Geoff Stonebanks ‘la creme de la creme’
Back in 2012 Geoff Stonebanks, who opens his garden Driftwood in East Sussex, had memories of how kind Macmillan nurses had been to his mother in 2007 when she was trying to get his father back home from hospital, just before he passed away. This, coupled with the fact that Macmillan would allow him to raise money that stayed local, started him on a fundraising path that would raise thousands for charity.
“I’d started opening my garden for the National Garden Scheme in 2011 and the following year I decided I wanted to support Macmillan locally too,” says Geoff. “So, in 2012, I approached the charity, who were then in the process of raising funds to establish the Macmillan Horizon Centre in Brighton, adjacent to the Royal Sussex Hospital. I was impressed with the team and with their support I formed a committee of one, me, and named it Driftwood Fundraising Committee.”
Geoff set up the Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail in 2012 and it ran until 2022 when, as he approached 70, Geoff decided he had to slow down.
“I persuaded TV gardener Christine Walkden to become its patron and she generously attended in three of the 10 years. And, in each of the 10 years, I single-handedly recruited between 12 and 20 private gardens to open, risk assessed them, produced all the marketing and publicity, built and maintained the website and reconciled all the income.”
Along with a variety of different fundraising raffles and events, including all the proceeds raised through non National Garden Scheme by arrangement visits to his garden since 2012, Geoff has raised a stunning £114,825 for Macmillan Cancer Support and over £32,500 for the National Garden Scheme.
If those numbers are not impressive enough Geoff, who bakes all his own cakes for his garden openings, has baked and served over 10,000 slices of cake since 2011 and over 6,000 visitors have come through the National Garden Scheme alone in the last 12 years.
But it’s not just the fabulous fundraising that motivates Geoff to open his garden.
“Come rain, come shine, my garden visitors always bring the very best to Driftwood,” he says. “For me, visitors are the final ingredient that brings my garden to life. Since we opened, we have seen over 23,000 from all over the world, many coming by word of mouth. It is so wonderful to engage with like-minded people, a considerable number of whom have become friends with many returning year after year. There is such great camaraderie.”
On top of that wonderful sense of sharing, Geoff’s garden and his fundraising has also attracted a lot of media attention and brought a huge amount of personal recognition too.
“In 2018, Macmillan Cancer Support held a reception at Buckingham Palace with King Charles III, then HRH The Prince of Wales,” says Geoff. “I was one of 180 guests, specially chosen by the charity from over 20,000 volunteers nationwide, to attend the event and Macmillan’s then CEO said that the assembled volunteers were ‘la creme de la creme’, something that many of us were astounded to hear.”
Then, in April 2023, Geoff learnt that he had been named one of the 500 Coronation Champions by the King and Queen, to mark the Coronation and was invited to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in May that year, the second he had attended related to his charitable work.
Earlier that year Geoff was also nominated for Macmillan’s own “Thanks To You Awards” and was subsequently confirmed as one of the finalists. “I attended their glittering awards ceremony in June, in Birmingham and whilst not winning it was an incredible honour to have reached the final,” he says.
But the smaller, heart-felt thank you’s have meant a lot to Geoff too. “In the autumn of 2022, the then CEO of Macmillan, Lynda Thomas sent me a very personal letter of thanks for my efforts over the previous 12 years. Just reading it brought tears to my eyes,” he says.
And in March 2020, the National Garden Scheme presented Geoff with a Chairman’s Award for his exceptional contribution as a volunteer.
“Volunteers are the lifeblood of the National Garden Scheme,” says Chairman, Rupert Tyler. “We could not do what we do, raising millions each year for nursing and health charities, without people as dedicated, selfless and enthusiastic as Geoff. We are hugely proud to have him as part of the National Garden Scheme family.”
Geoff’s top five tips for opening your garden for charity…
- Never underestimate how beautiful your garden might be! Don’t rely on your own opinion, trust what friends and family say about it and just go for it, you will not regret it.
- The garden visiting experience can only be enhanced if you serve tea and cakes. I go mad, serve it all on vintage china and bake all my own cakes but if you ask your friends, I’m sure they would help contribute to your supply for the day and tea tastes just as good out of a mug too. It’s always good to know how much you have spent on ingredients so that you are not out of pocket and then all the proceeds can go to the charity. Set out some seats throughout the garden, even if you have to beg, steal or borrow a few for the day. You are going to need someone to help you out serving the teas too, as your visitors will want to talk to you about your garden.
- Why not use your garden as a gallery. If you are really keen, then there are a couple of other steps you can take too. Do you know anyone who makes and sells garden art? If so, why not invite them along to display their work in your garden and ask them to donate a percentage of their sales to your charity of the day.
- An easy way to improve your takings for the day is to sell plants, either cuttings you have taken yourself, or again, ask friends and family if they want to support you and provide you with plants they have propagated. It’s a very a quick and easy way to raise funds and everyone likes to go away with a memento of a nice garden, what better than a plant?
- When I prepared for my open days, I always had some extra planted containers around, in reserve, they gave me the flexibility to drop them into a bed or border to hide an area that I wasn’t that happy with.
To organise a ‘By Arrangement’ visit to Geoff’s garden click here for details