Whether you are lucky enough to have a garden with a view of the sea, or whether you just garden on the seacoast, you know that conditions can sometimes be challenging. Wind, salt air, odd weather patterns, and sandy soil can throw a wrench in the works without warning. Plants that you may have grown inland can behave quite differently if planted by the sea. Although a very small percentage of us will actually be gardening with an ocean view, the challenges are still worth discussing, as the factors that apply to seaside gardening often apply to inland gardens, as well – just not usually all at once! So if you have a garden by the sea, or just have a windy or sandy or exposed garden, read on for some tricks to get the most out of your own slice of paradise!
1) Frame a view. Whether it’s of the water, or a nearby field, or something else that you find interesting, make the most of it! Design your plantings or build a fence so that there is a space through which the view can be seen. Make it a focal point, and it will make the garden more interesting. And if you don’t have a view, create one! Build a “path to nowhere” and frame it with plantings. Even if it just doubles back on itself after going a few yards you will have added mystery to the garden and aroused the viewer’s curiosity!
2) Create windbreaks. If your garden is exposed, chances are that your plants will appreciate some shelter. Interestingly, walls and solid fences can be the worst things that you can build to shelter your plants from the wind. The reason is that if the wind can’t get through the fence or wall, it will find another way to get around them, usually by rushing up the back side and plunging down right behind your plants, scorching them. In fact, they can be damaged worse than they might have been had there been no fence or wall at all. Instead, grow a hedge, or plant grasses, or, if you don’t have enough room, put up a fence that has at least a pencil’s width between the boards. Your plants will thank you for it.
3) Choose the right plants. If you have read our other blogs, you will see this advice over and over again. Right plant, right place. A little research can save a lot of effort and wallet-ache. Grasses, for example, are wonderful plants for wind blown sites. Not only will they tolerate the wind well, but they will bow and sway and dance as the wind blows, bringing the garden to life. Plants like Japanese maple, for example (Acer palmatum) will be particularly unhappy in an exposed area, as their feathery leaves can easily get burned and dried out. Likewise, if you garden by the sea (or even if your garden is near a sidewalk that gets salted) you will want to choose plants that tolerate it the best, like Baptisia, Coreopsis, and Senna.
4) Amend your soil if it is sandy. Sand, although it has wonderful drainage, is not helpful when it comes to plant health because water and nutrients drain out before the plant is able to take advantage of them. If your soil is sandy, amend it with compost, which will absorb and retain water and nutrients, yet drain well so that neither of those things stay in the soil too long. In some ways, sandy soil is a real gift because you get a chance to make the perfect soil.
5)Plant annuals. While often pooh-poohed by the avid perennial gardener, annuals can bring a lot of color into the seaside garden. Their benefit is an infusion of color that although temporary, will out rival any perennial for abundance – because their lifecycle is over in a year, they pull out all the stops. And since they die in the fall, you don’t have to worry about protecting them over the winter. Sometimes, annuals are the only things that will be successful. So consider the poor, lowly annual. It has a lot to offer for the seaside gardener.
6) Think about color. Colors by the sea or in exposed sites have one main rival: glare. Large expanses of open space or light reflecting off the water make the eyes uncomfortable, so don’t add to it by planting bright reds and yellows, and oranges. Accents in these colors is fine, but to be easy on the eyes and reduce the glare from around the garden, choose plants in shades of purple, pink, and blue, preferably with lots of foliage to soften the visual onslaught.
And finally, once you have chosen the plants for your seaside garden, give them a little extra TLC. Spray evergreens in the late fall with an anti-desiccant, to keep them from losing too much moisture in the harsh winter storms. And when a windy rainstorm hits, consider hosing off evergreens so that whatever salt may have been in the air doesn’t stay in the leaves. Winter protection for some shrubs is also recommended, especially if they are just getting established.
Gardening by the sea definitely requires a little more thought than some other environments, but the benefits make it well worth it. As wrote Celia Thaxter, a well known gardener who had a garden on an island off of the New Hampshire coast said, “When in the fresh mornings I go into my garden before anyone is awake, I go for the time being into perfect happiness.”