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Our August Book of the Month is perfect for the gardeners among us - Derek Jarman’s Garden. Gallery Welcome Assistant, Suzy, tells us her thoughts about what was Jarman's last book before he passed away.

Derek Jarman’s Garden with photographs by Howard Sooley
Published by Thames & Hudson

RRP £16.95 (with 10% discount for Gallery members)

Part memoir, part gardening notebook, part love letter to Dungeness, this short book was Derek Jarman’s last.  His simple, poetic prose evokes a sense of space and otherness that fits the landscape of Dungeness, with its bleak sea winds and burning sun.

In an unlikely place for a garden, Jarman gradually created a small landscape of great beauty, with harmonious juxtapositions of humble plants, rusty, sculptural tools, stones, and poetry. Howard Sooley would drive Jarman from London to Prospect Cottage (Jarman’s Dungeness home) via various nurseries, helping Jarman develop the garden and taking many photographs, which here complement Jarman’s text perfectly.

Jarman’s HIV diagnosis was part of what prompted him to move to Prospect Cottage in 1986.  His description of the beauty and tenacity of the sea kale - radioactive from the effects of the power station but with roots 20 feet long that survive the storms - is as poignant as his brief account of a stay in an AIDS ward.  At the end of his life he was able to leave hospital for a last visit to Monet’s garden at Giverny, which is almost the last thing in the book: the photographs show him thin and holding a walking stick but still dressed with panache, vibrant in his red hat among the flowers.    

This book has the potential to inspire those who want to garden in harmony with their own particular piece of the landscape and to encourage those going through challenging experiences.  Jarman’s description of the work and therapy of gardening through difficult times in a difficult location is both moving and reassuring.  In a place like Dungeness where the sense of the overwhelming power of time and the elements is very strong, our efforts to carve out some little space where we may leave our mark may seem futile, yet they are life-affirming all the same.  

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19 August, 2016
Written by Suzy Trevethan