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 www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk