In Print: Broadstairs Beacon

Reading time 9 minutes

If I had to sum up the business ethic in Thanet, I would describe it as entrepreneurial. Everywhere one looks someone is opening a cool new shop or niche restaurant, starting a micro brewery or launching an innovative new service. It’s one of the advantages of living in an area that’s still relatively affordable: things can succeed financially that might falter elsewhere. However, it’s not plain sailing. Consumers are not spending in the same ways they did five years ago, the local demographic is mixed and we exist on the very edge of England, closer to Ostend in Belgium than we are to London, as the crow flies. To succeed in Thanet you need vision, guts and determination by the bucket load.

Since its inception the Margate Mercury has thrown the spotlight on the talented folk who have contributed to our sister town’s 21st Century resurgence. This summer the team behind that magazine has turned its attention to Broadstairs, issuing the first ever edition of the Broadstairs Beacon just a couple of weeks ago. Through the magazine’s newspaper-style pages you’ll meet Justin and Annita, a couple who have turned a disused shelter and public toilets into a coffee addicts’ paradise; Simon and Corina, the saviours of Britain’s cutest cinema, ‘The Palace’; and Dave Melmoth, founder of a music and action-sports festival called ‘Wheels and Fins’. Somewhere towards the back you’ll find an article written by someone who’s yet to display their entrepreneurial side but has established strong roots in the town – yours truly. Here’s what I had to say:

“I’ve always felt I belonged by the sea. I enjoy the sense of space and constantly changing weather, as well as that certain shabbiness you get when the wind, rain and sun take it in turns to assert themselves on rock, brick and render. But the thing I love most is that the sea makes the land warmer, and for me as gardener that presents all manner of opportunities to grow unusual plants.

The Jungle Garden in Summer 2018, expertly photographed by Marianne Majerus

After moving from Reading to London for work, I found myself a bolthole in Broadstairs. I am not a city boy and I needed to escape, first at weekends and later permanently. I am an impulsive kind of guy and bought the first house I looked at on my first visit to Broadstairs: being a buyer for John Lewis I know to trust my instincts. The Watch House had atmosphere (my friends call it cosy) and a sunny courtyard cluttered with privies and a bomb shelter. That sufficed for a couple of years, but as I settled in I sensed I could make a lot more of the space. It’s a challenging situation since there are cellars running underneath the garden and hence no natural soil to grow in. On the advice of a garden designer I swept away the outbuildings and created beds generous enough to plant trees and shrubs. I’d spent a lot of time in America where everyone seemed to have an outdoor kitchen, so I decided to build one of my own. Although the first attempt wasn’t perfect it is one of the best things I ever invested in, after all, who wants to be stuck indoors cooking when the sun is shining?

The outdoor kitchen in 2018. This year it’s barely visible owing to the abundance of foliage.

My garden has evolved enormously as I’ve worked out what I can grow. In Thanet we are blessed with far more sunshine and much less rain than in the West Country where I grew up. Now I live on the edge in terms of plant hardiness, thinking nothing of testing out plants from as far afield as Brazil, Mexico, the Himalayas, California, Madagascar and New Zealand. If it’s new, unusual or difficult to grow, I want it. I started my blog, The Frustrated Gardener, to turbo charge my interest in plants and it’s worked – what was a passion is now bordering on an obsession.

The Gin & Tonic Garden, Photographed from above by Marianne Majerus

Three years ago the opportunity to buy a neighbouring cottage came up. I leapt at it, so now I have another small courtyard, the ‘Gin & Tonic Garden’, so named because the garden catches the sun in the late afternoon and because I grow lots of G&T garnishes in there, especially rosemary, mint and cucamelons. I also created my pride and joy – a library for all my books on plants and gardening. I have hundreds, mostly collected from second hand bookshops. Cicero said “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”. I agree to a point, but I’d have to add companionship, as without that I’d find my life a lot less rewarding. I am lucky that my partner and I share a keen interest in plants and books.

My latest acquisition is a large workshop that’s attached to my house. It was once the depot for a fleet of ice cream vans that plied the streets of Broadstairs selling Eldorado ice creams. I want to turn it into a winter garden, packed with ferns and lush vegetation hanging from the rafters. That’s the thing, living in the middle of Broadstairs; I’m hemmed in on every side, so I’m now looking upwards for new opportunities.”

