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