What actually connects visitors to my seaside garden, Driftwood? An early quote from my visitor’s book says it all for me. ”An inspirational garden on a scale we can recognise.” A recent editorial in Sussex Life Magazine helps too, “In Sussex we are blessed with many great gardens including Great Dixter and Nymans but there are other, more unusual treasures to explore such as Geoff Stonebanks’s Driftwood in Seaford!” Jean Vernon, a gardening journalist wrote after visiting last summer, “packed full of ideas and inspiration, it’s a mecca for garden lovers with small gardens and big ideas. 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. This garden is simply packed full of ideas to take home and try out on your own plot.” This final thought is also echoed by many of the 12000 garden visitors I have seen since 2009, who have sought me out and told me so.
How can this be? I’ve no gardening expertise or training but the experience of visiting Driftwood seems to fuel the desires of current day aspiring gardeners. I am fascinated to understand what really connects those who visit the garden and more importantly inspire them to go away and create their own little heaven. I believe there was a time when it was perceived that you needed to be an expert to create a garden and had to have in depth knowledge about plants and planting.
To me, it seems almost superfluous now. I’ve proved this with my coastal garden on chalk, facing the sea. I set out sticking to the rule books and found many things did not work for me here, so my hallelujah moment came back in 2012 when I decided I’d do what I felt was right for me, not what others felt was right, wrong or indeed expected! I’d buy plants I like, not the ones I should for the conditions, then look after them. It’s this philosophy, which I think readily connects with visitors, seeing what can be achieved if you set your mind to it.
All my garden visiting experiences when younger were large country estates, none of which could be aspired to. It’s now possible to see smaller, creative gardens through a range of local garden trails that have sprung up over the last 20 years. The National Gardens Scheme now accepts smaller gardens in groups to participate and be part of the scheme, including my own. There is much research that suggests gardening is good for you at any age, so trust me, now is the right time to give it a whirl and believe me, there is so much out there to inspire and give you confidence no matter what size of plot you have.