A Summer of new plants at Driftwood

As what would have been my open garden season, draws to a close, I can look back on a very different summer here at Driftwood. Considering the diversity of the weather we’ve experienced here in Seaford, ranging from extreme heat, gale-force winds through to torrential rain, I am quite amazed that the garden is still looking quite good.

Driftwood Garden

©Geoff Stonebanks – Driftwood Garden September 2020

The things I have missed this year are having visitors, interested to see the garden and talk to me about its creation and raising much needed funds for charity, notably Macmillan Cancer Support. The things I’ve not missed, well, baking all the cakes I usually sell at my open gardens for one and the pressure of always having to make sure the garden was at its peak for all visitors. That said, I’ve been sharing pictures of visitors over the last 10 years, most days of the week, on my social media accounts to keep the momentum alive.  Our rescue dog, Chester has certainly been grateful I’m sure, not to have be stuck in the house when the garden would have been open.

This year, as I have for the past 8 years, I’ve had a number of plants to trial in the garden from Thompson & Morgan and most of them have done exceptionally well. Here I’ve picked out five of my particular favourites that I’d certainly recommend for others to purchase.

Over the years, I seem to have acquired a real taste for hydrangeas, they seem to work well in my seaside garden. I remember my grandmother grew lots of them in her garden near Blackpool, back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The first new plant to arrive this year was Hydrangea paniculata ‘Hercules‘, named after the fabled Greek hero Hercules. It produces huge, spectacular plumes which are bursting with large soft shaded green blooms, through to pure white.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Hercules'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Hercules’ with large blooms, from green through to pure white.

Mine has some way to go, in terms of size, but has grown three-fold since it arrived back in February and has produced 5 large blooms through the summer. My collection includes a stunning ‘Vanille Fraise’ a large, if a bit floppy ‘Annabelle’, ‘Red Baron’ and one of my favourites, paniculata ‘Limelight’ which I got from Thompson & Morgan over 4 years ago now. Indeed, I’ve just ordered 2 paniculata  ‘Little Spooky’ which should arrive later this month.

One of my favourite summer annuals is the ever-popular Petunia. Over the years I have bought many from Thompson & Morgan. This year, the one that took my fancy was Petunia ‘Peppy Blueberry Muffin’. I just loved the colours. Whilst they were extremely slow to grow, once they did they came into their own and looked quite amazing as you can see. They are still flowering profusely now.

Petunia 'Peppy Blueberry Muffin'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Petunia ‘Peppy Blueberry Muffin’ are still flowering profusely now.

When I browsed the catalogue last December, one plant that caught my eye was Sedum takesimense ‘Atlantis’. To be honest, I had meant to buy one after seeing it being named RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019.  It’s easy to see why this caught the judge’s eyes! Fleshy, moss green leaves with delicate serrated edges, boast a contrasting creamy-yellow border which stays vibrant from summer through to autumn.

The pale-yellow blooms emerge from pink flower buds, while new foliage  bursts from cherry-red leaf buds. I bought 3 and planted one in the beach garden at the front of the house and two, including the one pictured, in the gravel beds either side of the central path at the back. It looks gorgeous as you can see.

Sedum takesimense 'Atlantis'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Sedum takesimense ‘Atlantis’ was named RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019.

The Gazania ‘Tiger Stripes Mixed’ also caught my eye when browsing. I do like vibrant colours in my garden. You can see they are a stunning blend of flowers, in shades of yellow, rose, bronze and cream, with an attractive, contrasting stripe on every bloom. I found them very easy to grow and they have been flowering all summer long. I love the way the curl up and close when the sun is not shining on them.

Gazania 'Tiger Stripes Mixed'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Gazania ‘Tiger Stripes Mixed’ are easy to grow and they have been flowering all summer long.

