A drought-tolerant redesign for Driftwood Garden

Geoff Stonebanks pond view from bench

Driftwood garden in Seaford has been visited by 23,000 visitors, to date
Image: driftwoodbysea

Geoff Stonebanks, designer of the award-winning Driftwood Garden in East Sussex, has been busy transforming another corner of his inspiring outdoor space. He talks us through his brand new water feature area, designed around drought-resistant plants that will reduce the amount of time and natural resources required to keep it looking great. The before and after photos are incredible!


Garden redesign – Geoff Stonebanks at Driftwood

Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks shares his exciting garden redesign
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Catch up with one of our favourite bloggers, Geoff Stonebanks, creator and keeper of the award-winning Driftwood garden. Here he gives us an exclusive insight to the creation of his brand new Mediterranean themed area, and shares a snapshot of his time capsule for the future!

Creating a Mediterranean garden

Geoff Stonebanks mediterranean garden

Geoff’s new drought tolerant area is easy to care for and has a striking, mediterranean look
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Back in March 2021, I conceived the idea to create a sunken patio garden at the rear of the house by digging out the area on the left side of the garden and creating a Mediterranean area with drought tolerant plants, a collection of succulents and shrubs.

While doing this, we created rustic brick and old railway sleeper edging to replace the original raised wooden beds alongside the rear of the house and around the central steps, which had started to rot. The small patio by the green folly door was extended to meet the rear of the dug-out area which is secured, unusually, with 50 old railway sleepers on end.

At the onset of the work, a follower on Twitter said: “the destructive bit is terrifying – but then comes the creative bit”. How very true those words really are.

So, for 11 days in October, local landscaper, Dan Smith and his company, Ace Of Spades, worked their magic using my own design ideas to create an amazing space, bordered by upturned old railway sleepers. Dan navigated a mini digger through the left side of the house and excavated 4 skips of chalk and debris, creating the new sunken garden area.

I felt so sorry for his team as they then had to wheelbarrow all the debris down the steep drive to the waiting skips. More importantly, they then had to carry the 50 railway sleepers up the drive too. Landscaper Dan said: “Thanks Geoff, hope you enjoy the new area as much as we did building it. It looks amazing, can’t wait to see it in its full glory spring time“.

The completed space already looks amazing but will not show its true potential until next Spring, when it will be dressed with my large collection of succulents.

A facebook visitor and follower, Sacha Hubbard, posted on social media: “Anyone who hasn’t seen Driftwood but has read your posts, might think you’re Mr Manyacres! What you do with an average size modern garden plot is simply astonishing. I think a ‘How I did it’ book about your garden could be inspirational and valuable to so many people who don’t have a large garden but want to do something interesting with a relatively small space”.

The Driftwood garden time capsule

Driftwood garden time capsule

Geoff’s time capsule is a snapshot of the garden for the future
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

A friend suggested I bury a time capsule beneath the new patio paving. Spurred on by the idea, I purchased a capsule and set about asking people on social media what I should include inside. There is no date set to open it, so it’ll be discovered whenever anyone changes the garden in the future!

These are the items that made the final selection:

  • Digital memory stick with images of the garden, media & award coverage, charity recognition, achievements, cake recipes, garden visitors and a pdf copy of Geoff’s book about the garden
  • Current monetary coinage
  • Covid-19 test kit and Frida Kahlo face mask
  • Petrol receipt
  • National Garden Scheme 2021 booklet, Driftwood on cover, scheme name badge and pin badge
  • Macmillan Cancer Support biro, pin badge and 2019 trail booklet.
  • Morrisons & Waitrose club cards
  • Business cards: Geoff Stonebanks & Mark Glassman
  • Lapel Remembrance poppy
  • 3 packets of seeds
  • Garden visitor’s favourite cappucino cake recipe
  • Fingerprints, Geoff Stonebanks, Barbara Stonebanks (mother), Mark Glassman (partner) and pawprint of Chester the terrier
  • Photo of John & Lois Starley, (Seaford residents) our most frequent paying garden visitors over the years!
  • Copy of Geoff’s monthly gardening page ‘Bournefree’ from October 2021
  • Copy of Geoff’s Argus weekly gardening column from 8th October 2021
  • Copy of Geoff’s monthly Garden News column from September 2021
  • Latitude and Longitude details of the house and the time capsule
  • Digital stick with Latest TV Brighton gardening television features from 2014, filmed at Driftwood with Geoff, courtesy of Angi Mariani
  • Midland Bank crown dated 4th August 1980, donated by Barbara Stonebanks

Visit Driftwood garden

Driftwood garden Mediterranean area

Visit Driftwood to see the rest of Geoff’s fantastic garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

After over 10 years of opening Driftwood garden to the public, I realised it was starting to become a chore to water so many containers of summer annuals. Watering them could take in excess of 5 hours from start to finish! At last count there were over 300 containers across the garden as a whole, with a heavy concentration on the back patio. This inspired the idea to design an attractive new ‘Mediterranean’ area, to reduce the need for so much water while still looking fantastic.

See the new look Driftwood in 2022. It’s listed in the National Garden Scheme’s handbook and will be open from 1st June to 31st July, by arrangement, and for the Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail on 23rd and 24th July. Full details on the website at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

If you can’t make it in person, then view the whole design process from start to finish and keep up to date with daily videos on the garden development page of the website.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this update from Driftwood garden. Have you got big plans for your outdoor space? Explore the rest of the T&M blog for simple design tricks to transform your garden. Share your before and after pics with us via our social channels, or drop us a line via email.

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

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