an artist’s garden


About a week ago I wrote about some garden art we’d installed to hold up some flowering plants. One commenter in that post mentioned Derek Jarman’s garden in Kent, England, including a link to wonderful photos of it as well as mentioning Jarman’s book. I was immediately captivated.

A few days later, a package arrived at our door, containing the book Derek Jarman’s Garden! It’s a lovely surprise gift by that commenter, J, who is our son-in-law, presently working in England (our daughter and their two girls are visiting here). I knew artist, filmmaker and writer Derek Jarman was a hero of J’s just from seeing his large collection of that artist’s books and films.

I didn’t know that gardening was a life-long passion of Jarman’s and that he spent the last years of his short life building this unique garden at his cottage on the shingle beach of Dungeness, next to a nuclear power plant. He kept a journal about the experience, while photographer Howard Sooley captured rich images of him and the garden, even assisting in plantings. Jarman hunted and carried back many stones, weathered wood pieces and rusty objects from his walks on the shore and created magical installations amongst the plants and shingle. Jarman’s partner Keith Collins wrote a lovely preface and assisted in the publication, done after Jarman’s death.

Only a few hours after receiving the book, and it being a very rainy day, I was drawn into this little beauty, absolutely swept in and loving the photos and the writing, finishing it at bedtime with a happy glow. Here is one of many many favourite passages from Jarman’s writing:

At first, people thought I was building a garden for magical purposes – a white witch out to get the nuclear power station. It did have magic – the magic of surprise, the treasure hunt. A garden IS the treasure hunt, the plants the paperchase.

I invest my stones with the power of those at Avebury. I have read all the mystical books about ley-lines and circles – I built the circles with this in mind. The circles make the garden perfect – in winter they take over from the flowers. There was magic and hard work in finding the coloured stones for the front: white, difficult: grey, less so; red, very rare.

I was amazed at how much beauty was achieved in such a harsh environment. By no means can I compare myself to such a wonderful gardener (as well as writer and artist). I think the lush rainforest of our Pacific Northwest area is one huge garden of its own, in the midst of which we try to make our own little mark, our little piece of paradise on earth. This book has inspired me to look at my garden in a slightly different way, encouraging me to continue to add more personal touches after installing the rust pieces mentioned earlier. I unearthed some forgotten artifacts in the garden shed, like these rusty old garden tools and Greek goat bells, very modest things to add to the various stones and rocks from beaches here and there. Time for more beach and junkyard combing, methinks!

Thank you so much for this inspiring book, J, I will treaure it!

Oh, and isn’t it interesting that this conversation started with the other son-in-law making the wonderful rust garden supports, with daughter Elisa‘s suggestion? I am lucky.


Later: J sent me some excellent links for further reading and viewing if you are interested:

article by Howard Sooley
Howard Sooley’s website
more writing at the Guardian
a “letter” from Tilda Swinton, the actress, and good friend of Jarman’s mentioned a few times in the book

Plus, I forgot to add this article about the Dungeness area

July 11, 2011 in Being an Artist, Books, Other artists by Marja-Leena