A vivid garden journal, later published as Modern Nature, charted his horticultural adventures, interspersed with excursions on his childhood, life, art, politics, and sex.
All this, despite the near certain death sentence that was an HIV diagnosis at that time. Despite the loss of so many of his friends, and the trauma of seeing, and hearing, them fade out of his life. In April 1989, he recorded in his diary a telephone call with the New York film-maker Howard Brookner, who had by then lost the power of speech. It was, he wrote, 20 minutes of “low wounded moaning”.
In its strange and desolate landscape, the garden was infused with that grief and fragility. “You can’t take life for granted in Dungeness”, remarked the photographer Howard Sooley, a close friend of Jarman and regular visitor to Prospect Cottage. “Every bloom that flowers through the shingle is a miracle, a triumph of nature. Derek knew this more than anyone.”
But the garden at Dungeness, like so much of Jarman’s work, was also a statement of boundless imagination. It was an ingenious, colourful marvel – with no fence.
“It is hard to express how bleak and frightening those years were,” recalls the writer Olivia Laing. “Jarman was a testament, blazing, blatant, to possibility.”
A new book on the artist will be published this April. Derek Jarman: Protest! covers all aspects of Jarman’s oeuvre, featuring excerpts from his own writings, previously unseen images from his personal archive, and contributions from Olivia Laing, Norman Rosenthal, Peter Tatchell, among others.
Accompanies a major exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery from 2 April to 31 August 2020.
Join the campaign to save Prospect Cottage here: artfund.org/prospect_thames