My mellow yellows: He has glorious roses of every hue in his garden

For the past month my cottage garden has been filled with flowers from more than 50 different varieties of shrub roses. 

These are of every hue from the pure white of ‘Madame Hardy’ to the almost purple ‘Cardinal de Richelieu’, though the dominant colour is pink in every shade. But I have one border with only yellow and apricot roses and another part of the garden, The Mound, where only soft yellow, white and pale-blue flowers are planted. 

This also features three different yellow roses.

In fact, I came to yellow by way of apricot. Apricot is a rare colour in plants, and the peachy tones of pink, orange and yellow combined tend to veer one way or the other without hitting that exact spot in the middle. 

British gardening expert Monty Don, shared his advice for blooming roses throughout summer. Pictured: Monty with his ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ roses

Although there are scores of pink roses I adore, I have yet to find a distinctly orange rose that I like. Roses of a strident yellow are not my thing either. Luckily, there are a few delicious peachy apricots and even more lovely soft yellows.

I like roses with loose, blowsy petals rather than the sugar-icing formality of hybrid teas. 

Over the past 40 years David Austin roses have combined the romantic looseness of old roses with the repeat-flowering qualities of hybrid teas and other more modern varieties to produce some of the best garden roses you’ll find.

The most famous yellow rose is ‘Graham Thomas’, bred by David Austin and introduced in 1983. 

Ask Monty

Q I have a mahonia planted close to my bungalow. Will the roots damage the building?

Carol Blackburn, Northamptonshire

A People get very anxious about this but it is not a problem save with certain trees like large willows or ash – even then, only on certain soil types. Relax and enjoy your mahonia!

Q For my compost bin, I’ve used woody material layered with soft material, a compost accelerator and turned it all, but nothing works. What’s wrong?

Tony Vardy, Derbs

A Do not build the compost in layers but mix it all up as you go. Fill the bin to the top, leave it for three weeks, then turn it. Repeat three or four times. Compost is made almost entirely by bacterial and fungal activity. Bacteria need oxygen, water and food. A so-called accelerator is just a fancy form of the nitrogen found in garden waste and kitchen scraps. So, mix it all up well, and turn, turn, turn!

Q We have a wisteria growing up a wall which is several years old but has never flowered. Why?

Pam Boon, West Sussex

A Wisteria can take up to eight years to start flowering. If a mature wisteria ceases to flower it’s because it’s being fed too much nitrogen – which encourages leaves – or it’s been wrongly pruned. Prune now, cutting back unwanted new growth to two or three leaves. New shoots next spring will carry flowers.

It is quite a rich, almost egg-yolk yellow with a lot of noisette roses in its parentage that gave it toughness as well as the clusters of flowers that characterise noisette varieties. 

One of the best-known noisettes is ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, which remains one of my favourite climbing roses. ‘Graham Thomas’ is available as a climber, too. 

However, my two favourites that I grow here are ‘The Pilgrim’ and ‘Vanessa Bell’, both also David Austin roses and both rather subtle. 

‘The Pilgrim’ was introduced as a medium-sized shrub but is now reckoned to be better as a climber, and I grow it trained up wooden wigwams. It has a delicious fragrance and is touched with a hint of pink in its massed primrose-yellow petals as the colour fades.

‘Vanessa Bell’ is a recent introduction and, I think, a real winner. The flowers are very pale yellow, held in large clusters and can be grown equally well in a container or a border. 

We have it growing on The Mound, where it is a modest star. Also growing there is the yellow rambler ‘Malvern Hills’. 

As rambling roses go it is restrained and able to be accommodated in a small tree, pergola or even fence and – extremely unusually for a rambler – its lovely, small, multi-petalled, lemon-coloured flowers repeat throughout the summer.

Of the apricot flowers, the best, for my money, is ‘Crown Princess Margareta’, which has delicious fragrance and will cope with quite a lot of shade, so is recommended for almost any garden. 

‘Charles Darwin’ can appear almost primrose yellow, through shades shifting from bright yellow to apricot and then on to orange. The warmer and sunnier it is the paler it becomes, so in our increasingly wetter, more overcast recent summers it almost falls into the apricot category.

As with all roses, the secret to keeping these blooming for as long as possible is to deadhead daily, cutting right back to just above a leaf to stimulate sideshoots that will carry fresh flowers. 

They all take a rest at the end of July but will start flowering again from late August until well into autumn. 

