When it comes to growing plants for specific environments, it’s always a good idea to take a look and note what’s growing in other people’s gardens, growing wild in hedgerows, dunes sand or on and around pebble beaches. There are many plants that can be grown in a garden by the sea, despite the salt-laden winds, from small alps and grasses to tall trees and everything in between.
Strong winds battering the shores can cause stunted growth, defoliation, and leaf scorch, but some plants have specifically adapted to tolerate these harsh growing conditions.
I grew up in Hove, just outside Brighton, and spent hours in the countryside or at the beach.
Living so close to the sea offers an openness and vastness that are hard to describe. So many people go to sit on a beach, gazing out through the waves, to clear their minds and de-stress.
We know that plants and gardens can contribute positively to our physical and mental well-being, so marrying the two will often result in calm and freshness.
Still, new gardeners to coastal extremes, salt-laden winds, high winds and more can be a little overwhelmed and have a hard time knowing where to start.
Obviously, the further your garden is from the sea, the less extremes it will have to face, but whether near or far, it makes sense to create wind shelters, or windbreaks, which in turn will slow down and will filter winds, catch salt and help create micro-climates, but these windbreaks must be robust.
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The best plants for seaside gardens
Best Native Coastal Hedges
The best native coastal hedges are adapted to coastal conditions, tolerate windy areas very well and tolerate sea air.
Good choices are therefore rose hips, elderberry, sea buckthorn, wild privet, field maple, alder, hawthorn and blackthorn, which are also fantastic for wildlife.
The best evergreen hedges
- Griselinia littoralis
- Elaeagnus x ebbingei
- Escallonia rubra macrantha
- Cupressocyparis leylandii
Best hedges with colorful flowers
- Magellanica Fuchsia
- Rosa rugosa ‘Rubra’
- Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’
- Berberis darwinii
- Berberis x stenophylla
- Cotoneaster Franctii
- Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’
- Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Gold’ Euonymus europaeus
Ideal for borders
Look at what grows in nature and introduce plants such as:
- Armeria maritima (sea economy)
- Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’ (sea holly)
- Eryngium variifolium (compact sea holly)
- Silene uniflora (sea campion)
- Crambe maritima (sea kale)
- Crambe cordifolia (large sea kale)
- Centranthus ruber (red valerian)
- Echium vulgare (bugloss)
- Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary)
- Erigeron glaucus ‘Sea Breeze’ (fleabane)
- Limonium platyphyllum (broad-leaved statice)
- Verbascum ‘Gainsborough’ (Mullein)
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- Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ (blue fescue)
- Hordeum jubatum (foxtail barley)
- Pennisetum alopecuroides (Chinese fountain grass)
- Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass)
Ideal for non-stop flowers
- Oenothera biennis (evening primrose)
- Hesperis matronalis (sweet arugula)
- Leucanthemum vulgare (white daisy)
- Calendula officinalis (pot marigold)
- Daylily ‘Olive Bailey Langdon’ (daylily)
- Buddleja davidii ‘Black Knight’ (butterfly bush)
- Lonicera japonica ‘Hall’s Prolific’ (honeysuckle)
- Penstemon ‘White Bedder’ (barb tongue)
- Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’ (stonecrop, syn sedum)
- Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle)
- Astrantia ‘Roma’ (masterwort)
- Hebe ‘Pascal’ (shrub speedwell)
The soil of coastal gardens can often be drained and not very fertile, often consisting of stone, shells and sand. Enrich the soil by adding homemade garden compost, farmyard manure and washed seaweed.
Always wash off seaweed before adding it to the soil as the extra salt can stunt plant growth.
Yet many beautiful coastal plants do not need high fertility.
Many Mediterranean herbs and plants thrive in poor soils.
Also, due to the seaside climatic conditions, the plants tend to become more compact than those grown inland.
Niches in driftwood are perfect spots for growing alpine and low-growing herbaceous perennials. Why not try a “driftwood”?
Also, by using large pebbles decoratively and as mulch, you can prevent weed growth and they will help tie the garden to the shoreline.
It is important to note that you should never remove large stones from the beach; always buy them from garden centers or builders’ dealers.
Smaller ornamental stones and gravel can be used around plants as mulch to keep soils from drying out too quickly, to cover the tops of pots and containers, and to create a dry stream feature.