What to plant in a coastal garden…
Coastal garden plants are beautiful, easy-care and very resilient.
If your garden is dry or windy and has poor soil, then plants which grow naturally in coastal areas will work beautifully for you.
Or you might want to create a complete coastal garden, like this garden in Whitstable designed by Posy Gentles.
What to look for in coastal garden plants
Posy says that you should look for plants that withstand drought well. They also need to cope with wind.
Plants that sway in the wind won’t be permanently flattened by strong winds and storms. They include grasses, gaura and umbellifers, such as fennel. Low growing plants also survive wind well, as do plants with small or narrow leaves.
However, if you live by the sea in a temperate climate, you’re less likely to get frosts, so you may be able to have quite tender plants. ‘That’s why you often see palms or agaves growing in seaside gardens,’ says Posy.
These are her picks of seaside garden plants. These plants will also work well in dry or windy gardens, and gardens with poor soil.
Best evergreen coastal garden plants
- Escallonia (several types). A classic seaside evergreen for hedges with pretty pink flowers.
- Myrtle (Myrtus communis) A small tree or large shrub with pretty white flowers
- Pittosporum tobira A slow growing evergreen shrub with scented white/yellow flowers and small leathery leaves.
- Lavender – loves dry conditions and poor soils. Evergreen blue-grey foliage.
- Rosemary – upright and prostrate. Evergreen dark green needle-type foliage
Best perennial coastal garden plants
- Mullein (Try Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’ or Verbascum bombyciferum)
- Salvias – there are lots of varieties but most will do well in full sun, poor soil and dry conditions
- Fennel – You’ll see wild fennel on beaches. Try bronze fennel in gardens.
- Sea kale (Crambe – various). Crambe maritima grows wild on beaches and Crambe cordifolia is a very tall garden perennial (2.5m)
- Valerian (Valerian officinalis) An easy perennial with pretty pink or white flowers. Often seen growing wild.
- Globe thistle (Echinops – various). Blue or white pom-pom flowers, much loved by pollinators.
- Sea holly (Eryngium – various) – spiky architectural white, blue or grey flowers that look a bit like thistles.
- Red hot pokers (Kniphofia – various, yellow and orange as well as red). Striking spears of vivid colour.
- Gaura (Gaura lindheimerei – various). Exceptionally long flowering period from midsummer to autumn. Pretty white/pink flowers
- Verbena bonariensis. Sometimes considered a self seeding annual, I’ve found that this plant prefers to be growing out of paving cracks rather than planted in a rich herbaceous border.
3 good coastal garden shrubs and grasses
- Rosa canina or ‘dog rose’ is a wild rose in the UK. Many other roses can be good in coastal conditions, and rose growers can tell you which varieties. But see ‘What NOT to plant in a coastal garden’ for more about roses and beaches.
- Broom (Genista – several types, also Cytisus – various) Spiny shrubs with yellow pea-like flowers. The two plants are both known as ‘broom’ and look very alike, but Genista tolerates lime soils better.
- Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’). ‘Many grasses will work well,’ says Posy. ‘But there are a few that need moist conditions, so check on the label or ask the grower.’
What NOT to plant in a coastal garden
Plants that do well on beaches are easy care and resilient. This makes them more likely to become invasive, especially when they out-compete native plants. On UK beaches, Rosa rugosa has been identified as invasive. You ‘must not plant in the wild or cause to grow in the wild’ certain non-native species, listed . You can be fined or sent to prison.
Rosa rugosa is still widely for sale. When I originally researched this post, I included Rosa rugosa , checking it on the RHS website and a number of others. I saw that it was widely recommended for ‘coastal gardens.’
When the post was published, however, I was informed on Twitter that it was listed under Schedule 9 of the UK Wildlife & Countryside Act as an ‘invasive non-native species’. This doesn’t stop it being sold and you can plant it in your garden.
But you must control it and must not allow it to spread outside your garden. If you live very close to the beach, it would be unwise to plant it as you are unlikely to be able to control its spread.
Other common garden plants also on this list include Rhododendron ponticum and Cotoneaster horizontalis. They are still all sold, including on the RHS website. See the full list on the RHS website here.
Information on this topic generally appears confusing and contradictory for gardeners, especially as so many of the plants on Schedule 9 are for sale on highly respected websites.
Are you directly on the beach or relatively sheltered?
There is also a difference between having a garden that directly faces the seafront and a garden that is a couple of streets further back.
If your garden is actually on the sea, you’ll need plants that can cope with strong winds and some salt spray.
But if you are even just a few hundred yards back, then you can enjoy some shelter and will still benefit from the milder coastal temperatures by the sea. Plants such as cordylines and palms can be added to your list, as in these gardens below, both designed by Posy.
More about coastal garden style
As well as plants, the beach garden look is often based around vintage or salvaged objects and bright colours. Find out more about seaside garden style here, and how to bring a beach feel to your garden.
The Best Windy Garden Plants and Solutions features good coastal garden plants, too. And there are more ideas on plants that can cope with drought in this post on the Beth Chatto Gardens, How to Make a Dry Garden.
A group of gardens in Whitstable open once a year for the National Garden Scheme. The gardens vary from year to year, but you can get a flavour of what they are like in Escape to the Beach with Whitstable Open Gardens. It has some clever ideas and tips in it.
See more of the gardens (and Whitstable West Beach) on video
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Pin to remember best coastal garden plants
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