Earlier this year, I caught up with Geoff Stonebanks of Driftwood Gardens in Seaford. Driftwood is part of the National Garden Scheme (NGS) and he’d just bought a boot load of summer plants and was preparing for the season ahead. We planned to meet up in June, but the continual rain of the last few weeks put paid to our plans. That is until this week, when blue skies, sunshine and a fair wind blew me back into Seaford once more. And what a treat was in store.
The story so far
Geoff is the first to admit that he’s not a professional gardener. Although you really wouldn’t know it. Having moved to Seaford in 2004 and done everything that needed to be done in the house by 2007, he was bored and so started work on the garden.
Now let’s be clear. This is not the perfect spot for an ambitious gardening project. Driftwood Garden is 100 ft long and at its narrowest point is only 20 ft wide. It’s also sloped, partly shaded and north-facing, but Geoff didn’t let that deter him. Starting with the back garden he gradually transformed what was previously a mundane sloping lawn into what can only be described as an exotic and intoxicating paradise. I defy you not to gasp as you go through the back gate.
By 2009, Geoff’s garden had had great success in Seaford in Bloom’s competition trail. By 2012 Driftwood was a finalist in the Daily Mail’s National Garden competition and had won Garden News’ Best Small Garden competition. In 2014, Good Morning Britain chose Driftwood for a live broadcast by Laura Tobin, and by 2016 not only was Geoff’s garden a finalist in Gardeners World’s Garden of the Year competition but it had also featured on the show.
Meanwhile, Geoff was keen to open his garden as part of the NGS but being a small garden he had to bring together a number of other small gardens to establish a NGS trail in 2011. In due course, he went on to develop the front garden too, enabling him to open Driftwood as an NGS in its own right.
Approaching Driftwood from the front, you’re greeted with a reflection of the coastline that sits just before it. There is a rowing boat, fishing nets (used by Geoff’s father back in the day), shingle and sculpture. There are spikes of Bear’s Breeches, clumps of yellow Curry plants and clusters of vibrant pink Tobacco plants, as well as succulents, Love in the Mist, waves of violet Verbena, grasses, shrubs, succulents and more. It’s got an exotic beach vibe and when Geoff explains that he likes to create a stage scene, it makes perfect sense.
Pass round the house to the back garden and you enter an intoxicating explosion of colour, structure, and form. Geoff likes to describe his garden as an “eclectic mix of crap with a few plants thrown in” but he’s way too modest. The garden is divided into nine areas, starting near the house with a slightly English county garden feel and leading to the top where the tropics seem to meet the Mediterranean. It’s a sophisticated labyrinth of design that tells a story as it draws you in.
It’s also an intense experience with everything from Cosmos, Geraniums, Lobelias, Fuchsia, Hydrangeas, and Dahlias slowly morphing into New Zealand Flax, Windmill, and Jelly Palms, cacti, olives, and figs. There’s colour and interest everywhere with local artwork featured throughout and small items that speak of personal stories included.
For good reason
Quite apart from the gigantium task of maintaining the garden (Geoff starts at five in the morning), over the years he has also managed to bake and serve 8,500 slices of cake and raised a whopping £140,000 for charitable causes, £87,000 of which is for the Macmillan Cancer Support.
Driftwood is open until the 12th August and to visit it costs just £13 as a donation to the Macmillan fund. This includes Geoff’s tour and his enviable coffee and cake. As much of the planting is done in pots, the garden also changes year on year, so it’s also worth a return visit. It won’t take you long to explore the gardens so it’s perfect for combining with a trip to Cuckmere Haven, Birling Gap or a visit to The Long Man.
You can find out more and book your visit at: www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk
If you like this post about East Sussex gardens, you may also like: