This Week’s Guest Blogger is Geoff Stonebanks, who owns Driftwood Gardens

My last feature for Gardening with Disabilities Trust was posted back in May last year, so those that read it will be aware of my multi-award-winning garden in Seaford on the south coast, between Brighton and Eastbourne. A lot has happened in the intervening months, including me suffering with both my knees, but especially the left one. I’m pushing 70 next year and finding it a little more difficult to garden than I used to, finding more rest stops are needed to ease the pressure on the knees!

So, something had to give. Throughout last summer, I harboured the idea of reducing my terracotta pots, always brimming with summer annuals and shrubs, from about 300 to 100. The aim being to reduce the time needed to water and hence the amount of time on my feet.

The image above shows how intense the planting was then, a corridor of containers behind the house and many in the area around the green table and chairs. I imagined, in my head, a new drought tolerant area, dug out of the chalk, held back by upright vintage railway sleepers. I sketched out on a piece of paper what I had imagined and asked a local landscaper, who trims my boundary hedges each autumn, if he was able to recreate it for me.

The response was very positive and in October last year the new sunken garden was created. You can see pictures of the area as the mini digger took hold and now, how it looks this summer, the perfect area for gatherings with family and friends and for visitors to the garden to enjoy their tea and cakes.

Another sacrifice this year, to deal with my standing around with visitors on public open days for the National Garden Scheme, was to consciously make the decision to stop having public open days and to just accept visitors, by prior, pre-booked arrangement. I’m listed in the scheme’s Garden Visitor’s Handbook and also in the BBC Gardeners’ World 2 for 1 booklet. We’ve received 170 five-star reviews on Trip Advisor too, so holiday-makers to Sussex can pick up the idea of visiting by checking their site.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the response this year, with almost 450 people having booked to see the garden through the open period, that1st June to 31st July. So successful has it been I extended opening until 31st August.

The knowledge of who will visit each day has made it so much easier on me physically and more importantly, reduced the time I have to spend baking cakes. Regular visitors have commented how much nicer it is to have fewer visitors in the garden at any one time and my time is more readily available to chat to them.

I have organised a garden trail along the coast for Macmillan Cancer Support each year since 2012 from Brighton to Seaford, but this year may have been the final one as it too is so demanding, single-handedly organising the event. So, my very final public days were over the weekend of the 23rd and 24th July when the trail’s Patron, Christine Walkden was on hand to help us celebrate over £100K raised for the charity over the years.

One year on from contemplating a significant design change to the garden, I can happily say that the impact on my knees has been significantly reduced. I used to spend about 6 hours watering the garden, from front to back, before the changes and now can do it all in about 2.5 hours. The dramatic reduction in containers and the fact that many of my plants are more drought tolerant now helps this too. I made the decision back in May not to buy any summer annuals, just geraniums which require less watering too.

I did fear that returning visitors would feel the “wow” factor had disappeared from the garden, but I need not have worried as the feedback has been overwhelming.

This comment was recently posted to Trip Advisor by Judy Spector. “Wow what Pizzazz! A sensational gardening experience. If you don’t go to to any garden you have to visit Driftwood. The flowers, the carefully thought out planting, the garden ornaments, for sale for the Cancer charity, not to mention Geoff’s excellent home- made cake and tea served on exquisite china. The bonhomie of its celebrated owner and his Partner who have worked so hard to make this a joyful experience for their visitors is renowned. Our third very pleasurable visit and most certainly not the last.”

Read more of Geoff’s garden at

This Week’s Guest Blogger is James Smith, a Landscape Designer who writes about ornamental grasses

Why I Love Grasses
Who doesn’t love an ornamental grass? Well, if you had asked me this when I first
started designing, I would say me! I am not sure on why I didn’t like ornamental
grasses, maybe due to lack of knowledge about the plants and how to use them in a
planting scheme. It wasn’t until I visited the tranquil Knoll Gardens located in Dorset
circa 2018.

After my visit to the gardens that were established in 1994, it completely changed
the way that I saw grasses and how they can be incorporated into the planting
scheme. I learned that grasses can be blended with perennials which in turns adds
drama, texture, movement, and structure the garden. This is all achieved by carefully
thinking about where you are planting the grasses and how to affectively get the
most out of them.

