Derek Jarman was drawn to Dungeness by its desolate character; he used it as the setting for his film The Last of England, an allegory on the social and sexual inequalities in England under Thatcherism. Later that year he was diagnosed as HIV positive, and while his public life became increasingly dedicated to gay rights issues, he devoted his private life to the creation of a garden at Prospect Cottage, a fisherman’s house on a huge bank of shingle on the Kent coast.
Jarman was a relatively inexperienced gardener, and given the inhospitable conditions at Dungeness he initially had little hope of establishing a garden. But he succeeded with the help of friends, especially the photographer Howard Sooley, using local plants and gathering flints and stones to form large circular beds and standing stones, or ‘dragon’s teeth’. He also collected old fishing tackle, shells, broken garden tools, driftwood and pieces of twisted metal from old sea defences, using them as plant supports and garden sculptures. The front garden was more formal, the back garden more experimental, although there are no fences of walls anywhere.
Jarman’s garden featured in his 1989 film War Requiem, and in the following year was the focal point of The Garden, ‘a parable about the cruel and unnecessary perversion of innocence’ where it figured both as the Garden of Eden and the garden at Gethsemane.