THIS WEEK’S JOB: FEED CONTAINERS

Monty explained that plants should be fed weekly to perform at their best all summer

Monty explained that plants should be fed weekly to perform at their best all summer 

To perform at their best all summer, plants in containers need a weekly feed. Ensure it’s high in potash for root and flower formation, but not high in nitrogen which promotes soft foliage. 

Tomato feed or liquid seaweed are good, but make them no stronger than what the pack says.

COULD YOUR GARDEN WIN?

There’s still time to enter Britain’s most prestigious amateur gardening contest – whatever the size of your plot.

  • To enter, send 4-8 photos of your garden (which cannot be returned); a plan of your garden; and your name, postal address, phone numbers and email address to National Garden Competition, PO Box 485, Fleet GU51 9FF by Friday 7 August.
  • The judges will make a shortlist of gardens to visit in order to select four finalists. If you are on the shortlist you’ll be contacted by Saturday 8 August; visits will take place from 12-14 August. Final judging will take place from 18-20 August. Finalists and the winner will be featured in Weekend.
  • The judges’ visit will conform to the government Covid-19 guidelines at that time. If conditions preclude garden visits, other arrangements may have to be made to complete judging.

THE RULES

  • The competition is open to amateur gardeners, who should have designed and principally built their gardens themselves.
  • Entrants should maintain the garden with no more than one part-time helper.
  • By entering, gardeners agree their gardens may be used for promotional purposes.
  • Entrants must be over 18. Usual Daily Mail rules apply. The judges’ decision is final.

THE PRIZES

  • £2,000 first prize, plus special blue plaques for all finalists.

Bugs and bees? Blooming brilliant!

As one of Britain’s top florists, Simon Lycett’s working life is spent surrounded by gorgeous blooms, many of them shipped in from around the world and carefully wrapped so every single petal is at the peak of perfection for the glamorous events he works on.

At home, though, his tastes are much simpler. 

Simon’s garden is planted with the sort of flowers any of us can easily grow from a few packets of seeds, like marigolds, cornflowers, dianthus, cosmos, zinnias, nasturtiums and sweet peas – plants that are not only colourful but also ideal for attracting beneficial insects into your garden.

His garden has, in fact, been designed with the natural world in mind. 

Simon is passionate about wildlife and that’s why he’s so excited about the Mail’s annual wildlife census, which we launched in Weekend on 30 May (see box, below right, on how you can take part).

Simon Lycett, 53, (pictured) who has decorated celebrations including Elton John’s 50th birthday bash and two Royal weddings, revealed the plants in his garden 

As Simon says, ‘What better distraction from the daily challenges facing us all than being given an extra reason to watch, to listen and to note the varied visitors from the natural world, with whom we share these strange times? I’d urge everyone to fill out their census – and I can’t wait to see the results!’

Simon’s own London garden, a relatively modest 12m by 7.5m, is proof you don’t need a huge plot to attract wildlife. 

In shady areas he grows evergreen ferns in containers, while in sunnier parts there are tulips and wallflowers in springtime, followed in summer by dahlias and that assortment of annual seed-grown flowers. ‘It’s a carnival of colour, and bees and other pollinators love them,’ Simon explains.

The garden, which is managed organically, supports a rich variety of wildlife. 

‘Almost everything we grow is in containers and the pots themselves provide a wonderful habitat for myriad creatures,’ says Simon. 

‘Worms and woodlice are legion, and there are such beautiful beetles and bugs, although I keep a gimlet eye out for dreaded red lily-beetles.’

Simon, 53, and his husband Nicholas Cannon, 55, an educational consultant, have created a dense canopy for birds and insects by planting trees in the front and rear gardens. 

‘The Prunus serrula at the back is a variety of cherry known for its incredible burnished bark. Recently it was in full bloom and the buzzing sounds of the hundreds of bees gathering nectar was so loud we could hear it from inside the house.’

Simon knew from the age of seven that he wanted to be a florist. Pictured: Simon created the arrangements in Four Weddings And A Funeral

Simon knew from the age of seven that he wanted to be a florist. Pictured: Simon created the arrangements in Four Weddings And A Funeral

To make the steps and raised beds they chose old railway sleepers, which can be laid without mortar so the gaps and crevices fill with compost and old leaves and become a haven for small plants and insects. 

