10 ways of creating a beach garden theme

August 10th, 2014
Posted In: Garden style & living, Wildlife & eco

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.

Garden flowers at Whitstable

Garden flowers at Whitstable emigrate all over 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.

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 – it’s a very ‘beach garden‘ plant. 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).

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.

Beach in Dorset

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.

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.

This garden is considered to be a leading beach garden – it has created the seaside garden look for this century.

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 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.

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 I talk to 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.

More about beach gardens

There are more seaside garden ideas in How to create a delightful seaside garden and Escape to the beach – garden ideas from Whitstable. See 15 ways to transform your garden with upcycled junk for more tips.

And this book will tell you more about Derek Jarman’s Garden. Links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure.

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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Beach garden ideas - coastal style for your backyard #gardening #outdoorliving

7 comments on "10 ways of creating a beach garden theme"

  1. Chris Donovan says:

    Lovely thanks for the information. Very useful

  2. Nic Wilson says:

    Lovely post to read as I’m having post holiday blues having just returned after 2 weeks on the Suffolk coast. We saw so many lovely gardens and wild flowers on the beaches and shingle. My favourites were Crambe maritima and Sheep’s Bit Scabious.

    1. Oh, I love Crambe maritima! Not sure if we have much Sheep’s Bit Scabious round here.

  3. Angie Wootten says:

    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.

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

  4. 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…

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