Hints and tips for opening your garden to the public

Opening your garden this summer? Here are some great tips from award-winning garden designer Geoff Stonebanks

A tiered stand is a great way to display pots of colour
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I have to confess that I have been known to take steps to ensure that the garden looks the best it possibly can for an open day or maybe even a judging session for a competition or even getting it ready to be filmed by Gardeners’ World or Good Morning Britain! 

Royal inspiration

Containers are a lifesaver in this garden. If something dies, I can just drop a container in to fill the gap

I always remember visiting HRH Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove several years ago and observing his team of gardeners lifting ‘gone over’ containers of plants from lovely large rusted urns. What followed next did surprise me, but I can tell you I remembered it and have used the trick myself on several occasions. As soon as the inner containers had gone, out came a trolley with beautifully perfect replacement ones, with wonderfully upright tulips just about to burst into bloom. Unless you saw it happen you’d never know they hadn’t just come into bloom for you that day. A trick well worth remembering. OK my urns aren’t quite as grand as those at Highgrove but the principle is the same!

It works well for borders too, or for impromptu decoration of the patio, terrace or even the coffee table.

Preparing for filming

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ is a focal point in the garden

Last year, the weekend before Gardeners’ World filmed in my garden, we had an incredibly strong storm, which did much damage to the garden. The director had seen my garden the week before filming and now it was ruined.  Not to be beaten, and knowing they had seen it at it’s best, I nipped to the local garden centre and bought some instant colour to drop into the gaps where the winds had destroyed the blooms. I was honest with them when they arrived, but if you hadn’t known, you would not have noticed. 

Late in the season I saw an online offer of two amazing Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ plants, which I snapped up. They were beautiful when they arrived and I was able to drop one planted into a container into the area by the pond where a leggy geranium had been destroyed. It looked as though it had been there all summer. Creating a focal point to draw attention is a valuable trick when you have visitors.

Lots of pots

Growing in pots also gives the flexibility to move things around during the season.

One of the key mechanisms for me is to have many plants in containers, both annuals and established perennials and shrubs. OK they might be a bit heavy to move sometimes, but they are lifesavers in keeping the overall look of your garden at it’s best for visitors. If something dies, just drop a container in to fill the gap. This also works well with my planting philosophy of dense planting. It’s hard to see what’s actually growing in a container and what’s in the ground.

The use of pots around the central steps area also allows flexibility as the season progresses and when some things need replacing, you just lift a container out and put something else in! 

I also have a lot of sculpture and garden ornaments to compliment the planting and they get moved around the garden throughout the open season also, to draw visitors eyes away from areas that are not looking their best. Trust me it works!

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 £76,000 for various charities in 7 years, £40,000 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.
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