10 ways of creating a beach garden theme
What is a beach garden?
And would you like a bit more beach in your back yard? 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 beach 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).
Every year in May, a group of private gardens in Whitstable open to the public via the NGS. Some are seaside gardens, and they have lovely ideas.
The wind-lashed, salt-stripped look is all part of beach chic – this is in Dorset .
You can actually buy seashells for garden terraces and paths. They’re byproducts of the shellfish industry, so, unlike gravel and shingle, they’re not mined. That makes them environmentally friendly options and they also offer great value for money. We did a seashell path for our garden.
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.
This garden is considered to be a leading beach garden – it has created the seaside garden look for this century.
9) The top beach garden 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
More about beach gardens
Shop my favourite gardening tools, books and products…
I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve put together some useful lists on the Middlesized Garden Amazon storefront. For example, there’s a list of the basic garden tools you need, including the brands I use. And there are more garden essentials, such as trugs, propagators and gloves.
Beach garden inspiration from Whitstable:
There is a Whitstable Open Gardens day every year in May via the NGS, where you can see some wonderful beach gardens. To get a taste of what they’re like, many of them feature here in the seaside garden tips in this video:
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