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Sea Views - plants for coastal gardens

Sea Views - plants for coastal gardens

With spring just around the corner, it’s time to get back into our gardens with Trevor Bridge. Many of Living’s readers tend gardens near the sea so, as well as our regular tips and advice, we asked Trevor to suggest some plants that love coastal conditions…

Early flowers such as snowdrops, crocus, winter aconites and hellebores are now brightening our days, bestowing optimism and reminding us that spring is on its way. February, however, is often our coldest month and what to do in our gardens will depend upon local climate and conditions. Coastal areas are moderated by the Atlantic so there are fewer extremes of temperature than inland, but of course each year is different wherever we are and we have to react accordingly. If your ground is cold and waterlogged in February wait until conditions improve before cultivating or sowing. March is when we start to really move away from winter weather and the growing season starts.

What to do in February & March


If you haven’t already done so, plant onion and shallot sets, but only if the soil is fairly dry and warm. Chit (or sprit) early seed potatoes for planting in mid-March. Sow broad beans and early peas in February and March for May and June harvesting, and sow early Brussels sprouts in March for picking in August and September.

Under cloches, sow sweet peppers, chillies and aubergines in late March. They need a long, warm growing season and an early start pays dividends crop wise. Leeks and parsnips should be sown in March and April and start to sow short rows of lettuce and spinach every few weeks from late March for continual cropping.


Trim back the shoots of perennials taking care not to damage new growth. Compost waste material rather than burning as stems are home to useful
insects that hatch and crawl out. Remove flower heads from daffodils and other spring bulbs as they fade, but leave daffodil foliage intact for six weeks after flowering to allow bulb regeneration. Prune back hydrangea shoots while forsythia and flowering currants should be pruned during late March once the flowers fade.

Lift, divide and replant snowdrop and aconite bulbs in March. Now is the ideal time to plant roses, and shrub and tree planting should be completed before spring arrives.

Plants for coastal gardens

alder-coast-gardens-franceIf you live close to the sea there is less risk of frost, enabling you to grow many plants which are less hardy, even ones that some inland gardeners could never consider. Conversely, exposed coastal gardens are subjected to salt-laden winds in summer and icy gales in winter, causing drying and scorching of leaves and even broken stems. Many plants, however, have adapted to coastal conditions by having tough, leathery or hairy leaves, providing protection and reducing moisture loss.

It is worth knowing that some plant names give clues to their coastal origins such as maritima, or littoralis, both meaning ‘growing by the shore’. Some trees tolerate full exposure to coastal conditions, including the Black Pine Pinus nigra which is much associated with the seaside and attains 30m, the Holm oak Quercus ilex, another familiar coastal evergreen attaining 25m, and the native Alder Alnus glutinosa, which reaches 20m.

Trees for planting slightly back from the sea include the Strawberry tree Arbutus unedo, an attractive 8m high evergreen with white flowers in autumn followed by red fruit, Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata, a thorny, small tree or hedge reaching 8m with white-pink flowers in spring and red berries in autumn, and Rowan Sorbus aucuparia reaching 15m with white spring flowers, beautiful autumn colour and masses of red berries.

Other trees that grow well in these situations include Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris, Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa and Eucalyptus.

A number of shrubs tolerate exposure and salt-laden winds. Using these as hedging provides a windbreak, significantly improving your garden microclimate and increasing your choice of plants.


Hedges make better windbreaks than walls as they filter and slow the wind whereas walls create turbulence. Holly Ilex aquifolium  is very tolerant and makes a sturdy, spiny hedge; Japanese spindle Euonymus japonicus is a dense, bushy evergreen that has many cultivars with variegated leaves; Elaeagnus x ebbingei is a large evergreen with silvery-green leaves and orange fruit; Rosa rugosa is vigorous and prickly with white, red or pink flowers followed by large red hips; Griselinia littoralis has glossy yellow-green leaves and makes a good screen; Sea Buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides is a spiny deciduous native bush with silvery-bronze leaves and orange fruit; Olearia macrodonta is a vigorous medium-sized evergreen with grey-green leaves and fragrant daisy-like flowers; and Tamarisk Tamarix tentandra is a low-maintenance, medium-sized deciduous shrub with arching branches and plumes of pink flowers.


