||Gardens on the beach
Throughout this book we have spoken at length about the problems brought about by exposing plants – and gardens – to the wind, and also about the harmful effects of salt spray. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than when you garden right on the shoreline. In the flats of a river estuary, or in the dunes of a beach facing the prevailing wind, there will be so many obstacles to overcome it is only the dedicated and the brave who can create a worthy garden.
Only the toughest of plants will survive this situation. Choosing them carefully is critical, especially when you bear in mind that they should also be, at least in part, decorative.
There is a handful of such exposed beach gardens that have attracted worldwide acclaim, despite the disadvantages of their position. One such garden – that of the late film director Derek Jarman, at Dungeness in the county of Kent, southeast England – has attracted a degree of controversy as well. Is it a carefully crafted artist’s garden full of hidden meaning and great depth? Or is it merely a selection of disparate plants and flotsam set out on a beach in a random way?
Prospect Cottage, Kent, UK
Since his death in 1994, filmmaker Derek Jarman has in some ways had his reputation as a director and painter been eclipsed by the notoriety of his garden. His final, and some would say most improbable, incarnation was as a gardener. He kept diaries and made a film whereby he chronicled the creation of the garden at Prospect Cottage, an old fisherman’s dwelling built of tarred timber. With the towering Dungeness power station as a backdrop, the garden was fashioned out of local materials, driftwood, beach pebbles, and plants able to survive the whipping wind and salt spray.
There are no boundaries or fences to the garden – just endless shingle beach. The environment is harsh: baking sun and drying winds in summer, with no shade to be had for miles in any direction, and in winter the sea storms are laced with salt water and, often, biting Siberian winds.
To be honest, there is not much planting to see, and you will not stay around long. However, the setting is stunning (see page 188 for details).
Plan: A Beach Garden
By following this plan, a beach gardener would be able to re-create the kind of area Derek Jarman built around his fisherman’s hut. Careful use of shingle and driftwood (or other scraps from the beach) can help to form the structural element to the garden. Low planting is required at the perimeter of the area, so as not to spoil views.
B Deck and steps
C Parking hard area
D Planting for screening
E Concentric rings/post
F Shingle open space
G Small size shingle
H Wildlife pond
I Scrap sculpture
J Concentric rings
K Planting for screening
M Low planting
The beach garden
If you have an area on the beach, or set in shingle, and you want to re-create the sort of garden adored by Derek Jarman, you will not find
it difficult. There is, after all, no hard landscaping to construct – it is there already, in the form of shingle or sand. You will not need to mark out areas for pathways, as there aren’t any – you just walk between the plants.
Part of the pleasure of the garden at Prospect Cottage is the curious emerging purple shoots of sea kale (Crambe maritima) anchored deep in the moving shingle, with their long taproots. A maritime form of herb robert (Geranium robertianum) grows in a tight alpine dome and tolerates the entwining tendrils of a sea pea. Then there are the misty blue leaves of the yellow horned poppy (Glaucium flavum), and the dry, dead spires of last year’s dock flowers.
To the front of Prospect Cottage there is a quite traditional cottage garden of circular, square and rectangular beds defined by upstanding flint stones. It is planted with lavenders, santolinas, poppies and sea kale.
If your property is – literally – on the beach (and it will more than likely be on a shingle beach, owing to the instability of sand), then you should construct a stable pathway across to the dwelling from the boundary. This will provide for wheeled access (prams, wheelchairs, wheelbarrows etc.) as well as giving the area a base for its design.
The love of lavender
Thus far we have noted that Derek Jarman’s garden is in a place called Dungeness, and that lavender has been planted in its front garden. This silvery green perennial sub-shrub, with its thick and sturdy stems and leaves, and its useful tolerance of dry, sandy soil, makes a fine plant for a beach garden.
Curiously, halfway across the world from Dungeness, UK, there is a certified organic lavender farm overlooking a place called Dungeness Bay, in the US state of Washington. Jardin du Soleil is located on the Olympic Peninsula, 4 miles (6.5km) north of the town of Sequim (see page 188 for details).
Planted in 1999 on land that was part of a dairy farm established in the 1880s, there are Victorian gardens, ponds and fruit trees. And lavender fields encompass the landscape with the Strait of Juan de Fuca beyond.
Thousands of lavender plants on more than 10 acres (4ha) create a wonderfully fragrant vista. The farm and gardens are open daily throughout summer; the plants are in bloom from the end of June through to August, with harvesting starting in July. Members of the public who go along can pick their own lavender bouquets or buy plants to grow at home.