Gardening on the coast

 In Coastal Gardening

Gardening on the coast provides many challenges but also golden opportunities that I envy!

Hebe, Hydrangea, pink

Hebe, Hydrangea and Santolina

Let me explain.

Gardening right on the coast is to be challenged by nature. And the greatest challenge is strong wind.

But because of the proximity of a large body of water hard frosts are uncommon!


The Gulf Stream

The North Atlantic Current [aka Gulf Stream], which moderates our temperatures, has an enormous influence too!

This enables us to grow plants that we might otherwise struggle to cultivate in gardens inland. But this is noticeable especially on the western edge of the British Isles.

I think that there is another factor that makes coastal gardens more appealing. That is the quality and sometimes the quantity of light on the coast is better.


Coastal Paths

Escallonia Pink Elle, pink flowers

Escallonia Pink Elle

There is no better way to see this than by a wander along one of our great coast paths.

Here you can appreciate all the elements that impact on plants. You can peer into gardens that you pass along the way.

A few years ago I backpacked the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path. This hike revealed to me just how fortunate those coastal gardeners are!




Practical Gardening

Crocosmia, monbretia

Crocosmia Star of East

So how does that translate in gardening terms?

Well, perhaps the most obvious benefit is that we can grow tender plants. These would otherwise need cosseting inland.

These plants originate from warmer parts of the world. Nevertheless, given shelter from those strong winds I mentioned earlier, they often look very much at home here in Britain!

The key to being successful is to filter those south westerly winds!

There is little point in trying to stop them! I’ve found that solid barriers often lead to more damage on the so-called sheltered side. The reason for this is that the weed speed increases as it is ‘squeezed’ over the top. On the leeward side there are then often damaging eddies.


Plants to filter the wind

Some plants excel at filtering wind and especially native ones.

Green hedge, Pittosporum, gardening on the coast

Pittosporum tenuifolium hedge

Some of the best non-natives are Escallonia, Elaeagnus, Olearia, Griselinia and Pittosporum.

These are all evergreen. They can be trimmed and will recover from damage inflicted by salt laden winds.

Another rather common plant that does well and provides shelter is the common privet.

The heavy scent of privet blossom brings back many memories of hiking the South West Coast.

The tiny flowered Fuchsia magellanica is a ubiquitous plant of the South West Coasts. Whilst the common red form is spectacular, I prefer the white form.

These hardy Fuchsia originate from South America and look delightful when covered in fairy-like flowers! More about hardy fuchsias here. This includes an image of the beautiful white form.


Plants that benefit from shelter

Ceanothus, blue bush, Californian lilac

Ceanothus Concha

But what of the plants you can grow inside that shelter?

Well plants from the many Mediterranean regions of the world dominate when you’re gardening on the coast.

These often have thickened or hairy leaves and those leaves are sometimes packed with natural oils that protect them from desiccation. Just think of lavender, cotton lavender (Santolina), rosemary and (sun roses Cistus). Add to these Hebe, Ceanothus, Choisya, Phormium and you can see that there are lots to choose from!

butterfly, butterfly bush, Buddleja

Tortoiseshell butterfly on Buddleja bloom

Butterfly bush (Buddleja) will relish growing near the sea and attract plenty of butterflies too. This is a plant that has no respect for where a garden begins and where it ends. Lots of self-seeded ones pop up in the most unlikely places!

Crocosmia [formerly known as monbretia] is another plant to keep in check near the coast. The more refined garden varieties are far less likely to escape and cause a problem than the ordinary orange one.


Coastal path, beach, Brittany, France

Agapanthus and Shasta Daisies line a coast path

In summer Agapanthus is perhaps the most eye-catching flower. Indeed it has even naturalised in parts of Cornwall.


The French coast

My image here is actually from the north coast of Brittany. This part of northern France enjoys a similar climate to the South West of England.

Agapanthus line this coastal footpath and are joined by that oh-so-tough perennial Shasta Daisy.

Canna, Osteospermum and shrubby salvias are frequently seen here too. Evidently they need no extra protection to get them through the winter so close to the sea!

I think that this image amply illustrates how gardening on the coast allows you to ‘borrow’ from the landscape. Who would not be happy to ‘make’ part of your garden that beach and coastal view?


New Zealand Flax, Watsonia, flowers

Watsonia in front of purple Phormium

I was particularly impressed with a municipal planting of Watsonia in Brittany. This rarely seen native of the Southern Cape of Africa can be tricky to grow.

I well recall trying to capture images of sunbirds sipping nectar from Watsonia flowers on a hillside in South Africa.

Sunbirds are the African equivalent of hummingbirds in America. They are responsible for pollinating these gorgeous bulbous plants. Planted with a bronze-leaf New Zealand Flax, the gladioli like orange blooms of Watsonia look truly stunning!

You could create the same effect by planting Crocosmia in front of a purple New Zealand Flax [Phormium] and you don’t have to be on the coast to do that!


Pembrokeshire Coast

Whilst not from a Mediterranean region, there is little doubt that Hydrangea does exceptionally well near the coast.

Mop head Hydrangea

Mop-head Hydrangeas

Hydrangea seems to shrug off those winds!

Without doubt it is at its best when given shelter.

Hydrangeas really enjoy shade and by being planted on the north side of trees and buildings.

Here they enjoy the cooler temperature.





I hope you’ll agree that gardening on the coast gives enormous opportunities to grow a wide range of plants.

I’ve only scratched the surface of all the plants that thrive when planted on the coast. But I hope I’ve inspired you to grow more. Inspired to be more adventurous or to just enjoy the plants when you’re next by the sea.

Do you garden by the sea?

If you do, what do you find does well?

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