Geoff Stonebanks turned to gardening after moving to the South Coast and has now raised almost £100,000 for charity, Ericka Waller found out how he has done it so well.

“My garden was created out of boredom. I’d retired early and after doing up the house, I ran out of things to do. One day I decided to start at the top right-hand corner of my garden and worked my way down from there. Gardening grows on you like that.”

Geoff Stonebanks started working on his garden in 2009 after moving to Marine Drive, Bishopstone, Seaford. He has never stopped working since and has now raised £95,024 for various charities.

“Friends and family cajoled me into opening the garden. That was in 2009 and from June to September, we had eight openings, welcomed 401 visitors to the garden and raised £461 for charity. We also sold 91 cakes and 92 drinks. The seed was planted, and has been growing ever since.”

Almost ten years later, Driftwood has had 128 public openings and many visits by arrangement. The 64-year-old has welcomed 17,027 visitors to the garden, selling 6,700 pieces of cake, all baked by Geoff, and 6,500 drinks.

Measuring 82ft by 48ft, the garden has been highly ranked on TripAdvisor, and has received praise from Gardening writers across the country.

Geoff knew nothing about plants when he started but has gone on to become a finalist in the Daily Mail National Garden Competition, outright winner of Garden News Magazine’s Best Small Garden and finalist runner up in the Gardeners’ World Magazine’s, 2016 Garden of the year competition?

“I don’t really know how I got to this point. My garden is on chalk, which is notoriously hard to grow in. I removed nothing and added nothing. I feed my garden meticulously with Flower Power and use lots of containers (over 200) to add plants who don’t like the soil. After meticulously researching coastal plants to grow, which cost a fortune and subsequently died, I decided to buy what I like and do my best for them. I don’t follow designs or structures. I got a garden designer in once, worst waste of £200 ever. I decided to have a go myself. I put whatever I like where I like, it seems to be working.”

When early visitors remarked on how inspiring and unique they found Driftwood garden, Geoff was encouraged to open for the National Garden Scheme, an accolade in the gardening world, and start to fundraising.

“I wanted the garden to raise money for charity, but I wanted one where I could see exactly where my fundraising would go and what it would be spent on. I read about the Macmillan Horizon Centre being built in Brighton and decided I wanted to help. My father passed away in 2007. His last wish was to pass away at home. Local Macmillan nurses did everything in their power to make it possible. “

To date Driftwood Fundraising Group has raised over £54,000 for the Macmillan Horizon Centre, which officially opens in November.

It was designed with input from people affected by cancer to make it the best place to offer support and services.

Despite all the awards, Geoff still refuses to call himself a gardener. “People come to me and ask if I can identify a plant. I tell them, unless it’s growing in my garden, I won’t have a clue. I’m still making it up as I go along, with hiccups along the way. Once, the day before Driftwood was due to be filmed for a BBC Gardener’s World shoot, a freak storm came and destroyed everything. I had to race to Paradise Park garden centre and spent £200 on plants to hastily recreate the bloom.”

When asked what was next for Geoff and Driftwood, he said, “I never set out to raise £100k for charity, it just happened. It almost seems a magic number to finish on but we’ll probably end 2018 on £110k.

“Knowing me I’ll probably keep going. I’m not a sit down and do nothing sort of person, never have been all my life, I may slow down but can’t see me stopping. Perhaps a year off to have a Summer holiday. I have a very loyal core of volunteers to help me on open days, all people who loved the garden and what it has achieved so much that they have become the people who help and support me. They deserve a break too.”

Gardening is one of Britain’s favourite past times. Many people claim to have green fingers, but to create a garden that will leave others green with envy and judges handing over the blue ribbon, it has to have something truly unique. Geoff believes his collection of ‘objets d’art’ is what gives him the edge over the rest.

“I always say my garden is an eclectic mix of tat. I have everything from a folly door, a couple of carousel horses to a fireplace and grate in my garden, all watched over by Hector the tortoise and Albert the Jack Russell. Some of the artwork and many of the marine “objets d’art” have been donated by visitors who see something wacky on their travels and decide it would look good in my garden. I love my giant cow made from reclaimed Vietnamese oil cans, amazing carved wooded sculptures by Si Uwins, stunning rusted metal arches and features by Alex Moore to name but a few.”

Rob Moon; Head of Regional fundraising for Macmillan, said: “In addition to the funds Geoff has raised for Macmillan, he is a major contributor to building awareness of the charity and the services we provide. Working almost entirely independently, he has driven up press coverage by 150 per cent in Sussex, resulting in Macmillan helping more people affected by cancer locally. It’s fantastic for Macmillan to see an event which combines the raising of significant sums of money with great awareness, as well as building community and support groups. Geoff sets an extraordinary example within the region of his motivation, perseverance, hard work, and passion and he continues to inspire many people.”

Geoff’s ‘things that worked for me tips’

A) Try and create small microclimates (different garden rooms) with coastal hedging for borders (olearia hastii tweedledum, grisolina littoralis, eleaganus x ebbinngeii work for me ) or seaside shrubs as substantial windbreaks (sea Buckthorn, Tamarisk)

B) Feed plants meticulously from April to October

C) Never be afraid to hard prune in Autumn to retain shape and design for following year.

D) Use some hard core seaside plants in your planting too such as Sea Kale, Sea Lavender and others