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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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 £137,500 for various charities in 11 years, £85,000 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.