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!
Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden, featured on Gardeners’ World on BBC TV and finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine Garden of the Year 2016, he’s raised £164,500 for various charities in 12 years, £109,000 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Publicity Officer for the National Garden Scheme in East & Mid Sussex. In 2023, Geoff was also crowned one of the 500 Coronation Champions.