Planting them where you are going to get a slight movement from the breeze as well
as near paths as this is the best way to hear the sound that they create. Another way
that grasses and be utilised is by planting them in accordance with the suns
orientation. I think there is nothing better than the dappled shade created by the
taller grasses. Grasses are also greatly used as underplanting for multi stems, and
standard trees, by using grasses such as Hakonechloa macra or Stipa tenuissima, will
help highlight, and ensure that the tree is framed perfectly

Planting them where you are going to get a slight movement from the breeze as well
as near paths as this is the best way to hear the sound that they create. Another way
that grasses and be utilised is by planting them in accordance with the suns
orientation. I think there is nothing better than the dappled shade created by the
taller grasses. Grasses are also greatly used as underplanting for multi stems, and
standard trees, by using grasses such as Hakonechloa macra or Stipa tenuissima, will
help highlight, and ensure that the tree is framed perfectly.

Grasses are typically low maintenance; some will need cutting back once a year and
others may need a simple comb through with your hand!
Now to give you a hand in choosing some grasses, below is a list, in no particular
order of my favourite grasses and what I like to combine them with.

1) Hakonechloa macra
As mentioned previously in this blog, Hakonechloa macra is a fantastic plant to
underplant trees with and for hogging path edges. This low maintenance deciduous
perennial produces luscious mounds of green leaves and airy green flowers in late
summer. If you give this plant a chance, as it is rather slow growing, then it is an
impressive sight when planted in large groups. Cut back the old flowering stems and
any dead foliage in late winter. I love to partner this plant with structure shrubs such
as Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’.

2) Stipa tenuissima / Nassella tenuissima
Recently changing it’s name to Nasella tenuissima, just to annoy everyone! Now, I
love Stipa in all varieties, I used it in my RHS Flower Show Tatton Park and the
majority of my designs, when given the right context. The Stipa, or Mexican Feather
Grass as it is commonly known is an evergreen grass that is brilliantly utilised in a
large border to create soft movement. If necessary, just back dying strands in early
spring. I like to get the best out of this plant by planting it alongside Verbena
bonariensis or Salvia ‘Hot Lips’

3) Pennisetum alopecuroides
The Chinese Fountain Grass grows in dense clumps of 60cm long leaves which in
winter turn brown. This plant flowers green / purple which are faintly hairy in late
summer and early autumn and looks brilliant in a coastal planting scheme as well as
being planted en-masse. All you have to do with this plant is to prune it back and
remove dead or old flowering stems in spring. I combine this plant with late
flowering perennials such as an Aster.

3) Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’

Reaching a potential height of 1.5m, this grass is a robust perennial specimen that
brilliantly works well when combined with Verbena bonariensis or Agapanthus. This is
such an amazing plant if you want the dappled shade affect in your garden as well as
providing stature and movement. To get more out of the Feather Reed Grass you can
divide it mid spring and make sure that you cut back to around 6-10 inches from the
ground in very early spring before any new growth resumes.

4) Lagurus ovatus
The Hare’s Tail Grass or Bunnies’ Tails is an annual grass grows in small tufts, usually
at a maximum height of 0.5m with dense fluffs of flower heads. The flower heads are
especially useful if you are in to drying flowers. Being from the Mediterranean this
grass loves to be in a warm and sunny location, and I personally love to see it in
courtyard gardens and in containers. Unlike the other grasses mentioned, the
Lagurus ovatus doesn’t need to be pruned. Despite the height difference, I have
planted this with a Verbena bonariensis on my balcony, but I think they do balance
each other out. Another plant that works extremely well is the Sanguisorba officinalis.
The red and white flowers of both plants make each other stand out.

5) Briza media
Finally, a native grass, the Quaking Grass, is a short living, semi evergreen perennial
that grows in sunny or partial shade and up to 1m in height. Flowering in Spring and
Summer, this grass possesses heart shaped purple and green tinted flowerheads that
over time turn to a buff like colour. This also makes it brilliant for dried flower
arranging. I recommend pruning the flower heads back in the late summer to
encourage new growth. I love to see this grass companioned with Achillea
millefolium or Leucanthemum x superbum.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Flo Scott, who writes about permaculture

I always wanted to learn to garden, even as a child I begged my father to let me have a patch of garden to try growing things, but it wasn’t until I got my first allotment in my early 20’s that I started to learn to grow food and that’s when I first heard about permaculture. Permaculture is a design system which helps us to create sustainable lifestyles.

Many years later, we finally had a garden of our own, I’d done my permaculture training, and I’d learned all about how to grow food in a very easy-care low-maintenance way, which by then was very necessary as I had been diagnosed with a range of chronic illnesses which still limit my energy and ability to garden today.

