Monday, 24 August 2009

Desolate Dungeness?

The Socks had business in Kent yesterday so decided to throw in a visit to Derek Jarman's garden, Prospect Cottage at Dungeness. The Sock had thought that the garden was actually near Whitstable on the rather more attractive north Kent coast and was surprised to find it sandwiched in between the south Kent Cinque Ports*. Distant memories conjured up visions of a forlorn and desolate drabness from Dymchurch round to Camber sands.

The Sock had formed a picture of a lone cottage out in the wilderness against the gloomy, bleak back-drop of the nuclear power station at Dungeness. This may be true in winter but the reality, on a warm summer Sunday was somewhat less dramatic. A small road, busy with holiday-makers, runs a few hundred metres back from the unprepossessing seashore and Prospect is one of quite a few similar clapboard cottages that line it. Far from menacing, the backdrop of the nuclear power station in the near distance actually looked rather jolly.

An open top London bus was running people along the road to visit the power station and behind the cottages a little train transported yet more to the visitor centre, surrounding pubs, cafés, fish smokeries and galleries passing off sea-detritus as art. The Sock found the reality all rather more grim than the strange beauty of her imagined gloomy, wind-ravaged wasteland.

Prospect Cottage is surrounded by shingle and its view extends uninterrupted (except by visitors' cars) across the road, across the inhospitable landscape to the sea horizon.

No actual walls delineate it from its neighbours and although the garden isn't open to the public there is nothing to stop you viewing it from the road. Eager to wander around the garden area the Sock was informed by some other visitors that the owner was happy for people to explore and photograph the garden but draws the line at pictures being taken through the cottage windows. This seemed very generous to the Sock as even just the sound of gravel crushed beneath the traipsing tourist feet must get rather wearing - luckily there was no-one in residence on Sunday.

So, to the garden... it was certainly very attractive and evocative combining the lovely blue-grey of seakale and santolina with the bright yellow horned poppies, and rusting metal artefacts.

Driftwood, pebbles, an old boat with ancient peeling paint, reclaimed wooden seagroins and.... wait a minute... wasn't Toby Buckland starting a similar seaside garden on Gardeners' World last week? (You remember - the rivetting episode where viewers were treated to the sight of Joe and Toby sheltering under a hastily erected pop-up gazebo and attempting to construct a sandy seaside garden in the heavily puddled clay beneath their feet!) Sea gardens are beautiful and fascinating but in the Sock's mind they really do belong by the sea.

And this is the problem for the Sock - it is gorgeous and because of that Derek Jarman's concept has been massively over-emulated and turns up everywhere, even in Birmingham one of the most land-locked towns in Britain.

Does this matter? Well yes, because the original idea is now so copied that the Sock found it difficult to believe that the interesting rusting iron and twisted metal artefacts were reclaimed from the landscape rather than bought at some expensive garden sculpture show. Some of the rods looked almost identical to the ones the Sock bought at the Malvern Show earlier this year and to the Socks certain knowledge ones bought at Chelsea are holding up a clematis somewhere in the backwaters of Belgium at this very moment! The decaying beached boat seemed clichéd. Even the cottages alongside vie for 'most interesting display constructed from flotsam and jetsam'.

The Sock feels that Derek Jarman's garden is definitely a victim of its own success.

* Is there anyone out there who wasn't taught about the Cinque ports when they were at school? Naming these must surely be one of the most popular pub quiz questions along with "Name a British town that ends with a punctuation mark."


emmat said...

This is lovely, and your point about the rusty cliches is interesting, I know what you mean. But more importantly, I NEVER learned the cinque ports at school in fact I have no idea what they are!!!!! I feel CHEATED! And my school was very EXPENSIVE!

Arabella Sock said...

Good Lord! What an unpluggable gap in your education - remind me never to have you on my pub quiz team (unless you are good at any kind of sports questions).

The important thing to remember is that the cinque is pronounced sink so these are sink towns - a bit like sink estates probably, certainly true in the case of Hastings.

Also (and I did cheat by looking at Wikipedia here)

A Royal Charter of 1155 established the ports to maintain ships ready for the Crown in case of need. In return the towns received:-

"Exemption from tax and tallage,
Right of soc and sac,
tol and team, blodwit and fledwit, pillory and tumbril,
infangentheof and outfangentheof, mundbryce, waives and strays, flotsam and jetsam and ligan"


Do we think that James A-S will be able to translate that accurately without cheating? (and preferably give some examples of blodwits).

