Geoff Stonebanks, one of the customer trial panelists and owner of the multi-award winning garden, Driftwood, in Bishopstone, Sussex, has had a very successful gardening year. He’s just scored a trio of triumphs in 2016.
In the November issue of a national gardening magazine his garden was judged to be a finalist and runner-up in their Garden of the Year Awards 2016 competition, in the small space category. After receiving hundreds of entries nationwide. This, coupled with Geoff and Driftwood’s appearance on the popular Gardeners’ World TV programme, back in September, and the photo shoot in June for an 8-page feature about the garden in the national lifestyle magazine Coast, next summer, has enabled Geoff to have the best year ever, since first opening his garden gate back in 2009. Not to mention of course the £15,000 raised for charity this summer alone bringing the garden total to £76,000. Geoff has been a member of the customer trial panel since 2012 and has trialled over 100 different products in that time. Many of them were on show this summer for the photo shoots and judging.
Verbena bonariensis and pinks
Geoff comments; ” I saw the competition advertised back in May and thought I’d give it a go. All I had to do was submit 8 pictures of the garden and complete a questionnaire answering specific questions, ranging from how I created the garden to the challenges and obstacles I had to overcome.” He went on to say, “I was utterly amazed to find out in late July that it had been shortlisted in the small space category and would be photographed before the final judging.”
When the magazine editor telephoned Geoff to tell him he was the runner-up, she said “Your entry was always a real stand-out and genuinely was knocking on the door for the top prize all the way. It will be such a pleasure to share more pictures of your garden with our readers over the coming months.”
Geoff was interviewed on BBC Sussex recently, along with the editor, who explained to listeners that the competition set out to look for clever solutions and the ability to make something of unique and difficult spaces.
Geoff’s garden with Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta.’ Film crew from Gardener’s World
Needless to say, Geoff is thrilled and tells us the magazine will be featuring more of his garden in their April 2017 issue. Not only that, he can now choose up to £250 worth of garden equipment from the competition sponsors catalogue.
Then, back in September the garden was featured in a 6-minute film on Gardeners’ World too. The show had been looking at inspired planting and design in a series of small gardens and spent the day filming in late August. Geoff was able to take the presenter around the garden and talk about the different garden rooms. You can clearly see the T&M Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta’ and lilac in the foreground of the picture of Geoff on camera along with the Thompson & Morgan Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea ‘Superba’ he won for blog of the month earlier in the year, sticking up behind the fig leaves.
Birds eye view of Driftwood garden
Driftwood is set to open 14 times in 2017 and full details can be found at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk Look out for the feature next summer in Coast magazine too!
So why not make a date to visit and see both the garden and the many Thompson & Morgan plants on show for yourselves. Private visits can also be made for lunch or afternoon tea in the garden.
The summer is racing on at a pace, but the plants still think it’s spring! The garden here at Driftwood, is roughly 3 to 4 weeks behind where I would expect it to be at this time of year. We’ve already had 2 open days, raising money for the Mayor’s charities in Seaford and the first of 4 openings for the National Gardens Scheme this summer. Hot topics, as usual, are some of the plants from Thompson & Morgan.
Without doubt the top 2 so far are the stunning Petunia ‘Night Sky’, which look wonderful by the pond combined with other similar coloured plants. Right by the entrance to the back garden is a raised container with a brand new, as yet unnamed, bidens which has caused quite a stir too! It has some beautiful blooms that change in colour as the flowers develop. I look forward to hearing it’s new name announced later in the year! The comments on the petunia have been a little mixed, with visitors saying it’s one of those “marmite” moments, you either love it or hate it! I’m pleased to say, on balance they love it.
In the beach garden I planted out the new Pennisetum Blackjack’, which are only just starting to get going, but I’m sure they will look stunning once they are established. I had some problems with the delivery of the Calendula ‘Power Daisy’ this year and some plants were damaged. I managed to rescue three of them and they have done really well. They are just starting to bloom along the central path and are quite dazzling once they open out. A second delivery is awaited, so they should be putting on a great show later in the summer.
The bare root Hibiscus ‘Luna’ was delivered back in April and has also just started to show signs of growth with new leaves bursting out. I look forward to seeing it’s large flowers as the summer goes on. I’ve been very luck this summer to have received 2 brand new plants, as yet unnamed.
The other is a fuchsia, which is also just beginning to develop it’s flower buds. It won’t be long before we can see the gorgeous flowers.
