How to create a delightful seaside garden
I’ve been visiting gardens in Whitstable to pick up seaside garden ideas.
(And you can visit them too in early summer every year, when a group of gardens all open on one day for the NGS.)
No 1 seaside garden tip – no lawn
Immaculate green grass and seaside gardens don’t go together. Chuck out your lawnmower and lay down gravel, decking or shingle instead. You can even buy seashell mulch, which is a byproduct of the seafood industry. We have used it for our garden path, although you need to order it online as you are unlikely to find it in garden centres.
At 5 Clare Road, Janet Maxwell and Phil Smith say that their triangular garden was originally just lawn flanked by large conifers. They replaced the lawn with shingle and decking. And there’s a bonus. ‘We really don’t get many weeds either,’ Janet adds.
At The Guinea, a converted pub, Sheila and David’s garden was just lawn and a drive. They changed it into gravel, with lots of pots and planting, plus a stone terrace.
If you do have grass, think dunes.
Paint everything white…
At 5 Clare Road, all the garden fittings are painted white. The shed, the fence, the house walls and even the bike store…
Although black is also a ‘seaside garden’ colour…
The black wooden fishermen’s huts and workshops are a distinctive element along the Whitstable beach. At The Guinea, Sheila and David have echoed the traditional look by painting the back extension roof and also their storage huts in black.
Some paints, such as Rust-Oleum Universal Paint, can be used on all outdoor surfaces, so you can paint a wood shed, a plastic water butt and metal furniture all with the same paint. You won’t need a primer unless you’re trying to cover up a wood stain. It’s available in 16 colours, but remember that dark colours appear paler outside, so if you want a mid-grey, for example, you may have to use a darker grey. Test out a small area first. Note: links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure.
Derek Jarman’s garden further down the coast at Dungeness is the classic ‘beach garden’, and also echoes the local black fishermen’s huts.
Plant into the gravel, stone or shingle…
Your gravel or shingle will be laid on a membrane, but you can cut through it to plant. Plants on a beach grow directly out of the sand or shingle, so scattering plants through the garden rather than having ‘beds’ will create a seaside garden feel.
Or use raised beds…
Raised beds, edged with weathered wood, are very ‘seaside garden.’ If you’re directly on the beach, it’s the only practical way to grow vegetables or flowers.
Garden writer Francine Raymond uses a mix of raised beds, agricultural feeding troughs and recycled galvanised bins and tubs as raised beds for her vegetables.
Or pots…especially in recycled containers
Pots are also very seaside garden. That’s because a garden on the beach won’t have soil or will have very poor soil. You’d need to plant most things in pots.
Kathie and Stuart’s garden is on a roof overlooking Whitstable Beach. It’s a punishing environment for plants. Kathie says that the combination of wind and salt air means that plants often die suddenly. However, they sometimes bounce back.
The roof is covered in pots of various sizes. Some are recycled tins – for example, the olive tins she gets from a friend with a deli. As it’s difficult to eat enough olives to empty a good-sized planter, the idea of asking deli owners for old tins is a good one.
There are more recycled containers here in 10 ways of bringing the beach back to your garden.
Be a beach-comber…
It’s time to channel your inner beach-comber. Although you’re more likely to be combing junk shops, car boot fairs and vintage shops than the beach. But the principle is the same. A seaside garden will have things in it that other people have thrown away.
Especially shells, of course…
A seaside garden has lots of shells.
However, you are not legally allowed to take stones, pebbles or other material from the beach. I don’t think this is very fiercely enforced, but at least one woman has been prosecuted for gathering stones and shells for her garden.
You can buy shells and stones, however, from garden centres or online here (affiliate link)
Succulents make good beach garden plants…
Succulents are everywhere at the moment. I haven’t seen a garden without a regulation of pot of succulents for years. But they do work well in a seaside garden context.
Other good plants to try include cacti (check how hardy they are). I swim at Whitstable during the summer, and have seen verbena bonariensis do consistently well along the front, along with valerian, fennel, some lavenders and most of the grasses.
If you’re not actually facing the sea, then you can choose a wider selection of plants.
The salty sea air and the wind weather paint quickly. So even if your furniture is newly painted, a few months on the beach will batter it about.
Or paint furniture in shades of sea, sky or sand…
Good ‘seaside garden colours’ include all the shades of sea, sky or sand – although bright colours also have seaside cred, too. Think of decking stripes or cheery checks.
You can buy ‘bistro style’ or ‘pavement style‘ folding metal chairs here. Paint them in your theme colours to make them look a bit different. Cuprinol have an attractive range of shades. And chalk paints, such as Shabby Chic chalk-based paints, can usually be applied to any surface (but check the label first!)
Add sculpture with a coastal theme…
Pheasant Farm (open for the NGS for private groups by appointment) isn’t strictly a ‘seaside garden’. But it overlooks Oare Creek, so there are maritime elements to it, such as this stunning seabird sculpture.
More Whitstable Garden ideas:
See these and more Whitstable garden ideas in this post Escape to the beach with Whitstable Open Gardens or see more of the garden on video here:
Whitstable Open Gardens is on June 10th, 10am-5pm, via the NGS. And Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day, on the last Sunday in June every year. There are no seaside gardens, but there is almost every other sort, plus plants and gardenalia to buy. Hope to see you there!
Shop my favourite garden tools, books and products…
I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve put together some useful lists on The Middlesized Garden Amazon store. For example, there is a list of the nine basic garden tools you really need, and which brands I use. And if you’re in summer garden mode, there are some useful Summer garden party essentials.
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