Everyone has a shingle beach. A story about time and perseverance
On the last 100 metres of the English coast before it falls into the ocean is a garden of unique beauty. It existsin an inhospitable place. It’s a garden that lives on the edge of the world. Nature is at her most ferocious — wind blasting the landscape, beating at the shore with salty fists, roasting everything with fiery sun, drowning the unwitting with relentless rain. There is no soil, just shingle that strips skin from fingers. Creating a garden in such a landscape seemed … impossible.
On that beach is an old fisherman’s clapboard hut restored by the artist, filmmaker, writer and poet Derek Jarman. Derek named it Prospect Cottage. On one side of the house Jarman had put up John Donne’s most famous poem about love, and belonging, ‘The Sun Rising’. It was here that he created and planted his garden of gorse, sea kale, santolina and wild flowers, organised around the found flotsam of a beachcomber-cum-artist.
In his book Derek Jarman’s Garden, he ignites our senses like flints to tinder. He sparks our imaginations to create something not only from meagre means, but something of great beauty. He invites us to smell the salt and the wild flowers, to listen to the old wooden hut creaking as if to burst under a heavy gale, to feel the warmth of the sun upon the shingle as the soporific hum of a bee plays in the background, to marvel at the sheer resilience of the plants that thrive here – weaving as he does a magical spell.
I treasure his book because Jarman lights us up with his spirit of creative optimism, more potent because he knew he was dying. I have gardened for over 30 years and know what it means to commit to a bare patch of land, turning it into its own form of paradise.
Jarman wrote that ‘paradise haunts gardens and some gardens are paradises. Mine is one of them’.
We all have a shingle beach. How can we make it beautiful?