My final favourite this year is the delicate Thalictrum ‘Little Pinkie’. Not really a plant I knew a lot about. It transpired I had some in my garden when I first moved in, back in 2004, I had to ask someone what it was. It’s everywhere around the pond, with delicate mauve-blue flowers, and looks quite amazing in amongst ferns and other greenery. This one is great for attracting bees, it is a distinctive perennial that brings a light and airy feel to the front of herbaceous borders. Mine pictured here is in a container close to the pond. As its name suggests, this is a dwarf variety with a compact, dense habit. The finely cut foliage is borne on slender stems as you can see, forming a neat, textural clump which is reminiscent of Aquilegia. In early summer, clusters of fluffy pink flowers rise to around 50cm (20″) creating a hazy effect. I love them.

Thalictrum 'Little Pinkie'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Thalictrum ‘Little Pinkie’ is great for attracting bees.

So, 2020 has been a very strange year on all fronts. Let’s hope 2021 will allow me to open the garden again to visitors. I’ve already picked my dates, which are all advertised on my garden website, www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk This year though, I have realised what a treadmill I have been on for the last 10 years so I have decided to slow down next year and not create as much pressure for myself. All our openings for the National Garden Scheme will be by pre-booked ticketed timeslots only, making open days more manageable and hopefully, for me, more enjoyable. Another bonus! I won’t have to bake as many cakes either!!

If you want to grow hydrangeas like those in driftwood garden, start at our hydrangea hub page where we’ve pulled together our best growers resources and variety reviews.

Lockdown at Driftwood!

2020 so far has been a bit of a blur on many levels at Driftwood. Back in February, having not long had a new dog, Chester, he escaped from the house and I had to chase up the road after him pulling the ligaments in my left leg into the bargain!

Chester the Dog

©Geoff Stonebanks – Chester relaxing in the garden!

To compound the issue, at the end of that month I tripped up some stairs and tore the Achilles tendon on the same leg! All this as we entered lockdown, meant video appointments with a physio and telephone appointments with my consultant, not very practical in reality! I spent the whole of March and April, non-weight-bearing, in a boot, meaning I had to use crutches or a peg leg I acquired online. Needless to say, I was not able to garden properly, if at all at first.

Gardening with a leg brace

©Geoff Stonebanks – Gardening isn’t easy with a leg brace.

Then, confirmation of lockdown meant that, with my 93-year old mother living with us, we have not left the house from then until now, apart from short walks for Chester by my partner. All very surreal.

I decided, back in March, that it was not going to be viable to open my garden this year on 2 levels – I was not fit enough to get it ready and there was no way, in a garden my size, that we could enable social distancing. The consequence, all 7 openings and all private visits cancelled. I had ordered my 2020 stock from Thompson & Morgan before all this happened and have been able to tend for it all without the pressure of garden openings and cake-baking as well.

The first of my order came in January, Begonia ‘Camellia’ corms, which at time of writing has begun to produce some lovely leaves. A wonderful Hydrangea paniculata ‘Hercules’ came a few days later too. By June it has grown well and has 3 stunning flowers on it.

Hydrangea 'Hercules'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Hydrangea ‘Hercules’ looks great as part of a mixed container planting.

In February the Verbena ‘Royal Dreams’ arrived and now look stunning in some of my larger containers in the garden. April saw the arrival of Petunia ‘Peppy Blueberry Muffin’ which were so slow getting going and indeed I lost 2 of the 5 but the remaining have just started to flower in the garden this week.

Petunia and Verbena in flower

©Geoff Stonebanks – Petunia and Verbena in flower

I think my favourite of this year’s plants has to be the Fuchsia Bella trio. Each of them has such beautifully delicate blooms. They are still quite small plants, as you can see, but are already showing fabulous flowers.

Fuchsia Bella Trio

©Geoff Stonebanks – The Fuchsia Bella trio are some of my favourites this year!

The Gazania ‘Tiger Stripes’ did not have too good a start as the packaging was damaged in transit but I managed to salvage all the plants and they are just starting to flower now.  Both arrived in April too, as well as the beautiful Thalictrum ‘Little Pinkie’ which soon grew well and are now producing stunning flowers. I’ve also received some substitute Coleus as I ordered ‘Freaky Leaves’ which were not available, and am waiting for some Sedum ‘Atlantis’.

