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

Trial plants at Driftwood Gardens

So, as we approach the end of the season, how have then plants received this year fared? Without doubt the one that has excelled and received many comments from our many visitors is Petunia Amore “Queen of Hearts”. It has  flowered prolifically throughout the season and is  still going strong in mid-September. It is interesting that many do not see the hearts in the petals until they are pointed out to them. A lovely plant that many say they will be buying in 2018. Another showstopper, without doubt has been the Sweet pea “Earl Grey”. I don’t normally have any  success with them in my windy garden but these seem to have  done very well and produced some amazing blooms greatly admired by visitors.

Petunia night sky, which I also had in 2016, has done very well again, many people still not having seen it before and much taken with it. The petunia mini rosebud Romantic Peach  took a while to get started but looked really pretty tumbling out of 2 rusty urns in the garden. A little bit  delicate, perhaps, for my garden as you really had to look to see  and appreciate them. The calendula “Winter Wonders Collection” did not work that well for me, likewise the Osteospermum “Falling Stars”. The latter arrived in poor condition through the post and you were not able to replace them.    The strawberries “Just add cream” started off really well but only one plant lasted the season and produce some delicious fruit. Geranium ‘Black Rose was a great success too! the dazzling blooms drawing attention in containers throughout the garden. Certainly one I would recommend. The Gazania “Shepherds Delight” were so very,  very slow to grow on and develop and I have to admit a few fell by the wayside, but then the flowers finally appeared, they were quite stunning. The Buddleja Davidii “Wisteria Lane” was not as impressive as I had hoped, maybe it was me,  but it seemed not to do too well in my coastal garden, quite badly bruised buy the salt winds.

Meanwhile the hydrangea Annabelle and the Erigeron Glaucas “Sea Breeze” that I purchased have both done really well.

In addition to this I was sent some trial, as yet unnamed, Hibiscus  and experimental lilies. Many suggested the lilies be called something along the lines of red hot chillies. Both were quite stunning when they flowered and were such bold colours. They received many positive comments from visitors.

Finally back in May we received the pack of experimental dahlias with just a reference letter to their name. They were potted up and have been such beautiful flowers. I have to admit the slugs and snails love them too, but the flowers have  been incredible. Dahlias, C, D, F & XXL were especially gorgeous and much remarked upon by visitors. All in all great season at Driftwood and we shall be doing it all over again in 2018.

An Interesting Winter Garden by the Sea

winter garden

At this time of year, it’s always difficult to maintain an interesting looking garden that you can be proud of, especially when you are located on the coast! In recent years, I’ve been extremely pleased with my beach garden, created back in 2012. The small plot sits at the front of my chalet bungalow, facing the sea, about a quarter of a mile away. It has to take everything the elements throw at it.

We get very strong winds blowing off the sea many times during the year! I’d always seen it playing second fiddle to the main back garden, but over the years I’ve begun to realise that it is always capable of holding its own and looks quite amazing, despite what the weather throws at it, especially when the sun sets over it.

More importantly, it is incredible how low the overall maintenance on this part of the garden is compared to the rest of my plot. Surprisingly, a professional garden photographer shot the beach garden this month as well. All my pictures here were taken mid-January, through to early February.

arabis, boat and bergenia

The Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi ‘Old Gold’ is looking really stunning by the steps up from the street, in amongst the grasses and the euonymus fortuneii Emerald Gaiety. You can see the horizon and the sea in the background. Dazzling along the front of the old weathered rowing boat, the bergenia flowers are quite striking. The boat itself, which is the centrepiece of the front beach garden, is now surrounded by plants and shrubs. There is a large sea buckthorn on the right of it that may have shed its leaves for the Winter but it’s silver grey frame still leaves its mark on the landscape.

cornonilla, rosemarium

Brimming over the edge of the dinghy you can see the amazing bright yellow flowers of the coronilla valentina glauca, which really catch your eye at this time of year, along with the pale lemon flowers of the large hellebore argentifolius. The eclectic mix of object d’art around the garden, old reclaimed anchors, rusty wheels, lobster pots and reclaimed groynes all help to maintain the character of the plot all year around, not to mention the large pieces of driftwood too.

miscanthus

We’ve had a lot of mist and fog hang over the garden since Christmas and it really gives an interesting, if eerie feel to the beach garden. Flowering this week by the boat are the delicate flowers of the rosemarium officianalis rosea. Not far away the elegant plumes of the Miscanthus Morning Light Maiden rise up and catch the evening sunlight perfectly.

So, if you’re looking for a relatively low maintenance garden to create yourself, maybe a beach garden is a good choice. What’s more, you don’t actually have to live by the sea. You could create your dream plot wherever you like! You can read more about the garden and when it will open for the season in 2017 at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

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