‘I like to perch on the steps on a summer morning and watch bees and armies of ants, centipedes and woodlice wandering among the timber,’ says Simon.

‘We also have pots placed around the garden to collect rainwater, which swiftly become a teeming source of life for so many bugs, as well as providing water for birds and our dog.’

Simon grew up in Warwick and knew from the age of seven he wanted to be a florist. 

‘One of my parents’ neighbours was a florist and she would let me watch her work, and eventually I started helping out. I did my first solo wedding flowers – for family friends – when I was all of 14. You could say I was precocious!’

His career took off when he moved to London in the 1980s, a time he remembers with great fondness. 

‘It was the era of conspicuous consumption and it was incredibly exciting. Our clients would send their pilots to buy flowers and then fly them down to the south of France. It was crazy.’

Simon’s big break came when he was asked to decorate the church for the funeral of Muppets creator Jim Henson in 1990. The result was so spectacular he was offered work in advertising and films, including Four Weddings And A Funeral. 

The esteemed florist revealed most of the weddings he does require 20,000 roses. Pictured: Some of his work for Charles and Camilla in 2005

The esteemed florist revealed most of the weddings he does require 20,000 roses. Pictured: Some of his work for Charles and Camilla in 2005

‘Doing the flowers for Four Weddings was the happiest six weeks of my life,’ he says. ‘I loved every minute of it, but we had no idea as we were making it what a huge success it would turn out to be.’

Simon describes his trademark style as ‘abundant, lavish, slightly tongue-in-cheek’ – most of the weddings he does require 20,000 roses. 

His commissions have included Elton John’s 50th birthday bash and Victoria and David Beckham’s wedding, and he’s also done the flower arrangements for two royal wedding days: Prince Charles’s with Camilla Parker Bowles (see box), and Princess Eugenie’s marriage in October 2018 to Jack Brooksbank.

The princess, says Simon, took inspiration from her grandmother in her choice of flowers. 

Why I lost sleep over Charles’s wedding 

Simon revealed that he struggled to find enough daffodils for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall's wedding

Simon revealed that he struggled to find enough daffodils for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall’s wedding 

Doing the wedding flowers for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall turned out to be one of Simon’s toughest jobs.

He was asked to provide the floral decorations that greeted the guests as they arrived at Windsor Castle following Charles and Camilla’s marriage in April 2005. To his delight, he was invited to take whatever greenery and stems he wanted from Windsor Great Park, and the Savill Garden flower beds within the park.

‘My main problem was finding enough of the daffodils – the Welsh national flower – that the prince had requested.’ recalls Simon. 

‘Most British daffodils had gone over, but I scoured the country and found the thousands of blooms I needed.’ 

However, there was one sad and unexpected last-minute hitch: the death of Pope John Paul II meant the wedding had to be postponed for a day so Prince Charles could attend the funeral.

‘We’d created huge columns of daffodils, with moss, hellebores, fritillaries and muscari underneath, and my concern was that, because of the delay and the fact Windsor is quite well heated, the flowers would have wilted by the wedding day.’

Simon spent a sleepless night worrying about the blooms but fortunately all was well. ‘I can still remember the relief when I walked into the Grand Reception Room and saw the flowers looked fabulous and fresh,’ he says.

‘The Queen likes flowers that feel as if they’ve just come straight from the garden, and Princess Eugenie wanted that as well, so we decorated Windsor Castle with branches of chestnuts and liquidambar, and gorgeous heads of English hydrangeas. It was a celebration of the season.’

Does he get nervous working on such high-profile events? ‘Not really,’ says Simon. 

‘All weddings are special and should be a wonderful, joyful occasion. I try to make everyone’s dreams come true, whoever they are.’

Like many, Simon has seen his work come to a grinding halt during lockdown. 

‘There’s been no work for events florists and no likelihood of things turning round for us before spring 2021,’ he says. 

‘It’s so hard having my brilliant team on furlough, and I miss them as much as I miss the flowers, and my clients.’ 

In the meantime he’s been promoting his sixth book, The Flower Market Year, a nostalgic and beautifully photographed tribute to London’s New Covent Garden Market (which is currently being redeveloped) and the magnificent blooms usually available there. ‘I just love the place and I wanted to capture it before it disappeared,’ says Simon.

He can also be seen on our screens in the second episode of The Big Flower Fight on Netflix, which he filmed last summer. 

