The garden next door but one

Crowds come to Dungeness Beach to admire Derek Jarman's garden. But few visitors notice the work of his neighbour, Brian Yale, who has created a bizarre sculpture garden using materials washed up on the beach. Jonathan Glancey, however, found the plot. Photographs by Andrew Yale

Brian Yale owns the clapboard cabin next door but one to Prospect Cottage, on the shingle beach at Dungeness in Kent. Prospect Cottage has become rather famous in the past five years. It's not quite Sissinghurst, but Derek Jarman's exquisite ornamental garden - a thing of sea kale, fennel, dog rose, blood-red poppies and viper's bugloss - attracts an ever-growing swarm of the fond, the curious, the green-fingered and the simply nosey.

This month, Derek Jarman's Garden (Thames & Hudson, pounds 14.95) places a posthumous straw hat on the sadly curtailed career of an English gardener of great originality. But less than a hundred yards away along the beach, Brian Yale continues to make his garden, a less well-known but equally inventive and highly wrought patch of shifting shingle.

At first, you notice little as you walk past. But something resembling a brightly coloured banana boat marooned outside Yale's cabin catches the eye. You feel drawn across the stones and pebbles. What you find is a puzzle: a promiscuous placing of plastic detritus, luridly coloured beach shoes, bottles and clothes pegs, forming in outline a surrealist boat named Mrs T. But puzzlement soon turns to curiosity, and curiosity to delight.

Brian Yale, inside the cottage putting finishing touches to seascapes realised in acrylics, won't mind if you wander around outside. For much of his career as an artist he has worked in the public realm, making sculptures for council estates and local authority parks in the poorest parts of east London.

Mrs T is named in homage to the woman who "messed up the country and destroyed the GLC where I worked for nearly 20 years as official artist and designer," says Yale. It is a boat-like sculpture that is anything but shipshape. "It's made of all the plastic bits and pieces that get washed on to the beach here," says Yale. "There's a long and romantic tradition of gathering driftwood when out beachcombing and placing it like sculpture in the home. But I've always been fascinated by plastic, and particularly by all this rubbish from the sea.

"Look at all those beach shoes; they're all different shapes and jellyfish colours, and they never come in pairs." Perhaps there's a Sargasso Sea of plastic beach shoes somewhere beyond the horizon; each September they migrate to the beach at Dungeness. "They never fail to turn up at the same time every year," says Yale. "But look at the rest of the bits and pieces that make up Mrs T and her crew: there's even half a set of false teeth."

Mrs T is only the most visible of Yale's nautical sculptures. The others are camouflaged, dug into the beach and only seen from above. They take you by surprise as you almost step on them. A sea serpent, its wiggly shape drawn with a stretch of old rope, writhes in the shingle wake of Mrs T. Two little monsters, a fond homage to Picasso's animal sculptures, in driftwood, nails and a bicycle seat, snap at your ankles as you walk towards the cabin door. You have to tread carefully to avoid a nest of sleepy pebble owls, or a slippery, scaly pike.

Here is a concrete duck, there a giant owl. That pile of ashen driftwood over there turns out to be the unlikely skeleton of a giant fish (piscis Yaleiensis). Wooden birds swing in the wind from driftwood posts, and a giant sundial with rusting steel numbers, supplied by Derek Jarman in exchange for one of Yale's seascapes, marks the hours under a dazzlingly bright sky (at Dungeness there are no trees, no hills, and no other form of shelter from the sun).

Will the sculpture garden ever be complete? "I'm always changing things around," says Yale, "replacing a plastic shoe that the weather's turned to dust with a colourful one newly washed up. But I suppose I will have to stop at some point. Even then, nothing stays the same here for long. The grass has been growing across the beach - God only knows how - and there are more plants here than ever before. In fact I got a letter recently from one of the conservation bodies offering me pounds 75 a year not to do any gardening on the landward side of the cottage so that some of the rare plants could get a hold on the shingle. That's the first time anyone's offered me money not to work."

Yale bought his cabin in 1980. "I'd been coming here with the family for years before that. I was known as an abstract artist until I began painting the seascape here. I don't think my Dungeness paintings are deliberately realistic; it's just that the sharpness of the light here seemed to dictate a sharply defined style."

One of these seascapes hangs in the studio inside the cabin. It is indeed as razor-sharp as the light outside, and in striking contrast to the decidely homely quality of the little building. "These cabins were built for the men who put up the old lighthouse" (which dates from 1906 and is now a tourist attraction; the present lighthouse, visible from 27 miles away, was opened in 1960). "They were then moved further down the beach, to where we are now. In between these cabins and the lighthouses, you'll find a hotch-potch of old railway carriages and other makeshift homes.

"It's certainly an odd place to live, and not many people's cup of tea. It's no English idyll, what with the savage weather, the harsh light and the nuclear power station up the road; but, like Derek Jarman, who came here in 1986, I find it inspiring."

The surreal quality of place, house and garden is reinforced if you leave Brian Yale and Dungeness by one of the surprisingly fast miniature steam trains of the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch railway. As the train gathers speed, it rattles past Mrs T and Jarman's garden. By the time it reaches full speed, running through the ditches, drains and sheep of Romney Marsh, you cannot help wondering whether you have dreamt up the entire visit

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager

    Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    IT Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London