Thalictrum 'Little Pinkie'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Thalictrum ‘Little Pinkie’ is now producing some stunning flowers.

Knowing, back in March, that I was not going to open Driftwood in 2020 meant I did not invest in the usual number of annuals and bedding plants. I generally spend over £800 to create displays for visitors to see. The garden did not get its usual deep clean of hard surfaces as I was not able to do it. The net result is that it does not look as good as usual this year, well in my eyes anyway.

If I’m being honest, the lockdown has allowed me to get off a treadmill I had been on for the last 11 years of spending so much time and effort in making sure the garden was perfect through the summer for its many visitors, over 21000 to date. Bonus, I have not had to bake cakes this summer either, over 8000 portions baked in the past!

The downside off course, I’m not going to be raising as much money for charity in 2020, we’ve raised over £134,000 since we started. That said, I am trying still to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, in lieu of the garden trail which has now been cancelled. I’m creating virtual tours of the gardens that were to have taken part and they can be viewed at www.macmillangardentrail.co.uk as well as my video chat with our patron Christine Walkden too.

The other downside is I don’t get to meet lots of lovely people which for me is one of the highlights of the summer. Our lovely tortoise Hector will miss all those visitors too, especially the children who would always make a fuss of him.

Hector the tortoise!

©Geoff Stonebanks – Hector the tortoise will miss the garden visitors this year.

The one plus side has been that we have featured on television twice this year already! On a piece for the National Garden Scheme about virtual garden tours on BBC SE Today and a more substantial piece on ITV Meridian news only a couple of weeks ago. Both films can be viewed through my website. The ITV crew brought a drone, which has given some fabulous aerial video footage of the garden too. So, my experience of lockdown has some definite highs and a few lows!

Arial footage of Driftwood Garden

©Geoff Stonebanks – Arial footage of Driftwood Garden

See more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Geoff Stonebanks Driftwood Garden Update

I saw this posted on social media recently!

“Gardening is an art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas”.

It was credited to Elizabeth Murray. It really tugged at my own perception of how I garden myself. As someone who has no formal background in gardening of any sort, and one who, to be totally honest, struggles to find the patience to grow from seed, this description best fits how I tackle my own garden, Driftwood, and prepare it for the 2,000 odd visitors that come to see it every year! I’ve always said I’m a bit of an instant gardener, as I want the area I’m creating or changing to look like the image I have in my head, instantly.

This description of being a painter and using the plants as paint is something many have said to me over the years. Interestingly, many of the plants I’ve used to paint since 2012 have come from Thompson & Morgan. Looking back to 2013, two of the trial plants I was sent were Dahlia ‘Fire and Ice’ and Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’. The former was the most impressive flower to set the borders alight with some dazzling colour, easy to imagine my brushstrokes creating this dazzling bloom. Likewise with the amazing tulip too.

Dahlia ‘Ice and Fire’ and Parrot Tulips. ©Geoff Stonebanks

In 2014 the standout bit of art for me was the stunning Gazania ‘Tikal Sunbather’, whose dramatic pointed petals really set the garden canvas alive on either side of the tranquil pond. By 2015 we took delivery of the outstanding Fuchsia arborescens. This was a much talked about work of art by many garden visitors, lots of whom had never heard of it. All were captivated by its elegance and its twofold purpose in the garden, producing amazing delicate flowers to paint the borders or containers and then to turn into delicious berries that could be eaten.

Fuchsia arborescens and Gazania ‘Tikal Sunbather’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

2016 saw the stunning Petunia ‘Night Sky’ delivered to Driftwood. These were certainly one of the most talked about pieces of flower art in the garden that year, I had lots of them tumbling out of my 200 or more containers and you could just imagine them painted on a night sky canvas.

2017 saw another gorgeous petunia take the crown for the most commented on plant in the garden. Like the night sky, you could just imaging an artist’s brush delicately painting the heart shapes across the flowers petals. Petunia ‘Amore™ Queen of Hearts’ was a great hit.

