Driftwood: Biography of an NGS garden owner

Driftwood: Biography of an NGS garden owner

Driftwood by Sea

An award winning NGS garden, owned by Geoff Stonebanks.

Read on for an amazing auto-biography on this exceptional gardener!


I am often asked what inspired me to start gardening. I was extremely lucky to get early retirement from my high-powered personnel role, back in 2004 and was not used to having time on my hands. We moved to Sussex, I took up gardening as a hobby, and the rest, as they say is history!

I am totally obsessed with gardening. I have no formal gardening experience or qualifications and certainly had no intentions of creating a multi-award winning garden, let alone one to open for the National Garden Scheme. The garden sloped upwards away from the house, had 2 lawns that were difficult to mow and a steep grass bank at the front. Over time, I decided to get rid of them all.Driftwood-Fuchsia

All the creativity is my own with hard landscaping completed by professionals. There is nothing between the front garden and the sea, about a quarter of a mile away. The winds can be incessant. We are on chalk which is very difficult to dig. I have certainly learnt the hard way.

Small gardens can be a real challenge, trying to fit in everything wanted, they’re even more of a challenge when they’re on a slope, making them look even smaller. I’ve tried to create something special, filling it with a huge range of plants without making the garden look cramped. My recent successes on BBC Gardeners’ World and finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine’s “Garden of the Year” award 2016 suggest I’ve not done too badly.

Back in 2010, I was proud of my small garden – just 100 feet long by 40 feet at its widest –but not even in my wildest dreams would I have considered opening it up to the public, let alone the National Garden Scheme. It just was not good enough! What did I know about gardening or plants? I was persuaded – well, in hindsight, maybe bullied – by family and friends, who kept telling me it was worthy of opening for others to see. The problem was, it was my garden and I did not see it the same way as they did. Opening for the National Garden Scheme is seen as having made it in the gardening establishment, so I invited the County Organiser to visit. She loved it, however it was not big enough to open on its own. Elation then despair all at the same time! Not to be beaten, I sought other small local gardens which were approved and in 2011 we opened as a group for the scheme. In 2012, a new County Organiser visited saying, small is beautiful, interesting and can sustain visitors’ interest. She approved my going solo from 2013! We have seen over 14700 visitors for all charities now. Many of them – me included – like to see gardens on a scale that they can relate to, and hopefully pinch ideas to replicate in their own plots.

I love gardening, iDriftwood-Aunt-Margaret-Liliest’s a great source of interest and constantly challenging, you learn new things all the time, it keeps me active in my 60’s. There is always a danger when you retire that you can sit around and not exercise. I have always had quite a creative mind and planning how the garden will look each season is a constant source of enjoyment. It’s amazing the satisfaction that can be gained from gardening too, you can see something that you’ve created from start to finish and that feels amazing, especially when visitors come and heap praise on you or your garden wins an award or features in a national newspaper. You can also turn your efforts into raising money for charity too. We have raised over £76000 for various charities and the satisfaction I get, far exceeds any expectation I might have had at the onset.

I’m often asked for my favourite plant in the garden, well with over 1200 different plants and shrubs across the plot it’s very hard to say. However, if pushed I will generally mention 2. The first, a pot of orange and red lilies that belonged to my Aunt Margaret, who died back in 2004. I inherited the container and they spring up every year, in the centre of the garden, like a phoenix rising from the ashes and she watches over my efforts. The second, a standard fuchsia, Empress of Prussia. This belonged to my father, who died in 2007 and I have propagated many new plants from the original to use in the garden and sell to visitors. His love of fuchsias seems to have rubbed off on me and I now have many different varieties on show each summer.

Come and visit in 2017.




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