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

Geoff Stonebanks

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 £95000 for various charities in 8 years, £53400 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.

A blog from Driftwood with a difference!

Most of my blogs are usually about the plants that Driftwood trials for Thompson & Morgan, as one of their Customer Trial Panel gardens, but for a change I thought I’d pen a little bit about the garden’s location and some of the challenges of gardening by the sea!

Driftwood by sea blog

Room with a view

For those not familiar with Driftwood, it’s located between Seaford and Newhaven on the south coast, not that far from Brighton. It’s in the bay you can see, looking out to sea and there is the view from our bedroom window across the fields to the coast. 2015 has seen strong winds, which makes gardening a real challenge through the summer months, keeping the garden pristine for its many garden visitors. Now, as we approach the winter months, there is much to do to put the garden to bed and get it ready for its 15 scheduled openings in 2016, along with its many private visitors and coach parties.


It is also quite possible it may appear on a prime time gardening show on national TV too next summer! Watch this space! I like the garden to look a little different each year, as many visitors come back year after year.

Driftwood by sea blog

The central area is still looking quite smart for November, even if it lacks a bit of bright colour. This view across the garden shows a range of lovely shades of green for this time of year!

Driftwood by sea blog

The garden has many different rooms which I have been working on in recent weeks and you can see the 2 rooms on the left of the garden, the cottage garden area in the foreground and the upper patio at the back, tidied up ready for replanting next spring.

Driftwood by sea blog


You can see me working on the raised beds in the centre off the garden too, moving plants around to change the overall look. There are 3 Thompson & Morgan blooms looking quite amazing at the moment, they are Rose Garden Party, Alstromeira Peruvian tree Lily and Hydrangea Vanilla Fraise as you can see.

Driftwood by sea blog


I’ve got several ball chrysanthemums in the back garden too, but the largest of them was badly hit by the recent winds as you can see. It’s always difficult with the wind so I try and keep the planting as low as possible and create the height with some rusted metal sculptures. If you want to see more on the garden go to Driftwood by Sea.


Geoff Stonebanks

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 £95000 for various charities in 8 years, £53400 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.

Customer trial panel member Geoff Stonebanks

In this gardening blog post Geoff Stonebanks writes about his gardening experiences on the south coast of England and becoming a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

I’m Geoff Stonebanks, fast approaching my 60th birthday and retired now with my garden in Sussex for 9 years now! Passionate gardener and fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Support through organising garden trails and garden events.

2012 was an absolutely amazing year Driftwood.  In June I was appointed an Asst County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme in East & Mid Sussex to be followed, in October, appointment as their Publicity Officer. July found me being overwhelmed to realise that my garden had been shortlisted to the final 15 (from over 1200 entries nationwide) in the Daily Mail National Garden Competition, only then to discover it made the final 4 and was awarded a coveted blue plaque.

In October the news was even better when I found out I had won, outright, the Garden News Best Small Garden in the UK, again from over 1000 entries. Coupled with that the garden had seen over 2000 visitors and raised over £8000 for charity in just one year! Not bad going for a small plot on the south coast that’s only 100ft long and about 40 feet at its widest point! What makes the garden even more interesting to most visitors is its location, facing the sea between Brighton and Eastbourne, exposed to the salt-laden winds from the sea.

Customer trial panel member Geoff Stonebanks

The back garden in 2007

Customer trial panel member Geoff Stonebanks

Front garden with the sea in the distance, November 2011

The 2 images show the back garden in 2007 and the front garden, with the sea in the distance, in November 2011.

It is an extremely challenging place to garden. Tim Sharples, Head Judge from the Daily Mail said “This bright, beach-inspired plot embraces its location with imaginative planting.”

In essence, it was a back garden of 2 lawns split by a central path with borders around the edge and a defined slope from bottom right to top left. The front was just lawn. Work really began in 2007 and I worked my way down the garden, with the front only being completed in February 2012. My dream was a cottage garden but the salt laden winds prevented that. Many of the trial plants I have been sent already, Dahlia Fire and Ice, Foxglove Dalmatian Pink are going to need to work hard to survive in this garden. In the end it has developed organically a bit at a time as an idea came to me, no grand plan. I did appoint a garden designer at the onset but didn’t like what they did so cut my losses and decided to create it all myself. I had to work with the prevailing weather conditions and create the gravel beds and plants that defy the wind and the lashing rain! I wanted a garden with many rooms, which was made slightly easier with the slope from bottom right to top left forcing me to create level areas across the garden to position furniture on.  I created wind breaks with grisolina littoralis and oleria transversii Tweedledum, low hedges to help protect areas and use of wicker panels to both ease the wind and help divide into rooms. The garden sloped upwards from the house, which tends to make it look smaller. However, heavy dense planting with no lawn and no exposed soil create an illusion of a garden much bigger than it actually is.

