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)


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)


“Nature’s Valentines” by Robin Lane Fox, The Financial Times

A recent article in The Financial Times by Robin Lane Fox discusses how artists and poets are using forms of nature as mediums for messages.

The term biosemiotics applies to the use of nature as a means of communication between living systems..

“Biiosemiotics is the study of the capacity of items in the natural world to enhance communication by their lines, structures or patterns” (Robin Lane Fox).

Diana Lynn Thompson is a Canadian artist who writes poetry on leaves. She also uses the lines and patterns insects trace on leaves as organic samples of ‘handwriting’ composed by the passages of slugs, caterpillars, etc.



Poet and artist Camilla Nelson inscribes words and messages into apples. Camilla carves words into young apples, and as the fruits grow so does the lettering. In October the apples can be harvested as memos, or be grouped as a visual apple poem.




The Means of Production Garden grows art materials for a collective of artists in Vancouver. It is a habitat – art as a growing environment that engages the senses within its collective life force.

The garden “engages the community in creating art and dialogue through a living and productive landscape. MOPARRC explores the use of natural materials to make art; harvesting crops, with a focus on interactive sculptures and instruments and gardening as an inclusive performative process. These activities create seasonal awareness, and forge intergenerational connections. The Means of Production Garden is an active studio, lab, social setting; with artists and public co-producing site specific artworks and events” (Sharon Kallis).

The garden is a public art installation, a site for gatherings, music, artists in residence and a place to learn about living art materials. Located within the grounds of a Vancouver park, the garden will be ten years old this year. The garden works in alliance with the Vancouver Parks Board, The Environmental Youth Alliance, The Community Arts Council of Vancouver, and Vancouver Arts and Culture.

The Means of Production Garden originally developed from the ideas of Oliver Kelhanmer, a Canadian land artist, writer and activist. He devised the garden as a biological intervention, which integrates art into the environmental consciousness of the local community. The garden is a living art form a social sculpting of the community landscape with socially engaging aesthetics.


Sharon Kallis, an artist from the Means of Production collective, harvests materials for her work as ‘an urban weaver’. Often using invasive species of plants (i.e. ivy and blackberry), Sharon creates coiled baskets, weavings, and circular compositions with community members of all ages. Sharon “works seasonally with what the landscape produces and creates site-responsive installations, which integrate the growing art materials of the local landscape.” Sharon (pictured below) was a guide to how the garden can be a resource, not only for artists, but for anyone interested taking refuge within its ecological aesthetics.



The People’s Apothecary Garden located behind the Vancouver Island College of Art (in Victoria, British Columbia), is a curatorial project produced by the Green Tongues Collective. “The People’s Apothecary is a herb garden, a commons, a sculpture, a political statement, a model for creating self-reliant communities, an intervention into exploitative state systems, a relationship with ourselves, the earth and each other” ( Serina Zapf, “The People’s Apothecary: Situating the Garden).

The herb garden acts as a living art installation, and an engaging and changing environment for learning, health, discussion, and social action.


Inspired by Oliver Kelhammer’s biological interventions, which act as both public art forms and acts of environmental activism, The People’s Apothecary is a sculpting of social space. Using organic gardening methods, the herb garden is a collective endeavour. Each participant contributes time, seeds, plants, mulching materials, and care. It is cultivated collectively and can be harvested by the community at any time. The garden is an example of community engaged artistic practice, that is regenerative and beyond the parameters of the gallery as an often clinical space.

The core principles of the Green Tongues Collective are:

1. To decentralise medicine, by making medicinal plants accessible to everyone.

2. To create spaces for the interconnection of wildlife, herbs, and humans.

3. To create empowering spaces where people can come together.

4. To make collective art (through gardening) as a way of encouraging critical thinking, collective action, participatory spaces, and as a means of escaping traditional divisions between artist/viewer.

5. To create spaces for conversation.

6. To empower participants to gain a deeper understanding and connection to their land and their health.

7. To create spaces that bring communities together in ways which weave together people, skills and land.



“The People’s Apothecary is life as art and art as life”

Hands of Earth Gallery

November 16, 2010

The Hands of Earth Gallery was part of the Sticky Fingers Mini Festival at Slieve Gullion Forest Park, County Armagh on October 16-17, 2010. The gallery offered opportunities for children and their parents to work within an outdoor woodland studio creating nature sculptures, suspended wire compositions, and small accordion books.

The outdoor art workshops were introduced by a tour of an indoor display space filled with ideas for making artworks from walks in nature. The goal was to encourage families to develop their own nature gallery at home, using autumn and winter walks as the basis for creating artworks.

The idea of setting aside a dedicated area in the home to display the ramblings of family walks, can develop over time a visual diary of not only family outings, but showcases the different perspectives of family members. Each member of the family creates in their own way, making the marks, forms and shapes that are personally significant. As a result, the home gallery is an assembling of different personalities and their efforts to portray individual experiences.

The Hands of Earth outdoor studio was situated underneath a tree canopy embedded with fallen autumn leaves, offering a sense of enclosure and retreat. The natural art materials used within the gallery and workshops were moss, bog, river water, clay, branches, leaves, sheep’s wool, pine cones, and charcoal. Photography and words describing the experiences of adults and children were also explored within the outdoor studio. Working underneath enveloping trees, within the light of kerosene lamps, children and adults were co-artists, collaborating on a shared passage within the forest.

The methods of making the artworks were inspired by the practices of contemporary artists working with nature. Many artists working outdoors use weather conditions, earth, plants, trees, weeds and flowers to instigate not an illustration of nature, but an exploration of transience, feeling, thoughts, and a physical response to landscape.

Sticky Fingers Early Years Arts can be found on Facebook. Sticky Fingers is an arts company for very young children in Ireland and the UK. Their programme spans early years theatre, music, visual arts and dance, as well as accredited arts training for artists and early years professionals.

A retreat with ochre and slate cliffs, shorelines, and woodlands. Spaces for sketching, writing, imprinting earth pigments, making lines and shapes with nature, and collaborating with women artists in North Wales. The Creative Arts Retreat in Anglesey is facilitated by two land artists Marged Pendrell and Helen Grove-White, who blend information on the practices of contemporary land art, with art making outdoors and within an indoor studio setting. The retreat combines observation, focussed landscape-directed artistic practice, photography, writing, drawing, crafting three-dimensional natural forms, and consolidating all these experiences into handmade books and displays documenting the emergent process. The result is a treasury of markings, words, pictures and collected landscape materials brought together as both a personal assemblage of experiences and a collection of conversations with colleagues on the retreat.

The photos are scraped lines made with a stone, across a slate and ochre cliff meeting a shoreline.