An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

April 26, 2012

A Small Homage to Derek Jarman's Garden

Years ago while browsing gardening books, I came across the title Derek Jarman's Garden.  Something in the recesses of my brain recognized that name, so I opened the book and was immediately intrigued by the images.  Further prodding of the gray matter helped me remember where that name came from.  I was transported back in time to a film appreciation course I took in college populated with people who enjoyed showing off their vocabulary and fawning over the professor.  Derek Jarman was a talented man primarily known for his films and his unapologetic fight for gay rights. In the final years of his life he created a garden at Prospect Cottage on the south coast of England at Dungeness. The tar covered cottage and its garden are situated in an exposed, stark landscape, within the shadow of a nuclear power station.  What draws me to this spot is its nearly bleak, windswept setting, the tough plants, and especially the use of flotsam (in my world one can never have too many pieces of flotsam, gifts from the sea they are).  While England is a country full of many remarkable and grand gardens, this is the one I want to see most.

(This picture is in the public domain and was copied from Wikipedia Commons)

While I have not deliberately copied ideas from Jarman's garden in my own, there are some similarities.  My friend D. has a cottage in Corova, NC a not easily accessible community in the dunes, just south of the Va. state line, and her wild garden there reminds me of Jarman's.  She and her boyfriend scour the beach and the local dump for material they use in found object sculptures set in the sand.  Gardening in Corova is very difficult, not only because of the sand, the salt and the exposure, but D. also has to contend with hungry wild horses.  She does a lot of her gardening in pots high up on the deck away from those big teeth.

Earlier this month we had some hypertufa pots go half price at work, and I took the opportunity to snatch up the only round planter and filled it with some tough drought tolerant plants.  I put in two varieties of Sempervivum, two different thymes and a blue spruce sedum.  I mulched with seashells and plopped a beach-weathered piece of copper down in the middle.  The final results reminded me of something that would be at home on the steps of Prospect Cottage.

New Planter (2)

New Planter

If you would like to get a good feel for what Derek Jarman's garden is like, click here to a Flickr set from Angus Fraser.


  1. In Beth Chatto's gravel garden book she has a sweet little account of botanizing with Christopher Lloyd and accidentally stumbling upon Derek Jarman's garden and their meeting with him.

    I remember the Jarman book too, from my days working at Barnes & Noble, but I never picked it up for my collection. I'm quite the opposite in planting style. There is a definite lack of negative space in my garden.

  2. Enjoyed your post very much. Enjoyed the Flicker photos also. Very original.

  3. I have such a fondness for that book and his garden. Would love to visit someday...

    Your planted container, while being a bit more lush, certainly captures the spirit.

  4. Such a contrast from the usual English garden but then you have to work with what you have and a spit of gravel land is what he had. I don't have this on the plans this year but one day I will go and visit as well as Beth Chatto's garden- which is a more contrived gravel garden. I love the planting in your hypertufa pot I must follow your example and give mine a better planting.

  5. Wow! Your garden is really gorgeous James. I really like the cactus!

  6. This book fascinated me. I discovered it when it was first published and I was working at the public library. I was familiar with Jarman's films before I knew he was a gardener. The book and garden had a haunting effect on me.

  7. Thank you Les, for reminding me of a garden that had faded from my memory.I think that those who garden in those inhospitable seaside locales are especially creative-they have to be, the sea can be a brutal neighbor.

  8. Love the planter you made.

  9. For these California eyes, it could be the Mojave, with those hardscrabble plants, widely spaced between stony soil, and collections of small odd rescued objects, yet there is the sea just by. Fascinating. Thanks!

  10. Just gorgeous.
    I like your potted composition, too, Les!

  11. I think it's Jarman's garden where I first saw Crambe maritima. Very nice homage, Les.

  12. Good looking pot filled with beauties. I hope you get to that English garden some day....

  13. Kaveh,
    I know what you mean about lack of negative space. If it were not for sidewalks and paths, I'd have none.

    Yes it is very unique. I wonder what the garden would have looked like if the Jarman had lived longer.

    The planter may not stay lush, I usually can't get the hens n' chicks to reproduce like they should.

    L. Rose,
    I would love to see it as well, but there are many more traditional gardens in England on my list also.

    Sheds Garden,
    I don't know which James you are referring to, but if he has a nice garden I'm in for a visit.

    I don't remember anything about his films from my class. I just know that what I thought would be an easy class, in relief to my others, was not.

    Yes the sea can be a brutal neighbor, but I would not want to live far from it.

    Thank you!

    The only desert I have ever been to was in southern Colorado, and not only is it dry, it gets way cold in the winter. This really limits the plant selection. I did however look as though what grew well, was in great abundance.

    Thank you!

    Another plant I probably can't grow.

    I hope so too.


  14. Hi Les, The house colors caught my eye first. A black cabin with bright yellow trim. Incredible! I like the whimsy of found objects, but my favourite thing about this style of gardening is the play of textures. And your little planter has texture is spades! I like that you mixed in a piece of metal and the shells. Your little planter would be perfect near my front bench. I am inspired.