Victoria said...

The very mention of the Cinque Ports makes me want to 'cinque' into a deep sleep. Especially since most of them are now so drab.
Unlike Westward Ho! which sounds a very exciting place indeed. The idea of naming a town after a book is wonderful. Almost as good as Truth or Consequences in New Mexico, which renamed itself after a radio show.

VP said...

I didn't learn about them either!!!!!!!!

Do you have the right of soc and sac too Arabella?

Derek Jarman's garden's been on my list for quite a while too, but now I'm not so shore (sure - geddit?)

At some point this week The Guardian might publish my piece on garden visits - you've just highlighted another example of the kind of issues I'm talking about. However, your example has an interesting twist as the garden's not actually open to the public.

VP said...

Oops - that's the blog, not the newspaper...

VP said...

PS Sounds like Victoria's made it onto the quiz team...

Boo hoo - I'm brilliant at quizes - except for the Cinque Port specialist round of course!

emmat said...

I can name all the Hanseatic states though. And they were like, way bigger than the cinque ports.

My word verif is 'muttera'. Is that a sexy female dog superhero?

emmat said...

PS Right of Soc is wicked

JamesA-S said...

I knew the Cinque Ports and the exclamation mark town. I did, honestly, Miss.
But I must admit that I couldn't translate all of the charter even though my edukayshun was as expensive as Miss Townshend's.
(By the way,I am really impressed with her ability to name the Hanseatic states.)
I will remember blodwits and fledwits however - especially as Kate the organic gardener is getting uppity about socks again!

HappyMouffetard said...

Another one owning up to lack of education. though I will try to make up for it by using the word "mundbryce" in general conversation tomorrow.

Arabella Sock said...

Emma can be on the pub quiz team as she has totally redeemed herself with the Hanseatic states! Victoria and James passed the test too.

HappyM may yet redeem herself with use of mundbryce.

VP - Sorry.. we cannot make you a pubquiz member.

Ms B said...

But don't we all want to create gardens that don't 'belong' in the natural environment: from small things like a plant from S Africa, to tree ferns or palms & larger exotics to jungle gardens & indeed the seaside garden to which you have been referring. (I seem to recall the sainted Alan creating some kind of beach garden at Barleywood). I guess it is when you see what some might call the 'real thing' that you realise you cannot really emulate it in suburban SW London or indeed elsewhere.

I did not learn about the cinque ports.

Arabella Sock said...

It was the sainted AT who built the Barleywoods beach, Ms B., and I didn't like that either.

I think that for me it isn't the use of plants not belonging - Jarman himself used mediterranean shrubs that adapted well to the surroundings - it is the 'themed' and 'clichéd' aspect that jars. Like filling a garden with South African plants is fine but creating a rockery in the shape of Table Top mountain might be going just a tad too far.

On the other hand I do confess that in my dreams I have a huge walled garden with a separate area given over to a Japanese tea garden style. Now I think I will have to re-dream that aspect of it.

I think that originally one of the charms of Prospect Cottage would have been a fairly seamless integration of the garden into the landscape. Now I wonder if less interesting, rusty metal artefacts might have been more. I wouldn't have been so nit-picking if it wasn't for the ubiquitousness of this stuff.

jro said...

I've been there in the winter, and then it is truly bleak and far more like your previous mental image. Not a soul in sight, all the annuals in neighbouring gardens have died back and the bare bones of Jarman's garden are shown up far more clearly. In fact, I have seen it several times, but not recently - it sounds far busier now than it did ten years ago, when the only commercial enterprise was a fresh fish hut.

emmat said...

I do like the idea of an open topped bus tour to the nuclear reactor though... how terribly innocent and 1950s

Arabella Sock said...

I wonder if that is why Cliff Richards looks so young - he got irradiated!

jro said...

No, don't be silly. It's because he's a vampire.

VP said...

Harrumph!!!!! :(
(wanders off to fetch the tape of her TV appearance on a quiz show...)

Arabella Sock said...

Oh dear - poor VP.. never mind I did like your blog for the Guardian which I would have replied to on the blog but I keep being thrown off people's comment sections due to some glitch on my computer. Anyway, I absolutely abhor the idea of 'timed' visits to gardens it seems to go against everything that gardens should be about with the possible exception of somewhere like the Eden Project. I was glad I found out about Sissinghurst as it was on this years list of places to revist and I think Great Dixter will have to be avoided at weekends which means I can't go with the Bedsock.

Simon said...

Where's Kent?