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."