July 22, 2020
Surrounded by poppies, sea kale and a nuclear power station, the late director’s otherworldly cottage and garden in Kent have been saved for the nation. And now there’s good news for anyone who can’t wait to see inside
When the director and artist Derek Jarman began making his garden on the great shingle expanse outside his cottage in Dungeness, local fishermen feared something occult was afoot. “People thought I was building a garden for magical purposes,” Jarman said at the time, “a white witch out to get the nuclear power station.”
It’s not hard to see why. Approaching the black-tarred silhouette of Prospect Cottage, as you crunch your way across the otherworldly shingle desert on the tip of the Kent coast, you encounter a series of enigmatic stone circles bursting with red and yellow poppies. Driftwood totems rise above shaggy tufts of sea kale, while talismanic strings of pebbles dangle from rusting iron posts, above the metal balls of fishing floats emerging from clumps of gorse. The boxy hulk of a nuclear power station looms in the background, emitting a distant hum. It is one of the strangest, most magical garden scenes in the world – made no less so, back in the 90s, by the sight of Jarman in a hooded djellaba, pottering about among the blooms.