Finally, the Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’ that came back in April are doing really well in the greenhouse and are already about 1 metre tall. It shouldn’t be too long before the delicious fruit appear! Later this month the garden will be part of a photo shoot, by the magazine Coast. Driftwood will be featured in it next Summer! We’ve got another 12 open days to go so plenty of opportunity for visitors to come and see the garden. If you want to read more on the garden go to www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk.
We moved to Seaford back in 2004 and have now seen 13 years of winter weather. How unprepared we were though for the Winter of 2015/2016! The storms and gales along with the salt laden winds have been by far the worst we have experienced, in terms of their impact on the garden.
MET office weather map & phlomis
It all began with Storm Abigail back in November and most recently we had Storm Jake, but by far the worst to hit the garden was Storm Imogen on the 8th February. You can see from the Met Office’s weather map for the day that we got winds of up to 80mph across the south coast! I decided to take a short video clip of the storm’s impact on the garden that afternoon and you can see the evidence in the short film I posted to YouTube. It was very difficult to stand up outside the house that day with the force of the gales! Many of the protective fleeces I put on the more delicate plants, primarily for protection from the winds, rather than from the cold, were torn apart by the gales as you can see.
Phormium ‘Platt’s Black’ & torn fleece
The view out of the front porch window across the beach garden was pretty grim too! At this time of year, the garden is usually looking quite pretty with lots of things looking forward to spring. This year however it still looks pretty desolate with so much to do to tidy it up. I look out now and think it will never be as good as it was last year by the time we open the garden gate to the public in June!
The front seaside garden was planted to take account of the coastal weather and it is quite amazing how resilient the plants can be in such adverse conditions. The Hellebore argentifolius in the centre still managed to look radiant throughout. The large clump of Cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ by the entrance has been decimated with the relentless salt winds but amazingly still has a few signs of new growth upon it. I am hopeful it will make a recovery when the weather changes. Likewise, the Phlomis fructicosa in both front and back has been the worst impacted with all the new growth in January completely destroyed and now looking very sorry for themselves. Another casualty at the front is the badly burnt rosemary which has had all the ends browned off.
Orlearia & Eleagarius x ebbingeii
Whilst the front garden actually still looks quite good overall, the back is another story. Even old stalwarts like the eleaganus x ebbingeii and the several bay shrubs have taken a real beating with many of their leaf ends turning brown.
One of my favourite Euphorbia, Mellifera, has really been badly scorched with all new growth and even whole stems decimated by the salt, there is still some newer growth now further down the plant which is promising.
This hardy fuchsia, riccartonii had lots of new growth prior to the storms but they were all burnt off but amazingly nature is incredible and there are signs of it starting to shoot again.
Bay & Fuchsia riccartoni
There is lots of ivy around the garden too, which has taken a real beating as this picture alongside the gate at the top of the garden bears testament. Even good coastal shrubs like olearia have taken a real thrashing too this winter with many scorched leaves across the tops of the hedges.
Ivy & Euphorbia mellifera
The container of Phormium ‘Platts Black’ alongside the Summer House was right in the line of fire for the winds blowing up the garden, it is a relatively recent New Zealand Flax cultivar with leaves in the most remarkable shade of purple-brown that is almost black. One of the more compact Phormiums, this has an elegant weeping habit that makes it eminently suited to growing in a pot, lets hope we see some new growth so I can cut back the damaged leaves.
Physocarpus Opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’
One of the lovely shrubs in a container, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ has also been a victim to the weather too, even though relatively protected at the back of the house. Many gardeners know this as ninebark, an undistinguished shrub with ordinary green leaves, white flowers, and fall fruit. But ‘Seward,’ sold under the trademark name ‘Summer Wine’, has outstanding burgundy leaves and pink flowers that bloom in early summer. This plant is super tough and makes a stunning focal point, let’s see how tough it is and hope it does well again this summer. We now need a sustained period of good weather to enable me to get out and work on the garden ready for is summer visitors.
You can read more about the garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk and see how the garden looks by the summer!
It can be magical, inspiring or just plain stupid, to take photos from the same point in your garden over a 10-year period. I recently posted some on social media and had some amazing reactions from people saying they had been inspired to see the changes over the years. So, here is a snapshot across 10 years, taken by me around the pond looking up the back garden.
The first from 2004, the year we moved in, shows a very green be plain plot.
By 2005 I had begun to tidy the area, neatened the edges of the lawn and moved a few shrubs around as well as added a few containers. I started with many new shrubs in containers, giving me the flexibility to place them around the garden until such time as I had a final plan in my head. A new shed didn’t go amiss too as well as a greenhouse and a studio! Not a trained gardener, I simply did what I thought was right for the exposed seaside slope. I have done nothing to improve the chalky ground, not knowing any better. I started to use structures to help get some height as the salt laden winds blow with such force across the garden, doing much damage.
