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.
What an amazing year one of our trial garden owners has had in 2015. Geoff Stonebanks had a triple whammy of a year. Not only did he celebrate the 100th opening of his award winning garden, Driftwood, this month but he also had TV gardener Christine Walkden visit in July, as well as getting his garden featured in The Sunday Telegraph in August. “Not bad” says Geoff “for a small garden (100ft by 40ft) on the south coast.” Geoff’s incredible success does not stop there! He has now seen 12,500 visitors to his patch since 2009 and raised an astonishing £61,500 for charity.
Geoff meeting Christine Walkden
While achieving all this, he has been trialling a number of Thompson & Morgan plants over the last 3 years too. Here Geoff tells us of some of his successes in 2015 with some new stock and some old stock. He says “Looking at the new stock of plants, we have had many wonderful comments about the Clematis ‘New Love’ placed in a pot with wire frame. It has flowered profusely throughout the summer and drawn many comments for the visitors.” Rose ‘Sweet Spot® Calypso’ has been greatly admired too with its gorgeous blooms hanging from a pot in the centre of the garden. Another new addition has been the gorgeous Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’, which has looked resplendent in pot under a pear tree, its blooms still glowing in late September. Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’ also made a dramatic appearance in Geoff’s garden this summer too with its effervescent blooms brightening up the borders.
Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’
Geoff came up with a fun idea this summer when a friend offered him an old fireplace surround! He placed it against a new fence, planted up and old dining room chair next to it, placed pots of tumbling petunias on the mantle, and bought an old rusty grate and filled it with Thompson & Morgan Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. The result has been stunning, not to mention a talking point this summer. Geoff tells us the plant that has been asked about the most by visitors to his garden has been the delicate Fuchsia Arboresens or Mexican blueberry! Geoff had 3 plugs, which he placed in individual terracotta pots and they have come on well and the flowers have started to turn to berries and ultimately edible blueberries! Another crowd stopper has been the lovely petunia green edge pink.
Geoff’s garden fireplace and Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’
However, when pushed for the most talked about plant this summer Geoff said, “Without doubt the single most commented on plant is the beautiful Buddleja ‘Buzz™ Magenta’. It has hit people in the face the minute they walk into the garden!”
Many of the plants from previous years are still doing well in the garden like the incredible Gazania ‘Sunbathers Tikal’ which Geoff overwintered in a covered side alley last year and its blooms have been drawing many dragonflies next to the pond this season. Another reliable eye catcher is the Alstromeria Peruvian Tree Lily now in its 3rd year and looking amazing all through the year, now on its second flowering this season. Lewisia ‘Elise Mixed’ which was delivered in 2014 has done extremely well this year in both pink and yellow becoming quite large plants now!
Lewisia ‘Elise Mixed’
Geoff’s garden seems to thrive despite its exposed location and the journalist from the Telegraph, Francine Raymond, wrote in her article, “I was overwhelmed and charmed, and wondered how so many plants have fitted into such a perfectly formed space? Geoff’s enthusiasm is catching and he and his amazing garden deserve every visitor that makes their way up his enchanting garden path.”
So if you are in Sussex in 2016 try and get along to see Geoff’s garden and some of T&M’s as well! You can read some great reviews of it on TripAdvisor too. You might even see Geoff’s helper too! Albert the Battersea rescue terrier.
Geoff’s dog Albert
The year is moving on at a pace and there are only a few weeks to go until the garden gate is opened again for a summer season of fundraising for a number of charities. This year we will open for the National Gardens Scheme, the RNLI, PSPA and Macmillan Cancer Support, a total of 16 public days as well as the visits by appointment too!
For the 3rd year running we will have many Thompson & Morgan plants on show in the garden! The 2 trees we trialled in the first year, the Cox’s Orange Pippin and the Plum Claude Reine have grown a great deal and are full of blossom at the moment. Under the plum tree is one of my new features for 2015, a vintage children’s horse, mounted on a frame to look as though it is vaulting the hedge!
Other plants from the first year’s trial are the Viola Unique Collection which are starting to flower again! Some stunning tulips from 2014 were Silver Parrot which has come back up again this month too. They look quite amazing around the pond area. Late last year I received a lovely Camellia Cupido and it has now flowered with it’s delicate pink flowers. The Clematis New Love also delivered last autumn has found a new home with a lovely wire frame to grow up though and is now positioned beside the pond. I am waiting for the rose sweet calypso to flower, the plant is looking quite healthy.
The new plants for 2015 that have been arriving in recent weeks are sure to get the visitors talking this summer, Last year we saw over 2200 visitors and raised over £16000 for charity and hope to see the same again in 2015. The new arrivals they will be able to see are Osteospermum Blue Eyed Beauty, which although not yet planted out, has started to flower in the greenhouse! The 2 garden ready Lavender Hidcote I received last month are already looking very healthy with new growth too.
The more recent arrivals have yet to show their true colours but are already well established and waiting to be planted out in the coming weeks! Verbena Lollipop, Fuchsia Pink Fizz and Alstromeria Indian Summer. The piece de resistance in the garden this summer, after the vintage horse that is, will be the begonia burning embers which will have pride of place in a new feature at the top of the garden of an old fireplace with mirror above and a rusted grate in which the plants will be put to resemble the glowing fire!
So all in all a great year in prospect! If you want to read more about the garden go to www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk