The Middle-Sized Garden Blog

10 ways of bringing the beach back to your garden

The words ‘seaside’ and ‘garden’ are a bit of a contradiction in terms. But at this time of year, we’d all like a bit more beach in our back yard. August is not the best month for traditional bedding in the classic middle-sized English garden. So if you’ve even got a strip of shingle or gravel, a few yards of decking or a stone terrace, borrow from the beach.

Garden flowers at Whitstable

Garden flowers at Whitstable emigrate all over the beach

1) Beach greens are racing-green or grey….

Most of the greenery I saw ranged from mid to dark green or grey. There weren’t many acid or lawn green tones. Think frondy tamarisk, seen here at the Connaught Gardens, overlooking the Devon coast. Here some of the garden literally hangs off the edge of a cliff, while more traditional bedding is protected behind walls: ‘There’s a saying in Cornwall: you can either have a garden or a view,’ says Mark Pollard from East Devon’s parks, who’s in charge of the planting at Connaught Gardens. The gardens show that you can grow anything by the sea if you protect it carefully – there are hydrangeas, roses, a jungle garden, cactuses and wild-flower beds as well as the real sea stuff.

tamarisk at Connaught Gardens

Frothy, frondy tamarisk survives salt and spray. It even looks a bit like seaweed. It’s cut back every winter and sprouts back again in spring.

2) …..or sculptural and spare

Yarrow at whitstable

This fennel grows all over the beaches near Whitstable. I’m very proud of the bee….

There is a small beach near Whitstable where the gardens go right down to the sea front. The plants spread beyond their own boundaries. Fennel, sedums, California poppies and rosa rugosa mix with the Crambe Maritima (sea kale).

Beach in Dorset
The wind-lashed, salt-stripped look is all part of beach chic – this is in Dorset 

3) Go for grasses in windowboxes or troughs

I love that bleached, grassy look that says ‘baking hot sun and sea’ even on the bleakest of days. Jo-jo’s is a fab seaside cafe and restaurant near us in Tankerton. They have a tiny garden. They’ve set troughs in all round the top of the walls, mainly planted with grasses and poppies. It’s just a small space but it spells summer.

Jo-jo's grasses, seedheads and poppies

Planting troughs on the walls all round Jo-jo’s garden are filled with grasses, seedheads and poppies.

 4) Seaside colours don’t have to be blue

Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness is probably one of the most famous seaside gardens in the world. Dungeness is Britain’s ‘only natural desert’. The garden is a mixture of found objects (mainly driftwood and rusting iron), shingle and sparse, apparently random planting. Its distinctive look is summed up by the contrast of yellow window frames and its black fisherman’s hut wooden cladding.

Derek Jarman Prospect Cottage

Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage – in the garden, fennel and santolina match the yellow windows

5) Seaside gardens don’t have lawns….

For the real seaside look, you need shingle, gravel, decking or stone.

Anna Turner seaside garden

Anna Turner’s charming seaside garden is just a few yards from the beach at Deal. The terracing instead of lawn makes it look seaside-y.

6) Plant herbs for a seaside effect

In my poking around seaside gardens, I saw lots of rosemary, sage, thyme and fennel. Huge clumps of sage were growing very happily on the beach.

Rosemary in a pot at Jo-Jo's

Rosemary in a pot at Jo-Jo-s, on the seafront at Tankerton.

7) And use ‘found objects’ as sculpture

Obviously, driftwood is especially seaside-y as are all pieces of rusted or twisted iron. Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage has made this look famous. I wouldn’t say such things are particularly easy to come by – I swim in the sea several times a week, and have rarely ever seen anything I could put in my garden. It’s also worth remembering that salt air preserves wood, so driftwood will deteriorate faster in an inland garden. But you could always put it away in a shed when summer’s over…

Found objects at Prospect Cottage

Found objects – many probably discarded from nearby fishing boats – are arranged like sculpture at Prospect Cottage

8) But classical garden design principles add a twist…

This is another idea from Prospect Cottage, where four pieces of driftwood are arranged in a square, and planted with a simple geometric pattern of crambe maritima. This sea kale has large grey-green leaves, and frothy flowers. It’s a planting idea that comes straight from classical gardens planted with box and yew, given a seaside twist.

Driftwood beds and sea kale

A very simple classical planting created with driftwood ‘beds’ and sea kale. The side of the house has a poem inscribed on it.

9) The top seaside plants are….

These plants doing well in all the seaside gardens I saw were: California poppies, rosa rugosa, santolina, sea kale, sedums, erigeron, eryngium (sea holly), tamarisk, thalictrum, achillea, lavatera, potentilla fruiticosa and herbs.

Seaside plants

A ‘seaside’ bed in Sidmouth. From the top: tamarisk, santolina, eringium, erigeron, crambe maritima.

 

California poppies

I saw these California poppies in seaside gardens on both the East Coast and West Coast of Britain.

 10) Mix wildflowers in for the blowin-in-the-wind effect

Sea peas

‘Sea peas’ – the seaside version of sweet peas, growing wild at Dungeness, Kent.

Vipers bugloss

Vipers bugloss grows wild in coastal areas.All the Australians who follow me on Instagram say it’s called Patterson’s Curse in Australia and is considered a noxious weed. But I’ve seen some plant catalogues here in Britain are stocking it for sale, and it’s very pretty.

And PS – in keeping with the watery theme, I was contacted by Swell UK, who wondered if I would like any help with watering my plants while I was away. As I live in one of the driest parts of Britain, the thought of trying out the Hozelock Automatic Holiday Watering System was very appealing. I’m not actually great with gadgets, and was a bit thrown when I realised I needed to go out and buy batteries for it. Otherwise it was outrageously easy to set up (they say 5 minutes, but I need 15 to get my head around anything mechanical). It provided efficient watering for 10 container plants from one tap. It doesn’t work with water butts, but presumably that’s to do with water pressure – otherwise it was everything it claims to be. Very useful.

If you’ve got any beach garden tips, please do let me know, and if you’ve enjoyed these beach gardens, do please share using the buttons below. Thank you so much.

3 Comments

  1. Just back from holiday in the middle of France so I am beach deprived this year – lovely to see your article but looks like I’ll have to wait another year before I get my feet on that shingle again. Another brilliant article full of useful facts – see the 10 top seaside plants…

    Comment by Caroline Garland - September 1, 2014

  2. Following your mention of fennel on Tankerton beach I went hunting for it when we were on holiday in Whitstable – and found it! I love the way all the flora drifts onto the beaches. Thank you.

    Comment by Angie Wootten - September 15, 2014

  3. I hope you had a good holiday, and thank you for commenting

    Comment by Alexandra Campbell - September 16, 2014

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