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Petunia ‘Amore™ Queen of Hearts’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

Moving swiftly on to 2018, the outright winner in the stand out colour and longevity category, without doubt, was the Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ that arrived and was planted into a large container. They started to flower very early on in the season and never seemed to stop until the garden gate was closed in September and beyond. So, what artistic contributions to the garden will 2019 bring? Well I’ve got 13 different plants being delivered by Thompson & Morgan this Spring, 2 are here already, Acanthus mollis and Alstroemeria ‘Summer Red’. But I reckon the stand out plant for me on the artist’s palette this season will be the Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’. You’ll have to watch this space over the summer months to see how it turns out on my garden canvas!

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ and Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

Interestingly, back in 2017, a visitor to the garden posted this review on Trip Advisor after seeing the garden.

“The garden was a picture created by an artist – a delight of colours, secret glades of surprise, intricacies of fronds and leaves, inspiring and challenging, completely enjoyable”.

Read more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

My Top 5 from T&M at Driftwood in 2018

2018 has been our most successful season of all at Driftwood! We celebrated our 10th year of opening the garden and our 7th year of trialling products from Thompson & Morgan. There were a couple of trips to Buckingham Palace too, in recognition for the charity fundraising we have achieved, our running total to date in excess of £114,000, with almost £20,000 raised in 2018 alone. Add this to the coverage in a national newspaper in August, a short film of the garden on BBC SE Today the same month and a feature in an American garden magazine back in April, not bad at all.

This season my top 5 stand out products from Thompson & Morgan, much commented on by many of our 2000 visitors, were as follows:

  1. Thunbergia Arizona Collection.

I chose to plant mine all in one large pot and these vigorous climbers produced masses of blooms from late June through to the present day. Each bloom has a characteristic black centre that gives Thunbergia its common name of Black-Eyed Susan. As they are tender climbers, I plan to transfer mine to the heated greenhouse for the winter and see if I can get them to grow as well in 2019. They were very quick growing, covering the ornamental tower I placed in the pot, reaching over 6 feet tall. Visitors loved the impact they made at the side of my folly fireplace.

  1. Blechnum Volcano.

I’ve got a small Dicksonia tree fern but was enthralled by images of the dwarf Brazilian tree fern. I’d certainly agree that Blechnum brasiliensis ‘Volcano’ is an exciting new find for the home gardener. These compact plants lend themselves well to growing in patio pots. The young fronds unfurl in a bronze volcanic hue turning a shiny green as they open. We’re told that over time the fern will form a small trunk, growing to around 30cm tall in 10 years. I’ve got a bit of time to wait then but nonetheless visitors have been impressed with its look, sat in a pot immediately in front of a dicksonia.  It is a perfect for giving an exotic touch to your garden. We’re told it is hardy enough to be grown in most UK gardens but I’ll be protecting mine over winter, either in the conservatory or heated greenhouse.

  1. Calendula Power Daisy Orange.

I bought some of the yellow Power Daisies a few years ago and found them very good so this summer decided to try the Calendula ‘Power Daisy Orange’. As the claim states, this astonishing English pot marigold didn’t burn out mid-season. Their bright orange blooms have just keep coming, still flowering at the end of September in my seaside garden. I’ve found that it’s neat, spreading habit makes it a perfect choice for filling containers with many its orange daisy-like blooms The great bonus is that they rarely need deadheading. Many visitors have spotted them burning like a bright star amongst the dense and intense planting here at Driftwood, where this summer, we had over 300 different containers.

  1. Alstroemeria Indian Summer.

What is not to love about the beautifully coloured flowers of Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ with their unique rich, bronze foliage. These hardy Peruvian Lilies are compact with an upright habit, ensuring that stems are still a good length for cutting. I’ve got some in the ground and some in a large patio container. Back in August, the container of plugs I bought this season  took centre stage, when the BBC interviewed me about my garden for a short film shown on TV, on how I and the garden had coped with the incessant heat this summer. They deliberately chose this spot as the flowers looked so stunning. I’m still amazed by how many visitors are not familiar with them and ask what they are.

