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Derek Jarman's Garden


My mother recently took a bad fall (she is slowly healing, thank you) so I flew down to Texas for a few days. While she was in the hospital I came across a book in her library that I have skimmed many times but never bothered to read. A pity. Derek Jarman's Garden is a book that is so unique to the collected canon that it deserves a place on your bookshelf even if you have never set foot in a garden.

Derek Jarman (1942-1994) was an English film maker, writer, painter, set designer and activist who in the mid 1980's was diagnosed HIV positive. A private man but not afraid speak his mind (he had been a strong advocate for gay and lesbian issues for years) Jarman openly discussed his condition with the British public. During this time on a visit to the seashore near Dungenes he stumbled upon a fisherman's cottage for sale. The cottage had no soil, just rock and pebbles and was only a few hundred yards from a nuclear power station. As Jarman writes:

"When I came to Dungenes in the mid-eighties I had no thought of building a garden. It looked impossible, shingle with no soil supported a sparse vegetation. Outside the front door a bed had been built - a rockery of broken bricks and concrete: it fitted in well. One day, walking on the beach at low tide, I noticed a magnificent flint. I brought it back and pulled out one of the bricks. Soon I had replaced all the rubble with flints. They were hard to find, but after a storm a few more would appear. The bed looked great - like dragon's teeth white and grey. My journey to the sea each morning had purpose.

I decided to stop there; after all, the bleakness of Prospect Cottage was what had made me fall in love with it. At the back I planted a dog rose. Then I found a curious piece of driftwood and used this, and one of the necklaces of holey stones that I hung on the wall,to stake the rose. The garden had begun."

Over the last years of his life he continued to add to the garden. It is an amazing testament to adding life to an almost inhospitable environment. Beautiful photos by Howard Sooley . There is so much in this book to discover that I think I shall keep it from my mother. Don't tell her.


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