Getting out to visit gardens is a great pleasure, but one that I rarely find time to do. But August saw me trekking across the country to a garden I’d heard about but had never had the chance to visit. Wow what a treat it was.
Driftwood Garden is a secret treasure on the coast of East Sussex. It’s the magical garden creation of a man fired by the glory of plants and passionate about life in general.
It’s creator, Geoff Stonebanks is an inspiration, spending every waking moment tending to his dynamic garden, baking cakes and humbly inviting total strangers to experience his creation and share his passion. He uses his small, coastal plot to raise thousands of pounds for charity and has become something of a local, horticultural celebrity and hero.
You could drive past this raised garden with ease, tucked down a sleepy, suburban road, it sits atop a loose meadow and looks out towards the sea. But climb the steep steps up to the unassuming period bungalow and instantly you get a glimpse of the creative spirit and immense talent of its maker. It’s simply awash with sea washed shingle, crumbling chandlery and salt tolerant plants that together create a soft, beach effect at the front of the house.
Geoff Stonebanks has transformed an ordinary plot, on a slope, bordered by houses, neighbours and other gardens, into the proverbial magic garden.
What makes it so special? Lots of things; it’s not trying to be something that it isn’t, there are no formal lawns, double herbaceous borders or parterres here. Geoff has used his blank canvas to paint with his plants and the effect is an exuberant, intricate tapestry of ideas, textures, plants and so much more.
Through the garden gate
Open the garden gate and the first impression is a cacophony of colour, interest and impact, not in a blousy kitsch way, but more like poking your head into a secret wonderland, hidden in time. It’s bursting with colour and interest, but you’d never know it was there and once you are enveloped in its nurturing, all encompassing presence, it feels like you belong. It’s a welcoming plot, complete with numerous, but elegant little seating areas with tables and chairs where visitors are treated to his delicious tea and cakes. Book ahead and you might even be lucky to sample lunch, served on pretty vintage china, surrounded by his horticultural extravaganza.
Ideas and inspiration
The garden is simply packed full of ideas to take home and try out on your own plot. I don’t want to tell you everything and spoil your visit, just know it’s a smallish garden with winding narrow paths, lots of surprises and a very friendly dog called Albert. When you get to the top don’t miss Hector’s House, not the children’s television show, but a little garden den for a vintage garden friend. Meeting Hector was one of the many highlights of my visit.
The garden is seasoned throughout with an eclectic mix of art and sculpture. There’s everything from a pantomime horse jumping the hedges to a range of amazing sculpture from local artists.
Some of it is for sale. My favourites have to be the giant echium in the front garden, made by Frances Doherty and Alan Williams; it’s made from metal and ceramic and is stunning. I also love the floral sculptures, such as the PomPom by Frances Doherty, displayed all around the garden.
But there are some fantastic metal supports and garden decorations by Chris Burchell Collins and some lovely take home plant stakes from Paul Cox as well as work from another ten or so artists. So if you needed another reason to visit, there’s some fantastic garden art too. The garden is open by appointment until the end of September, so check the website for more information and put it on your list of gardens to visit, book ahead, for lunch if possible, you really won’t be disappointed.