If your garden is very exposed it is worth providing windbreak netting or tem-porary fencing whilst plants establish. Shrubs for situations back from the full force of the sea include Californian lilac Ceonothus ‘Gloire de Versailles’, a lovely medium-sized shrub with large, fragrant, pale-blue flowers; Rock rose Cistus, a small shrub that enjoys coastal gardens and produces masses of white, pink or purple flowers; Broom Cytisus x praecox ‘Allgold’, a free-flowering bush with deep yellow flowers on arching shoots; Lavender Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, a compact variety with grey-green foliage and fragrant blue flowers; and Phlomis fruticosa, a favourite of mine, bearing conspicuous bright yellow flowers and sage-like woolly leaves. 

broom-france-coastal-gardensAlso ideal for these situations are Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’ and Santolina chamaecyparissus, both having lovely silver leaves and masses of yellow flowers.

Many perennials flourish in coastal conditions. Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’ is not entirely hardy but thrives in maritime situations with its large orange flowers. Superb in bold drifts, it makes excellent cut flowers. Crambe cordifolia, Sea Kale, is unmistakable, reaching 2m with large dark green leaves covered with frothy masses of delicate sweetly-perfumed white flowers. Crinum x powellii is a 1.5m high showy bulbous perennial with bright green leaves and umbels of beautiful large lily-shaped light pink flowers.

It is not fully hardy so requires a protected site. The Sea Holly Eryngium variifolium with its gorgeous green marbled spiny foliage and grey-blue flowers is loved by flower arrangers. An evergreen perennial reaching 40cm, it is compact enough for small spaces and tolerates salt spray and harsh conditions. The Ice Plant Sedum spectabile with its succulent grey-green leaves and starry pink flowers is a familiar cottage garden plant that likes coastal conditions. Flowering in late summer, it is a late source of nectar for bees and butter-flies. Another well-known cottage garden plant, Lamb’s Ears Stachys byzantine, with its woolly foliage and pink-purple flowers, makes ideal ground cover on a sunny border or gravel garden.
For coastal rock gardens, Sea Thrift Armeria maritima, is an excellent clump-forming evergreen bearing compact clusters of pretty pink flowers. Others include Aurinia saxatilis ‘Compacta’, a most popular perennial forming low bushy mounds of grey-green leaves smothered in tiny golden flowers in spring; Hypericum olympicum, a dwarf plant crowded with clusters of bright yellow flowers in summer; Phlox subulata, a vigorous, mat-forming, sun-loving phlox noted for its profusion of showy pink spring flowers; and the Pasque Flower Pulsatilla vulgaris, with its fine leaves and woolly buds that open into lovely cup-shaped violet flowers followed by feathery seed-heads.


Mimosas were introduced into Europe from Australia by British botanists and they quickly gained popularity on the French Mediterranean coast where the maritime climate suited their aversion to frost.

In 1892 they were introduced to Saint-Trojan-les-Bains on the Ile-d’Oléron by Nicolas Martin, who discovered them in Cannes. They proliferated in the warm, sunny climate and soon embellished gardens and streets. Due to their esteem, the town stages a three day Fête du Mimosa each February with a fair, concerts, floral floats, theatre groups, folk singers, dancers and fireworks.


Mimosa Acacia dealbata is a beautiful small evergreen tree with masses of showy clusters of fragrant yellow flowers in winter. It only grows outdoors in sheltered areas with mild winters, hence its abundance on the islands and Atlantic coast, but in cooler climes it makes a wonder- ful specimen in a glasshouse or

© Living Magazine, all rights reserved. First published in Living Magazine February 14