  1. Coprosma repens ‘Pacific Sunset’.

I saw this plant a garden show this summer and jotted down the name. I knew I had to have some in the garden next season. True to its description, from a distance Coprosma repens ‘Pacific Sunset’ appears vibrant coral pink. On closer inspection the leaves are glossy red, edged with chocolate brown. A wonderful bonus is that it is evergreen, proving vivid colour all year round. It also has a low-growing, rounded habit, which makes it perfect to go in containers in my garden, not that we get too many frosts here but just want to make sure it will survive. I’m told Coprosma is undemanding and needs little attention and a superb choice for coastal locations, next year will tell. My three had just arrived and are awaiting planting but they are sure to be a hit with next years visitors.

So, there we have it, my top 5 from Thompson & Morgan this season.

You can read more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Happy New Year

Back in January 2017, I had this crazy idea to photograph the back garden from the same point, on the same date, each month! Some might think I’m mad, I probably did myself back then, but it is interesting, even for me, to take a look at the 12 images as a picture diary of what happened in the garden last year!  They were all taken on the 7th of the month!

January 2017

February 2017

March 2017

As you might imagine, not a lot really happens in January, February and March. The fleecing you see during these 3 months is not to protect plants from the cold but to keep them safe from the wind damage! Driftwood is just a quarter of a mile from the sea and the wind can be extremely severe. To make matters worse, it is salt laden too, so can do much damage to delicate ferns and palms.

April 2017

Now, by April you can see a real transformation. To start with, there is a bit of sun which really helps. I have begun to take all the garden ornaments and furniture out of storage from Summer House and shed! The screening, I take down each year and put back in different places, has started to emerge, helping create the different garden rooms.  You can see a few tulips in bloom, providing some splashes of colour.

May 2017

By May there are a few more leaves on the trees, a camellia is in full bloom and the white flowers of the sea kale look good in the centre! It is all starting to look a bit lush! I store many objets d’art for the winter and they all appear again in May helping to transform the garden.

June 2017

Ordinarily, I would say that June and July are the best months for colour in the back garden but as the June photo shows, that was not the case in 2017. The annuals are all planted out but not many flowering, just a few petunias and the rose, Tess of the Durbervilles on the left. We open to the public on 1st June and have seen over 17000 visitors since 2009 and raised a staggering £95000 for charity.

July 2017

Certainly, by July there was much upward growth, and more colour with Alstroemeria Indian Summer, Hydrangea Schneeball, Buddleja magenta, lilies and Shasta daisies to name but a few. Extra tables and chairs are put out on the public open days (usually 14 each year) to allow us to serve my delicious home-made tea and cakes too. I’ve baked over 7000 portions since we started!

August 2017

Unusually in August you can see that it looks the best month of all. The Shasta daisies are swamping the green table and chairs and the corridor of planting right behind the house looks the best it has looked all Summer.

September 2017

By September, I expect it to start going over, as we close the garden gate to the public on 3rd of the month after a 3-weekend art festival held in the garden, when we generally sell over £12000 art. You can see one of the large pieces near the green table. It is still looking quite good though!

October 2017

Unusually there is still much colour in October. I’d started to remove some of the dead annuals, as you can see from the empty pots on the central path. This was probably the first year in the 10 years I’ve been opening that it has looked this good at this time of the year!

November 2017

By November it is time to protect the more delicate palms again from the oncoming winter winds. Plants have been cut back and moved to sheltered areas at the back of the house. Hedges have been trimmed on the perimeter and along the central path. Looking neat and tidy for the quiet Winter months.

December 2017

December does not look much different as I don’t tend to do much work outdoors as my other passion is Christmas. This year my indoor Christmas decorations ended up in the Daily Mail, on BBC SE Today and on line with the Daily Mirror, I have a collection going back to the 1930’s which constitutes 20 crates currently being packed away.

Geoff’s Impressive Christmas Trees!

In 2018 I plan to do the same with my front beach garden too! You can read more of Driftwood and see all it’s open dates for 2018 at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

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