The permaculture growing techniques I use in my garden, are based on principles that help us to mimic nature to reduce the need for working hard in the garden. I use the no-dig method in my veg beds inspired by Charles Downing’s no-dig market garden, which uses mulches to suppress weeds, hold in moisture, and to build and feed the soil. I also have designed my garden to be like a forest, with lots of layers of edible plants. For example, I have an apple tree and Hazel in the canopy layer, below which I grow fruit bushes such as red, black and white currants, and raspberries. I have strawberries, wild strawberries, and herbaceous perennials such as sweet Cicely to provide ground cover and in the root layer I have leeks, and bulbs. Climbing up the fence I have thornless blackberries, and Japanese Wineberries. This is also a good way of packing a lot of edibles into a limited space.

I designed the landscaping of the back garden using sustainable and locally sourced materials such as the oak timbers for the raised bed terracing, sweet chestnut fencing from a local wood, and locally made bricks for paving. Having raised beds helps me so that I don’t have to bend down too far to garden and using the no-dig method means I only need to use hand tools.

Now that my garden is established, it’s easy to maintain. I have planted lots of edible things that like to self-seed, such as rocket, mustards, borage, nasturtiums, which in future will save me from raising everything from seed. The main jobs through the year are planting out new food crops, occasional weeding, mulching with homemade compost, watering pots, and harvesting, which I can do myself or with a little help from my husband.

You can find regular updates of my garden by following me on instagram @perma_flo and my Facebook page Flo Scott Permaculture Designs

Instagram link:


This Week’s Guest Blogger is Chris Jesson, a RHS Student and Blogger on Instagram

How I believe Autism inspires my emerging and revitalising journey into Horticulture

At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022

I’m Chris Jesson and since January 2021 I have been publishing my gardening adventures in my distinctive style on Instagram at @groovygardeninguk. Aside to my work as a Chartered Town Planner, I presently study the RHS Level 2: Principles in Horticulture (Distance Learning) with Craven College. I am elated to be a volunteer gardener at Renishaw Hall & Gardens in Derbyshire and for the National Trust at both Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire and Wentworth Castle Gardens in South Yorkshire.

I live in North Nottinghamshire with my partner. We moved to this newbuild property in 2019 and this gave us a baseline from a gardening perspective to do exactly what we would like to achieve and evolve the space; except we didn’t know quite how much at the time. The garden is set on two levels, split by wooden sleepers and steps. It is framed beautifully by border landscaping and a wonderful English Oak that ensures some dappled shade in parts of the garden and plenty of leaves come the Autumn. The garden is south-west facing. My story explains the journey this garden has taken me on.

Life is of course unpredictable and that implicates every one of us. Sometimes you can be proceeding ahead successfully and then all of a sudden various barriers come to challenge you. I’m not exclusive in this, though I would say that as an autistic person there is consensus that barriers (particularly social and communication ones) can appear daily as we navigate the confusion and rush of modern neurotypical worlds.

It is often spoken that gardening can appear seemingly out of nowhere and provide comfort as a saviour when times are tough. That is exactly what happened to me in 2020 during the initial lockdowns. Work stress, extreme anxiety beyond the usual, combined with the requirements for swift societal change during a pandemic proved troublesome to the highest degree in over a decade. Despite my diagnosis I had experienced many years of defying the face of adversity to get where I am now, in a good full-time job (statistically for this the odds are against me), living independently with a partner in a home we own. I spent many years being busy, busy and more busy, filling out every last hour with a mixture of work, voluntary efforts as a representative and advocate of the town planning sector, meticulously planned holidays and travelling considered to be ‘time off’. It was a merry go round of time-intensive obligations destined for burnout, but a life lesson that taught me a great deal and turned me inadvertently towards the garden to generate a sense of place.

During an extended period of time off ill in the Autumn of 2020, I took a step back in many of my extra pursuits to help but it was the outside space that I chose in small steps to form the healing process. This ultimately proved to be the right decision. There had been a modest interest in gardens before; their colour and design, their contribution to the historic setting of country estates and various family members’ interests in visiting gardens had often involved my attendance. There had however been very little understanding of the way of the role gardens had for wildlife and conservation, the identification of plants, colour schemes, successional planting and the horticultural practices of propagation and simply looking after plants properly. All of this was outside of the realms of my understanding and experience, but the way my brain is ‘wired up’, I would say, poses as a key asset.

The Garden when we moved in (August 2019)

When we first took the garden on, plants were bought willingly from nurseries and garden centres but without a particular strategy or understanding of where to go. Plants were arranged with an eye for combination but without attention made to composition, cohesion or simply how they might fare in that position. For the first year of us living here, this strategy continued acceptably enough, with a willingness to improve the garden to but not carried by the enthusiasm that I now possess. I had a small zip-up greenhouse where I began to experiment with free packets of seed, with good success but zero expectation. More for a reason of adding to the long-term garden design and layout rather than knowing of its opportunities, I fortunately made a snap decision to order a proper bespoke metal greenhouse as the initial foray appeared to be a welcome one. At the time the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading across the world at relentless pace and little did I know how important that judgment would end out to be.

