In a corner of Seaford lurks a “once in a lifetime” garden as well as a local legend! Driftwood Garden is the work of Geoff Stonebanks and the most incredible wonderland of creativity. You may have heard of it because it’s fair to say that over the years it’s attracted a fair bit of attention from gardening bigwigs as well as the media, including Gardener’s World, BBC and ITV Meridian. And rightly so.
Driftwood isn’t a large garden but every inch is put to good use. In fact, it’s not so much of a garden as a series of short stories or experiences. There’s a beach garden at the front complete with lobster pots, a boat, shells, and decking and at the back, a network of small areas lead on seamlessly from each other. There’s a couple of 1950s rocking horses, a line of teacups, a mysterious ivy-clad door, mosaic birds, metal sculptures in the shape of flowers, the occasional gnome, and the obligatory driftwood. And that’s just for starters. You need a keen eye to spot everything (and probably several visits) and if you think at this time of year a coastal garden might be lacking in colour and interest, you’d be very wrong.
There are dozens of varieties of tulips, pansies, daffodils, as well as hellebores, blossom and all sorts of wonderful plants I couldn’t put a name to. All of which is set against a background of evergreen colour, ferns, agaves, palms, and unusually shaped succulents. It’s a riot of interest that includes texture, colour, structure and conversation starters. But I get the feeling what I see today, won’t necessarily be what you see tomorrow as it’s a garden that evolves and changes all the time. And indeed, when I caught up with Geoff, he was already preparing for the end of the bulb season and the planting of a large quantity of annuals.
To be honest, I was a little daunted at the prospect of speaking to Geoff. After all, he gardens, he writes (prolifically), he’s a social media guru, he bakes (over 5,000 cakes over the years) and he fundraises (somewhere in the region of £137,000 to date)! But in fact, my anxiety was unfounded as he’s utterly charming and down to earth. But where on earth does he find the inspiration and passion for what must be an all consumingly love affair with nature?
“Well, I retired early from the Royal Mail in 2004 and moved here to Seaford.” Geoff explains, “By 2009, all the projects in the house were done, so I turned my hand to the garden. I had no previous gardening experience so I learnt by trial and error. Gardening by the sea has its own challenges. I’d try and create environments within the garden that worked and it has evolved from there.
I get my inspiration from all sorts of places, and it’s a sort of mish-mash of plants and artifacts that somehow all seem to work well together. In fact, I think the artifacts are as important as the plants to bring it all together and it certainly seems to engage people as different areas develop.
For example, a few years ago, a lady gave me an old typewriter, and that was the beginning of a writer’s corner. I added an old phone, and some bottles and then I was contacted by someone who had written a poem about it, so I’ll add that to the typewriter. Similarly, I acquired an old fireplace, so I added a grate and a mirror and some plants called burning embers. The best way to describe the process is that I feel like I’m dressing a film set.”
But Geoff’s talents and passion don’t stop there because he’s also the driving force behind the Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail which normally runs across two days in July and allows visitors to enjoy a number of the best coastal gardens in Sussex. Obviously, last year this event couldn’t go ahead but Geoff tells me he’s confident it will happen this year and he already has 13 or 14 gardens that want to take part. An official announcement however has to wait until June in line with Government advice. The trail all forms part of Geoff’s phenomenal fundraising efforts (which also included a spot of naked gardening last week). So what on earth is his driving force?
“I always knew I wanted to fundraise but it was really important to me to support a local charity where I could be confident that all money raised would go directly to a local cause that has relevance to the community. Macmillan Cancer Support absolutely fits the bill.”
Time spent at Driftwood is time well spent. It’s uplifting, inspirational, and just good for the soul. And you can’t help but think, we need more Geoffs in the world!
Covid allowing, Geoff is opening his garden again this year as part of the National Garden Scheme in June and you can find out more or book here: Geoff Stonebanks
You can find out more about the Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail or donate at Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail
After his amazing fundraising efforts so far, it would be great to help get Geoff back on track with all his efforts to support Macmillan.