Yours Truly, Photographed by Marianne Majerus

The Watch House will be open on August 3rd and 4th from 12pm – 4pm in support of the National Gardens Scheme. Entry is £4 for adults and children are admitted free of charge. Well-behaved dogs are welcome. Teas will be served in the workshop (if I get it tidied up in time!). Owing to the jungly nature of the garden we ask that large bags are left at home or in the workshop to avoid damage to the plants. For further details click here. My plant list, which I’m in the process of updating to include hundreds of new introductions, can be found by clicking here.

The Broadstairs Beacon is available from numerous outlets around Broadstairs and I hope to have copies to pick up on open days. If neither of those options is open to you, you may read it online here.

Categories: Flowers, Foliage, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

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25 comments On "In Print: Broadstairs Beacon"

  1. Oh, yes, Cicero’s philosophy of books and gardens I firmly adhere to. I have to. I have both. And my library, like his, opens onto the courtyard (the first garden room) leading to the herb garden and the English perennial borders.

  2. What a wonderful post – big Congrats Dan on the feature -I so wish I could be there to share the open garden weekend – would be so much fun. You must and should be so porund of what you have achieved in all the spaces. PS I would happily be responsible for serving ‘after event’ drinks and nibbles..ha ha!! xx

    1. You’d be most welcome to! I only have half the volunteers I had last year so I’m starting to panic a bit. I think you’d be excellent at crowd control in addition to après activity!

  3. Such a lovely article Dan, and you have created a little paradise in Broadstairs. Can’t wait to see what you do with the new workshop. So tell me, what made you decide on Broadstairs for your move to the coast?

    “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”.

    Well I have a garden and we have a wall of bookcases in our dining hall so maybe that counts! I have to agree, what more do you need!

  4. I love that quote. About every gardener I know likes books and plants. How could they not. To know that things haven’t changed that much since Cisero’s time is just mind boggling. Everything old becomes new again. I enjoyed your article too. Now I know why you don’t have plants in the ground. I often wondered. You are lucky to be able to cabbage on to the properties around you. It will be fun to see how the workshop evolves. Have fun with the open days. They should have you write more articles about your town. You write so good giving descriptions that ooze interest. Cheers.

    1. Thank you! Perhaps they will. As I understand it this issue of Broadstairs Beacon is a one-off, but I hope they’ll entertain more if it’s popular.

      Not only is my garden hollow underneath- it’s effectively a roof garden – but it’s also on solid chalk so there’s no soil as such anyway. I’ve created a few little planting pockets where I can but often the plants in pots do better.

  5. I absolutely love the images as they capture the most stunning garden designs and make me wish to visit – its so true that a picture speaks a thousand words!

  6. OMG Dan – the queues will be around the block on the 3rd and 4th August. The coleus s (?) in the foreground of the last photo (with you in that rather fetching shirt) – name please. I have grown several coleus this year but not that one – think they are making a comeback – Mr. Morrison has been selling them at ridiculously cheap prices – it’s all wrong – don’t start me! I am trying to think about a third garden in the ice cream van workshop – how much natural light is there in there Dan? Don’t know why I ask – whatever you do will be fantastic. Mrs. P.

    1. Hello Mrs P! The coleus is ‘Henna’, I am growing it again this year as it’s a smasher. I insist on named varieties as I find they have a little more finesse and less tendency to run to seed.

      I am a little concerned about attendance in August but ultimately the garden has a capacity and we can only let so many people in at a time. I hope we don’t have to disappoint anyone. That would be awful.

      My architect friend has just sent through initial plans for the workshop which see a lot of glass being introduced, so when it happens there will be plenty of light. Now I simply need to win the lottery 🤞🏻

      Hope to see you soon. Dan x

  7. What a pleasure to read your articles. Sometimes, while reading, I seem to be there by the sea, hear the seagulls, feel the warmth of the sun rays on my skin. You have a wonderful talent of writing.
    Glad your garden will be open and I am looking forward to visiting it ☺️

  8. Here is wishing for you to crack the lottery win 🙂 – the wintergarden idea sounds amazing. Also, hoping you will have an enjoyable (if busy) garden open day – wish I could be there, too. Fell hard for your Lobelia tupa & Lilium regale Alba combo from the last post.

  9. So enjoyed reading your article Dan. The photographs by Marianne show what a talented garden artist you are! Wishing you a wonderful Open Garden and a relaxing apres gin & tonic in your beautiful courtyard. All the best!

  10. My gardening column, which was twenty years old last autumn, started just after an article in our local Los Gatos Weekly Times. It was rad.

      1. Yes and no. The column was very respected twenty years go, but I did not write well at all. I write better now, but am tossing my accurate and well written work out there with all sorts of trash written by anyone with spare time.

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