This slightly bonkers show, hosted by Vic Reeves, challenges ten teams to create wildly extravagant flower sculptures. ‘It was huge fun,’ says Simon. ‘It’s high time floristry and floral art were recognised by mainstream TV.’

The lockdown has given Simon the chance to spend more time in his own garden and bask in the spectacular spring weather. 

‘It’s been a riot of birds – from loutish pigeons and raucous crows, thuggish magpies and scruffy starlings to magical songbirds such as blue tits, greenfinches, blackbirds and thrushes. There’s also a very friendly robin who keeps me company as I garden.’

Simon often has to be at the flower market when most of us are still asleep, so he’s very familiar with the dawn chorus.

‘Some mornings woodpeckers can be heard and, very occasionally, a cuckoo. There are also many foxes who fearlessly follow us on early-morning dog walks.’

What about the people who aren’t lucky enough to have a garden? ‘Even if you just have room for a pot, a hanging basket or a window box, you can grow a few cornflowers and marigolds, or a scented pelargonium,’ says Simon. 

‘They’ll reward you with flowers and fragrance all summer long, and bring in bees and insects.’

Simon is clearly itching to get back to work, but in the meantime he is taking solace in his garden and its abundant wildlife. 

‘Connecting with the natural world is something that does you a power of good. We now have scientific evidence that backs up what many of us have known – that being in a garden, watching clouds or birds, smelling a flower or planting a seed, will actually make us feel a whole lot better.’  

How you can take part in our wild life census

The Daily Mail Wildlife Census is the biggest summer survey of its kind, and by taking part you can help build a picture of the state of the wildlife in our gardens – and thereby help safeguard its future.

All you have to do is visit dailymail.co.uk/wildlifecensus and print off a hard copy of the survey, which lists 57 animals commonly seen in British gardens.

Simply tick off the creatures you see in your garden this June, and then transfer the results to the online form when it goes live on 1 July.

If you don’t have access to the internet, you can ask a friend or relative to print off the survey for you, and then transfer the results for you on 1 July.

You have until 19 July to complete the online form. Experts at The Wildlife Trusts will then collate the figures and, critically, monitor the changes that have taken place since the survey started two years ago. We will publish the results in Weekend magazine later this year.

The Flower Market Year by Simon Lycett (Pimpernel Press, £30).



Action plan: Nigel Colborn’s essential jobs for your garden this week 

HOW TO DODGE THE WEATHER

Britain is used to extreme weather, but 2020 has been a horror show so far for gardeners. Spring drought led to a sweltering April followed by an exceptionally dry May.

Now June has come with plantwrecking winds and showers. The rain is welcome, but don’t be fooled. We haven’t had enough to end the drought.

Soil moisture is still in deficit and now our plants are stormtossed as well. It’s time to begin the healing.

Start by assessing wind damage. As you check your plants, remove any broken or severed stems, then make a clean cut just below the wound. That will reduce the risk of infection and encourage new side-shoots to sprout.

British gardening expert Nigel Colborn shared his advice for nurturing gardens after this year’s extreme weather

Have supporting pea sticks, canes or devices such as interlinking stakes handy. Handle your plants with care and make sure to support sprained stems.

When propping up plants such as sweat peas, pictured, position the supports as discreetly as possible. If they’re partially hidden, that’s fine.

Where plants have been windtrashed, remove broken stems, even if you have to cut back the whole plant. There is still time for summer flowering plants to grow new shoots.

If constant-flowering plants such as penstemons, catmint or shrubby salvias are battered, cut damaged stems just above a lower bud or shoot. New growth will sprout from the stumps.

THE JOYS OF A LATE ‘CHELSEA CHOP’ 

Early summer pruning can make some plants change their flowering habits. Known as the ‘Chelsea Chop’ because, normally, it coincides with the Chelsea Flower Show, this works with tall sedums, phloxes, echinaceas, heleniums, lateblooming asters and many more. If you have several plants of the same variety, cut one in three to half, or two-thirds of their original height. That will delay flowering but provide a flush of later blooms. With a single plant, shorten stems by a third to extend flowering. Don’t do this with early summer plants such as oriental poppies, foxgloves or coreopsis. They’re best left to flower ad lib.

SOW VEG NOW! 

Despite it being mid-June, this is a good time to sow late cropping, non-hardy vegetables. Runner beans, pictured, sown now should produce a crop which lasts until October. They’ll need supports such as canes. There is still time to sow courgette and marrow seeds outside. Sow seeds individually, in fertile, moist but crumbly soil. Protect plants from slugs and snails.

