Love to be beside the seaside

Bill and I wandered around the shingle nearby and marveled at Jarman's passion for growing things in such a hostile environment.

The seaside and all that it conjures up is very close to my heart. I was brought up on the Kent coastline and spent hundreds of hours at the beach in Ramsgate, Sandwich, Deal, Walmer and latterly in Dover. My father was a Trinity House Pilot and operated from Dover or Folkestone and had to live no further than seven miles from the office – so the beach was very much part of our lives as children. 

The Bay at Sandwich was a very sandy beach in the 1960s and had to be accessed by a private toll road belonging to the Royal St George’s Golf Club, which kept it generally quieter than other beaches. My childhood memories were of very long hot days at this beach collecting shells and playing in the shallow surf with brilliant picnic lunches in the sand dunes, sheltered from the wind.

My time in the nursing profession was largely spent on the Sussex coast and I would still be there if I had not met Bill and moved with his work to the Cotswolds. 

Last weekend we cut loose from family, friends and work and dashed down to Sussex as a little treat. We met in Sussex in September 43 years ago and revisiting it is often part of our anniversary celebrations. This time we visited Hastings and wandered about in the Old Town, and spent a few glorious hours at the garden at Great Dixter (more about this another time). We finished the trip with a visit to the late Derek Jarman’s garden on Dungeness. I had been given a book about this unique garden by our esteemed Editor Jenny Dixon some years ago and I had even designed a sampler for the Cross Stitch Guild inspired by my first visit. (I couldn’t resist stitching the John Donne poem that is etched into the wall of Derek Jarman’s traditional cottage.)

I was interested to see the garden not only for its own sake but because I had been to Dungeness many times with my late father. He would take me and my siblings on the little steam train that runs out to the point from Hythe in Kent. 

Dungeness is rather a strange place – quite bleak and very flat. It is the largest area of vegetated shingle in Europe and has earned the title of a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The area is still growing in size because of movement of the sea and shingle so much so that the old lighthouse is now well inland and the new one is gradually getting further from the sea! I should also mention that there is a massive nuclear power station at Dungeness, which I think does add to the rather eerie atmosphere.

Jarman’s cottage and garden, a very unusual spot, has been bought for the Nation after a massive crowd funding appeal and Prospect Cottage will become a museum but the garden can be viewed from the road and is a very distinctive space.

Bill and I wandered around the shingle nearby and marveled at Jarman’s passion for growing things in such a hostile environment. The film director, stage designer and author had very strong ideas about garden design. He felt his garden was a paradise of gardens and some were like “bad children, spoilt by their parents, overwatered and covered with noxious chemicals.” He decorated his garden with seaside finds, standing stones, metal sculptures and pieces of driftwood. The effect is as unusual as it is magical. If you would like to learn more about the garden, The Garden Museum has very kindly put their exhibition online to enjoy. You’ll find it here.

I love the colours of the seashore and couldn’t resist creating a thread collection inspired by them. I have selected colours found in shingle, sand, shells plants and, of course, the sea. Find them here.

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