Gardening with seaside challenges

The garden at Driftwood by sea survives and thrives in the coastal climate, but it’s not without effort and management. Award winning garden designer, Geoff Stonebanks shares his tips on gardening with seaside challenges.

A happy place; Driftwood Garden
Geoff Stonebank's garden, Driftwood by sea is a happy place Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Last month my blog ‘Gardening by the sea’, explored the story of my seaside front garden, battered by the south westerly winds from the Atlantic. This month I’m going to share the story of the back garden which, although completely different to the front, has its own challenges in being close to the sea but in different ways.

A happy place; Driftwood Garden
Geoff Stonebank’s garden, Driftwood by sea is a happy place
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Garden Rooms

It is a partly shaded north facing garden, a small plot 100ft (30.4m) by 40ft (12.2m) and all on a slope. I’m not a trained gardener, so when I was creating it, I decided to do my own thing. I set about making garden rooms to divide the space, which, in hindsight, served two purposes. First and foremost, I was able to create pockets of protection within the room boundaries but an added bonus, the rooms make the small garden seem much larger as you have to move from one to another! The harsh winds can whistle across the plot, many coming from the north in recent years, so being able to create room boundaries was really vital.

Natural windbreaks

The cottage garden corner, with the green table and chairs, is bounded by two great seaside friendly hedges; Griselinia littoralis, along the central path, and Olearia x haastii ‘Tweedledum’ beneath the tea cups! Their glossy leaves provide the perfect protection from the salt winds. Planted behind are things like fuchsias, digitalis and alstromeria and summer annuals.

Coastal garden plants
Three favourite coastal plants from Driftwood Garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Throughout the garden, I’ve used the natural windbreaks I’ve created and adopted a dense planting approach as one plant helps to protect another. There’s no exposed soil anywhere in the garden and apart from a very small patch for our tortoise, Hector, there’s no lawn either! In the gravel bed areas towards the top of the garden, there are some very bold specimens like the huge Butia capitata or jelly palm, in the centre, or my use of of dramatic and exotic specimens like the coral aloe, Aloe striata, with their utterly amazing flower heads. There are large phormiums and the unusual sight of a magnificent gunnera in a large pot too. The massive clump of acanthus, which last summer had over 20 flower heads, makes giant statement towards the summer house.

Tough garden plants
Some plants are better suited to coastal conditions
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

The cordyline and the white bottlebrush are much more sensitive to the seaside winds so have been carefully positioned behind other more tolerant plants to keep them looking their best. I do carefully fleece them through the winter though!

Adding height

When I first began work on the garden, the hardest thing was to gain height because of the strong seaside winds, so, I decided to invest in lots of rusted metal sculpture which has really come into its own. I’ve got arches, anchors, plant supports, an original Victorian umbrella, topiary frame, to name but a few!

Rusted metal effect
Oxidised iron sculpture and supports add interest to the garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

The salt laden winds speed the rusting process and the rusted metal structures, throughout the garden, sew the whole garden together with the repetition of colour, texture and form.


Geoff Stonebanks

About Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks lives in Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden - Driftwood - he has raised over £114,000 for various charities in 8 years, £66,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners' World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also the National Garden Scheme's Social Media & Publicity Chair as well as an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex.
View all posts by Geoff.