Gardens by the Sea
Harsh winds, sand, salt, spray and even tides — these are the hazards that the seaside gardener has to face and overcome in order to be successful in his endeavours. Seaside gardening is a constant battle against nature, yet it is a battle that can be won by careful planning and the selection of suitable plants. There are, after all, many native shrubs, trees, ground-cover plants and perennials that are by nature adapted to seaside conditions.
By the sea, you may be perched high on a cliff or, at the other extreme, close to the water. Perhaps you are luckier and are sited slightly inland where the full force of coastal elements is not felt, but whose presence will still be much in evidence.
You may, with a sea view wish to make the sea a principal part of the design and very high outlines will not be required on that aspect of the garden. At the same time, you will need to establish relief from the wind and spray and ward off the reflected glare from the water.
And whether you have an open aspect or not, a special emphasis on screens and windbreaks will be necessary not only for yourself, but also for the less hardy plants that you will want to grow.
You will also have to study closely the general needs and maintenance of the garden itself. Soil, for instance, will need improvement in most seaside gardens. It may be sandy, silty, stony or clay-like in texture and will need regular additives of peat, fertilisers and manure. You will also have a dehydration problem, and regular mulching will be necessary.
Soil depths will be shallow, particularly on sloping ground and it will be necessary to establish ground cover to prevent further erosion. These are factors that will prove all important as you begin to draw up your plan.
Nonetheless, in spite of all these disadvantages, seaside gardeners have one great advantage lacking from inland gardens: the great body of sea water has an ameliorating effect upon climate, and frost is seldom experienced in seaside gardens. This means that you can grow a whole range of tender and exceptionally beautiful plants that it would be quite impossible to grow out of doors further inland.
The basic design elements of locations, vistas, garden division, surprises and mysteries blended with the natural landscape remain the prime object, but the ways and means of achieving them are obviously affected by the ‘built-in’ requirements of seaside sites.
If you are a complete newcomer to seaside gardening, observe the local conditions carefully. Take a look at how your neighbours are coping. Talk to them and your local garden centre about the area. Learn all you can about the extensive problems your garden is likely to be presented with before you start making any elaborate plans.
You will probably find, for instance, that they recommend grey and silver-leafed foliage plants like Senecio laxifolius which have built-in protective elements of silky hairs on the leaf surface against salt and blown-in sand. There are many other plants they could recommend; willows, sea buckthorn, tamarisk have narrow leaves which stand up to the wind. Yucca, sea, yew, cotoneaster, hydrangea, buddleia, heathers also do well on seaside sites. And you will need all this information quite early on in your planning.
Once you are satisfied that you know how the land lies, make a start. The windbreaks will be your first line of defence — and don’t set out by believing that high, closed barriers will solve the problem. Recent experiments have shown that wind can be just as much a problem whistling round the lee side as on the facing side. So if you plan to erect a fence don’t make it absolutely solid; choose ranch or wattle, or one that allows the wind to filter through.
The better way, perhaps, is to take a lesson from nature and erect a living screen of trees and shrubs, depending on the size of your garden. For youngyou will be well advised to plant it alongside a framework of wire netting — so that it doesn’t get blown away. Planting will need to be somewhat closer than normal to allow for a thinning out by wind . Once the perimeter offers protection to the remainder of the garden, you can begin to introduce the less hardy plants.
These protective planting schemes cannot be recommended too highly. They will help to combat the distortion and devastation that can be caused by high winds carrying salt spray which is deposited on the plants to dry like crystals, which are beneficial to few plants with the exception of some vegetables.
Another design feature that may require special attention is the patio. This should be sited with a view in mind. After all, if a natural landscape exists why not get full advantage from it? Therefore, your main sitting-out area can be at the back, front or side of the house according to the view. It may require screening from the elements by concrete blocks, and low air currents can be kept out by a cavity wall of two or three feet in height. You may also wish to consider building alcoves into the patio for additional shelter on particularly windy days.