What does your garden mean to you?

Geoff Stonebanks reflects on what he loves the most about his garden at Driftwood by sea.

Writers Corner at Driftwood

Since retiring early in 2004 and moving to the coast, my garden has always been my sanctuary! To be honest, prior to that, due to work commitments, I’d never been that interested, or perhaps more to the point, never had the time to spend in the garden!

In the intervening years I can honestly say gardening has wholeheartedly consumed me, whether that be in the way in which it has developed me as an individual, been used to create a vehicle for charity fundraising or the satisfaction and pride it has given me in the success it has had in national gardening competitions!

So, here are the five things I most love about my garden at Driftwood by Sea.

Creating friendships

I suppose, it is a bit like owning a dog, open gardens are a great way to make new friends, especially if you are new to an area. Without doubt, our circle of friends grew exponentially as a result of locals visiting, following its first opening back in 2009. Even if you don’t open yours, the subject of gardening and associations through garden centre visits and horticultural clubs creates a great sense of camaraderie too. 

Rosa and Celia, volunteers at Driftwood Garden
Rosa and Celia are regular volunteers at Driftwood. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Many, if not all our current friends, in and around Seaford, began life as garden visitors Like Celia Hughes and Rosa Botterill who are now regular volunteers, serving tea and cakes or selling raffle tickets, when we open the garden to the public. Others, like Lois and John Starley who are probably our most frequent paying visitors to the garden when we open for charity, coming to 4 of our public days last year. So many of our regular paying garden visitors are repeat ones. 

Regular visitors to Driftwood
Lois and John Starley are frequent visitors to the Driftwood Garden. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Enhancing my creativity

I’ve never had a desire to dress a film set but nowadays, I very often describe my work in the garden to others in this way. Visitors ask if I was trained in a creative career but sadly not. Everything I do in my garden is self-taught and seems to come naturally. A good example is this writers’ corner I created in the garden, after being given the rusty old typewriter by a local friend, it just felt natural to create this space. More importantly when the image was viewed by one of my Facebook friends, Julie Allan, back in 2019, she was inspired to write a wonderful poem and send to me.

An Underwood typewriter’s invitation
I am sorry 
I have not written for quite some time 
I meant to But the days passed, I was somehow overtaken 
You know how it is 
First you forget, then forget how
I have secured a position 
My rustiness – extreme – is considered becoming 
My general shape a muse for writing 
Or reverie 
They don’t mind which. This is England
My New York life is lovingly shelved 
I tapped in to everything of importance 
Governmental and journalistic 
By common accord, I was a stunning success 
Oh, the stories I told
Now I feel oddly childlike again 
Visitors find it suitable to wonder aloud how old I am 
I might be as young as eighty-six 
I could be one hundred and thirteen 
I’m somewhere in there 
No ribbons, either way
Please, you must come visit 
My carriage will not be returning to New York 
Or anywhere else 
And you have famously taken to the road before 
You and Jack might like how poetic it is 
In this free verse garden
They are already booked from San Francisco 
You will meet lovers and artists, enquirers 
Life has salt here 
And there will be cake
Julie Allan, May 2019 For Driftwood, in appreciation

Underwood typewriters are from early 20th Century New York. The No 5 is the archetypal ‘old typewriter’. Jack Kerouac is among those who used the Portable model.

Each year it is displayed in the garden for visitors to read.

Writer's Corner at Driftwood Garden
Julie Allan’s poem is displayed in the garden with Geoff’s Underwood Typewriter. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Supporting the community

I suppose the thing I am most proud of in my association with my garden is the fact that is has led me to become involved with the community and support them as well. With over £152,000 raised through the garden since 2009, almost £100K of that for Macmillan Cancer Support, it has led me to Buckingham Palace twice. Back in 2018 I was invited to a Macmillan reception with HRH The Prince of Wales in recognition of my fundraising for the charity later that year, in recognition of my work in Seaford with the Mayor’s Trail, to a Royal Garden Party. Also, that year, the Mayor of Seaford presented me with the Don Mabey Award for services to the community in the town. None of this would have happened without my commitment and interest in gardening.

Geoff Stonebanks meeting HRH Prince Charles
Meeting HRH The Prince of Wales at a Macmillan Charity Reception. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

New lease of life, writing

Since late 2012, I have been writing prolifically, features and articles, gardening columns about Driftwood. The two that I’m most proud of are the monthly published pieces in the national gardening magazine, Garden News and on Richard Jackson’s Garden website.  Additionally, since 2017, I write a weekly gardening column in the Brighton Argus newspaper which also gets posted online and since 2019, a monthly feature page in an Eastbourne magazine called Bournefree. Every so often I write for other outlets as well, like Thompson & Morgan, National Garden Scheme and Primrose.

Geoff Stonebanks articles
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

If I had not begun to open my garden and take a real interest in gardening, I would never have found this new love. Many wonder how I find the time to do both but writing about what you know is much easier than trying to create something in areas outside your comfort zone.

Read more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk


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