This week I have been mostly reading… ‘Derek Jarman’s Garden’. Written by the man himself it’s a beautiful glossy green book full of colour and black-and-white photographs and pages of history on how the garden came to be.
It was given to me by Bobba because he liked my poem ‘Dungeness Sonnet’ which mentions the garden in an iambic-pentameter trawl of Dungeness, finishing up at the power station. Dungeness is a special space; the edge of the land, a place formerly known as ‘the fifth quarter’ because it was out on a limb, a liminal space at the very edge of England.
The garden is very unusual; built on the shingle surrounding an old fisherman’s cottage, it is planted with sea-kale, poppies and other indigenous plants, interspersed with driftwood, flints and found objects. It’s a garden in harmony with its environment, unlike so many gardens inland which he lambasts for being composed of monocultured lawns and huge, non-indigenous flowers. In between the photos, mostly taken by his partner Howard, he gives a suitably rambling and vague history of the garden and how it came to be. There are some poems, too, which he wrote after Howard died – and all of this gives us a real flavour of the man himself.
Aids stalks the background to this book in the same way that the nuclear power station looms in the hinterland of many of the photos: it’s hard to believe now that less than 20 years ago many gay men died of Aids, which was self-righteously called ‘the gay plague’ by the tabloid press.
I thoroughly recommend this book; it could do duty as a coffee-table book, but not only as a coffee-table book. It’s worth reading and re-reading; in fact it is worth living with.