How to create a delightful seaside garden

May 14th, 2017
Posted In: Garden trends & design

To get ideas for your seaside garden, visit a coastal town, such as Whitstable.

And while small town and village gardens aren’t often open to the public, some group together for joint open days, usually for the NGS.

Seaside garden open for Whitstable Open Gardens

Above is a bed from the seaside garden at 5 Clare Road, open part of Whitstable Open Gardens, usually held annually in early summer.

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.

Use shingle or gravel instead of lawn

Whitstable beach is shingle, and here you also see piles of oyster shells from the Whitstable Oyster Company.

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.

Shingle and decking for a seaside garden

5 Clare Road replaced lawn with shingle and decking.

Use shingle instead of lawn

The garden at The Guinea, a converted pub in Whitstable.

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.

Delightful seaside garden ideas

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…

Paint walls and fencing white for a beach look

White walls at 5 Clare Road – painting everything one colour also helps disguise the fact that some of the boundary is marked by fencing and the rest by wall – a common issue in town gardens.

Paint your bins, sheds and fence white

White-painted bike store at 5 Clare Road. With a sedum green roof.

Create a seaside theme with white walls

There’s lots of white at The Guinea, too…

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.

Black wooden huts are typical of fishermen on the coast.

Echoes of the black wooden fishermen’s huts and workshops in The Guinea’s garden.

Derek Jarman's seaside garden

Derek Jarman’s garden further down the coast at Dungeness is the classic ‘beach garden’, and also echoes the local black fishermen’s huts.

One way of making your boundaries ‘recede’ is to paint fences black or near-black. This has now become popular because it shows off planting beautifully. See it in Transform Your Garden on a Budget and also in top garden designer Charlotte Rowe’s top garden design tips.

Plant into the gravel, stone or shingle…

You don’t have to have gravel or shingle laid on a membrane. Many people don’t like membrane because it often rucks up so you can see it. And it’s harder for plants to spread naturally.

If you do lay gravel or shingle on membrane, 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.

Sea kale on Joy Lane Beach, Whitstable

Sea kale on Joy Lane Beach, Whitstable

Plant directly into shingle

And a salvia growing directly out of the shingle at 5 Clare Road.

Another good example of planting into gravel or shingle can be seen at the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex. Here are head gardener Asa Gregors-Warg’s tips for planting a dry garden.

And raised beds are very ‘seaside garden’…

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.

You can buy DIY wooden raised beds, such as these from WoodBlocX. And I’ve also seen some cheaper galvanised metal raised beds looking great in allotments – they would have a very seaside feel.

Use raised beds in a seaside garden

Raised veg beds at Clare Road.

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.

Use bins and raised beds to grow veg

Francine grows veg in raised beds, galvanised agricultural feeding troughs and recycled zinc bins.

You can buy agricultural troughs from farm suppliers

Francine’s agricultural trough.

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.

Use lots of pots in a seaside garden

Pots on a table at The Guinea.

Re-use tins and containers for seaside pots

An old shelving unit and recycled containers for pots at Clare Road

Choose beach garden themes

A fishy theme on a pot at The Guinea.

Use recycled pots in a seaside garden

Kathie and Stuart’s beachside Ocean Cottage has a roof garden, planted with recycled pots of all kinds.

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.

Roof garden pots by the sea

Kathie says that she replants plants from other gardens or grows quite common plants because there’s ‘no point in planting something valuable when it’s so vulnerable.’

Experiment with cheap and common plants

Rosemary usually does well near the beach. Kathie also says that blue trailing lobelia are generally reliable and hardy – a beach garden isn’t a place to display precious specimens or unusual plants!

There are more recycled containers here in 10 ways of bringing the beach back to your garden.

And see this post for tips on grouping pots to create a border effect.

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.

Add atmosphere to a seaside garden

Objet trouves, shells and pots of various sizes, along with an old sink.

Use recycled tins for seaside pot planting

Succulent in a pot at The Guinea.

Layer pots on shelves

Pots are layered on shelves all up the sides of the roof. They include an agricultural feeder (top right), old olive tins, terracotta pots, galvanised troughs and lots more.

Shells – for the perfect seaside garden look…

A seaside garden has lots of shells.

How to display seashells

Seashells and stones at Clare Road, dangling from an old lampshade.

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.

Succulents work well in seaside gardens

Succulents displayed on a painted ladder at The Guinea

A seaside garden display of succulents

A display of succulents at 5 Clare Road on a recycled table.

Other good plants to try include cacti (but 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.

See this post for more beautiful coastal garden plants. And there are also some good plant options in windy garden plants and solutions. Seaside gardens can be windy!

Many low maintenance plants have a seaside feel, because they don’t need much watering and are resistant to wind. See 10 low maintenance plants and also how to make a dry garden.

Vintage furniture…

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.

Choose weathered furniture for a beach garden

A metal chair at Clare Road.

For more about upcycled garden furniture and objects, see 15 ways to transform your garden with upcycled junk.

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.

Paint furniture in faded beach colours

Or choose tin furniture in faded beach colours. Table and chairs at Clare Road.

Upcycled ladder display for pots

Table, chairs and upcycled ladder display painted in soft lavender blues at The Guinea

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 seaside garden theme…

Pheasant Farm isn’t strictly a ‘seaside garden’. But it overlooks Oare Creek, so there are maritime elements to it, such as this stunning seabird sculpture.

Pick a coastal theme for your garden sculpture

A beautiful seabird sculpture at Pheasant Farm, Oare.

Try a gravel garden for a seaside look

The gravel garden at the front of Pheasant Farm.

Add an old sign to your shed and display pots outside it

The garden shed at Pheasant Farm has an old railway sign on it to seaside towns, such as Birchington and Herne Bay.

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 usually in May or June, 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.

Pin to remember seaside garden ideas:

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12 tips for a delightful seaside garden


5 comments on "How to create a delightful seaside garden"

  1. vic says:

    I asked Whitstable Oysters – they did not mind collection of the shells from the beach nearby, for personal use.

    I don’t have that in writing of course. I also don’t know if they own that land. I’d rather not be prosecuted though! Where can I check about this?

    1. I think they own the beach up to a point, though I’m not sure exactly where that point is. The council would be in charge of the beach beyond that – I think they probably start at the high tide mark and down to the water. I think that if the Whitstable Oyster House has given you permission, that should be OK, though I’m not a lawyer, so that’s not exactly legal advice! I think some of the shells – ie the oyster shells were discarded from the restaurants anyway. Hope it all goes well.

  2. Lucie says:

    Wonderful pictures Alexandra. I look forward to reading this evening!

    1. Thank you – hope the opening goes well, bit of rain this morning!

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