Dungeness & a Paradise Garden

22 Jun

This month I managed quite an impressive feat -I visited the most north westerly point in Britain – Port Nis , on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and Dungeness in Kent, the most south easterly point. A distance of 764 miles !

Whilst in Kent visiting the lovely Great Dixter and Sissinghurst, many people said we must make a detour to Dungeness, and they were so right.

Built on one of the largest shingle peninsulas in Europe, the land is as flat as can be, with long straight roads , huge skies and the looming spectre of the nuclear power station. The area is now a nature reserve and SSSI, with a vast unique flora and fauna.

It is a compelling landscape, strangely not dominated by the sea, as you can’t actually see the sea until you climb the shingle bank down to the beach. There are now sturdy boardwalks to take you past the abandoned wooden fishing boats, across the shingle to protect the plant life and ground from further erosion.

A narrow road takes you towards the power station past numerous little beach chalets. Many date back to the 1930s and many barely look habitable but times are changing and there are now several that have been given the ‘Kevin McLoud – Grand Designs’ makeover with black stained cladding, picture windows and wooden decks. These are now exchanging hands for ridiculous sums of money.

Walking through this slightly eerie landscape – (I can imagine they used to rehouse recently released murderers in some of the little run down chalets – or is that just me ! ) you suddenly come across an absolute gem in the shingle – the chalet and garden of the late film director Derek Jarman.

Derek Jarman acquired Prospect Cottage in 1986 and set about restoring the landscape around it, using only the native salt loving plants , driftwood and beachcombed finds. Most of the chalets along the road don’t have defined boundaries so this garden just melds naturally into the surrounding shingle.

Derek Jarman spend 8 years happily nurturing his garden, before succumbing to aids in 1994. He documented his time at Prospect Cottage in a book Derek Jarman’s garden published in 1995. He remarked that ” Paradise haunts gardens, and some gardens are paradises. Mine is one of them. Others are like bad children, spoilt by their parents, over-watered and covered with noxious chemicals.
The book is illustrated with beautiful photographs and Derek’s haunting prose and poetry.

It wasn’t until I got home that I suddenly remembered that I had a copy of the book, given to me by my husband years ago. At the time I flicked through the pictures but it didn’t really say anything to me. But now, having been there, I have been entranced by Derek’s writing and the gorgeous photography and saddened by his slow demise. He really did seem to feel part of the landscape and got such strength from the day to day beauty of his garden. If anyone wants to read beautiful writing about plants and landscape I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

A small extract to give you a flavour….

The everlasting pea has little scent, neither do the horehound and the Nottingham catchfly. Acrid poppies make you sneeze and leave smudges of black on the end of your nose. The dog rose has a scent unlike other roses – less smooth, with a kick in it. The foxgloves that march like soldiers in platoons along the lake have a scent that is hardly present at all.

The seaweed’s back.

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2 Responses to “Dungeness & a Paradise Garden”

  1. Penny Padovani June 22, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Yes I remember that book well, it is a real gem. Have always wanted to go and visit the place, but never seem to be around that part of the world. Will make a supreme effort next time I am over. What did you think of Sissinghurst?
    Enjoyed my chat with Guy, but do tell him to talk a little slower when he talks with his ageing Aunt!

    • Emma Webber June 22, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

      Hi pen ! It’s def worth a visit ! Sissinghurst was very crowded even first thing in a Monday morning and even tho it had beautiful elements was slightly disappointing. I’ll have words with guy !!

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