a garden’s anarchy and wild abandon. His garden was without borders and conventions, extending in all directions and inwards to meet the realities of landscapes both human and natural. His home, a restored fishing cottage, became his sanctuary and studio for forays into various forms of contemplation and artistic enterprise. The garden is still today infused with the magic of surprise. “I saw it as a therapy and a pharmacopoeia” (Derek Jarman), its essential nature to assist with the experiencing of life cycles.

You can’t take life for granted in Dungeness: every bloom that flowers through the shingle is a miracle, a triumph of nature. Derek knew this more than anyone. (Howard Sooley, “Derek Jarman’s Hideaway”, The Guardian, February 17, 2008)

Jarman’s stone circles and standing stones offered a degree of geometric energy and some symmetry in relation to the random planting and self-seeding of both cultivated and wild plants. Throughout his garden were also placed collections of driftwood, metal, garlands of stones, and treasures found along the sea shore.

The garden is full of metal; rusty metal corkscrew clumps, anchors from the beach, twisted metal, an old table-top with a hole for an umbrella, an old window, chains which form circles round the plants…An arch, a hook, a line, a shellcase -warlike once; a chain that has rusted to form a snake by the front door, more chimes made of triangles of rusty iron; all this-and the float that looks like an exotic fruit – introduces a warm brown which contrasts nicely with the shingle (Derek Jarman)

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Photo: Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness photographed by Terry O’Neill (The Guardian)

Jarman gave his garden a certain narrative; perhaps he treated it a bit like a film or theatre set. His films were visionary, eccentric, romantic and rebellious, all of which could also be said about his garden. The plants were distinct players in the action…He put wild with cultivated, made art out of rubbish and declared the garden a gallery where nature played the most important part. He sought refuge in his garden, but chose a setting with no boundaries, where everything is an edge: shingle, sea, sun, wind all shifting and changing…It is a weird and wonderful place, but in many ways humble: a small house, a tiny garden, yet the maker showed us all how wild and brilliant our own spaces can be if we’re prepared to look sympathetically at the landscape around us, to make room for the flotsam and weeds in life as much as the jewels. (Alys Fowler, “Gardens: Planting on the Edge in Derek Jarman’s Garden”, The Guardian, September, 24, 2014)