Having appointed a garden designer in 2007, I soon realised that maybe I was better cutting my losses and having-a-go myself. So, in the spring of that year a summer house and new patio went in at the top of the garden. This was much needed as the sloping garden needed a level area upon which to put a table and chairs. I had killed off the lawn and temporarily covered it with bark chip to help create a totally new look until I could afford to move to the next stage.
A grape vine was put in to cover the shed. 2008 saw more work done around the pond, digging out old shrubs and putting in new. My ultimate aim was to have no exposed soil across the whole garden, requiring me to put as many plants in as I could!
By 2009 it was well stocked and opened up to the public for the very first time, which then inspired me to try and make it look a little different each year by moving plants around and changing the look of the garden rooms I was beginning to create.
In 2010 the exit area from the pond was sealed off with a low wall and created the pond room which has become one of my favourite areas of the garden, a visitor this year, Eileen Wottsford, said “absolutely magical garden, full of original ideas and inspirations.” More plants had gone in around the pond 2 pairs of tall rusted metal arches had helped create some more height and I was beginning to achieve the overall look I was seeking. Every year I just did what felt right, there was never any grand plan, each garden room developed as I went along.
In 2011 the area by the shed and beyond the bench were crammed full of plants finally creating the illusion of a garden room. The rapid growth of the grape vine across the shed helped too. This was the year I was accepted into the Yellow Book by the NGS.
By the summer of 2012 the overall garden was really becoming quite special and looking very lush! This year it became one of the 4 finalists in the Daily Mail National Garden Competition as well as the overall winner of the Garden News Best Small Garden in the UK.
Needless to say I was thrilled. Hamish Webb from the Mail said “I’ve seen hundreds of gardens over the 21 years of judging the Daily Mail Competition and believe me, you are up there with the best of them.” Head judge Tim Sharples said “This bright, beach-inspired plot embraces its location with imaginative planting.” I could not believe that my small seaside garden had succeeded in reaching the final of a national competition from over 1500 entries, let alone win outright the Garden News competition. It just goes to show that you can do whatever you put your mind to, despite the challenging elements and lack of knowledge!
By 2013 I’d really become little more confident about what I was doing and was keen to show that anything is possible and the garden was featured in the Mail on Sunday too. The range of plants had increased significantly too, with over 500 on show.
2014 was a truly amazing year for the garden, it featured in a French national gardening magazine, 100 Idees Jardin in February, Garden Answers Magazine in May and on Good Morning Britain in July.
2015 was equally successful with features in the Sunday Telegraph in August and Daily Mail Weekend Magazine in June. You can see above how amazing the garden is looking each summer now. I never fail to be amazed by what visitors say and post on TripAdvisor. It makes me incredibly proud, so never doubt your own ablility to create something special, and just go for it!
Most of my blogs are usually about the plants that Driftwood trials for Thompson & Morgan, as one of their Customer Trial Panel gardens, but for a change I thought I’d pen a little bit about the garden’s location and some of the challenges of gardening by the sea!
Room with a view
For those not familiar with Driftwood, it’s located between Seaford and Newhaven on the south coast, not that far from Brighton. It’s in the bay you can see, looking out to sea and there is the view from our bedroom window across the fields to the coast. 2015 has seen strong winds, which makes gardening a real challenge through the summer months, keeping the garden pristine for its many garden visitors. Now, as we approach the winter months, there is much to do to put the garden to bed and get it ready for its 15 scheduled openings in 2016, along with its many private visitors and coach parties.
It is also quite possible it may appear on a prime time gardening show on national TV too next summer! Watch this space! I like the garden to look a little different each year, as many visitors come back year after year.
The central area is still looking quite smart for November, even if it lacks a bit of bright colour. This view across the garden shows a range of lovely shades of green for this time of year!
The garden has many different rooms which I have been working on in recent weeks and you can see the 2 rooms on the left of the garden, the cottage garden area in the foreground and the upper patio at the back, tidied up ready for replanting next spring.
You can see me working on the raised beds in the centre off the garden too, moving plants around to change the overall look. There are 3 Thompson & Morgan blooms looking quite amazing at the moment, they are Rose Garden Party, Alstromeira Peruvian tree Lily and Hydrangea Vanilla Fraise as you can see.
I’ve got several ball chrysanthemums in the back garden too, but the largest of them was badly hit by the recent winds as you can see. It’s always difficult with the wind so I try and keep the planting as low as possible and create the height with some rusted metal sculptures. If you want to see more on the garden go to Driftwood by Sea.