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.
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.
2) …..or sculptural and spare
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).
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.
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.
5) Seaside gardens don’t have lawns….
For the real seaside look, you need shingle, gravel, decking or stone.
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.
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…
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.
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.
10) Mix wildflowers in for the blowin-in-the-wind effect
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.