It’s hard not to consider the garden that Derek Jarman created in the last years of his life as metaphor for his struggles in the face of illness from AIDS.
Near the end of his life and already suffering from the disease, the gifted filmmaker moved just two hours from London but to a different planet altogether. He purchased a piece of property and an itinerant shack that he transformed into a garden and cottage. It is located on an unforgiving stretch of the English seaside and in the shadow of the Dungeness nuclear power station. The area was never a seaside resort as the waters were not suitable for swimming and the weather less than lovely, to say the least.
Dungeness is perhaps the most unlikely place for an English garden. The only plant life that really flourishes are indigenous species like blackthorn, sea kale and gorse. But Jarman loved the area’s otherworldly atmosphere and almost unnatural light. These elements were sympathetic to his exacting yet lush aesthetic and he became a magpie sculptor, adapting stones, driftwood, found objects and discarded tools as he intervened to shape his land.
On one side of Prospect Cottage, Jarman lettered the lines from a passionate lyric by John Donne. In deepest black they read:
BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.