Ultimately the lockdown and resulting emotional experiences I faced in the ensuing months appeared to be the turning point. While it was initially a novelty to work from the home office, following the Easter holidays I began to really suffer with the competing demands that were subtly different to experiencing them in a physical office or on site. Those deadlines, juggling a challenging full-time job with intense voluntary work, ended up colliding head on with one another in this lonely existence of being at home, a place I’d seldom been at.

Thankfully the weather in the first major lockdowns ended up being warm and sunny; itself directing me to the outside space in our spare time as we were all confined to the home. I contemplated and browsed the space in the spare time and discovered that the garden plot here was a chief reason why we chose the house. An unusual trapezium shape it may be, but it is ripe for improvement and is enveloped, almost cossetted by the borrowed landscape beyond, led by the English Oak. With the burnout and anxiety becoming regular and cyclical occurrence, come the Autumn of 2020 I was particularly unwell, and this coincided with the arrival of the greenhouse. While I was in too much disarray to help construct it, with the help of my partner and his family the bespoke lean-to greenhouse was constructed to the back of the garage in time for the cooler Autumn and I was able to get started on some early sowing such as the Sweet Peas, Cerinthe major, Nigella damascena and Cornflowers.

The practice of sowing in peace during the period where I was off in the Autumn proved to be the ideal tonic, where the brain could stop spinning at 3,000mph and I could narrowly focus with precision on a single task, return back to it and nurture it. This would often be in the comfort of classical music, or simply birdsong. I quickly realised that in doing so I could be quite quickly distracted from the turmoil, rebuild the brain, be less forgetful and agitated. I returned to work part-time where I have remained since, supplementing my days off with gardening and developing horticultural skills out in the garden.

I set up @groovygardeninguk to initially to stop boring friends and family with endless photos of the garden on personal social media. This quickly started to build an association whereby a journey could be mutually followed, and I didn’t quite realise just how much the account would ultimately grow, to some 6,200 people internationally at the time of writing. Nor did I realise how beneficial it would be to me, learning about planting combinations, finding gardening tips, meeting new people, and ultimately retraining. All of the subsequent studies have been borne out of my life experiences into horticulture from my own garden space and showcasing them online. The ability to show photos, videos and do live tours around the garden continues the skill I have put to good use before as an advocate or representative of current and earlier professions. Testimonials to the account suggest I am an approachable and enthusiastic person in the way I present myself online. Moreover, the voluntary work I undertake allows me to be exposed to practical learning as a supplement to the theory based RHS course. It no longer represents voluntary work of the kind that feels relentless and not on my terms; while still busy I have greater control over what I choose with my time, and of course I’m fortunate to be able to accept lesser hours at work in the process. The process of gardening in essence is a gift that keeps on giving.

Those facets of gardening I didn’t truly appreciate back in the day – the role gardens had for wildlife and conservation, the identification of plants, colour schemes and successional planting and the horticultural practices of propagation looking after plants, are now at centre stage. This is aided by the propensity of my brain, with its photographic memory, to be able to retain certain information. I can feel my brain and body leaping at the chance every time I see the garden from the back window. The palpable sense of wanting to be out there, and then immersing yourself is invigorating. I have not felt that feeling about a destiny of mine for a good while. As a person, once I have that feeling and vision, I set out my hardest to get there and one way or another have got there, with plenty of mistakes to learn from as is par for the course. The capacities I learned when successfully representing disabled people at university in the late 2000s and town planners in the 2010s now extends to gardeners in the 2020s. I’m more driven with this than has often been historically the case, but since having to reinvent myself I now try and be less modest and more bold given I traditionally had been hard on oneself. There is the hurdle of tricky exams to navigate but one is definitely in the zone.

Having this space is a real privilege to me. It has both restored aspects of me but also been a powerful generator of a new crowd of people to be carried by, and for me to inspire. The distinctiveness of me as a person has been brought out once again with vigour and enthusiasm. In July 2010 I stood on the stage at graduation to receive the University of Sheffield Chancellor’s Medal for services to disabled people. The kind of spirit I had in that role has cascaded into every pursuit since; place autistic individuals in the right environment and they can absolutely flourish. The garden as it is now is the best proof that gardening is good for me and that I am good for gardens. While there can be shortcomings, I could not be without the diagnosis to be this way and owe a lot of credit to it.

You can follow Chris on Instagram @groovygardeninguk or on Facebook as ‘Groovy Gardening with Chris’

The garden as it is now (July 2022)