What to plant in a coastal garden… – The Middle-Sized Garden


August 23rd, 2020 Posted In: Gardening know how

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.

This coastal garden in Whitstable was designed by Posy Gentles.  It’s a few hundred yards back from the beach itself, so is more sheltered than one which faces the sea. Plants include fennel, gaura, eryngium and verbascum.

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.

Grasses are good coastal garden plants

Plants that are good in windy gardens include grasses, such as this Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ in a front garden in Whitstable designed by Posy Gentles.

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.

Cordylines for coastal gardens

Yucca is an exotic looking plant to grow in a sheltered garden near the sea. Coastal areas generally have milder winters and less frost. So if you have a sheltered garden a few hundreds yards back from the sea, you can often grow tender exotics, such as cordylines or palms. This is a mature yucca and has been in the garden for decades.

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

  1. Escallonia (several types). A classic seaside evergreen for hedges with pretty pink flowers.
  2. Myrtle (Myrtus communis) A small tree or large shrub with pretty white flowers
  3. Pittosporum tobira A slow growing evergreen shrub with scented white/yellow flowers and small leathery leaves.
  4. Lavender – loves dry conditions and poor soils. Evergreen blue-grey foliage.
  5. Rosemary – upright and prostrate. Evergreen dark green needle-type foliage
    Myrtle trees for coastal gardens

    A pretty myrtle tree in flower in Whitstable’s Harbour Street.

Best perennial coastal garden plants

  1. Mullein (Try Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’ or Verbascum bombyciferum)
  2. Salvias – there are lots of varieties but most will do well in full sun, poor soil and dry conditions
  3. Fennel – You’ll see wild fennel on beaches. Try bronze fennel in gardens.
  4. Sea kale (Crambe – various). Crambe maritima grows wild on beaches and Crambe cordifolia is a very tall garden perennial (2.5m)
  5. Valerian (Valerian officinalis) An easy perennial with pretty pink or white flowers. Often seen growing wild.
  6. Globe thistle (Echinops – various). Blue or white pom-pom flowers, much loved by pollinators.
  7. Sea holly (Eryngium – various) – spiky architectural white, blue or grey flowers that look a bit like thistles.
  8. Red hot pokers (Kniphofia – various, yellow and orange as well as red). Striking spears of vivid colour.
  9. Gaura (Gaura lindheimerei – various).  Exceptionally long flowering period from midsummer to autumn. Pretty white/pink flowers
  10. 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.
Pelargoniums for seaside garden pots

This garden was designed by Posy and has verbascum, eryngium, fennel and gaura. The red pelargonium in the pot was added by Amanda, the garden owner, and is a good choice. Pelargoniums grow well in dry conditions and come in hundreds of colours.

White valerian on Whitstable Beach

White valerian growing wild on Whitstable West Beach. Many consider valerian to be a weed, but it has attractive pink or white flowers and is very good in dry, windy conditions or poor soils.

3 good coastal garden shrubs and grasses

  1. Rosa rugosa (often known as the ‘beach rose’). Has pretty pink flowers and beautiful edible hips. Many other roses can be good in coastal conditions, and rose growers can tell you which varieties.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.’
Rosa rugosa on Whitstable Beach

Rosa rugosa on Whitstable West Beach. It’s a good rose for dry windy conditions and poor soils, as are several other rose types.

Broom plants growing on the beach

Broom pops up on beaches everywhere. There are several types of shrub commonly called ‘broom’ – Genista and Cytisus are the two best known.

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.

Gaura lindheimeri

You can see the reflection of the cordyline in the window glass. The pretty pink-white flowers are gaura (Gaura Lindheimeri).

Plants for dry windy gardens

This stylish front garden is owned by Marie-Claire, who has two shops in Whitstable: an art gallery called Frank and Vita Stores, a plastic free, zero waste general stores. The tall yellow plants are yellow kniphofia, usually called ‘Red Hot Pokers.’

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.

The RHS has a Find a Plant page on its website. Under ‘garden type’, you can pick ‘coastal’. And the Beth Chatto Gardens website has a useful list of dry garden plants, too.

coastal garden plants

More views of Amanda’s coastal garden, designed by Posy.

See more of Posy Gentles’ garden designs in her own garden here, where she talks about small garden planting that really works. Or visit www.posygentles.co.uk.

Wild fennel on Whitstable West Beach

Wild fennel – possibly even hog fennel, a rare variant which grows nearby on Tankerton Beach.

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

Shop my favourite garden tools, books and products

I’m often asked for recommendations so I have pulled together the garden tools, books and products I use on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store. Note that links to Amazon are affiliate so I may get a small fee if you buy, but it doesn’t affect the price you pay. And I only list things I use myself.

For example, this is my list of Good Books on Plants, which includes Drought-resistant Planting by Beth Chatto and the RHS What Plant When, both of which would be useful in planting a coastal garden.

Pin to remember best coastal garden plants

And do join us every Sunday morning for more tips, ideas and inspiration for your garden. See how here.


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