Nigel advised a reader to add Crambe cordifolia (pictured) to the shingle in their garden (file image)

Nigel advised a reader to add Crambe cordifolia (pictured) to the shingle in their garden (file image) 

QUESTION 

We’ve made a little shingle garden at home and grown annual poppies and pot marigolds. Can you suggest some permanent plants? 

Mrs H. Brown, Suffolk 

Sea kale, Crambe cordifolia, pictured, is the classic shingle perennial. It has handsome, grey-green summer leaves and clusters of white flowers. Yellowflowered horned poppy, Glaucium flavum, is also a shingle-lover. For pollinators, include a lavender, assorted thyme and small rock-roses, Helianthemum. Those come in various colours.

Perennial sea hollies such as Eryngium Blue Steel or E. alpinum are lovely, too, but a bit prickly for children.

PLANT OF THE WEEK: TRAILING NASTURTIUMS (TROPAEOLUM MAJUS) 

This is probably the easiest of all hardy annuals to grow. Being colourful and edible, nasturtiums are also loved by children. There are lots of fancy varieties -all simply grown from seed. But for vigour and speedy growth, mixed trailing kinds are more fun.

Sow the seeds directly into prepared ground. Most soils will do, provided they’re in full sun. Trailing nasturtiums can be coaxed up supports such as trellis or left to scramble over the ground. April is the optimum month for sowing. But get some seeds in this week and you should have flowers from August until mid-autumn. Try thompson-morgan.com.



Blue swoon: Delphiniums radiate a glorious shade   

Blue swoon! Delphiniums radiate a glorious shade that so rarely pops up in nature – and they’re at their best now, says MONTY DON

  • Blue is the rarest colour in nature and if you look closely a ‘true’ blue is very rare
  • Most so-called ‘blue’ flowers have a lot of red in, so they’re shades of purple
  • Delphiniums can be annuals and biennials but best are herbaceous perennials

This is a good year for delphiniums. But, in truth, every year is a good year for them – some are a little better than others. 

Does any other flower so encapsulate the glory of an English garden in June? Blue is their colour, and though there are plenty of non-blue ones – I grow some – I feel they are the slightly deviant departure from the true delphinium path.

Blue is the rarest colour in nature. Not only are there fewer blue plants than any other colour, but once you start to look closely a ‘true’ blue is very rare. 

Most so-called ‘blue’ flowers have a lot of red in, so they’re shades of purple. But a spire of delphinium radiates blueness. 

 Delphiniums can be annuals and biennials, but the best are herbaceous perennials. They thrive in a sunny spot in rich soil with good drainage, Monty said 

They are a symbol of summer exuberance; the freshness of June that has all of spring’s energy and none of August’s faded exhaustion. With tall rockets of intense flower, they should be in all gardens.

Delphiniums can be annuals and biennials, but the best are herbaceous perennials. They thrive in a sunny spot in rich soil with good drainage. 

Use a thick annual mulch of compost, which will lighten heavy soil and boost a thin sandy one; for very heavy clay, add grit to the planting hole.

The greatest threat is from slugs in spring when the shoots first appear – early to mid-March in my garden. 

MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK 

MADAME ALFRED CARRIÈRE ROSE

This beautiful, creamy white rose is one of my favourite climbers. It starts flowering in May, into July, and may return in September. 

It’s a strong grower so suitable for a wall at least 2m in height and with a spread of at least double that – but it’s easy to train and restrict. 

This beautiful, creamy white rose is one of my favourite climbers

This beautiful, creamy white rose is one of my favourite climbers

It grows best on a west-facing wall but will flower in shade or full sun. Like all climbing roses, it produces its flowers on new growth in spring so should be pruned hard in autumn to five or six strong stems tied onto wires. 

Side shoots can be cut back and will regrow with the next year’s blooms.

A thick dressing of grit around the shoots helps, but don’t use slug pellets – the damage to wildlife isn’t worth it. 

March is also the best time to make new plants with cuttings of the new shoots. Cut back to the base with a bit of root attached and pot them on.

They strike easily, so will make new plants ready to go out now. Or you can buy container-grown delphiniums to plant out in June.

Delphinium elatum hybrids are by far the most common and easiest to grow. ‘Black Knight’ is a dark indigo with a black eye that makes the whole flower verge into navy, and ‘King Arthur’ is inky blue with a white eye.

