1 Apr 2010

Prospect Cottage … (part 2 of my Perch and Prospect Day)

I had a long held wish to see the seaside garden created by film-maker and artist, Derek Jarman, on the shingle at Dungeness in Kent.  A short(ish) drive south-east from Perch Hill via Rye would bring us to Prospect Cottage and, with great excitement, that was added to the plan.  Strangely, given the fame of its creator, on arrival (through wind and rain) we found that the cottage and garden is now a private residence - I half expected that it would be kept open as a place of interest - a handwritten note on the door asks that visitors refrain from peering in the windows and taking photos without prior written permission. Oops, I hastily backed away.

The cottage boundaries are not marked by fences so it is possible to walk around without trespassing.  After a reviving thimble of tea (I forgot the mugs and we had to drink from the lid of the flask), - and a delicious cream slice thoughtfully provided by my co-conspirator, Leigh - I circumnavigated the black hub of the cottage from a distance, spiralling my way inwards as it seemed that (with great good fortune) nobody was at home.  I didn't want to get too close but every angle of the garden revealed fantastic treasures, even at this time of year and in this harsh windswept environment.

Derek Jarman wrote about the evolution of the garden in his book 'derek jarman's garden', worth looking at for Howard Sooley's photographs and packed with wonderful stories.  I empathise when Derek Jarman writes, "I can look at one plant for an hour, this brings me great peace."

In his lifetime, the garden was filled with vegetables and herbs - grown in raised beds so that the roots wouldn't absorb any waste from the nearby power station.  Plants were tested for survival with poppies, sweet peas, sea-kale, viper's bugloss (native to Dungeness), pinks, night-scented stock,  nasturtiums and wild flowers like Nottingham catchfly and pea vetch doing well.  Lavender also thrived.  Sea-ephemera was added between the plants,  brought back after long dawn walks along the beach, especially when storms (frequent) had shifted the shingle.

The corkscrew poles supporting sweet-peas were originally fence posts driven into the shingle during the war to support anti-tank fencing when it was thought England might be invaded.  I must go back in the summer to see if sweet peas still grow there.  For now, in its winter guise, the garden is silver-green and brown; the santolinas (cotton lavender) flourish, as does the gorse, but little else has sprung into life - which makes the sudden sight of lime-green euphorbia or a lone daffodil (surprisingly!) so stunning.

This garden for me was the cherry on the cake of my day of garden visiting; Perch Hill was inspirational but, before I lived in London, I mostly lived by the sea and am a beach-comber at heart.  I have driftwood art and boxes of hag-stones, glass jars of sea-washed glass and sweetshop jars of shells and beach stones, matchboxes filled with fossils of shark's teeth and an old sailor's chest filled with the flotsam and jetsam of beach walks (rope, driftwood, crab shells).  I quite simply fell in love with Prospect Cottage and Dungeness.  Life on the beach (even in the shadow of Europe's biggest nuclear power station) must be very uplifting, if slightly surreal and solitary. Eventually the weather clamped down again over Dungeness,  hiding the enormous power station and, buffeted by strong winds, we drove off through the drizzling mist.  As they say in the movies: I'll be back. 

Here, though, are a couple more of my favourite photos from the day:

And, finally, perhaps more apt now than ever, John Donne's poem fixed to the West wall of the cottage:

The Sunne Rising
Busie old foole, unruly Sunne,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide
Late schoole boyes and sowre prentices,
Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
Call countrey ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time…
Thou sunne art half as happy as wee,
In that the world's contracted thus.
Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
to warme the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls thy spheare.



  1. What good fortune for you to find it empty on the day you went. You managed to get lots of good photos. Hope you have a good Easter with your family.

  2. Hi Jo! I didn't get as many photos as I would have liked - the weather was against us, what with strong winds joggling the camera, drizzle and it being very cold. I imagine it's a lovely place in the summer so next time I think I'll write to them first to ask permission to have a browse. Caro x

  3. Caro the garden looks like a great place to visit. I saw it was on your wish list. I have been to Dungeness as my mum lives in Folkstone and Dungeness is at the end of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. So I now have somewhere to visit next time I am in Kent. Lynda

  4. Hi - have come here via Jo at the good life. You've visited two of the places on my wish list but I live in Wiltshire now so both are a weekend away at least. Have been scouring SR's website for special offers. I found some similar squash seeds at Wilkinson's. Am sure they won't be the same!


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