A garden journey through Driftwood

Driftwood is a garden of three parts, split into several different garden rooms, Geoff Stonebanks takes us on a journey to explore

Looking out to sea from Driftwood Garden

Driftwood is a garden of three parts, split into several different garden rooms, Geoff Stonebanks takes us on a journey to explore.

Let’s take a walk, a journey through the different areas, noting special rooms, plants and effects I have created for my visitors to enjoy.

Driftwood by Sea has many fans and plenty of accolades. Monty Don said, when introducing the film of Driftwood on BBC Gardeners’ World back in 2016, ”We’ve been across Britain looking at inspiring planting and design and this week are at Driftwood in East Sussex, a small garden by the sea that’s full of character.

Francine Raymond wrote in her feature on Driftwood in the Sunday Telegraph back in 2015, “A small garden by the sea – small and perfectly formed.”

Geoff Stonebanks at Driftwood Garden
The cottage garden and patio behind the house. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

The garden at Driftwood is made up of three main parts; the beach garden at the front (main image), the cottage garden and patio behind the house and the gravel gardens at the top of the plot!     

The upper gravel gardens at Driftwood
The gravel gardens. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

When you arrive at the house, the garden looms above you. Simply rise up the slope and the five steps from the footpath in Marine Drive straight into the beach garden at the front of the house! 

Front garden at Driftwood
The beach garden at the front of the house. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

“For me, on the plant front, the wow factor here has to be my large collection of agave Americana. I have over fifty, all in containers so I can keep them under cover through the winter months. Come April, I drop them into place so that the foliage can grow around, part concealing the pots!” 

Agave in pots at Driftwood
Agave Americana. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

The other wonderful feature at the front, is the unique and specially commissioned fence at the front of the garden and the various, rusty metal sculptures scattered around the space, all complement the dense planting. “One of the most asked after plants is a small prostrate verbena called Polaris.  One of my favourites, that can get missed as it sits on the left of the drive by the garage, is a stunning plant called Bupleurum fruticosum or shrubby hare’s ear. It is an evergreen shrub with simple, obovate, blue-green leaves and clusters of tiny yellow flowers in summer and early autumn.

Shrubby Hare;s Ear at Driftwood Garden
Shrubby Hare’s Ear. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

The Wow factor

Visitors always exclaim in virtual surprise or shock as they enter through the back gate. In the words of Francine Raymond, in an extract from her Telegraph feature, “We moved around to the back garden to see what all the fuss is about. A stunning wall of colour greeted us, banked high up the slope with narrow paths, leading up through terraced seating areas, each with a different theme; a tiny meadow of marguerites around a metal table and chairs, a potted gunnera with a water feature and every inch covered with blooms.  Each minute area is populated with props.”  

Gunnera at Driftwood Garden
Potted gunnera. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Plant Impact

Geoff uses plants in quite extraordinary ways. “One of the most talked about plants visitors see as they enter the back garden is the beautiful Buddleja “Buzz Magenta”. It has such vibrant colour flowers. It is one of the best plants to attract butterflies to your garden and this one won’t take over. It has long-flowering, brightly-coloured blooms and is easy to grow and problem-free. I cut mine right down each autumn and it comes back looking great every year. Alongside the pond, is the star of the garden, a large gunnera in a container. It grows well in my small garden and sits adjacent to a small pond.”

Buddleja at Driftwood Garden
Buddleja ‘Buzz Magenta’. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

“Skirting the rear of the house, visitors find themselves swamped by colour, with a chance to sit and take in the view, or maybe my delicious home-made tea and cake. This entire area is built up using containers of annuals and perennial plants. The results could not be achieved without feeding plants and Richard Jackson’s Flower Power which has worked its magic on this area now for over 5 years!

Next, take in the vista as you stroll up the central path and walk under the stunning rusty metal arch. The garden is ablaze with colour. The tall Butia capita palm was a Christmas gift from my mother back in 2009. Beneath the arch and turning to your left, gaze on the containers of plants tumbling down the steps up to the next level, maybe move on and sit on the green bench and look back at what you might have missed.”

Central path at Driftwood Garden
The central path that winds up under the stunning rusty metal arch. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

“At the top of the steps, make sure you glance left and see one of my favourite areas of the garden, the rusty green metal table and chairs, perfect to sit and enjoy your tea and cake. This shot set up for a photo shoot last summer with John Glover, for the image to grace the cover of the National Garden Scheme’s Sussex booklet in 2021. “

Green table and chairs at Driftwood Garden
One of Geoff’s favourite areas of the garden. Image: John Glover

As visitors retrace their steps to the central path the Summer House, Dad’s Place, can be viewed through the palms and the tropical pineapple lilies stand tall on the patio. Alongside the path the dramatic flowers stand proud on the Aloe striatula, resembling mini bananas!  

The summer house at Driftwood
The Summer House, Dad’s Place. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Once on the top patio, alongside the summer house you can see a large array of succulents beautifully displayed. These definitely create a wow factor with lots of small and large containers banked up against the left side. There are two other small areas of succulent elsewhere in the garden too.”

Striatula at Driftwood Garden
Aloe striatula. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Art in the garden

“Many visitors comment on the way the art I have throughout the garden sits well in the landscape, beautifully complementing the planting. This gorgeous stained-glass mackerel being representative of the sort of pieces you might find on your garden journey!

Mosaic fish at Driftwood
The stained-glass mackerel is just one of the pieces of art that you can find at Driftwood. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

We also sell local garden art at our openings too! We’re open until 12th August for private visits or by rebooked ticket for the National Garden Scheme on 1st August.”


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