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Garden News with Cambridge designer Robert Barker

Inspired by Derek Jarman’s iconic gravel garden, we should all think of our plot as a private paradise, writes Cambridge designer Robert Barker

Last week while browsing through the gardening section of a local secondhand shop, a book stood out that instantly reminded me of a particular time and place in my past. I am always amazed by how an almost forgotten memory can be brought back to life by the power of a song, smell or sight. In this case the sight of the book Derek Jarman’s Garden triggered a particular memory.

For those of you that don’t know, Jarman was a film director and artist who sadly passed away in 1994 from an AIDs related illness. The book itself is a personal account of Derek creating a gravel garden from scratch in a very harsh environment and documents the process of the creation of his own paradise, from its beginnings in 1986 to the last year of his life.

The memory I have was created on a very bleak and blustery day, when a good friend and I made a pilgrimage to visit Jarman’s garden in Dungeness in Kent. My friend was studying to be a doctor and needed a break from the stresses of studying, so for reasons I now can’t remember, it seemed like a good idea to get in the car and head to the expanse of shingle that faces Dungeness nuclear power station.

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508939418 (20785300)

I knew very little about Jarman at the time, only that he was known as a controversial filmmaker, but many people within horticulture had told me to visit his garden at Prospect House, as they were sure it would be something that I would love.

As we approached the garden, the light was starting to fade. We parked the car and stepped out onto the shingle, completely alone and unprepared for the experience that was waiting for us. When I was studying garden design, my lecturer John Gilbert encouraged us always to try to discover the genius loci: the feel and the atmosphere that is within a place. Jarman’s garden is the very embodiment of genius loci.

You can’t help but feel inspired by being allowed into this very private man’s very own garden, which he created with his painter’s eye, horticultural expertise, sculptures made from stones, old tools and found objects. The fact that something so beautiful could be created in the most inhospitable of places should be an inspiration to us all.

Accepting the conditions we have, planting the right things that will flourish, and adding a sense of our own personalities is the key to happiness in our own gardens. No matter what garden space you have, ignore trends and opinions - and make it your very own paradise.

See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.

November’s Jobs

If you’ve got fruit trees in the garden, it’s an idea to band the trunks with horticultural grease to stave off winter moth damage. Simple and pesticide-free, the technique stops the wingless females scaling the bark to lay their eggs, leading to a caterpillar infestation come spring.

It’s also time to give your container plants a little TLC. Prevent waterlogging by raising them onto pot feet, and protect them from the soon-to-arrive frosts by wrapping them in a layer of insulation; bubble wrap has long been a go-to but, if you want to be plastic-free, hessian is a good alternative.

As temperatures drop, spare a thought for our feathered friends. As well as loading feeders with nuts and seeds, grate cheese rinds and finely chop bacon rind, too - little birds, like wrens, are especially partial.

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