I often say I am an instant gardener, I can visualise what I want but then want to see it straight away, not having the patience to wait for it to grow that way! Competition judges last year were so impressed with the established look the garden had despite its relative newness. This seems to be a skill I have acquired to make the area look long established. They also said small gardens can be a challenge trying to fit in everything you want. They’re even more of a challenge when they’re on a slope, making them look even smaller, however, they felt I had created something special, filling the garden with a huge range of plants without making it look cramped. There are individual sculptures of metal and wood and the results of beachcombing, which they said equal a coastal heaven with its own distinctive personality.

Customer trial panel member Geoff Stonebanks

The front garden, July 2012

The front garden, which is the most coastal looking area, and clearly the most challenging to plant, now looks quite incredible in the summer as the picture shows. Visitors are absolutely stunned to see that this also has summer perennials clustered around the rowing boat in the centre of the gravel garden for protection. There is verbena bonariensis (purple top), verbena rigida (Polaris) gaillardia ‘Dazzler‘ (blanket flower), coreopsis ‘Calypso’, fuchsia ‘Winston Churchill’, and penstemon ‘Magenta White’ to name but a few. The front garden also has many different grasses (stipa tenuissima – ponytail grass – one of my favourites,) and tough coastal plants, hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn) and tamarix tetrandra (4 stamen tamarisk).

Throughout the garden there are inspirations from my Dad’s sister, Margaret Grindrod, who was a keen gardener and many of whose plants (she died in 2004) I now possess and also my Dad, Ron Stonebanks, who died in 2007. He was a fish merchant on the docks in Fleetwood when I was a child and I have a fish basket and fish crates with my grandfather’s business stamped on them. These helped influence the style for the front garden. Also many of his plants are here too.

I was impressed by Derek Jarman’s garden and have taken some of those ideas. In the main I have done what I have wanted, having experienced the weather here and achieved it by trial and error. I love to visit smaller gardens and enjoy seeing things that I can take away and use myself and always pleased when others see my garden and say they will do the same.

2013 is the 4th year of opening to the public (17 times this year) and we have had over 6000 visitors so far and raised an astonishing £16000 for charity.

When I first decided to create my garden, with absolutely no qualifications or experience in garden design, I just did what felt right for me and the space I had to work with. Never be afraid to try something, even if it fails.  Be bold and put combinations of plants together that you might, at first think is unconventional, or maybe think won’t work, it is amazing what looks great together if you just think outside the box. Tim Sharples, a garden designer and Head Judge for the Daily Mail Competiton, was bowled over by the planting in the front garden (bearing in mind its exposed location) and assured me he would be taking elements to incorporate in his own future designs.

Customer trial panel member Geoff Stonebanks

The back garden, July 2012

At the back, it is difficult to gain height due to the wind, so the use of rusted metal objects and tall wooden sculpture help create height and drama to the garden, alongside the some of the perennials which give it height, the verbena again and the cephalaria gigantica (giant scabious) which shoots like a firework out of the rusted metal frame or the cynara cardunculus or cardoon rising dramatically by the pear tree!

  1. The planting elements of the garden are made up of 3 main styles/types; Coastal planting to cope with the salt-laden winds, a large butia capitata (pindo palm tree) in the centre at the back, 2 chamaerops humilis (dwarf fan palm), a trithrinax campestris (blue needle palm) and several phormium tenax (New Zealand flax).
  2. The hardy perennials that work in a coastal setting but give the flavour of a cottage garden, some of my favourites being fuchsias, 2 of which belonged to my Dad and his sister, ‘Empress of Prussia’ and Genii, of which there are now several established plants in the garden and new ones I have acquired, ‘Pink Temptation’, ‘Lena’, ‘Lady in Black’ & ‘Winston Churchill’. Other loved plants are leucanthemum x superbum ‘Snowlady’, (Shasta Daisy) and oenothera macrocarpa (evening primrose). Fuchsia ‘Duke of Wellington’, one of this year’s trial plants, can now be added to that.
  3. Then for the summer months there is the final part of the equation with the introduction of summer annuals across the garden, not just in the cottage perennial area but also in pots and containers in the coastal area as well, which bring the 2 other elements of the planting together creating a naturalistic flow and gelling between the coastal and cottage area.

So, I believe it was the combination of my success last year and the wide spread publicity of the garden through its web site, www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk, all my tweets about events and planting in the garden and the competition success that led me to be invited to be part of the Thompson & Morgan Customer Trials in 2013.

The real challenge for me will be trying to make work the plants I am trialling in a coastal garden. Many of those being sent to me are not ones I would have chosen for this environment. I will be doing all I can to support them and I’m sure they will do well. Many visitors are amazed that I have success with plants that one would not expect to see in a coastal plot. You can all check out what is happening on the Thompson & Morgan page of my web site. I have chosen to record all the details there from receipt to flowering in words and pictures!

I am looking forward to this year and hope to report back later in the year on the successes and failures with the customer trial programme products I will be sent this summer.

Read more about becoming a member of the customer trial panel here.

Rebecca Tute

Rebecca works in the Marketing department as part of the busy web team, focusing on updating the UK news and blog pages and Thompson & Morgan’s international website. Rebecca enjoys gardening and learning about flowers and growing vegetables with her young daughter.

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