Of the D. elatum hybrids, the King Arthur Group, ‘Nimrod’, ‘Nobility’ and the Black Knight Group will all give you rich, dark blues. ‘Fenella’, ‘Blue Tit’ and ‘Blue Nile’ (pictured left) are all lighter tones. 

Then ‘Chelsea Star’ has a rich blue flower with a white interior.

Delphinium grandiflorum has a solitary large flower of an intense blue. It is smaller than a ‘normal’ delphinium, but flowers for longer, keeping going all summer if kept cut. 

The Pacific hybrids originated in California in the 1960s and grow tall – they have varieties in clear, almost icy blues as well as deep indigo, lavender and lilacs, pinks and pure white.

You can get small delphinium hybrids with short stems that don’t need staking, but even the smallest garden can seem bigger with strong vertical growth. 

If they are not to topple in summer storms, most delphiniums must be supported. I use wire supports to gently buttress the whole plant, but occasionally a tall flower spike will need its own cane. 

When the flowers are just past their best, cut the spike back to the ground, leaving remaining foliage. 

Ensure it has light and air around it, give it a good soak and it should grow flower-loaded stems for a second, slightly muted display in September.

THIS WEEK’S JOB: PINCH OUT TOMATO SIDESHOOTS

Most UK tomatoes are cordon types, with a single leading stem that carries the fruit.

To improve ventilation and quality, use fingers or a knife to remove side shoots in the morning while the plant is turgid and shoots snap easily.

To improve ventilation and quality, use fingers or a knife to remove side shoots in the morning

To improve ventilation and quality, use fingers or a knife to remove side shoots in the morning

ASK MONTY 

Q I planted beetroot seeds last week. If they come up, can I cut and cook some of the leaves like chard?

Pam King, Herts 

A Yes, but taking leaves from young plants will damage the development of the beets. 

The normal cycle is to grow the beetroots, leaving the leaves, then the following spring any left in the ground that are too woody to eat will sprout fresh leaves in early spring that are great raw in a salad or cooked.

Q I’ve grown Camellia japonica in a pot for eight years, but the flowers go brown from the base and fall off – as do some buds. What can I do?

Rob Revera, Merseyside 

The normal cycle is to grow the beetroots, leaving the leaves

Taking leaves from young plants will damage the development of the beets

The normal cycle is to grow the beetroots, leaving the leaves (left). Taking leaves from young plants will damage the development of the beets (right)

A Camellias like moist compost and moist air. The flowers, as buds or after opening, have a habit of drying up. 

Keep it in the shade, water regularly – especially in August and September – and if it’s very hot, mist it. Also never put it where it catches the morning sun.

Q I burnt some yew branches and leaves along with other tree cuttings. Is this potash safe for the vegetable garden?

Peter Macdonald, Scottish Highlands 

A Wood ash from the burnt wood – including the poisonous yew foliage – is safe and beneficial to any fruiting shrub or tree. Yew wood isn’t toxic. I chip or shred yew for an ericaceous mulch.



The garden that film-maker Derek Jarman created

On New Year’s Day, 1989, film-maker Derek Jarman wrote in his diary, ‘Prospect Cottage, its timbers black with pitch, stands on the shingle at Dungeness. There are no walls or fences. My garden’s boundaries are the horizon.’

Could there be any less promising place to make a garden, let alone a garden now as famous as Monet’s at Giverny? 

This is a dystopian landscape: on a desolate stony beach on the Kent coast, overlooked by a nuclear power station. 

There is more sunshine and less rainfall here than almost anywhere else in Britain. At night the power station, Dungeness B, is ablaze with lights, ‘like a great liner or a small Manhattan’, as Derek described it. 

Derek Jarman (pictured in 1992) wrote in his diary, ‘Prospect Cottage, its timbers black with pitch, stands on the shingle at Dungeness. There are no walls or fences. My garden’s boundaries are the horizon

Plants are crippled and stunted by westerly winds; but the easterlies bring a salt spray that burns. ‘I like the feeling of it being almost impossible. It’s what I like most in this garden. Every flower is a triumph,’ he said.

Now Prospect Cottage and the garden Derek created have been saved for the nation after a £3.5 million crowd-funding campaign – the largest ever crowd-funding effort for the arts – started by his friend actress Tilda Swinton, who starred in his 1986 film Caravaggio. 

