For many people, the epitome of a seaside garden is the one belonging to the film director, Derek Jarman. Out of the windswept dunes and shingle of the Kent coast near Dungeness, he created an extraordinary garden filled with sculpture, stones and plants that blend seamlessly into the beach beyond. Not all of us are gifted with such imagination and talent, but the lure of seaside living is still a powerful one. The advantages of living by the sea are obvious – the downside is that your garden has to withstand some pretty hostile elements – like salty sea spray and gales.
So, can you create a horticultural paradise by the sea, or are you better off terracing the whole thing over and just looking at the view? Contrary to accepted wisdom, many plants will withstand and even thrive in seaside conditions, and as long as you’re realistic about what you plant, you can create a verdant seaside garden. It could even be a look that inland gardeners will want to copy!
Before you decide which plants to buy, think about the prevailing climate. Are you in the south or west where the weather is quite temperate, or are you battling against the colder temperatures of the north? Then take a look at the view beyond the garden. Is your garden near a sandy beach or a rocky inlet? It’s important that all gardens ‘fit’ the environment they are in, but this is particularly true of seaside gardens.
If you’re gardening near a sandy beach, choose plants that reflect the dunes beyond. Use grasses like the tall grey green grass Helictotrichon sempervirens (blue oat grass). Try to concentrate your planting in naturalistic drifts.
Tree lupins are a perennial that love sandy conditions. They come in a range of colours from lilacs through to yellow, and will give years of pleasure. Try to keep colours pale and neutral. The Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’ is hardy and will survive damp, temperate conditions. It has lovely silvery leaves, and in late summer it will be covered in orange berries. Or add more splashes of colour to your neutral background with gazanias. Or try Coleonema album, an evergreen shrub which will be covered in white flowers throughout the year.
If the coast you live by is not sandy but rocky, bring those influences into your garden. Build stone walls, use water-worn stones as objects of interest, and choose colours for the planting scheme that are in a darker palette like blues, purples, dark pinks and reds.
Try the Beaufortia sparsa ‘swamp bottlebrush’, an evergreen shrub from Australia with orange-red flowers along the stem. It will grow to 2-4 metres (6-12ft) high and spread up to 3m (9ft). It loves full sun, well-drained soil and will withstand salt winds. Or the Banksia canei is another Australian shrub well suited to coastal areas. It’s an evergreen with greenish yellow cone-shaped flower heads that are sometimes tinged with mauve.
However, if your garden is prone to frosts, choose the tougher Banksia integrifolia. It will produce spikes of yellow flowers and grow up to 6 metres (18ft).
Finally, no seaside garden is complete without a swathe of fabulous Canna lilies. They come from South Africa but will survive in the more temperate parts of the UK..