Coastal garden plants
Gardening by the sea is a challenge and an adventure. It’s a challenge because of the very special problems posed by salt-carrying winds and even blown sand.
What to look for
- Blown over plants
- Plants covered with salty deposits
- Plants damaged by sand – sand blasted
Gardening by the sea is a challenge and an adventure. It’s a challenge because of the very special problems posed by salt-carrying winds and blown sand. It’s an adventure because even on the exposed east coast, where the chief trouble lies in salt spray carried on the cold drying on-shore winds for months in spring, the proximity of the sea reduces the risk of plant damage by spring frosts and makes it possible to grow some plants too tender for inland areas.
The first essential for gardeners is to provide some form of screening to break the full force of the winds. This can be slatted lath-fencing or wattle, or windbreak netting, which is readily available in various sizes of mesh. Some trees and large shrubs are also particularly suitable to create a windbreak and shelter from strong winds.
Solid structures, such as walls and fences, create turbulence on their leeward side and add to the wind problems.
The second essential is to prepare the ground very thoroughly in advance of planting. Mulching will be well worthwhile as it helps to conserve soil moisture, as well as keeping down weeds.
Water all plants well after planting and especially during the first year. Washing salt spray off the leaves of plants with a hose following strong winds may be necessary.
The third essential is to securely fasten trees and even large shrubs to stout stakes driven well into the ground. Feathered trees and average size conifers are preferable to standards for the first line of defence.
Tall herbaceous plants may need staking and, as a result, it may be better to choose low-growing, dwarf and compact varieties.
Plants with silvery leaves, scented or succulent foliage and those plants with maritima in their name, such as Pinus nigra austriaca maritima, are all good choices for coastal gardens.
Also look around at what’s planted locally and in neighbours’ gardens and, more importantly, what’s growing well.
Fruit doesn’t always do well in coastal gardens. Most don’t like the salt and strong winds make pollination difficult.
What’s good about coastal gardens?
Costal gardens are more often than not warmer than surrounding areas. They rarely suffer from frosts. This means that plants that can’t be grown elsewhere – or have to be protected during the winter – can be planted permanently outside.
What’s bad about coastal gardens?
Strong coastal winds can be very damaging to plants and garden structures. These winds carry salt, which can also cause damage to plants that aren’t salt tolerant.
When living very close to the sea, these winds carry sand – and even small pebbles – which will physically damage plants and many garden structures. This gives plants a “sand blasted” effect.
If the soil is very sandy, it drains very quickly and needs lots of preparation and incorporation of bulky organic matter to hold what water is available. You may also need to water plants regularly. In these circumstances, drought-resisting plants are a good choice and you should be aware of dry and drought conditions.
The following are particularly suitable for gardening close to the sea.
When living close to the sea, it’s important to erect shelterbelts to give the rest of the plants and garden some protection from strong, salt-laden winds.
Trees tolerant of full coastal exposure
Pinus nigra, Pinus radiata
Trees for planting slightly back from the sea
Shrubs for creating shelter
Elaeagnus x ebbingei
Euonymus especially Euonymus japonicus
Viburnum, especially Viburnum tinus
Climbers and wall shrubs
Crambe cordifolia, Crambe maritime
Euphorbia, especially Euphorbia characias
Summer bedding plants