Fresh garden ideas at Driftwood By Sea

Award-winning garden designer Geoff Stonebanks shares some new ideas for his garden for 2024.

Driftwood Garden

Any reader that has, at some point, opened their garden to the public, be it for a local charity you favour or indeed for the National Garden Scheme, will know that it can, at first, be extremely nerve racking. There can be many worries on several levels, especially if it opens on a regular basis.

Anyone that opens their garden for the very first time has a distinct advantage! At least no-one has seen your plot before so you will not have to worry about keeping the interest going for repeat visitors. Everything seen that day will be fresh for all who visit. If, like me, you open your garden on a regular basis, Driftwood has seen 152 public days since 2009 along with over 23,000 visitors, it can be a different story. I must be doing something right because I am pleased to say that many of this number come back time and time again to see the garden.

For me, it is important that the interest in the garden is kept alive and those who return don’t see exactly the same thing each year. I believe there are several ways to achieve this. 

Structure of the plot

When I was house-hunting in Sussex, back in 2004, a nice garden was on my list when choosing a new home. That said, it was never on my radar screen to pick one that would ultimately open on a regular basis to the paying public. As it turned out, gardening and setting about tidying what I had, into something that I was happy with actually reversed my retirement boredom. 

The first summer in 2005, the garden didn’t look too bad but there was no doubt in my mind at that point, almost 20 years ago, that the lawn had to go! It was uphill, uneven and a nightmare to mow! 

Driftwood Garden
The lawn was uphill and uneven, and difficult to mow! Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Over the last 15 years, I have created different garden rooms some of which have changed beyond belief but some which, after completion, it was obvious they were there for keeps, as I loved them so much! The railway sleeper patio is one of those things that is now embedded as a significant part of the garden that will not be changed again on my watch, as it worked so well.

Driftwood Garden
A section of the railway sleeper patio that has become a significant part of the garden. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Things I couldn’t live with

Once I’d phased out the lawn, it soon became apparent that there were other things that needed to change.

Central to the back garden was a very large clump of pampas grass that I knew would not sit well in the area I imagined! It had to go but it was extremely hard to remove it all myself! Likewise, at the time there were lots of tall shrubs very close to the house and a rickety old wooden arch, all blocking the overall view down the garden. They all had to go too.

Driftwood Garden
The pampas grass, tall shrubs and old wooden arch were removed as they blocked the view down the garden. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Only this winter, I made the sad decision that my 12 containerised box topiary, in both balls and cones, had to go as they had been treated several times for box blight and were just becoming an eyesore that spoiled the look of the small courtyard by the greenhouse where they were displayed. 

But all these changes gave me space to do something new.

blight damaged box plants at Driftwood Garden
The containerised box plants were having to be repeatedly treated for blox blight. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Tweaks and changes

The distinct advantage of owning a garden that has a tremendous amount of garden sculpture, large and small, along with a fair collection of containers, means it is quite easy to tweak areas of the garden each season.

I learnt very early on some useful tricks for making fast transformations, after a visit to Highgrove, where the gardeners convert large urns containing faded flowers by lifting out planter inserts and replacing them with perfectly planted pots of tulips. This made me realise the importance and flexibility of a pot of plants and how the landscape can change in an instant. 

This vintage wooden cart, purchased a few years ago now, is a great example of something that can be placed in different locations each year to tweak the landscape, not only that, it can be planted with different blooms each season too.

Driftwood Garden
The vintage wooden cart can be re-planted with different blooms each season and moved around the garden. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Pots of colour are really useful to drop into a border of plants, if you find something has gone over and you need to refresh the view.

Without doubt, my favourite approach is to relocate a piece of garden sculpture, large or small, to draw the eye away from a less imposing view. I have several pieces in my garden, like my juggling fish and many single stem sculptures. It’s amazing what can be achieved to just tweak that view.

Driftwood Garden
Geoff with his juggling fish sculpture. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

There are endless options in any garden to make the small changes that create great impact. Start thinking what you can achieve this year.

Driftwood Garden
One of the many single stem sculptures in the garden. Image: Geoff Stonebanks
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