More than 25 years after Derek’s death in 1994, the public will eventually be able to see inside the cottage, by appointment, for the first time; the garden, with no walls or fences, has always been visible from the single-track road. Meanwhile, a new exhibition, Derek Jarman: My Garden’s Boundaries Are The Horizon, at the Garden Museum in London, will be the first to focus on the role of the garden in his life and work.

Derek, who was also a painter and author, discovered Prospect Cottage by chance in 1986 on an excursion with his partner Keith Collins and Tilda Swinton. 

They were looking for a bluebell wood as a film location – the bluebell glade Tilda remembered from childhood had been concreted over, so they made a detour for fish and chips on the beach. 

‘There’s a beautiful fisherman’s cottage here,’ Derek told them, ‘and if ever it was for sale, I think I’d buy it.’

Prospect Cottage doubled as Derek’s art studio (pictured). Prospect Cottage is to become an artists’ retreat, and the garden will be restored to be as vibrant as it was in Derek’s day

Prospect Cottage doubled as Derek’s art studio (pictured). Prospect Cottage is to become an artists’ retreat, and the garden will be restored to be as vibrant as it was in Derek’s day

And suddenly there it was, serendipitously with a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window: a black tarred cottage with yellow window frames. 

Derek decided there and then to buy it, for £32,000, with a legacy from his father.

That winter he was diagnosed HIV-positive, effectively a death sentence before antiretroviral drugs. 

Living on borrowed time, he vowed, ‘I’ve got to get as much out of life as possible.’ 

Initially, he had no intention of trying to create a garden on such a bleak spot – indeed, he thought it impossible – but his plot, a triumph of nature’s survival in that unforgiving terrain, became a metaphor for his struggle against AIDS.

Slowly, it took shape. A rockery of bricks and rubble was replaced by a bed of flints – ‘like dragons’ teeth’ – which turned up on the beach after every storm.

There were curious pieces of driftwood, and anti-tank fencing from the Second World War was turned into quirky climbing frames for plants. 

The beach had been mined against a German landing; mine craters, it turned out, were rich in plant life. 

A neighbour recalled that the explosion when the mines were destroyed broke the handles off the cups hanging on her kitchen dresser.

The flowers that triumphed were a mixture of indigenous plants and flowers – Dungeness is a Site of Special Scientific Interest – and shrubs imported by Derek.

Driftwood (pictured) adorns the quirky garden overlooked by a nuclear power station (above)

Driftwood (pictured) adorns the quirky garden overlooked by a nuclear power station (above)

‘I am so glad there are no lawns in Dungeness,’ he said. No lawns – but no soil either; and it was hard even digging a hole to fill with manure as any hole immediately filled up again with the constantly shifting shingle. Sea kale – Crambe maritima – is more abundant here than anywhere else in the UK, its long taproots penetrating up to six metres in search of moisture. 

In May its flowers scent the air with honey, but although the tender shoots should be edible, Derek was warned that it accumulates radioactivity from the power station.

There was also gorse and broom, yellow horned poppies that last just one day, sea campion, valerian, mallow, perennial pea, stunted blackthorn that grows almost flat… Only the toughest survive.

Bees in a hive made from railway sleepers produced honey from gorse and wood sage. 

The late, great gardener Christopher Lloyd – who created a very different garden at Great Dixter – placed Prospect Cottage firmly in the English tradition of working with natural conditions and refusing to be deterred by the impossible.

In May its flowers scent the air with honey, but although the tender shoots should be edible, Derek was warned that it accumulates radioactivity from the power station

In May its flowers scent the air with honey, but although the tender shoots should be edible, Derek was warned that it accumulates radioactivity from the power station 

‘The garden has been both Gethsemane and Eden,’ Derek wrote, as he became frailer. ‘I am at peace.’

Time hasn’t stood still – soil has formed on the shingle and now, incredibly, there is grass to be weeded, while hordes of tourists have damaged the plants. 

Keith Collins cared for the garden until his own death two years ago and since then it has been tended by volunteers.

Now its future is secured: Prospect Cottage is to become an artists’ retreat, and the garden will be restored to be as vibrant as it was in Derek’s day. 

Derek Jarman: My Garden’s Boundaries Are The Horizon is at the Garden Museum in London from 4 July (depending on government guidelines), gardenmuseum.org.uk.